What you should know about cold weather preparedness

by Joe Alton, M.D., aka Dr. Bones of doomandbloom.net
It looks like another harsh winter, with ice storms and blizzards already carpeting much of the Midwest, Northeast and Canada, and cold weather preparedness is a must for survival.  Failure to use precautions will lead to a condition called hypothermia.
Hypothermia is a condition where the core body temperature drops below 95 degrees  Fahrenheit.  The normal body core temperature is defined as between  97.5-99.5 degrees Fahrenheit (36.0-37.5 degrees Celsius).
In your efforts to be medically self-reliant, one of the major  factors that must be taken into consideration is your environment.  If  you haven’t prepared for the weather, you have made your environment  your enemy, and it is a formidable one. The last ice storm caused 27  deaths, some of which were avoidable.  Therefore, it’s important to be  prepared to prevent death from exposure and to know how to treat someone who is hypothermic.


Your body has various methods it uses to control its internal “core”  temperature, either raising it or lowering it to appropriate levels.   The body “core“ refers to the major internal organ systems that are necessary to maintain life, such as your brain, heart, liver, and others.
In cold weather, your blood vessels constrict to conserve heat.  Muscles “shiver” as a method of heat production. You can voluntarily  increase heat by exertion; it is recommended to “keep moving” in cold  environments for this reason. Part of the healthcare provider’s role is  to educate each and every member of their family or group on proper  planning for outdoor activities. Monitor weather conditions as well as  the people you’re sending out in the heat or cold.
The body loses heat in various ways:
Evaporation – the body perspires (sweats), which releases heat from the core.
Radiation – the body loses heat to the environment anytime  that the ambient (surrounding) temperature is below the core temperature (say, 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit).  For example, you lose more heat if  exposed to an outside temperature of 20 degrees F than if exposed to 80  degrees F.
Conduction – The body loses heat when its surface is in direct contact with cold temperatures, as in the case of someone falling from a boat into frigid water. Water, being denser than air, removes heat from the body much faster.
Convection – Heat loss where, for instance, a cooler object is in motion against the body core.  The air next to the skin is heated  and then removed, which requires the body to use energy to re-heat. Wind Chill is one example of air convection: If the ambient temperature is 32  degrees F but the wind chill factor is at 5 degrees F, you lose heat  from your body as if it were actually 5 degrees F.
Most heat is lost from the head area, due to its large surface area  and tendency to be uncovered.  Direct contact with anything cold,  especially over a large area of your body, will cause rapid cooling of  your body core temperature.  The classic example of this would be a fall into cold water.  In the Titanic sinking of 1912, hundreds of people  fell into near-freezing water.  Within 15 minutes, they were probably  beyond medical help.


Aside from shivering, the most noticeable symptoms of hypothermia  will be related to mental status.  The person may appear confused,  uncoordinated, and lethargic.  As the condition worsens, speech may  become slurred; the patient will appear apathetic and uninterested in  helping themselves, or may fall asleep.  This occurs due to the effect  of cooling temperatures on the brain; the colder the body core gets, the slower the brain works.  Brain function is supposed to cease at about  68 degrees Fahrenheit, although I have read of exceptional cases in  which people (usually children) have survived even lower temperatures.
To prevent hypothermia, you must anticipate the climate that you will be traveling through, including wind conditions and wet weather.  Condition yourself physically to be fit for the challenge. Travel with a partner if at all possible, and have enough food and water available  for the entire trip.


In your efforts to be medically self-reliant, one of the major  factors that must be taken into consideration is your environment.  If  you haven’t prepared for the weather, you have made your environment  your enemy, and it is a formidable one.
Remember the simple acronym C.O.L.D. This stands for:  Cover, Overexertion, Layering, and Dry:
Cover.  Protect your head by wearing a hat. This will prevent body heat from  escaping from your head. Instead of using gloves to cover your hands,  use mittens. Mittens are more helpful than gloves because they keep your fingers in contact with one another.  This conserves heat.
Overexertion. Avoid activities that cause you to sweat a lot.  Cold weather causes  you to lose body heat quickly, and wet, sweaty clothing accelerates the  process. Rest when necessary; use rest periods to self-assess for  cold-related changes. Pay careful attention to the status of your  elderly or juvenile group members.
Layering.  Loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in layers insulate you well. Use  clothing made of tightly woven, water-repellent material for protection  against the wind. Wool or silk inner layers hold body heat better than  cotton does. Some synthetic materials work well, also. Especially cover  the head, neck, hands and feet.
Dry. Keep as  dry as you can. Get out of wet clothing as soon as possible. It’s very  easy for snow to get into gloves and boots, so pay particular attention  to your hands and feet.
Any unconscious person that you encounter in a cold environment is hypothermic until proven otherwise. Immediate action must be taken to reverse the ill effects.


