With winter comes skiing, skating, snowshoeing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and a slew of other snow and ice related outdoor activities. But with cold weather also comes the risk of hypothermia when you’re not prepared for the conditions.

A person with hypothermia isn’t usually aware of it because the symptoms often begin gradually and hypothermia causes confusion or lack of self-awareness.

Symptoms of hypothermia usually occur in a progression. They start with involuntary shivering and loss of motor skills. Blood vessels shut down in the hands and feet. As body core temperature falls below 95 degrees, the shivering becomes violent. The person may slur speech or mumble, display illogical behavior, loss of emotional cognition or fight consciousness. Below 92 degrees, the effects become life threatening, shivering stops, muscles become rigid, pupils dilate and pulse drops. By 86 degrees, the person is in a state known as the “metabolic icebox.” Breathing becomes shallow and erratic, consciousness is lost and the heart becomes vulnerable to deadly arrhythmia.

How to help hypothermic people if medical care is not available:

  1. Get the person into a warm shelter. If pre-made shelter can’t be found, insulate the person from the ground with a waterproof layer and shield the person from rain and wind.
  2. If the person is wearing any wet clothing, remove it.
  3. Wrap them in an insulating blanket. The goal is to gradually warm the center of the body first — chest, neck, head and groin.
  4. Warm beverages can help increase body temperature.
  5. If in an enclosed shelter, heat up and humidify the air.
  6. After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
  7. Get medical attention as soon as possible.
  8. A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or be breathing. CPR should continue while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds.

To prevent hypothermia:

  1. Continuously eat a variety of food all day and keep hydrated.
  2. Have a layering system of dry clothing including a waterproof, windproof layer and larger insulating layer for when you aren’t moving.
  3. Don’t travel across thin ice and protect yourself from moisture.
  4. Keep your skin covered, including your head, in cold temperatures.

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...