Awareness and Prevention
Dealing with a hypothermic case in the wilds is very difficult and it is better to concentrate on spotting the symptoms and prevent it occurring, rather than trying to reheat a patient. Which could be you if you are travelling solo!
Before you start
Ensure you and everyone in your party is carrying the right layering material to suit the weather conditions you are walking in and you willingly stop regularly to out them on. In essence you want to try and keep your base layer as dry as possible by continually varying your layers to suit your activity and weather conditions.
As explained, a base layer which wicks moisture away from your skin is vital to prevent the increase of heat loss. A simple highly breathable windshirt prevents windchill/convection. An insulating layer which you put on at rest stops or periods of low activity keep the heat in. Finally a waterproof jacket to prevent rain or cold weather penetrating your layers and soaking you ‘to the skin’, which then increases heat loss once again. Warm headwear prevents 47% of heat loss and gloves to keep your hands mobile. The wicking headwear made by Matt and Buff work well as a wicking layer for the head and neck in the right conditions, but once sodden by rain or sweat, they need to be replaced by thicker, warmer headwear.
Once on the hill
Once you or any of your party start to feel ‘chilled to the bone’, ‘frozen and shattered’, ‘shivering’ or ‘soaked to the skin’ you are in the first stages of hypothermia and it is absolutely vital to deal with this immediately. (This is the easiest stage to resolve and you will regret it if you don’t). Stop, rest, get out of the wind/rain, put on the correct clothing, drink water, eat something sweet and make sure your body warms up before deciding to continue or vary your route for safety reasons.
If walking with others who may be suffering, do not push on ahead and ignore them thinking they will cope or it will get better. This increases their despondency and accelerates their medical decline. Positive mental attitude (PMA) is a vital component in dealing with issues like this on the hills. Be supportive, ask questions and ensure they take on board water and sugar in some form. This can be difficult if dealing with children, or a group which wants to ‘press on’, but even more important for reasons stated above. Then make a decision to consider your best route options. Remember, the hills will still be there tomorrow!
Part 2 - The Effects
Part 3 - Bob's True Story of Hypothermia