What Every Prepper Needs to Know About Hypothermia – Backdoor Survival



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In the wake of the recent country wide “Cold Snap,” My friend  and fellow prepper, Gaye Levy, wanted to share some very important information about hypothermia with you.

This winter storm hit hard and fast across most of the country and many were ill prepared for it…

Make sure that you keep yourself prepared, and if you are ever caught in a situation like this, stay warm!

Hypothermia Backdoor Survival

Here is what Gaye had to share with us:

Unless you live in the tropics, winter is likely to bring uncertain weather, including bone-chilling temperatures, severe winds, freezing rain and significant snowfall.  Needless to say, such conditions are not much fun under the best of circumstances.  If there is no power and no heat, the effects of winter are magnified, especially for those that have failed to prepare for extreme weather events.

Being prepared for winter weather conditions is not rocket science and there is much you can do to insure the safety of your home and family during the winter storm season. Having an alternate heat source is a good start as is plenty of warm blankets and clothing.  Even with these precautions. it is still likely that the cold will get to you, especially if you have to spend time outdoors clearing debris, shoveling snow, or simply walking your dog.

Hypothermia can be deadly so the more we know about it the better.  Of course educating yourself regarding the effects of extremely cold weather on the human body is an important step to take before the icy cold weather sets in. That said, it is never to late to become informed, even if you are currently in the midst of a snow storm of blizzard.

Today it is my pleasure to share an article written by Joe Alton, M.D., who, with his wife Amy, share their extensive medical knowledge at their Doom and Bloom website.  As licensed health care practitioners, when they have something to say about survival medicine, I listen.

I Live in a Warm Climate – Why Do I Need to Learn This Stuff?

If you think that hypothermia and cold weather preparedness is someone else’s problem, think again.  I asked Joe the following question:

Gaye:  I understand the dangers of hypothermia for those that live in colder climates.  But what about everyone else?  Why should they pay attention and be concerned as well?

Joe:  Few people realize that they are in danger of becoming hypothermic anytime a large percentage of their body’s surface area comes in contact with temperatures lower than the body core.  If you fell off a boat in the Bahamas into 82 degree F water, you would eventually succumb to hypothermia if not rescued.  You only have to drop to 95 degrees F to feel the effects of hypothermia.

Cold Weather Preparedness

It looks like another harsh winter, with ice storms and blizzards already carpeting much of the Midwest, Northeast and Canada, and cold weather preparedness is a must for survival. Failure to use precautions will lead to a condition called hypothermia.  Hypothermia is a condition where the core body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.  The normal body core temperature is defined as between 97.5-99.5 degrees Fahrenheit (36.0-37.5 degrees Celsius).

In your efforts to be medically self-reliant, one of the major factors that must be taken into consideration is your environment.  If you haven’t prepared for the weather, you have made your environment your enemy, and it is a formidable one. The last ice storm caused 27 deaths, some of which were avoidable.  Therefore, it’s important to be prepared to prevent death from exposure and to know how to treat someone who is hypothermic.

How Your Body Loses Heat

Hypothermia Backdoor Survival

Your body has various methods it uses to control its internal “core” temperature, either raising it or lowering it to appropriate levels.  The body “core“ refers to the major internal organ systems that are necessary to maintain life, such as your brain, heart, liver, and others.

In cold weather, your blood vessels constrict to conserve heat. Muscles “shiver” as a method of heat production. You can voluntarily increase heat by exertion; it is recommended to “keep moving” in cold environments for this reason. Part of the healthcare provider’s role is to educate each and every member of their family or group on proper planning for outdoor activities. Monitor weather conditions as well as the people you’re sending out in the heat or cold.

The body loses heat in various ways:


The body perspires (sweats), which releases heat from the core.


The body loses heat to the environment anytime that the ambient (surrounding) temperature is below the core temperature (say, 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit).  For example, you lose more heat if exposed to an outside temperature of 20 degrees F than if exposed to 80 degrees F.


The body loses heat when its surface is in direct contact with cold temperatures, as in the case of someone falling from a boat into frigid water. Water, being denser than air, removes heat from the body much faster.


