Cold can kill. Without a regulated body temperature, a person can survive only 3 hours. Cold and wet is an even more deadly combination. There are some basics to keep in mind when facing cold weather.
I commanded an A-Team in the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne). 10th Group has the distinction of being the ‘cold weather’ Group, since it’s oriented toward high altitude environments. We learned to ski, then survive and operate in high altitude and cold weather. My first winter operation was an eye-opening experience for me — the image below is on a recon above 10,000 feet altitude in the mountains.
Wind amplifies the effect of cold. Your outer garment should be wind and waterproof.
There are two types of cold weather environments: wet or dry. New England, for example, is wet cold. The Rocky Mountains are dry cold. We took more cold weather casualties when we trained in the Adirondacks at lower elevation than when we trained in Utah at high altitude based on the difference between wet cold and dry cold.
Always keep your head covered. You lose a large percent of body heat from an unprotected head and more from the unprotected neck, wrist, and ankles. These areas of the body are good radiators of heat and have very little insulating fat. The brain is very susceptible to cold and can stand the least amount of cooling. I am a big fan of the wool watch cap.
The key to clothing is layering. You start with what’s closest to your body. It is critical to keep not only warm, but dry, no matter where you are. Often, in the desert, while the day might be hot, the night can easily drop below freezing, depending on the time of year.
Layering works in threes: INNER MIDDLE OUTER
Inner layer. Whatever is directly against your skin. The goal is to wick moisture away to the next two layers. Your body heat does the work, so the better the material for this, the less energy your body has to expend. This layer should have a snug fit around your body. The material used should absorb less than one percent of moisture. Common materials are polypropylene, silk, wool and polyester. Never cotton.
Middle layer. This layer is your insulation. Its primary purpose is to keep your warm, while it also helps wick away the moisture to the outer layer. This middle layer must move the moisture outward while keeping heat in. When you think middle layer, consider several garments instead of just one, so you can adjust as the temperature changes.
Outer layer. While the first two layers are focused on keeping warmth in and wicking moisture away, the primary purpose of the outer layer is to battle outside elements, primarily wind and moisture. It should also have some ability to wick away moisture from inside. If this layer only repels rain and wind, it’s called a shell. Usually, though, this outer layer will have an insert that can be added or removed as needed.
A key word to remember is the acronym COLD. C: keep Clothing clean O: avoid Overheating L: wear clothes Loose and in Layers D: keep clothing Dry. Cold Weather Preparation
C: keep Clothing clean This principle is always important for sanitation and comfort. In winter, it is also important from the standpoint of warmth. Clothes matted with dirt and grease lose much of their insulation value. Heat can escape more easily from the body through the clothing’s crushed or compressed air pockets.
O: avoid Overheating When you get too hot, you sweat and clothing absorbs the moisture. This affects warmth in two ways: dampness decreases the insulation quality of clothing, and as sweat evaporates, your body cools. Adjust your clothing so that you do not sweat. Do this by partially opening your parka or jacket, by removing an inner layer of clothing, by removing heavy outer mittens, or by throwing back your parka hood or changing to lighter headgear.
L: wear clothes Loose and in Layers Wearing tight clothing (other than the innermost layer) and footgear restricts blood circulation and invites cold injury. It also decreases the volume of air trapped between the layers, reducing its insulating value. Several layers of lightweight clothing are better than one equally thick layer of clothing, because the layers have dead-air space between them. The dead-air space provides extra insulation. Also, layers of clothing allow you to take off or add clothing layers to prevent excessive sweating or to increase warmth.
D: keep clothing Dry. In cold temperatures, your inner layers of clothing can become wet from sweat and your outer layer, if not water repellent, can become wet from snow and frost melted by body heat. Wear water repellent or waterproof outer clothing. It will shed most of the water collected from melting snow and frost. Despite the precautions you take, there will be times when you cannot keep from getting wet. At such times, drying your clothing may become a major problem. On the march, hang your damp mittens and socks on your rucksack. Sometimes even in freezing temperatures, the wind and sun will dry this clothing. You can also place damp socks or mittens, unfolded, near your body so that your body heat can dry them.
