Frostbite is a treatable, but potentially serious condition that affects your skin. Many of you that spend hours or days hunting, hiking, or training in winter weather are probably familiar with the risks of frostbite, but perhaps those new to colder weather may not know how to prevent cold weather-related injuries.
Frostbite accounts for the largest number of CWI every year and occurs when tissue temperature falls below 28 – 30° F. It can also occur rapidly if in contact with cold metal, or super-cooled liquids such as alcohol, fuel or antifreeze or can develop slowly over time when prolonged cold exposure is common.
Frostbite appears most often in the exposed skin of hands, nose, ears, and cheeks but can also occur in the feet or the hands even when wearing gloves. This can happen due to inadequate insulation against the cold and reduced blood flow to the skin.
How to Prevent Frostbite
One of the common issues of frostbite stems from sweat or moisture. Wearing the right winter gear that wicks moisture away from the surface of your skin and does not hold moisture is one of the first and best preventative steps. If your sweat stays on your skin, when a cold wind hits, your perspiration rapidly evaporates, chilling you. Limiting perspiration and keeping it away from both your skin and the outside air is a crucial first step.
Materials and material blends that wick moisture:
- Merino Wool
- Waterproof breathable fabric – tightly woven long fiber fabric with microporous (laminated or coated) gaps that allow water vapor to escape but do not allow water to permeate.
Feet and Toes
Wearing a pair of thick socks is a good start, but depending on what material they are made of, they may cause more of a risk. Wear two pairs of socks in extremely cold weather conditions. The first pair should be moisture-wicking, for example, a pair of Merino wool socks. Merino wool is both a natural moisture-wicking material and has excellent thermal properties. We suggest the second sock be a pair of wool or wool-blend socks, and to wear waterproof boots that cover your ankles for added insulation.
Wear a hat, balaclava or beanie that not only protects your head but also protects your ears by covering them fully. If your hat doesn't provide mouth and nose protection, a thick scarf of breathable, moisture-wicking material or a face mask is recommended. It will warm the air you breathe, and prevent frostbite on the face and nose.
Wearing a base pair of gloves that don't hold moisture against your skin with a pair of mittens or hybrids of gloves that are sometimes called, "lobsters," which give you your index finger apart from the other three. There is a wide range of tactical and hiking gloves these days that allow you to be able to use touch screens without removing gloves as well.
Looser, layered clothing traps warm air, and using a breathable fabric will ensure the layer of warm air next to your skin is not damp. The first layer should be moisture-wicking, the second insulation. And for the third, consider a waterproof breathable shell.
One of the last of the two most important tips is to make sure your winter gear can keep the snow outside of boots and clothing. Frostbite happens much faster when damp or wet. Keep yourself well hydrated with water as well, dehydration can contribute to rapid frostbite.
Lastly, learn to recognize the early symptoms of frostbite. The earlier the detection the greater the chance that it can be healed and treated without serious medical repercussions. Red, or extremely sore skin, that at first tingled then went numb is often called frostnip. Frostnip is the beginning stages of frostbite that include tingling, throbbing, stinging or burning of the skin before going numb. If you feel this sensation in any part of your body, find shelter immediately.
Knowledge and practice may help as well. Training courses for cold-related emergencies may be beneficial to help in serious cases when you are too far away from the shelter to seek medical help.