Heat loss where, for instance, a cooler object is in motion against the body core.  The air next to the skin is heated and then removed, which requires the body to use energy to re-heat. Wind Chill is one example of air convection: If the ambient temperature is 32 degrees F but the wind chill factor is at 5 degrees F, you lose heat from your body as if it were actually 5 degrees F.

Most heat is lost from the head area, due to its large surface area and tendency to be uncovered.  Direct contact with anything cold, especially over a large area of your body, will cause rapid cooling of your body core temperature.  The classic example of this would be a fall into cold water.  In the Titanic sinking of 1912, hundreds of people fell into near-freezing water.  Within 15 minutes, they were probably beyond medical help.

Physical Effects of Hypothermia

Aside from shivering, the most noticeable symptoms of hypothermia will be related to mental status.  The person may appear confused, uncoordinated, and lethargic.  As the condition worsens, speech may become slurred; the patient will appear apathetic and uninterested in helping themselves, or may fall asleep.  This occurs due to the effect of cooling temperatures on the brain; the colder the body core gets, the slower the brain works.  Brain function is supposed to cease at about 68 degrees Fahrenheit, although I have read of exceptional cases in which people (usually children) have survived even lower temperatures.

To prevent hypothermia, you must anticipate the climate that you will be traveling through, including wind conditions and wet weather. Condition yourself physically to be fit for the challenge. Travel with a partner if at all possible, and have enough food and water available for the entire trip.

Prevention Strategies for Hypothermia

In your efforts to be medically self-reliant, one of the major factors that must be taken into consideration is your environment.  If you haven’t prepared for the weather, you have made your environment your enemy, and it is a formidable one.

Remember the simple acronym C.O.L.D. This stands for:  Cover, Overexertion, Layering, and Dry:

Cover. Protect your head by wearing a hat. This will prevent body heat from escaping from your head. Instead of using gloves to cover your hands, use mittens. Mittens are more helpful than gloves because they keep your fingers in contact with one another.  This conserves heat.

Overexertion. Avoid activities that cause you to sweat a lot.  Cold weather causes you to lose body heat quickly, and wet, sweaty clothing accelerates the process. Rest when necessary; use rest periods to self-assess for cold-related changes. Pay careful attention to the status of your elderly or juvenile group members.

Layering. Loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in layers insulate you well. Use clothing made of tightly woven, water-repellent material for protection against the wind. Wool or silk inner layers hold body heat better than cotton does. Some synthetic materials work well, also. Especially cover the head, neck, hands and feet.

Dry. Keep as dry as you can. Get out of wet clothing as soon as possible. It’s very easy for snow to get into gloves and boots, so pay particular attention to your hands and feet.

Any unconscious person that you encounter in a cold environment is hypothermic until proven otherwise. Immediate action must be taken to reverse the ill effects.

Treatment of Hypothermia

A person who is hypothermic is in danger of losing their life without your help. Important measures to take are:

Get the person out of the cold and into a warm, dry location. If you’re unable to move the person out of the cold, shield him or her from the cold and wind as much as possible.

1. Take Off Wet Clothing

Hypothermia Backdoor Survival

If the person is wearing wet clothing, remove them gently.   Cover them with layers of dry blankets, including the head (leave the face clear).   If you are outside, cover the ground to eliminate exposure to the cold surface.

2. Monitor Breathing

Hypothermia Backdoor Survival

A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious.  Verify that the patient is breathing and check for a pulse.  Begin CPR if necessary.

3. Share Body Heat

Hypothermia Backdoor Survival

To warm the person’s body, remove your clothing and lie next to the person, making skin-to-skin contact. Then cover both of your bodies with blankets.  Some people may cringe at this notion, but it’s important to remember that you are trying to save a life.  Gentle massage or rubbing may be helpful, but vigorous movements may traumatize the patient.

4. Give Warm Oral Fluids

Hypothermia Backdoor Survival

If the affected person is alert and able to swallow, provide a warm, nonalcoholic, non-caffeinated beverage to help warm the body.  Remember, alcohol does not warm you up!