A person who is hypothermic is in danger of losing their life without your help. Important measures to take are:
Get the person out of the cold and into a warm, dry location.  If you’re unable to move the person out of the cold, shield him or her  from the cold and wind as much as possible.
Take off wet clothing. If the person is wearing wet clothing,  remove them gently.   Cover them with layers of dry blankets, including  the head (leave the face clear).   If you are outside, cover the ground  to eliminate exposure to the cold surface.
Monitor breathing. A person with severe hypothermia may be  unconscious.  Verify that the patient is breathing and check for a  pulse.  Begin CPR if necessary.
Share body heat. To warm the person’s body, remove your  clothing and lie next to the person, making skin-to-skin contact. Then  cover both of your bodies with blankets.  Some people may cringe at this notion, but it’s important to remember that you are trying to save a  life.  Gentle massage or rubbing may be helpful, but vigorous movements  may traumatize the patient
Give warm oral fluids. If the affected person is alert and  able to swallow, provide a warm, nonalcoholic, non-caffeinated beverage  to help warm the body.  Remember, alcohol does not warm you up!
Use warm, dry compresses. Use a first-aid warm compress (a  fluid-filled bag that warms up when squeezed), or a makeshift compress  of warm (not hot) water in a plastic bottle. Apply a compress only to  the neck, chest wall or groin.  These areas will spread the heat much  better than putting warm compresses on the extremities, which sometimes  worsens the condition.
Avoid applying direct heat. Don’t use hot water, a heating pad or a heating lamp to warm the person. The extreme heat can damage the  skin, cause strain on the heart or even lead to cardiac arrest.  Don’t  rub on extremities that may be frostbitten, as the skin is already  traumatized and the condition may be worsened.
Don’t give alcohol. You have all seen photos of St. Bernards  with casks of brandy around their necks for lost alpine travelers.   Alcohol may give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, but it also expands blood vessels, which causes heat loss!
st. bernard

If left untreated, hypothermia leads to complete failure of various  organ systems and to death.  Make sure your people are well clothed for  the temperature, and monitor them closely if they are outside for  extended periods of time in cold weather.


  1. So very thankful that I do not live up north but we do get cold weather too. I keep one of those emergency blankets in my vehicle and I will put in another small quilt or blanket if I am traveling very far at all or if the weather is going to be bad. Need to buy some of those hand warmers for emergencies.
    In ’93 we had one of our worst seasons ever. In Feb we had a tornado that killed one person in our county. It damaged my home and we were without power for a week. Three weeks later we had the worst blizzard ever and this time we were without power and water for another week. I always pray more during this time of year that we do not have a repeat of that. In a way I am not as prepared for that type of emergency now as I was then. We are now total electric (which I hate) back then we cooked and heated with propane. Been trying to convince DH that this needs to be a priority but we have a generator so in his mind we are fine.

    • cartersville? I drove about 12 hours on that ice and went about 120 miles.

      • BC Truck,
        Not cartersville but not far, cedartown.
        Now really wishing we were better prepared as my DH is stranded on a hwy nearby but road is closed due to snow and he is trying to figure out how to get home. Isolated back country roads and the only main road is closed now. He will probably have to go to son’s home in AL.

        • Well DH is having to spend the night at son’s home and I do not know if I will be able to make it home myself. I need to so that I can check on the animals but it does not look too promising right now. They just do not have the equipment here in the south to deal with the snow.

  2. Frugalmom3 says:

    We are currenly experiencing a very frigid winter here in Ohio and this is something I can go over with my kids as we still kick them outdoors to play. Mind you, we won’t be doing it today with wind chills well below zero. Thank you for this information!

  3. On thing that many people don’t understand about hypothermia is that you don’t have to live in the “frozen tundra” to get it. Many have died in 50 degree weather when wet and unable to warm themselves up. It is a very sneaky thing. It takes longer in the 50’s but it can happen over night.

    Best advise is travel in pairs and be aware of your surroundings. But that’s good prepper advise on any subject.

    • The body can only shiver to compensate for so long. When you start feeling drowsy, lethargic, simple thinking becomes difficult you are in trouble! More people have died from hypothermic shock thinking I will just stop and take a 10 minute break, Doesn’t matter if it is fifty and rainy of 10 below it can kill you just the same.

