Extreme Cold Survival
Hypothermia is a medical condition diagnosed when your core body temperature drops below what is required for normal functions and metabolism. Typically, a drop of three degrees in your core temperature means you have hypothermia.
On average, normal body temperatures are between 36.5 and 37.5ᵒC (98-100ᵒF). You do not have to be exposed to extreme cold for hypothermia to be a threat.
It doesn't take much for temperatures to plummet
From a pure prepping point of view - you must be able to withstand the cold and be prepared with the right kit and knowledge to keep yourself alive during any situation.
Extreme cold survival is not exclusive to going on an Antarctic Expedition, you can be caught if stranded in your car, or snowed in at home - either ways you must be prepared.
Effects of a fall in body temperature
If you are exposed to temperatures around 10ᵒC, (50ᵒF), and have on wet clothing or are submerged in water then hypothermia is a serious threat.
Being exposed to what you would consider cool temperatures for prolonged periods without protection can bring on hypothermia as well.
The most venerable people in our society who are most likely to actually die from hypothermia are older adults over 65.
Especially if they have any underlying medical conditions.
Click image (right) to see the scale of hypothermia in the UK, The Office For National Statistics latest figures (2005 - 2013) for deaths from Hypothermia.
Your clothing is the first line of defence against the cold.
Power cuts during the winter months can be deadly for people if they do not protect themselves. So having no heat source means you have to preserve body heat as much as possible.
Clothing is your first line of defence and should be layered with material such as wool or fleece next to the skin.
Cotton is not a material you want next to your skin because it will hold body moisture (sweat) next to the skin.
Moisture wicking fabrics are very important in the prevention of hypothermia. When people exercise outdoors in cold weather or even participating in winter sports, it is essential to wear warm clothing, and in layers. Once you start to exert any physical exercising the body will heat up and begin to perspire.
In low temperatures, this can now become dangerous as sweat will start to collect on the skin.
As soon as you begin to slow down, the sweat will cool or can even freezes there on the skin, you now risk becoming very cold, very quickly.
When you wear moisture wicking fabric against your skin it pulls the sweat to the surface of the material, the problem of your sweat freezing is now largely avoided.
Moisture Wicking Is Very Important
The next layer can be the last layer if it is insulated and waterproof otherwise you will need an additional outer layer that is wind and waterproof.
Layering of clothing allows you to regulate your body temperature to reduce sweating.
If you feel warm, you can remove a layer to cool down slightly. Once cooled put the layer back on to prevent chilling.
You must do what you can to prevent heavy sweating and thus body cooling in cold temperatures.
It will only take minutes in some cases to develop signs of hypothermia.
For the 'firts line of defence' against cold weather - also see: Essential Cold Weather Bug Out Clothing
Neck, Armpits, and Groin area MUST be covered at all times when exposed to cold.
Hypothermia Survival Wrap
Large arteries in these areas carry blood to and from the organs and warm blood flows from your inner core to the surface to warm the extremities and if these areas are exposed the blood will cool faster than the body can warm up.
Warm air always conducts to extreme cold air so if your head is exposed the warm body heat will conduct away from the body.
It is important that you have protection that reflects body heat back to the body and not away from the body.
Thermal (Mylar) blankets are ideal for protection from the cold because they are designed in some cases to reflect over 90 percent of body heat back to the body.
A Mylar blanket is a perfect prepper item to carry in your EDC or bug out bag for an emergency situation and the good thing is they are very cheap at under £20 for 4 full size blankets.
Always have a supply at home - they have many uses, from blankets to reflecting heat back into a room.
You can even wrap food in them to keep warm - this is a Preppers 'must have' kit.
Next on the super light, super compact list is an actual shelter that is small enough to have in your EDC or slide into your car's glove compartment.
This is designed for pure survival and is one of the better Emergency Bivvi type bags that will actually keep you from freezing.
The EvaQ8 is a premium company and this emergency bivvi bag is very lightweight, but is also double thickness. This results in reflecting and maintaining a 90% body heat.
Sad as it seems, I have tested this out in my back garden in minus 5 degrees C, and under a small Mylar blanket tarp setup.
