Prepping and bugging out in winter condition is a lot different than in a hot climate and as a prepper, your number 1 priority should always be safe and protecting yourself from the natural elements. Winter conditions bring out a whole set of challenges, but most important of these is to keep dry and have a comfortable temperature. You can be well prepared with food, water, and other tools but if you can’t keep yourself warm during winter your bugging out journey will be short.
So what is the best prevention for frostbite? The most important factor for preventing frostbite is to keep yourself dry and well insulated. If you are well insulated but you got wet due to the weather conditions or other factors you must find shelter and build a fire to get dry and warmed up. Always keep your inner layer clothes dry, if these also get wet you will get frostbite in a matter of minutes depending on the outside temperature.
The best prevention against frostbite is well insulating clothes, my recommendation is to get a good winter jacket which is also windproof Click here to check price on Amazon.com
How does frostbite affect your body
Frostbite is a medical condition where your skin and underlying tissue can literally start to freeze. Being exposed to cold temperatures combined with fast winds can get frostbite in just 5 minutes. Normally our core temperature is 98.6 Fahrenheit (37 C) this temperature is actually crucial for maintaining the critical bodily functions that keep us alive. But strong winds and frigid temperatures can make staying warm a constant challenge.
When the core temperature starts to dip for any reason the Hypothalamus which is the thermal regulatory center of our brain springs into survival mode in order to protect our vital organs and maintain our core temperature. Blood carries oxygen molecules for energy but also distributes warmth to every part of your body.
If your core temperature is compromised your blood vessels will constrict and divert that warmth away from the extremities and towards your vital organs. Basically, your body is focusing on your core internal organs without which you can not survive and in a desperate attempt of heating these internal organs it will neglect your outer limbs such as your legs and hands.
Once the hypothalamus diverts the warmth to protect your inner organs your extremities become vulnerable to frostbite. Hypothermia can occur in small scale SHTF situations during winter, once the power grid goes down most people will have no alternatives for heating, in my article Prepping for a winter power outage, you will learn everything you need to know about surviving with no electricity during winter.
What is the best prevention for frostbite?
Frostbite can occur on not just any cold climate but on some desert environment also. Arid deserts usually have a massive temperature difference between day and night, you will be very hot during the day but during the night temperatures might fall below 30 F. No matter what climate you are in if it is, cold, wet and windy there is a possibility that you could develop frostbite if you are not well prepared.
As in all environments, you should always wear appropriate clothing especially while bugging out. If you are bugging out from a warm climate to a more cold climate then you should take this also into consideration. There are a few key factors which if you follow you should be ok but as any prepper knows you have to be prepared well in advance. If you are in a cold climate and you are not wearing the appropriate clothes and don’t have the proper means to make a fire and shelter your chances of getting frostbite increases exponentially with each minute you spend in that environment.
In my opinion, this is the most important thing. You can have all the layers of protection against the weather but if these clothes get wet you are in serious risk of not only getting frostbite but also from hypothermia. If your clothes are not waterproof or not made for the colder climate you will start losing a lot of heat through your clothes, this means once you start sweating your clothes will get wet and this will eventually lead to frostbite or in some cases to hypothermia.
If for some reason all the layer of your clothing gets wet you must build a fire as soon as possible, take off all your clothes and dry them as fast as possible. This may sound counter intuitive but wet clothes are actually worse of keeping you warm then you being naked and dry. As a prepper you also have spare clothes in a waterproof bag so change your clothes immediately, but do not put on your wet body the dry clothes, make sure that first you are dry or else the dry clothes will soak up the leftover water that is on your skin and this won’t help to keep you warm.
If you are wearing a lot of wool clothes these will absorb a lot of water and before you make your fire roll around the snow as the snow will absorb some of the moisture in your clothes. Don’t stop moving even for a second, if you sit down to rest because you are tired do not do it, stay on your feet and try singing your favorite song. As for why singing you will notice how hard it is for you to make the simple tasks as singing but it will keep you focused and not to get drowsed off.
If you get wet time is a major factor if you will get frostbite or not, drying and warming up fast is extremely important. Once you made your fire make sure that you do not stay to close to the fire as your body is in shock and you won’t feel if the fire is actually burning you. Make sure that you put your wet clothes on the side of the fire on a branch as most of the heat goes upward and this way they dry faster.
If you have some clothing item like long johns which do dry fast due to their material focus on this one and once they are dry put them on but only if you are also dry. Even after you have built the fire you are not safe yet as wind conditions will dictate on how fast you can warm up. While you are warming up don’t forget to constantly move your feet and even to put your hands between your armpits to warm them up.
