Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Extreme Cold - Skiing - Frostbite and First Aid in an Emergency

Often times when adventuring in the extreme cold climates; Be it skiing or hiking,  the cold can unexpectedly be a killer. Lets share some of the various main stream, 1.2.3.'s on self preservation methods for surviving extreme cold weather exposure & suffering. Many of the links here are to assist you in being prepared. When possible links are added to give credit and assist you in learning all you can to be better informed to save yourself a life threatening situation when on your own in the wild.

*"ALWAYS TRY TO BE PREPARED" for as many potential disasters as is possible "BEFORE" they occur. The best prevention is education, the proper gear / supplies and your knowledge of the elements and geographical location you intend to explore. STAY ALERT!!! Mother nature is not forgiving. In the wild, YOU, are your first best line of defense.!!!*

It is more difficult for you to satisfy your basic water, food, and shelter needs in a cold environment than in a warm environment. Even if you have the basic requirements, you must also have adequate protective clothing and the will to survive. The will to survive is as important as the basic needs. There have been incidents when trained and well-equipped individuals have not survived cold weather situations because they lacked the will to live. Conversely, this will has sustained individuals less well-trained and equipped.

There are many different items of cold weather equipment and clothing available on the market.
Specialized cold weather, lightweight gear such as polypropylene underwear,
GORE-TEX outerwear and boots, and other special equipment will provide the best protection and pack the easiest while wearing the most comfortable.  Remember, that your older gear will keep you warm as long as you apply a few cold weather principles. If the newer types of clothing are available, use them. If not, then your clothing should be of a high wool content or blend, with the exception of a windbreaker or outer layers which should be water proofed and weather resistent.

You must not only have enough clothing to protect you from the cold, you must also know how to maximize the warmth you get from it. For example, always keep your head covered. You can lose 40 to 45 percent of body heat from an unprotected head and even more from the unprotected neck, wrist, and ankles. These areas of the body are good radiators of heat and have very little insulating fat. The brain is very susceptible to cold and can stand the least amount of cooling. Because there is much blood circulation in the head, most of which is on the surface, you can lose heat quickly if you do not cover your head.

There are four basic principles to follow to keep warm. An easy way to remember these basic principles is to use the word COLD--
C -  Keep clothing clean.
O -  Avoid overheating.
L -  Wear clothes loose and in layers.
D -  Keep clothing dry.
C -
Keep clothing clean. This principle is always important for sanitation and comfort. In winter, it is also important from the standpoint of warmth. Clothes matted with dirt and grease lose much of their insulation value. Heat can escape more easily from the body through the clothing's crushed or filled up air pockets.
O -
Avoid overheating. When you get too hot, you sweat and your clothing absorbs the moisture. This affects your warmth in two ways: dampness decreases the insulation quality of clothing, and as sweat evaporates, your body cools. Adjust your clothing so that you do not sweat. Do this by partially opening your parka or jacket, by removing an inner layer of clothing, by removing heavy outer mittens, or by throwing back your parka hood or changing to lighter headgear. The head and hands act as efficient heat dissipaters when overheated.
L -
Wear your clothing loose and in layers. Wearing tight clothing and foot gear restricts blood circulation and invites cold injury. It also decreases the volume of air trapped between the layers, reducing its insulating value. Several layers of lightweight clothing are better than one equally thick layer of clothing, because the layers have dead-air space between them. The dead-air space provides extra insulation. Also, layers of clothing allow you to take off or add clothing layers to prevent excessive sweating or to increase warmth.
D -
Keep clothing dry. In cold temperatures, your inner layers of clothing can become wet from sweat and your outer layer, if not water repellent, can become wet from snow and frost melted by body heat. Wear water repellent outer clothing, if available. It will shed most of the water collected from melting snow and frost. Before entering a heated shelter, brush off the snow and frost. Despite the precautions you take, there will be times when you cannot keep from getting wet. At such times, drying your clothing may become a major problem. On the march, hang your damp mittens and socks on your rucksack. Sometimes in freezing temperatures, the wind and sun will dry this clothing. You can also place damp socks or mittens, unfolded, near your body so that your body heat can dry them. In a campsite, hang damp clothing inside the shelter near the top, using drying lines or improvised racks. You may even be able to dry each item by holding it before an open fire. Dry leather items slowly. If no other means are available for drying your boots, put them between your sleeping bag shell and liner. Your body heat will help to dry the leather.