Use warm, dry compresses. Use a first-aid warm compress (a fluid-filled bag that warms up when squeezed), or a makeshift compress of warm (not hot) water in a plastic bottle. Apply a compress only to the neck, chest wall or groin.  These areas will spread the heat much better than putting warm compresses on the extremities, which sometimes worsens the condition.

Avoid applying direct heat. Don’t use hot water, a heating pad or a heating lamp to warm the person. The extreme heat can damage the skin, cause strain on the heart or even lead to cardiac arrest.  Don’t rub on extremities that may be frostbitten, as the skin is already traumatized and the condition may be worsened.

Hypothermia Backdoor Survival

Don’t give alcohol. You have all seen photos of St. Bernard’s with casks of brandy around their necks for lost alpine travelers.  Alcohol may give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, but it also expands blood vessels, which causes heat loss!

If left untreated, hypothermia leads to complete failure of various organ systems and to death.  Make sure your people are well clothed for the temperature, and monitor them closely if they are outside for extended periods of time in cold weather.


Joe and Amy Alton are the authors of the #1 Amazon Bestseller “The Survival Medicine Handbook“.  For over 400 articles on medical preparedness, go to their website  You may follow them on Twitter, FacebookYouTube, and theSurvival Medicine Hour Podcast.

The Final Word

Bug out strategies, survival gear, emergency food storage and water purification are the bread and butter staples of prepper-oriented websites.  But being prepared involves so much more. Sometimes we have to move beyond the fluff and the easy stuff.  We need to stay educated about the hazards of daily life; hazards that will be magnified 100-fold following a disaster or other emergency.

I would like to thank Joe and Amy for allowing me to share their article and especially for the outlining strategies to treat a suspected case of hypothermia.  Having this knowledge could save a life.

Be well and be safe everyone.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

via What Every Prepper Needs to Know About Hypothermia – Backdoor Survival.

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  1. Rex

    January 10, 2014 at 10:05 AM

    Hypothermia can strike at surprisingly high temperatures.

    In the late 60s the average daily temp where I was at was 110 to 115 degrees cooling down to 90 to 95 at night. I was sent to a base in the mountains to help solve a problem and was unprepared for the weather. The daily temp was 72 to 77 degrees and down to upper 50s at night. I suffered hypothermia within minutes and had to borrow a field jacket, gloves, and a better hat in order to complete my mission.

    One must be prepared at all times, know the symptoms, and react as quickly as possible. Your life is in your hands along with the lives of your family!


    • Rex

      January 10, 2014 at 10:11 AM

      Oh, I forgot to mention the biggest mistake made by outdoorsmen and that is not CHECKING THE WEATHER FORCAST! Thus, they are not prepared and . . .

  2. snowman8wa

    January 10, 2014 at 10:47 AM

    In the fall we have camped/hunted in temps down to 19 degrees with rain in a 10 x 15 tent. Our bed is made up on two cots, an air mattress, foam and various layers of underbedding and covers to include our sleeping bag opened as a bedspread. Can’t say I enjoy having to get up in the middle of the night, but the bed is warm when I get back in…

    As long as you can get to a place to stay dry and have sufficient materials to “cocoon” you can survive any situation.

    NOTE: Haven’t done the tent in snow yet….wife balks on that.

  3. left Coast Chuck

    January 10, 2014 at 5:07 PM

    I live in SoCal where hypothermia is never thought of. Took an evening hike one time. Started about 6:00 in the evening during the summer. Hypothermia? What, SoCal in August? The hike took longer than anticipated — of course. Finished after dark. Chatted a while with the other hikers and then went to my car. Oops. The keys were sitting on my seat. I could see them plainly from outside the car. A call to the Auto Club assured me that the service would be there within the hour. The air cools quickly after dark in SoCal and we were parked by the ocean with a fair on-shore breeze. I started getting cooler and cooler and started shivering. Lots of jackets, emergency blankets, fire starting equipment, knives, saws, everything I needed locked securely inside the car. By the time the driver arrived and unlocked the car I was shivering violently. Had to put the heater on and sit there in the car with warm air blowing over me until I could control my shaking enough to drive home. As soon as I was home it was into the shower for a long, hot shower and a stern admonition to myself to be better prepared the next time I am fooling around outdoors.