Do note that while you are doing all this you are probably going to shiver a lot if the shivering stops all of a sudden and you start feeling extremely warm without even building a fire or having some other heating sources be careful as this is a sign of early hypothermia. Basically what happens is while you are cold your body is diverting most of the blood to your core organs to keep you warm but this is a very energy expensive thing to do for your body and eventually, it will tire.
By that time your body just lets “go” of itself and fills even your extremities with blood giving you a false sense of security and warmth, but this is just your brain trying to make sense of the situation, below you will find that almost 50% of people who have died of hypothermia got naked due to this abnormal behavior.
It is extremely important that you wear the appropriate clothing and that you have spare dry clothes to change. Frostbite and hypothermia are very dangerous and you might be noticing it when your toes are starting to get black, by this point you are going to lose that toe. Clothing should be from top to bottom made in such a way that the only place where the warmth will get out is through your head area.
If you wear loose clothes where the wind can enter underneath your jacket, trough your shoes and pants then you are at serious risk of getting frostbite and at worst to make hypothermia. Your clothes must fit you but not as much as a summer outfit, your cold climate clothes should be always 1-2 sizes bigger than you because you will wear several layers of clothes. By wearing clothes 1-2 numbers higher you ensure that you are well insulated with more layers of clothes and that the bugging out experience is more comfortable while traveling.
Do not wear too many clothes as this will make you sweat and once you are sweating you might end up taking some clothing items off and expose some of your wet skin to the elements and this is a recipe for disaster.
Most of the heat that leaves our body is through our head, you need to make it as difficult for the heat to get lost as possible. A good winter cap which also protects your ears will do its job. Frostbite occurs mostly on unprotected skin surfaces, like the nose, ears, cheeks and even on your lips, thus you also need to protect these areas as well with a scarf or mask. If you are wearing some sort of clothing item to protect your mouth make sure that it is dry.
While you breathe you will exhale a lot of hot air and when this comes into contact with the outside air it condenses. Once this happens the insolation factor becomes less effective as they are wet and can not hold on to the hot air as much as if they would when they are dry.
You will probably be sweating a lot so it is a good idea to have several backup headgears which you should change every couple of hours so this way you have something always dry.
You should aim to buy a comfortable and well insulating winter jacket, by this, I am not saying that what you find in your local fashion stores are good. These usually have never been tested for a true winter condition and most of them will keep you warm for short periods of times. When your body starts not to produce as much heat due to the external climate then the poor insolation jackets will be not able to do its job of keeping you warm.
There is a lot of information on how to purchase a good winter jacket and what to look for so I am not going into much in detail here. But buy a good sturdy one which can resist the elements, it is waterproof or even water repellant.
You will need a good sturdy pair of boots, these usually cost a lot if you go with the high end ones but it will be worth it. One important factor is while you are looking for boots is to make sure you buy 1-2 sizes larger then what you need, this way you can use double or triple socks for extra insulation. If your boots are not large enough so that you can double or triple sock but you still do it you will end up constricting your blood vessels.
Constructing your blood vessels is very dangerous as you won’t feel if they are actually cold due to the limited blood supply and this is an easy way to get frostbite which you will notice only after you take off your boots, by that time it might be too late.
Water repellent pants are a must if you are in a winter climate, but as an extra layer, my advice is to also wear long johns or some sort of underpants. Make sure that you tuck your pants down your boots as most water repellent pants are actually only water repellent on the outside. This means that while you are walking through the snow some of it may end up sticking to the insides of your pants and once it has melted it will start all kinds of trouble for your feet no matter how many layers of socks you have.
Most people do not even think of socks as an essential item but trust me it is. Your feet are going to sweat a lot if you camping outside and you do not even take off your boots this will lead to a lot of problems down the line. Keep extra socks and every time you make a fire, change your socks with the dry ones this way your feet are always dry. Just make sure your feet are also dry before you put on the new socks as if you don’t change for dry socks is kind of pointless.
No matter what kind of climate you are, the enduring the day. The ability to make a fire especially in a cold climate has numerous benefits, you can warm up, cook, boil water, keep predators away and it is even a psychological factor of well beeing once you start your fire. As I mentioned above staying dry is very important, if you are bugging out into a cold climate while you are on the road trough nature there will be 2 constant heat sources on which you can rely on. Your body heat and the heat that you can make which is in most cases the fire.
