Hypothermia 101

Hypothermia is a condition that occurs when inner body temperature drops more than two degrees below normal. It means the body is seriously cold and losing heat faster than it can produce it. The body loses body heat four ways: Conduction, Convection, Radiation & Evaporation.

When people begin to lose heat from exposure, they will shiver and exercise to stay warm. These actions drain energy and slowly lead to exhaustion. The body’s energy reserves will be depleted and the body core temperature will drop further. If untreated, exposure leads to hypothermia, the number one killer of those who participate in outdoor activities.


You have three defences against hypothermia:

1.   Wear Proper / Layered Clothing– Stay dry. Wet clothing loses most of its insulating value. Wool clothing is able to retain more of its insulating properties when wet.
2.   Get out of the Elements – If you can’t stay dry and warm under existing weather conditions, get out of the wind and rain. Build a fire. Construct a shelter. Make camp before you are tired.
3.   Detect hypothermia – Symptoms of Hypothermia can be difficult to detect, or even to be aware of. Watch for these symptoms:

Stages of Hypothermia:

Mild – feeling cold, shivering and may be uncoordinated.

Moderate – intense shivering, obvious lack of coordination, possible confusion, otherwise known as the “umbles” (stumbles, mumbles, etc..)

Severe – shivering may stop, very poor coordination, confusion. May lead to semi consciousness or unconsciousness, erratic respiration and heart beat

First Aid for mild or moderate hypothermia

  • Remove any wet clothing and get dry
  • Get warm by wrapping in blankets, putting on dry clothing and moving to a warm place
  • Apply available heat sources, such as hot water bottle or heating pad.
  • Get warm liquids into you.
  • Do not rewarm too quickly.

If in severe state of hypothermia :

  • Do not attempt to rewarm. Do not rub or massage the victim’s skin. Warming will cause cold blood from the extremities to return to the core of the body, further lowering body-core temperature which may lead to death.
  • Place victim in dry clothes, blankets or a sleeping bag to prevent further heat loss.
  • Do not permit the victim to walk. Transport to a medical facility immediately. Advanced hypothermia requires special rewarming methods.


Atlantic Provinces Hunter Education manual