For most of us, winter means enjoying outdoor recreation such as skiing, snowmobiling or tobogganing. But without proper preparation, it can also mean risk of hypothermia, frostbite and other cold injuries. In fact, each year almost 200 Canadians die from hypothermia and hundreds more suffer significant cold injuries.
Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, professor of thermophysiology at the University of Manitoba — a.k.a. “Professor Popsicle” — is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the body’s response to cold. The celebrated hypothermia expert shares these five tips to help you stay safe and warm while spending time outdoors in the cold:
- Plan ahead for a reasonable, worst-case scenario. Always carry a daypack with supplies to help survive an unexpected night in the cold, include items like a fire-starter kit, a tarp or sheet of plastic for shelter, and non-perishable snacks and water.
- Dress like an onion. Use several layers so you can adjust your total insulation and remain comfortable. All inner layers should move moisture or sweat from the skin toward the environment. The outer layer should be wind and water-resistant to protect against wind, rain and snow.
- Stay dry. The cold-wet-wind triad can be deadly, making any cold situation much worse, even in temperatures above freezing. Prevent clothing from becoming damp or wet and replace wet clothing when practical.
- Share your plans. Let friends or family know where you’re going and when you expect to be back, especially if you plan to leave established trails.
- Learn basic survival skills. Know how to build a fire using tinder and a lighter, matches or flint match; and how to create a simple shelter to protect against the elements.