The elements can be one of the toughest parts of any outdoor adventure. No matter how prepared you are for the unexpected, the great outdoors tend to have a mind of its own, and there are no guarantees, even if you have planned your excursion to a T. During the winter months, one of the most difficult parts is staying warm, especially if there is unexpected rain or an accident. Stay prepared, and have the knowledge on treating hypothermia.
Treating hypothermia has a couple of steps, the first being knowing the symptoms. If you're unfamiliar, we have a quick refresher. Shivering is the first sign of hypothermia, and it only gets worse from there. You'll also see slurred speech, slow breathing, weak pulse, clumsiness, drowsiness, confusion, and eventually, loss of consciousness. When you are out in the wild and can't just call 911, you'll need to be prepared to help someone through this, and preparation may help keep them alive.
Once you've determined that someone is suffering from exposure to the cold elements, treating hypothermia needs to be executed immediately. Once someone's body temperature drops, it can become very difficult to help them, and time is of the essence. Call for help immediately, but if help is not available or nearby, there are steps you can take to help improve the chances of survival.
- Don't massage them. It won't help with the blood flow, and it could actually cause cardiac arrest.
- Get them inside if possible. If that is not possible, move them to a warmer location, whether that be a little cave you've found or just under shelter, any place that is slightly warmer will help.
- Remove any wet clothing. This seems counterproductive, but the cold wet clothing against their skin does not help with their body temperature, so remove it and wrap them in dry blankets, sweatshirts, etc.
- Insulate the person from the cold ground. If they're laying in the snow, put them on a blanket or other warm surface.
- Monitor breathing. Keep checking their pulse and making sure that they are still breathing.
- Give warm fluids. If you have it on you, provide them with a warm, nonalcoholic, noncaffeinated, sweet beverage. Cider or hot chocolate would be good.
- Warm them up slowly. If you try to apply direct heat or hot water, you can cause skin damage, as well as damage to their heart. Make sure to warm them up nice and slow, it's the safest way to do it for them.
Being prepared and knowledgeable for any emergencies that you may run into on one of your adventures is the first step to survival. Treating hypothermia is not complicated, but it is important to note the different signs and get help for someone immediately if they begin to show signs of it.