I did not get cold..! The bag material itself does actually 'rustle' a bit when you move about which is annoying until you get used to it.
The Survival room - inside your home
If you are inside your home without heat, you should gather everyone in one room in the centre of the home if possible.
Use the room with the least amount of outside walls and windows to reduce the heat loss to the outside.
Plan to have them sleep there if it is possible. If there are, windows or doors that do lead outside you should cover them from the inside with thermal [mylar] blankets or other material to keep heat from conducting to the extreme cold outside.
The warmer it is inside the home the faster heat will conduct to the outside, so at some point, the conduction of heat will lessen and the air temperature in the home will stabilise.
Use Survival candles to provide light and heat if the power is out - these work well and will burn for a minimum of 12 hours.
Best practice for sleeping is to utilise space by having fold-up or roll up mattresses. The type you would use for camping.
Wherever possible, raise the bed off the ground and a simple folding bed will do the trick.
If you are sleeping directly on the floor, the insulation between you and the floor is very important, especially if you are on a slab floor.
Body heat will conduct into the cooler surface and if you have subfloors, heat will conduct through the floor into the cooler space under the home.
For maximum warmth. lay your Emergency Mylar Blankets (4 Pack) on the floor first.
Then use a ‘comfort’ sleeping mat on top of that.
The Alps Self Infating mat is perfect – I can personally vouch for the Alps MAt, as I use mine regularly for camping trips.
Remove as much clothing as possible when sleeping if you have adequate blankets or sleeping bags. Clothing to include socks will become damp from perspiration and can cause body cooling if left next to the skin when sleeping. It is particularly important that you do not sleep with wet/damp socks on.
The digestive process will raise the body's core temperature so have everyone eat before sleeping to help warm the body overnight when it is the coldest.
Stranded In Your Car.
If in your vehicle, cover yourself to prevent heat conduction and do not leave your vehicle unless it is unsafe to stay with the vehicle.
Your car is your main shelter and you should never abandon it unless you know that help is close, wait for rescue.
Heavy snows are often accompanied by gale force winds, which will cause whiteout conditions and you can become lost just meters from your vehicle.
Run the engine for ten minutes at a time every hour to warm the interior and the engine. Ensure the exhaust tailpipe is not blocked, which may cause dangerous fumes to enter the interior of your car.
More Info Here: Surviving Winter If You Are Stranded In Your Car
If there is not a shelter immediately available, you must get out of the extreme cold and begin working on a makeshift shelter.
Getting under pine trees with heavy evergreen boughs can break the wind and it makes it easier to construct a shelter out of ponchos, tarps, branches or thermal blankets.
Your No:1 concern is find shelter
In a worse case scenario
This will take time and energy but may save your life.
Even building a simple snow wall will protect against the wind.
If there is deep snow on the ground, you can excavate the snow and create four walls of snow to break the wind. Dig down to bare ground if possible.
If you have, tarps or ponchos use them for overhead cover.
Leave enough space in the cover for smoke to escape if you have the means to build a fire.
Ensure you have ground insulation such as pine needles, leaves, hay, or other vegetation or thermal blankets.
Do not lean your body against the walls of snow to prevent heat loss. The snow cave or shelter must be large enough for you to lie down without touching the sides. Properly constructed snow shelters can be as much as 15 degrees warmer than the outside air.
Consider An Emergency Shelter:
Ideally, as a prepper it’s worth considering carrying a storm shelter if venturing out in possible snow and blizzard conditions.
There are some very good emergency storm shelters available. Lightweight and compact enough to fit in rucksack – and they are quite cheap too - under £30.
The Vango shown here is the 400 model, meaning it will shelter 4 people.
They also do a 200 for 2 people and 800 for 8 people. Prices range from £20 - £50
At 400 grams and packing down to the size of a bag of sugar, they are well worth considering.
Next Article > Bugging Out In Cold Weather
Extreme cold is very dangerous, and regardless of how long you expect to be exposed, you should be properly dressed for the cold.
Hypothermia if left untreated is fatal and severe frostbite left untreated will result in the loss of limb and/or tissue, and can lead to gangrene which is fatal if left untreated.