Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature falls,
and can occur in relatively mild conditions. Hypothermia is a major cause
of incapacity and death in the Tasmanian bush, probably only exceeded by falling
over and/or off
things. It is contributed to by four main factors within a person's, or
- physical condition;
- inadequate food and drink intake;
- not enough clothing; and,
- exposure to the weather.
It is best prevented, as once a person is hypothermic,
it is very difficult to deal with in the bush. Take these steps to avoid:
- Ensure that walkers, including yourself, are
capable of the walk.
- Ensure all walkers are fit and well.
- Watch all walkers throughout the day.
- Eat enough high-energy food before and during
walks (the bush is no place for "diets", eh Peter?)
- Drink enough water. Dehydration accentuates the
effects of hypothermia.
- Make sure your clothing is of sufficient quality.
Carry and wear enough clothing for the conditions. See our minimum
equipment lists and gear pages.
- Put warmer clothing on before you actually feel
cold. Jumper, coat, hat, gloves - after the head, the hands are the
greatest source of heat loss!
- Stay dry.
- Make sensible decisions when walking to minimise
exposure to the weather.
- Carry something to provide shelter.
- Seek shelter when the weather deteriorates.
You also need to identify potential or mild
hypothermia before it becomes more serious. The standard list of potential symptoms is:
- Impaired judgement
- Abnormal behaviour
- Slow progress
- Infrequent and thick speech
- Visual abnormalities
- Loss of coordination
- Muscle weakness and cramps
The leader must look out for these, and deal with
them. Eventually, a casualty will collapse and become unconscious. From
this point, death will occur without skilled intervention.
If someone does become hypothermic, it is vital that
the treatment be applied rapidly and correctly. You should read more about
this elsewhere, and this website will not provide details of how to deal
with a collapsed hypothermia patient. However, it is possible that the
early symptoms may be displayed by someone with whom you are walking. The
following actions should be taken:
- Stop the group, find or erect shelter. This being
the first action, it becomes obvious how important it is to avoid the
problem in the first place. Hypothermia cannot be dealt with by
hurrying to the end of the walk.
- Prevent further heat loss. Unless windproof
shelter can be found, this should be done by the addition of warm and
windproof clothes. If shelter is available, wet clothing could be
replaced, but this is a risky undertaking.
- If you can get in a tent, get everyone inside.
- Provide warm drinks. Absolutely no alcohol or
caffeine drinks. These make it worse.
- Give the person some food - chocolate, jelly beans
- Warm the person by body-to-body contact
(underwear), inside one or more sleeping bags.
It is recommended that you become aware of proper
treatment of unconscious hypothermia victims if you think there is any
likelihood that you may one day be responsible for one. As is obvious,
dealing with even a mild case of hypothermia can require a lot of
equipment and knowledge. That's why some Tasmanian walkers actually carry
a tent fly and sleeping bag on many day walks.