Hypothermia is the lowering of the body temperature at a rate faster than the body can produce heat. The initial symptom is shivering. This shivering may progress to the point that it is uncontrollable and interferes with an individual’s ability to care for himself. This begins when the body’s core (rectal) temperature falls to about 96 degrees. When the core temperature reaches 95 to 90 degrees F, sluggish thinking, irrational reasoning, and a false feeling of warmth may occur. Core temperatures 90 to 86 degrees F and below result in muscle rigidity, unconsciousness, and barely detectable signs of life. If the victim’s core temperature falls below 77 degrees F (25 degrees C), death is almost certain.
Hypothermia: Some people are more susceptible to hypothermia: the elderly, children, and those under the influence of alcohol. Children and thin people loss body heat more quickly. Hypothermia Symptoms: Shivering. Confusion. Uncoordinated actions. Treatment: Get into shelter. Build a fire if you don’t have a shelter. Remove wet clothing and replace with dry. Put in a sleeping bag or cover with blankets. Sip on a warm beverage (nothing with caffeine or alcohol). Do gentle exercises. If necessary, have someone who is not hypothermic cuddle up, to give their body heat. If you have hand warmers, put them in the same place ice would go for heat stroke: neck, armpits and groin.
Frostbite: This injury is the result of frozen tissues. Light frostbite involves only the skin that takes on a dull whitish pallor. Deep frostbite extends to a depth below the skin. The tissues become solid and immovable. Your feet, hands, and exposed facial areas are particularly vulnerable to frostbite. The best frostbite prevention, when you are with others, is to use the buddy system. Check your buddy’s face often and make sure that he checks yours. If you are alone, periodically cover your nose and lower part of your face with your mittened hand. Frostbite can happen fast. I had a touch of frostbite simply be removing my gloves to help load a casualty onto a Blackhawk helicopter in freezing temperatures. The combination of cold and the wind produced by the blades exacerbated the situation. Frostbite
The following pointers will aid you in keeping warm and preventing frostbite. Maintain circulation by twitching and wrinkling the skin on your face by making faces. Warm with your hands. Ears. Wiggle and move your ears. Warm with your hands. Hands. Move your hands inside your gloves. Warm by placing your hands close to your body. Feet. Move your feet and wiggle your toes inside your boots. A loss of feeling in your hands and feet is a sign of frostbite. If you have lost feeling for only a short time, the frostbite is probably light. Otherwise, assume the frostbite is deep.
Frostbite Symptoms: Stinging pain that turns into numbness. You might not even feel the pain, depending on the circumstances and what else is going on in an emergency. The skin becomes cold to the touch and white spots develop.
Frostbite Treatment: As with everything else, medical attention ASAP if possible; frostbite can cause permanent injuries and even amputation. If medical attention isn’t available within the next two to three hours, get into shelter or build a fire. Submerge body parts in water that is between 104 and 108 F; tepid water, not hot. Submerging in hot water will cause extreme pain and even shock. Do not expose frostbite to flame. This tepid water will cool quickly, drawing the cold from the body. Change it often. When drying frostbite injuries pat them. Don’t rub. Rubbing causes more damage. Blisters may appear. Do not pop or lance them as that increases the chances of infection. Apply a loose sterile dressing over the affected area.
When bundled up in many layers of clothing during cold weather, you may be unaware that you are losing body moisture. Your heavy clothing absorbs the moisture that normally evaporates in the air. You must drink water to replace this loss of fluid. Your need for water is as great in a cold environment as it is in a warm environment even though you don’t feel as thirsty. We often don’t want to drink water when we’re cold.
Dehydration: One way to tell if you are becoming dehydrated is to check the color of your urine on snow. If your urine makes the snow dark yellow, you are becoming dehydrated and you need to replace body fluids. If it makes the snow light yellow to no color, your body fluids have a more normal balance. You can also smell the sharp odor of the urine when someone is dehydrated.
You can also do the pinch test. Pinch a portion of skin on the back of your hand and let go. If it remains pinched for longer than usual, you are dehydrated. Dehydration
Shelter is critical. A snow cave or snow trench work well. Get out of the wind. Cold tends to settle in low areas, so avoid the bottom of gullies or ravines. Operating In Cold Weather
Everything takes twice as long as it normally does. Snow is extremely difficult to move through. Food and water freeze. We carried our canteens inside our outer garments and next to your bodies. The same with our next meal. Weapons sweat if you keep them near you when sleeping. They will then freeze. Leave them outside the shelter where they won’t warm up.
Bottom line? Be prepared and be smart.