M4S 025: Preparing for Cold Weather and Winter Health Risks
Preparing for cold weather comes with its own set of challenges. It means getting ready for health concerns such as frostbite, hypothermia, sanitation, and warmth.
If you live someplace cold, winter weather is reality, and so is the need to understand winter medicine concerns. People should embrace winter, prepare for it and take it seriously.
When embracing it, learn how to adapt to winter, and you’ll be better set for success.
“Winter medical is all about being prepared. If you’re ready for a situation and you both mentally and physically prepare for it, it’s really not as bad as what you’re perceiving it to be.” ~Travis Hall, U.S. Army Green Beret.
Preparing for Cold Weather When Working Outside
Plan your activities in advance and understand your body’s needs for food, water, and being sheltered from the elements. Once your needs are understood, take appropriate actions.
While you may be cold initially, as your activity increases, you will warm up. So dress appropriately in layers. Stop throughout the day and adjust your clothing and equipment as needed to your situation. Try to avoid wearing more layers than necessary. Physical activity will warm you up and can make you sweat. Dress up or down appropriately.
You lose just as much moisture from your body in the winter as you do in the summer. It’s easy in winter to neglect your water intake. Drink water!
How Does Cold Effect Your Metabolism?
Shivering increases metabolism and causes high-calorie burns. This creates a drop in weight. Being cold increases your daily energy (food) needs, so expect to be hungrier. Bring more food than you think you’ll need.
Don’t Forget to Change Your Socks
Changing your socks is essential. Fresh socks help keep your feet clean, dry, and trench foot free.
Take the time and plan on changing your socks when possible. When changing your socks, when appropriate, let your foot air dry before putting the new sock on. This will help kill any bacteria and will work towards keeping your feet healthy.
Don’t forget to wash your socks. Clean socks are good socks. Clean socks can help you feel better and more motivated when you’re in a strenuous and challenging situation.
Preparing for Cold Weather: Your Vehicle
Keep a cold-weather kit in your car.
- Poncho liner or another type of blanket
- Gloves and hand warmers
- Extra clean, dry socks
- Long underwear
- Leather gloves for working
Plan for the possibility of cold even if it doesn’t seem like it may get cold. As soon as winter is coming near, you need to switch to your winter vehicle kit.
Being prepared with proper clothing is very important. Keeping your head and feet warm can do wonders for your morale.
Being Stranded in the Winter
Preparing for cold weather should take into account the worst-case scenario of being stranded out there for a period of time.
Getting good, warm sleep when it is cold is vital to help your body heal from any injuries you may have incurred. Healing is especially essential when you’re cold.
Tips for Keeping Warm at Night Without a Fire
- If possible, learn how to have a low-light fire.
- Candles will heat up a small space.
- Body heat from another person and “snuggling” under combined blankets really helps.
- Insulating yourself and your shelter with leaves or other material works well.
- Keep yourself off the ground to avoid heat loss through convection into the ground.
If you’re in a long-term situation, find, or make a permanent shelter. The goal is to not only survive but to thrive.
Preparing for Cold Weather Hygiene
You may be wondering how you can stay clean when it’s so cold outside. It’s important to focus on personal hygiene in the winter because the cold decreases the motivation to do activities that keep you healthy.
Make sure you clean your hands and body, wash your clothes, and get fresh air.
Keeping up with washing when you’re wearing layers of clothing is not easy, but if you’re going to be out there for more than a couple of days, it’s important. Wash and dry one layer at a time. Built-up layers of clothing hold bacteria unless you wash yourself and your clothes.
Preparing for Cold Weather Injuries
The body needs to maintain 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit to stay warm. Your goal is to keep your temperature as close to that number as possible. Otherwise, you may face one of the following cold-weather injuries.
Hypothermia – This is the deregulation of the heat of your body. Uncontrollable shivering is the start of hypothermia. The key to treating hypothermia before it becomes more serious is early recognition and re-warming.
Frostbite: Frostbite typically affects your exposed areas. Often times the number one area impacted by frostbite is your nose. Your fingertips, ears, nose, and private parts are also very susceptible to frostbite.
“Fingers, toes, nose and hose.” ~Travis Hall
You can identify frostbite by looking for discoloration and numbness. If you are numb or in pain, work on warming up the area. Once you pass the point of pain, you could be in serious trouble. The winter medicine key is to re-warm the area slowly. Re-warming is painful and will not feel good, but it is necessary. Prevent frostbite by wearing gloves, changing your socks, and maintaining your warmth.
Here’s a detailed article on cold-weather injuries.
The Bottom Line on Preparing for Cold Weather
Most of us know when cold weather is coming based on where we live. However, unusual places can get hit with sudden cold weather out of the blue (We’re looking at you, Texas), so everyone needs to have an understanding of how to survive frigid temperatures.
Do you have any cold weather preparedness suggestions you’d like to add? Share them in the comments section.
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