Avoiding Hypothermia During Cold Weather Activities

Avoiding hypothermia is key to a successful outdoor activity in cold weather, be it camping, hiking, skiing, ice skating, or snowman building. So it is important that youth know how to safely enjoy outdoor activities in extreme temperatures.

Below is a very basic introduction to the prevention, symptoms, and treatment of hypothermia. If you are a planning a cold weather activity, you should do a more in depth study, especially if you will not have access to a heated facility where you can warm up.

Symptoms of Mild Hypothermia

Symptoms of mild hypothermia include shivering, dizziness, nausea, rapid breathing, slight confusion, lack of coordination, and fatigue. As the case becomes more serious, shivering stops, speech becomes slurred, clumsiness and confusion increases. Eventually the pulse might become very weak and loss of consciousness and even death can occur.

Contributors to Hypothermia – COLD Acronym

There are three main contributors to hypothermia – cold, wind, and water.  The acronym COLD can help you remember how to protect yourself.  C for cover, O for overexertion,  L for layers, and D for dry.

  • Cover: Cover exposed skin as much as possible. Wear a hat to prevent body heat from escaping from your head. Cover your face and neck with a scarf or face mask. Wear gloves or mittens.
  • Overexertion: Avoid activities which will cause you to sweat a lot. Sweat can make your clothes damp, which is a risk factor.
  • Layers: Wear loose fitting, lightweight clothing. Your outer layer should protect you from the wind. Inner layers should be of material which wicks the moisture away from the skin. If you are too hot and begin to sweat, remove a layer to avoid damp clothes.
  • Dry: Stay as dry as possible. Have an extra change of clothes so you can remove anything which becomes wet. Keep your hands and feet dry.

Treatment of Hypothermia

Should hypothermia occur, seek medical attention. First aid treatment includes

  • Warm the person up gently. Move inside or shield from the elements.
  • Remove wet clothing and cover with layers of dry blankets and coats.
  • Keep the person off of the cold ground. Put dry blankets and coats underneath also.
  • Monitor breathing.
  • Share body heat. Have the person lie next to a warm person.
  • Give the person something warm to drink. Use warm, nonalcoholic, noncaffeinated beverages.
  • Apply warm compresses to the neck, chest, and groin. Don’t apply these to the arms and legs. Warm water in a bottle or a warmed towel works if you don’t have a first-aid compress.
  • Don’t apply direct heat or use hot water. Be gentle.

Related Resources

Winter Activities and Safety

The Guide to Safe Scouting provides specific guidelines for winter camping and winter sports.

Is Cold Weather Camping Appropriate for Cub Scouts

Is Cold Weather Camping Appropriate for Cub Scouts?

Debbie asks if winter camping is appropriate for Cub Scouts. See some feedback from other Scouters in the comments.

Sweet 16 of BSA Safety – Weather Safety Check

Always check the weather before heading out on any activity. For winter activities, you especially need to be aware of any hazards which might make travel dangerous.