It is very important that you start gathering firewood before it gets dark as in a forest there are no other light sources then the moon and if it is cloudy you won’t see much and you just might end up hurting yourself or getting lost. Depending on how long you will be traveling my suggestion is to always put your clothes out to dry next to the fire and you change to your dry clothes. You should also clean your clothes with water or snow if it is possible then put them out to dry.
Cycling through your wet and dry clothes will make your journey much more comfortable with a minimum risk of frostbite and hypothermia. If the night gets especially cold make sure to outline your fire with big rocks in an attempt to reflect all that heat towards yourself. You can even put some of the rocks beneath your sleeping platform as if they are hot enough they will radiate heat for a long time.
Before building a fire it is very important to search for a suitable location where there is not as much wind if possible, this will ensure that you can reflect most of the heat towards yourself and the wind won’t disperse the heat. My suggestion is to find a small hill or cliff and build your fire at its base. A lot of people have survived during extremely cold conditions only by heating with a candle if it is a viable method of heating a room check out my article How to heat a room with a candle.
At some point you are going to need a shelter, if your bugging out shelter is far away you need to be prepared accordingly as you will probably spend a couple of nights below the stars. There are specialized tents which can be used in extreme winter condition, the problem with these that you need a good heating source as well and they are extremely expensive. No matter if you bring your shelter with you or you build your own the most important thing is to never lay directly on the soil.
Laying on the soil will disperse most of your body heat and will make the body work extra hard to keep its core temperature stable and safe enough. Always build your sleeping spot around 10 inches above the ground. Use your insulation which you have in your bg\ug out bag in addition to what you can find in nature as this will add an extra layer between you and the ground.
You can also use your extra clothes as insulation for your bed just keep in mind that they all need to be dry. When sleeping make sure that you adopt the fetal position as this is the best position which traps your own warmth. Keep in mind the wind chill factor and position or place your shelter to avoid as much of the winter as possible. You should always have several alternatives in ways of heating your house if you want more alternative ways of heating, check out my article Best alternative heat sources during power outage.
Most people do not think of hydration while thinking on how to prevent frostbite but as you are outdoors you will burn more calories and will use a lot more water. If you are not well hydrated your blood begins to thicken and its ability to carry oxygen and heat decreases significantly. If you are thinking that you can just eat snow do not do that as this will cool your core temperature down a lot and will make your body work extra hard to keep its core temperature.
Also do not drink cold or semi frozen water at all as you don’t want to hinder your body ability to keep a constant body temperature. You can help yourself out by simply drinking warm and semi hot water. While in nature you won’t have a lot of opportunities to drink a hot beverage but once you built your fire make some hot water in your canteen and it will warm up faster.
While on the go you can bring a thermos with you to have a hot beverage but you can also keep a small water pouch close to your body this way your body temperature keeps it lukewarm, just make sure that the water that you put in your water pouch isn’t too cold.
Food is also very important for the fight against frostbite, as your body burns more calories while you are in nature and even more calories to keep you warm in colder climates. Your body needs extra resources to keep yourself warm if it can’t find it then it will start breaking down your own fat cells but this is a time consuming and has a high energy consumption. Instead, my suggestion is to snack on some beef jerky and lard.
Lard is a very high calorie food and your body will get all its energy which it needs to keep yourself warm. Think of it like polar bears that mostly eat seal blubber during the year as this gives them the most amount of energy to survive in the frozen arctic.
Stages of frostbite
- Frostnip is where the surface of the skin freezes
- Superficial frostbite where the tissue beneath the skin freezes
- Deep frostbite, your muscles, tendons, and blood vessels begin to freeze
At the deep frostbite, stage is where your skin starts to turn black indicating that the tissue is dead and you will probably lose some fingers and toes. With the right gear, you can endure cold weather for a period of time without suffering from frostbite however you can not always rely on it.
If you are bugging out into a mountainous region where there is thin oxygen. If your body is becoming starved of oxygen it is called Hypoxia this triggers altitude sickness leaving you with shortness of breath elevated heart rates and feelings of confusion. For some reason, if you suffer from Hypoxia your chances of getting frostbite increases exponentially.
Hypoxia and frostbite go hand in hand and it is a recipe for disaster. If your bug out location is in the mountains and you need to cross or even climb high mountains you could experience high altitude frostbite, dehydration and hypoxia all at once.
You don’t have to climb the Everest to get high altitude frostbite or even normal frostbite, depending on the weather conditions like high winds these can occur in small mountains also.
