Getting Warm when you're Cold and Wet
The cold is one of the most unforgiving elements you're likely to face, and without the right knowledge and gear, it can be a killer. A simple accident on a hike or a fishing trip can send things horribly wrong. All it takes is one slip, and you're now drenched, with your gear soaked through and you're rapidly becoming hypothermic. Hypothermia is simply a reaction that comes when your core body temperature drops below normal. The first sign you're in trouble is that you start to shiver, as your body starts trying to warm itself. You may also feel exhausted, confused, irritable or slurring your words. Babies will be sleepy, and have bright red cheeks. Left unchecked, hypothermia will burn through your energy reserves until you're unable to stay warm, and your body will slowly start to shut down, and then you die. Obviously this isn't an ideal situation, and today, we're going to cover what you need to do to get warm again, and survive this mini-crisis. First though, you need to ensure you've taken adequate measures to protect against the cold before heading out anywhere in cold conditions. Having the right gear can make the difference between life and death, and it involves everything from your clothes to what's in your pack. Layering your clothes works wonders, just ensure you're choosing the right materials for each layer. Get synthetic thermal underwear as your base, use an insulating layer like wool or goose down, and cover it all with a shell-layer that's water-resistant and will keep the rain, snow and ice out. Have a fire-starting kit in a waterproof container so you're always ready to get a roaring blaze going, and chemical heat packets and space blankets are all good additions to your bug out kit. I've also got a second set of clothes securely stored in a waterproof bag, just in case me and all my gear end up in a river. Now here's how to tackle hypothermia.
Get sheltered When you're wet the elements are rapidly stripping the warmth from your body. Rain is only making you wetter, and the wind is now cutting through your layers and making you colder, and you can't even think straight because your body is shutting down. The first step is to get sheltered. Find somewhere protected against the wind and rain, and do it as fast as possible. If you're moving one of your companions who is displaying the symptoms of hypothermia, do it gently, they'll be in a very fragile state (especially if they're unconscious). Sudden movements when they're in this state can be fatal, so be careful.
Get warm Strip off everything that's wet, down to your birthday suit. It's no time to be shy, your only goal now is to get into a warm set of clothes that you had secured in your pack. If you've not got anything that's dry, it's now time to beg, borrow or steal dry clothes from your companions, or wrap yourself up in your sleeping bag. Your aim is to get dry first, so your body can start to warm itself. If you've got a fire going now is a good time to throw on a few more logs and get it roaring, if not grab your fire kit and get one started. The heat will help to thaw out your body, but be careful. Just like there's risks when you get cold, there's danger in re-warming too fast too. When you're hypothermic your body is in a very sensitive state, and even cold water may feel scalding to the touch. The trick is to take things gradually, and slowly bring your body back to a normal temperature. Getting too warm too quick can send you into shock and even cause heart failure.
Get eating Now you're sheltered and in dry clothes, get some warm food into your system as fast as possible. Use your fire to heat up some water to cook up an emergency meal. Soup or noodles are a great choice, as they're quick to cook and once you've eaten then your metabolism will kick in and start heating you up from the inside. I'd also make yourself a warm drink, like a tea or a hot chocolate. Just don't overdo it, you don't want to consume anything that's too hot too fast. Oh and avoid alcohol. Even though a shot of whiskey may feel like it's warming you up, it's actually numbing your nerves and helping to strip warmth from your body. Stick with a hot chocolate for now.
Get moving After eating, get up and get moving. Walking is a great way to generate a little heat and warm your body, or if you're a little more active exercises like star-jumps and pushups will really get your blood flowing and warm you right up. If it's someone in your group who is both hypothermic and unconscious, get them wrapped in warm dry fabrics, ensuring they're insulated from the cold ground below. Don't move them until they regain consciousness. Instead, take the chemical heat packs from your kit and place them in their armpits and groin. This will help to bring their temperature up and get them conscious again.
Get help Hypothermia is a very serious condition, and often requires medical help for a successful recovery. In addition to the above steps, if you've got the ability to call for help, do it immediately. Radio your position to the local authorities, and get them to send a team out to help. This means that while you're following the steps below, there'll be experts on route to your position, with the tools, equipment and knowledge to help you make a safe recovery. Knowledge is one of your biggest assets when dealing with a crisis, and hypothermia can be a killer if you don't know how it works, or how to treat the symptoms. Make quick decisive judgements if you find yourself in facing this killer, and follow the steps above to ensure you've got the best chance to survive.