A heavy, down-lined sleeping bag is a valuable piece of survival gear in cold weather. Ensure the down remains dry. If wet, it loses a lot of its insulation value. If you do not have a sleeping bag, you can make one out of parachute cloth or similar material and natural dry material, such as leaves, pine needles, or moss. Place the dry material between two layers of the material.

Other important survival items are a knife; waterproof matches in a waterproof container, preferably one with a flint attached; a durable compass; map; watch; waterproof ground cloth and cover; flashlight; binoculars; dark glasses; fatty emergency foods; food gathering gear; and signaling items.

Remember, a cold weather environment can be very harsh. Give a good deal of thought to selecting the right equipment for survival in the cold. If unsure of an item you have never used, test it in an "overnight backyard" environment before venturing further. Once you have selected items that are essential for your survival, do not lose them after you enter a cold weather environment.

Hypothermia ranges from mild chills and shivering to coma and death. Hypothermia is defined as a core body temperature of less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia signs and symptoms include:

  • shivering
  • exhaustion
  • confusion
  • slurred speech
  • memory loss
  • fatigue
  • loss of motor control (fumbling hands)
Some cold exposures are worse than others. Wet victims lose body heat much faster than dry victims. Windy conditions cause victims to lose heat very quickly as well.
Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: Less than a minute to recognize, up to several hours to treat.
Here's How:
  1. Stay Safe! If it is cold enough to cause hypothermia for the victim, it's cold enough to cause hypothermia in the rescuers. Follow universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if you have it.
  2. Make sure the victim has an airway and is breathing. Follow the ABC's of first aid.

    CAUTION: Victims may get worse as they get warmer. As the cold blood in the extremities begins to flow back toward the heart, the victim's body temperature may go lower. Be prepared for a change in the victim's condition.
  3. Stop the exposure. Move the victim to warm, dry shelter.
  4. Call 911 for victims that show signs of severe hypothermia:

    • confusion
    • coma
    • fumbling hands
    • slurred speech

  5. Remove wet clothing - leave dry clothing on victim.
  6. Wrap the victim with blankets. Warming blankets (like electric blankets) work the best.
  7. Chemical heat packs can be used on the victim's groin, neck, and armpits.
  8. Victims that are able to follow commands and sit upright may drink warm, non-alcoholic beverages.
  1. As hypothermia progresses, shivering stops in order for the body to conserve energy. A victim of hypothermia that has stopped shivering may be getting worse rather than better.
  2. Unconscious hypothermia victims may have additional medical problems. There are several causes of coma.
  3. Victims of cold exposure may also be suffering from frostbite.
  4. Alcohol may feel like it warms the body, but that's because it flushes the skin with warm blood. Once the blood is at the surface of the skin, it is easily cooled. Alcohol speeds hypothermia. It can also cause dehydration.
As severely hypothermic victims begin to recover, cold blood from the extremities is pulled back to the core of the body. This can lead to a decrease in core body temperature and worsens the hypothermia. Watch hypothermia victims closely. They may suffer sudden cardiac arrest and require CPR. If that happens, follow the ABC's of first aid.
"ABC's OF FIRST AID " Airway, Breathing and Circulation.

A = Opening the airway with a head tilt-chin lift manoeuvre

B = Looking, listening and feeling for breathing

C = Preparing to perform CPR to support circulation

*CPR is NOT something to be attempted from your watching a movie or because you THINK you know it. Please visit to your local Board Certified CPR Instructors and get proper training. 

The American Heart Association adopted new CPR science guidelines in November 2005. These guidelines are the basis for teaching CPR. For more information, see the following link:

For information about taking a class near you, call the American Heart Association at (877) 242-4277.