Symptoms of frostbite
Frostbite is a common injury that can quickly occur when the temperature dips below freezing, while often mild frostbite can often lead to severe and even permanent damage if gone untreated. It is much easier to treat frostbite in the earlier stages so you should always keep a sharp lookout for early symptoms. Learn how to recognize these early symptoms to prevent yourself and others from getting frostbite.
The first sign of frostbite will be evident on your skin. In the form of an uncomfortable or painful redness. Watch out for signs of whitening or grayish yellow skin, areas of the skin which you do not feel when you touch it and feel unusually firm or waxy. In more severe cases the skin may become blue, be aware that frostbite can easily go unnoticed. Keep an eye on the exposed skin of others as well as on yours when bugging out into a colder climate.
Many people will try to tough out frostbite symptoms as initially, these do not seem serious. periodically check yourself and any of your fellow companions every 10-20 minutes both visually and verbally. Do not ignore a persistent itching or burning sensation, while these sensations seem harmless they are actually a sign of oncoming frostbite. Be aware of any physical sensation out of the ordinary.
In particular, watch out for a gentle prickling that progresses into numbness as well as this also indicates the start of frostbite. The flushing feeling and the rushing blood into an extremity indicates that your body is trying to fight the cold but it is starting to fail to keep your extremities sufficiently warm.
There are several signs that warn you of frostbite before any serious damage has occurred. Superficial frostbite may lead to superficial skin damage while severe frostbite can potentially permanently damage nerves and tissues beneath the skin. Recognizing frostbite as early as possible will help you from frostbite reaching the point where it could lead you permanently injured.
In particular watch for the redness of the skin and skin that feels cold to the touch or it is irritated. Take note if you got frost nip which refers to the whitening and initial numbness of the skin. This is visually identifiable and precedes dangerous levels of frostbite.
Frostnip usually occurs on
Though not dangerous frostnip does indicate that your skin and tissue is starting to be affected by the weather and that you should return to a warmer environment as soon as possible. Superficial frostbite can be indicated by the transition of the reddened skin to white pale skin. Though the skin may still feel soft, ice crystals are starting to form within the skin itself. You may also notice blisters forming on your skin as the frostbite worsens.
Counter-intuitively skin may begin to feel warm, this is actually a very serious sign that you are beginning to suffer from a dangerous case of frostbite. Loss of the sensation of pain and discomfort is also will indicate frostbite.
Blackened skin and hard tissue indicate permanent damage of the affected skin and most likely some of the tissue beneath it is also affected.
Treat frostbite as quickly as you can, get to a warm place as fast as possible. Ideally, get to a hospital as fast as possible where professional medical help can be given. Rewarm the area carefully, do not allow a potentially frostbitten area to be warmed only to be exposed to the cold weather again as cycling between hot and cold temperatures can greatly damage your skin.
The safest way to reheat your frostbitten fingers if you are still outside is with body heat, for instance, place your frostbitten fingers below your armpits if doing so does not expose more of your skin to the cold. If it is possible to rewarm a frostbitten area without risking your exposure to cold like in a warm shelter you can do this with warm water. Be careful that the water is not too hot as your fingers will not feel the burning sensation due to the frostbite but the hot water will still cause damage.
Water temperature should be as close as possible to 104 F (40 C) as this is a little bit warmer than the average human core temperature thus warming up the affected frostbitten area faster.
When possible warm up a frostbitten area as fast as possible as the longer an area suffers from frostbite the more permanent damage will occur. Use analgesics like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin. If you are forced to delay rewarming a frostbitten area then clean and dry the area ideally in a sterile compress.
What not to do
There are a couple of ways as of how you can reduce the damage of any frostbitten area, try not to use any artificial source of heat such as a heating pad or lamp as numb frostbitten areas can be easily burned. Do not walk on frostbitten toes or feet unless it is absolutely necessary to get to safety as you will do more damage to your frostbitten feet and toes by moving around. Don’t think that if you already have frostbite that you can warm the areas up with movement as these are mostly shut down and almost no blood gets in these parts.
- Do not touch the frostbitten area, massaging an area affected by frostbite may cause more damage.
- Do not rub snow on the area while you might find rubbing snow on the area is comforting but this will only do more harm as you expose it to further cold and wetness.
- Do not pop any blisters that appear on your frostbitten area as this will expose the injury to infection
Monitor frostbite victims for hypothermia since this is another very dangerous condition that can result from exposure to cold weather. Look for signs of hypothermia for anyone experiencing frostbite. A burning sensation, as well as swelling, may continue even after weeks after exposure. You may still exhibit signs of frostbite, the black crust may develop following exposure. blistering even after rewarming the affected area may also appear.
