2011-12-22

Survive in extreme temperatures

Six months ago, at the June solstice, I wrote "a series of Survival Guides in an attempt to educate and inform readers of wilderness survival techniques". Today, on the day of the December solstice, I would like to revisit the subject of survival.


Photo from telegraph.co.uk [found via Universe Today]

During a solstice, the "tilt" of the Earth is at its greatest angle in relation to its orbit around the Sun. Meaning, the Northern hemisphere is in the depths of Winter and the Southern hemisphere is at the peak of Summer. The solstice is a time of astronomical extremes and so are the conditions on our planet. Inspired by these extremes, I want to give you some guidance in today's article on surviving extreme temperatures.

Whether freezing cold or scorching heat, extreme temperatures stress the human body to death. Though apparent opposites, heat and cold cause similar problems. The human body is a system run at a consistent core temperature, any environment outside the usual comfort limits to this system causes the body to have to work harder to maintain its core temperature.

We have at least three options when it comes to our process of temperature maintenance:
1. Change our environment/location to bring it within our comfort limit.
2. Provide our bodies with the resources necessary to continue to operate under the demands of increased work.
3. Do nothing, risking the possibility that our body will fail to meet the new demands. Said simply: Death.
Regardless of the temperature, we need to address these basic components: shelter, water, and first-aid. Shelter allows us to insulate ourselves against the extremes (option 1). Water is a necessity for maintaining our internal system (option 2). First-aid allows us to treat any damage the environment may have caused to our bodies, injury and illness puts our body at greater risk, stressing it further.


SHELTER
Finding shelter is important in both heat and cold. In times of heat, it will shield you from the Sun and help you keep a little cooler. In times of cold, shelter will help stay warm and protect you from rain or snow.

"Shelter" is not only physical standing structures, shelter can refer to clothing as well. It's all about environmental comfort. When keeping warm, remember the COLD acronym:
CLEAN - Dirt weighs down clothing, decreasing the amount of air between one layer and the next. Air is essential to insulate the body and keep in the heat.
OVERHEATING - If you overheat your body, you'll begin to sweat. The moisture will cool you faster, not a good thing when trying to stay warm. Keep things comfortable, not hot.
LAYERS - Keep your layers loose. It's important to keep your blood flowing easily. It will help to circulate your core temperature and keep your extremities warm.
DRY - Any moisture, including sweat, cools the skin and collapses the layers of clothing.
Clothing is important for keeping cool as well. If trying to stay cool, clothing will help slow the evaporation of sweat. Additionally, clothing will protect your skin from the direct sunlight. Beware not to wear too much clothing though; cover what you are able, but don't overheat yourself further.


WATER
As I said in my article about Finding Water:
You should drink about two liters of water per day (2 L ≈ .5 gal) under normal circumstances. In more strenuous situations, you should intake four to six liters per day; "strenuous" describes anything outside tolerable temperatures (21°C ≈ 70°F) or stress levels (physical or mental). Basically, drink 2 liters when you're feeling average; more if you're not feeling average.
Staying hydrated is one of the most important steps to ensuring your survival. In addition to what I've already addressed in my related article, here are some other guidelines:
- Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol; those drinks will take more moisture from you than they offer.
- Do not eat/drink frozen water (e.g. snow or ice). If you do consume frozen water, you'll decrease your core body temperature, which your body then has to fight to restore. So, melt first!
- If trying to stay warm, avoid getting your clothes and skin wet when finding or consuming water.

FIRST-AID
Frost bite, sun burn, and exhaustion are a few of the dangers you face in extreme environmental conditions. I wrote about common ailments in my Wilderness First Aid article, be sure to supplement that knowledge with the following tips:
- Be careful with your skin. Both frost bite and sun burn are similar in their effect on the body.
- Don't ever rub damaged skin, you'll cause even more damage.
- Wear loose clothing so that you don't restrict blood flow.
- When trying to rewarm frost-bite, do NOT use hot water. Ideally, use water between 38°C (≈100°F) to 41°C (≈106°F).

Please take care in all times of year, especially when facing environmental extremes. Always try to stay informed of possible changes in weather and always plan/pack for the worst-case scenario whenever you leave your home (even if only a "quick trip").
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