At times, it may seem the more you learn about surviving in a wilderness, the more you need to learn. A couple of the most important skills you can have are knowing how to recognize the early stages of hypothermia and how to administer treatment.
Hypothermia starts when the body temperature has dropped about 3 degrees. Uncontrollable shivering, loss of coordination, confusion and cold or blue skin are all signs to watch for. Treatment should start at the first indication of hypothermia.
If possible, get into a warm and dry environment. Insulate the hypothermic person from the ground with a sleeping pad or anything that is available. Change out of any wet clothes and get in a warmed sleeping bag. Drink hot drinks and eat foods that are high in sugar.
During mild hypothermia, you can also increase exercise. If you feel the patient is getting worse, the treatment changes. While they are conscious, continue to administer hot fluids, but discourage strenuous activity.
An old trick used by experienced backpackers is to fill a water bottle with hot water and place it under the arms or near the groin. Hot rocks that you can touch without burning your hand may also be used.
In cases of severe hypothermia, life is on the line. About the only thing you can do is to maintain the person’s current body temperature while someone in your group gets medical help. Skin to skin contact in a sleeping bag or blanket could save a life. Rubbing the skin and moving the joints should be avoided. Be gentle with the victim.
Always make sure you use good clothing and equipment when entering the backcountry. Wool and synthetics are better to wear, because cotton holds moisture and accelerates hypothermia. Seek medical attention with all but the mildest stage of hypothermia.
Remember, it doesn’t have to be extremely cold for hypothermia to develop. Fall and spring seem to be the most dangerous seasons because people are not as prepared. Take the time to ensure that all members of your party can recognize and treat this killer.