  4. You can also get it in the water.Ab divers can get it if not careful.I gil lnetted salmon in my late teens and my boss once told me the difference between wearing a life jacket and not is the difference between them finding your body floating instead of in a net.The pueget sound water will kill you if you can`t get out of it.

    • mom of three says:

      My husband, worked for a couple and he was a captain of a boat. He got drunk, and fell into the water they found him the next morning under his boat. But we did watch a program on how long you can stay in the Puget sound water, it was no more then 20 minutes, and they had strong people who could not stay in more then 10 minutes. so our water is COLD.

  5. And just in time to be relevant to this:


    Wool socks on sale!

  6. KR Prepper says:

    I lived in Minnesota. What helped me, was looking at the Military ECWCS system, and buying many of the affordable element.. Plus my own clothing.. I had to walk in -40 many times when I didn’t have a vehicle. To pull that off.. You need seven layers. I used

    1. Silk long underwear top and bottom
    2. Polypropylene Baselayer balaclava, shirt and bottom
    3. Wool sock layer then thicker wool blend insulated sock
    4. Milsurp Wool skull cap, shirt top, and bottom (wool scarf wrapped arou d face and neck
    5.Fleece hoodie with Balaclava
    6. Insulated snow parka
    7. insulated ski pants..

    With my hunting pack.. I looked like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, but I was warm and could ride my bike with no issue.

  7. Very good timing for this article, we don’t live in the frozen north but they are predicting a sleet/ice storm here for tomorrow ending with 4 to 6 inches of snow overnight. What is scary is folks here aren’t used to the cold and if they get stuck in the snow or skid off the road they won’t be prepared to spend any time in the cold.
    My GHB has extra warm clothes, change of socks and gloves.

  8. One thing we all need to remember, Hypothermia only gives you one warning. That is the Shivering. If you have not taken steps to correct your situation and you stop shivering the next step is confusion followed by drowsiness followed by sleep that you will not wake up from.

  9. How do you say Carhartt – the only way to fly. When its -25 and the wind is blowing, it’s what all the best dressed people wear!

  10. I live in a cold area and Carthartt are the only thing I own. From head to toe and many layers. When I die they will have to lay off workers

  11. Draq wraith says:

    While we are on the subject boots seem to be a problem to come by that keep my toes warm.
    any suggestions?

    • Warm feet warm feet warm feet!

      The usual snow boots I wear are Sorels for clumping around, but there are many other fine brands. Its just that the Sorels last for so long that they never need replacing except for the lining. Buy them a little bigger than your regular size. Wear a thinner silk sock and then a thicker merino wool sock and with the socks on make sure you have plenty of room for your toes to move in the boot and not be tight or squished, and you will have toasty feet.

      Tried and tested at -26 and my feet were almost too warm!


    • Check out baffin boots…..Draq. I have a pair and mine are good to -70 celcius or -94 farenheit. My feet dont sweat in them either. Best boots i have ever owned
      I think the site is baffin.com

      • Draq wraith says:


      • Boss_Hog81 says:

        GandR – Baffins are some great boots, wore out a pair in North Dakota while I was working there. Only down side was that they didn’t offer good traction on the ice. I bought a set of removable, bungee type ice cleats and voila, problem solved.

  12. unknown suspect says:

    Hypothermia can happen at any time. I watched it happen in the middle of July on a cloudy and drizzly day. When I was stationed in Alaska, I was on a road march up into the mountains. After 12 miles or so, we left the road and went straight up the mountainside. The temp was about the mid 50’s cloudy and spots of rain, slight breeze. the guy in front of me stopped and sat down on top of his ruck. I asked if he was OK.. He said he was tired and needed to rest.. He was soaked from wearing a rubber rain suit and not doing well. I encouraged him to get up and take it slow and we’ll get there… He kept saying he was tired, then he passed out on me. I yelled up to the rest of the guys and told them I have a hypothermia casualty and need help. Two guys came back down, one was a medic. He took one look at the casualty and started stripping his rain suit off and the wet clothes, dug into the guys ruck and pulled dry clothes out. We helped him dress the casualty back up. He was still in bad shape, so we pulled his fart sack out, fluffed it up and threw him in that.. That didn’t work, so the other guy that came down stripped to his skives and jumped in. That didn’t help, the causality was still semi deleterious and going in and out of consciousness. The medic yelled up and told the RTO to get on the horn and have the meat wagon meet us on the road. So we pulled his poly pad out, put the sleeping bagged causality on it, used 550 cord to secure him to it and slid him down the mountainside and into a waiting ambulance. Later prognosis from the hospital was hypothermia and dehydration. He sucked down 4 bags of fluid via IV.