    • Great Grey

      January 10, 2014 at 11:38 PM

      left Coast Chuck that is why you should carry at least a spare door/trunk key with you at all times, even if you have lost your driving set of keys, you can at least get into your car. I know, many cars now days use only one key and it won’t fit into a wallet, the same problem with a spare remote. of course spare in your hiking gear (first aid kit) would of worked too.

  4. Great Grey

    January 10, 2014 at 11:10 PM

    Any environment that you feel chilly in can cause hypothermia it may not be life threatening the form but, you better take action to minimize it.

  5. Great Grey

    January 10, 2014 at 11:14 PM

    Oops. Any environment that you feel chilly in can cause hypothermia, it may not be the life threatening form but, you better take action to minimize it.

  6. Bob Davis

    January 12, 2014 at 11:01 PM

    I disagree with the Dr. on giving warm fluids for drinking. Hot or warmed drinks may cause a flushing effect in the body. If colder blood has pooled in the victim’s extremities that flushing (peripheral vasodilation)may actually return that cooler blood to the body core causing further cooling of the body core. If that cooling crosses the line of 95 degrees then hypothermia could become fatal. A documented case of such occurred during WW I in the North Sea to 30+ sailors rescue from the sea after a torpedo attack on their ship. The rescue ship crew wrapped the sailors in heavy robes and blankets and gave them hot tea. Almost all the rescued sailors succumbed to their hypothermia rapidly after the tea was consumed. Two sailors that did not have the hot liquids recovered with slow warming techniques.

  7. John Woodrum

    January 13, 2014 at 2:36 AM

    In the winter of ’77, I came across a case of hypothermia, while camping in a local town, while a heavy blizzard hit. Even though I thought I was covered in all ways, the water from the storm eventually worked it’s way into my tent as I got soaked and awoke to the chills where I could not even speak clearly to myself. So, I knew that I had to create heat ASAP. I ended up taking all my clothes off that I was wearing (since they were all soaked, anyway) and switched to my dirty (but dry) clothes in my pack & go walk as fast as possible to create BODY HEAT, until I made it to a coffee shop, 2 miles down the road, so I could get a cup of hot water, and mix a boullion cube in it to get warmed up.

  8. Dan

    January 14, 2014 at 8:33 AM

    The barrels we see around the dogs’ necks in paintings and cartoons is the invention of a kid named Edwin Landseer. In 1820, Landseer, a 17-year-old painter from England, produced a work titled Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler. The painting portrays two Saint Bernards standing over a fallen traveler, one dog barking in alarm, the other attempting to revive the traveler by licking his hand. The dog doing the licking has a barrel strapped around its neck, which Landseer claimed contains brandy.

    The bottom line is that the dogs never carried such barrels, the collar keg stuck in the public’s imagination and the image has endured.

    BAD Paniter – GOOD Dog

  9. katherine hall

    January 26, 2014 at 9:43 PM

    Ii agree. I A’s in a vehicle accident a little over two years ago that shaterred a vertabrae broke my breast bone and some ribs. Sine then my body cannot regulate its temperature properly. Even keeping myhome at 76. I sweat under the cover then wake up with my whole body shaking uncontrollably. Getting up to go to the restroom will sometime trigger the shaking. I can hardly stand a shower. Both hot and cold bother me. The other day when i got out in the cold it really bothered me even tho just for a short time. I kept my coat on in the car then in just a few min i was way to hot and could not get my clothesoff fast enough to prevent Weber’s nausea. Fortunately i had not eaten a lot so i just had dry heaves but it took a couple hours to get rid of the nausea. It generallytakes a long time to control the shaking And coldalso. The docs say there iKano tests or cure for my problembut layering my clothing but heck how does it help if i can’t get itoff fast enough.

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