What is it and how does it really happen? Our bodies are always trying to keep our core temperature at around 98.6 F (37C). Hypothermia occurs when our body losses that heat faster than it can produce it. Studies estimate that about 1500 Americans die of accidental hypothermia each year, in fact, exposure to the cold is responsible for twice as many deaths as heat exposure annually. Young children and the elderly are especially vulnerable.
Most heat loss occurs when unprotected surfaces radiate heat away from the body. In addition, wearing wet clothes makes heat loss even worse and wind chill can quickly escalate the situation because it strips away the thin layer of heat on the surface of the skin. As your temperature dops your body and brain fire back.
Hypothermia and your brain
Your thyroid and adrenal glands release a flood of hormones that boost your metabolism, heart rate, and blood pressure.
In the brain the Hypothalmus tells your blood vessels to constrict, this moves the vessels further from the skin’s surface where heat can escape. Your hypothalamus also signals your muscles to shiver which kicks your metabolism into overdrive 2-5 times the normal rate. At this point, you are on the brink and if you don’t get to a warm shelter soon you will get frostbite, hypothermia or even both.
Eventually, even your brain will go colder and when this happens it will stop functioning properly which can make you feel dizzy, disoriented and will make you want to even strip naked. Before too long you will run the risk of permanent brain damage. As for how long you have is difficult to estimate as each person and situation is different.
However, radiologist Anna Bagenholm currently holds the record for surviving the coldest body temperature. After a skiing accident, she endured 80 minutes in freezing cold water, here body temperature has plummeted to 56.7 F or 13.7 C.
You can treat hypothermia with immediate first aid, victims can also be treated with warm IV fluids and salt water solutions. You can also avoid hypothermia with safety measures like wearing appropriate clothing, avoid overexertion in colder climates and letting people know at what time you expect to arrive.
Signs of Hypothermia
- Slurred speech
- Loss of coordination
Why People Get Naked Before Freezing To Death
There are numerous stores where someone whit hypothermia undresses to fully naked, this is actually a documented phenomenon unofficially called paradoxical undressing. The reason why it is called paradoxical undressing is because stripping down while you are freezing to death is exactly the opposite of what we should instinctively do to protect ourselves from the cold. This does happen to some people in extreme cases of frostbite followed by hypothermia.
Hypothermia happens when your core body temperature drops below 94.5 F or 35 C. A study by German researches in the International Journal of Legal Medicine looked at 69 cases of death caused by hypothermia. They found that 25% of those victims were partially or completely naked.
An article in New Scientist suggests that 20-50% of people who die from hypothermia may exhibit signs of this bizarre behavior.
A study in Sweeden looked at 33 cases of people who fit this description based on the police reports and they found that this was even across the board in terms of men and woman and age range.
During the later stages of hypothermia, people are really out of it but the main reason why people who take off their clothes may actually feel hot. There are a couple of physiological theories behind this.
According to a study made in 1979 in the Journal of Forensic Science, one possible explanation for paradoxical undressing is peripheral vasoconstriction. This refers to tightly constricted blood vessels in the extremities of the body like the arms and the legs. This is actually a good thing as it keeps blood flowing inward to the core organs. But the theory is when the body becomes so exhausted from fighting the cold that the tiny muscles that keep those peripheral blood vessels to tire out.
So the blood vessels open up, the blood rushes back to the skin and creates a really hot flushed feeling.
Another theory is that the cold messes with the brain’s hypothalamus region which is the central command for body temperature regulation. If the cold causes the hypothalamus to malfunction it may alter signals to the body making you think you are really hot when you are not.
Just before freezing to death humans also tend to burrow or wedge themselves into a tight space, some call it terminal burrowing behavior. Some of the studies above mentioned found that persons who were partially or completely naked are also found in a tight space. A tight space can minimize heat loss so unlike getting undressed this burrowing behavior actually makes sense.
It is not fully understood but researchers say it might be triggered by the brain stem as a protective measure. Kind of like warm-blooded hybernating animals burrows into a small den for the winter.
While traveling in winter conditions especially on foot you should prevent as much as possible frostbite. If frostbite sets in you might not even notice it before it is too late. Keeping yourself warm and especially dry will be your number 1 priority, food and shelter come after this. The ability to start a fire, constructing a basic shelter and having the appropriate clothes will keep you safe for a while, but do note that the longer you are in the cold climate the higher your chances are of getting frostbite and in extreme cases even hypothermia.