  13. A couple of thoughts on layering for the winter:
    3 Layers:
    1st a base wicking layer to take moisture away from your body. It should be tight and touch the skin. Synthetics are great for wicking but begin to smell really bad if you aren’t washing them after a day of use. Merino wool is expensive but works as a great wicking layer and is soft to the skin.

    2nd: Insulation layer: This can be a cheaper wool (scratchy wool) or polar fleece synthectic and should be looser than your baselayer.

    3rd: Wind/Water proof layer: This layer is the outside layer and should be weather proof. This is your goretex jacket and pants, etc. The best will allow water vapor to pass through, but block the wind and rain. If you preparing to move through the cold and potentially survive a night, you should be able to lay down in snow and stay dry. If it can’t keep you dry in that situation, keep looking for a new top layer.
    Cotton kills! Cotton as a baselayer absorbs sweat and loses all thermal insulation properties. Wool maintains 80% of insulation properties even when wet, and should be in your clothing plan (either Merino wool as a base layer, or as an insulation layer)

  14. Boss_Hog81 says:

    Howdy y’all, this happens to be the first comment since my visit a few minutes ago. Thanks to BCtruck for mentioning this blog on his YouTube channel!

    This really is a testimony that I would like to share:

    I am from the good state of Louisiana and I work in the oil and gas industry as a health, safety and environmental consultant for a major oil company and for the last 5-6 years I have been traveling all over the good ol’ U.S of A and have had an opportunity to visit states that I haven’t had a chance to see. Currently I am in West Texas, prior to this I spent two years in North Dakota…..now let me start by saying that I wasn’t eased into the winter gradually to get use to it, never mind that last statement…you never get use to the cold up there! My first trip was to a little area south of a town called Bowbells, ND. That morning after I woken up was -72 degrees with wind chill. Never in my life have I experienced something that cold. Literally take your breath away. So cold that coffee will evaporate instantly after it leaves the cup. Needless to say…I had some learning to do with dealing with the cold weather. Problem was that I worked a 14 & 14 schedule so for 14 days at work in ND (freezing cold) and 14 days off in La. (nice 70 degree weather)

    After the first winter I had the remaining of the seasons to prepare for the upcoming winter. After getting to know some of the locals, they gave me some great tips for preparing for the winter and with me being a safety man, i’m definitely gonna be prepared.

    After the following winter my services were no longer needed and the oil company moved me to West Texas. Here we get some pretty nasty cold, strong winds and some ice occasionally but nothing like in ND, but you know I still prepare my vehicle as if there is gonna be 10′ of snow!

    If woking in ND has taught me anything is that you can never predict what could happen.

    Now if you have read this far, I hope I haven’t bored you! When you have information on your brain its kinda hard not to start from the beginning.

    After visiting several stores in ND, I was able to purchase misc items to stock my truck. Here are a few items that I kept and currently keep in my truck…as a just in case situation:

    -Winter survival kit – includes emergency blanket, water packs, high calorie/high carb food bars, cyalume chemlights, waterproof matches, tissue to start fire, first aid kit, multi-purpose tool and other odds and ends

    -Sub zero compact sleeping bag
    -A light and medium jacket and a heavy parka
    -Gerber knife with removable flint

    Now granted when I was in ND, I carried a pair of Baffin sub zero boots but working in Tx I haven’t needed them haha. Which on the subject are some great boots for cold weather but warn you are very slick on the ice, so I also carried a removable set of ice cleats

    I cant stress enough about preparing yourself for winter survival. I have seen first hand on how one minute you can see just fine and 10 minutes later you can’t see 3′ in front of you.

    If there is one thing that I can share about winter in remote locations if your vehicle breaks down on the side of the road is that more people die from leaving the safety of their vehicle only to find them dead less than 50 yards away. This has happened on many of occasions. Folks think they can walk and find someone to offer aid and eventually panic when they cant find their way.

    Prepare your vehicle if you live in cold weather areas. If you happen to break down, don’t panic and use your resources to keep you alive

    I hope someone finds this useful and not boring or exhausting. Im not really good at expressing myself in words, but get me face to face and I can talk your ear off (haha). This was some first hand experience when working in remote locations in ND during some brutal winter weather.

    Hope y’all have a good one!
    Be safe….because someone cares about you!

  15. Encourager says:

    Thank you, Boss_Hog81, for your very helpful comments!

    And great article!

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