The Most Dangerous Killer in the Wild

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

Nicholson-Shining-cold-weatherNot everyone is comfortable with the great outdoors. Here I am, someone who has studied survival all my life; I’ve gone into the woods with nothing more than a survival kit, just to practice my skills. I write about surviving in all manner of circumstances; and my wife is a city girl. I guess you can call that truth being stranger than fiction. To her, frogs are dangerous creatures, let alone lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

On the other hand, that’s not all that surprising in today’s day and age. To many, camping means going somewhere and staying in a recreational vehicle, not building yourself a shelter out of natural materials. That lack of experience in the wilderness generates fear, just as any unknown situation would.

While fear can be useful at times, helping us to avoid dangerous situations, all too often our fear is misplaced, leaving us ignoring true dangers, while we are busy being afraid of others. Such is the case when we focus on the lions and tigers and bears. While lions and bears can be a true danger in parts of the country, they are not the greatest danger that we face, once we get outside the walls of civilization.

No, the greatest danger we face in the wild is not an animal or even a person, it’s hypothermia. This insidious killer can sneak up on us at the most unexpected times, when we aren’t prepared and before we know it, we can be deep in its clutches.

What exactly is hypothermia? It’s a loss of the body’s core temperature. We only have to lose a couple of degrees worth of core temperature before we are truly experiencing hypothermia. At that point, we will be disoriented enough that we can go all the way to death, without realizing what is happening to us. The true danger of hypothermia is that it can kill, without us realizing that we are being killed.

More people die of hypothermia in the Colorado Rockies in the summertime, than do in the winter. That’s because in the winter, we’re prepared to deal with the cold. But in summertime, we aren’t expecting to get cold, so it’s much easier to lose body heat.

Let me give you a simple example that happens every year. A fisherman is working his way up a stream in the mountains, harvesting his catch of trout. Although he’s wearing hip waders, he slips on a rock, late in the afternoon, falling in the water and getting drenched. As the sun goes down, temperatures start dropping and his body starts losing heat. As he trudges his way back to his car, his body temperature starts dropping, until it gets to the point that his mind is so affected that he walks right past his car and keeps on going.

It doesn’t have to be very cold to get hypothermia. Remember, our bodies are used to running at 98.6oF. So, at any temperature lower than that, we are actually radiating heat out into the air. But the real problem comes when we get wet. Depending on the material our clothing is made of, allowing it to get wet can cause us to lose our body heat as much as 200 times faster than standing there naked.

A loss of only three degrees of core body heat is enough to cause apathy, confusion, decreased awareness and make one lose the ability to think or solve problems. Two degrees more and the individual loses their ability to understand the gravity of their situation. They start stumbling as they walk and begin to lose their fine motor skills. Even if they had a moment of clarity and could understand what was happening to them, at this point, they probably couldn’t start a fire to warm themselves.

How quickly can that all happen? That depends on a number of factors. More than anything, it depends on the apparent ambient temperature. I say apparent, because if it is windy, they will lose body heat much quicker. Tied with the ambient temperature are the type of clothing that is being worn and the amount of ready energy reserves the person has.

Basically, if you’re wet and it gets cold enough that you start shivering, you need a fire NOW! Don’t try to make it 50 feet to your car, start a fire where you are, with whatever you have available. By the time you walk that 50 feet, your body’s temperature might drop enough that you’ll walk right past your car, not even seeing it.

If you can’t get a fire started, then the best thing to do is to get out of the wet clothes and start doing calisthenics. Getting out of the wet clothing will prevent it from drawing your body’s heat out and the exercise will cause your body to generate heat. Once you’ve warmed your body up, then you can gather your wet clothes up and start working your way towards your car, stopping to exercise again, if needed.

Of course, the real solution is to always be prepared. Going into the wilderness without the minimal necessary for survival is foolish. As we’ve seen in the example above, people die from those sorts of mistakes. Carrying some basic survival gear and a warm jacket in a waterproof pack isn’t paranoid, it’s wisdom. With it, a fall in the water doesn’t have to be anything more than just an inconvenience.

So, until we meet again, keep your powder (and your clothes) dry and your survival gear close at hand.

Dr. Rich

PS: Check out this amazing way to create water from thin air.


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