How Heat and Cold Hurt You
In an emergency, heat and cold are some of the biggest causes of pain and suffering. In order to prepare for heat-related and cold-related emergencies, we need to understand how heat and cold can hurt or kill you.
One of the many things you KNOW to be true, but is in fact false, is this fact: The normal human body’s temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The best guess is actually 98.2, but ‘normal’ ranges from 97.7 to 99.5 for healthy adults. Your temperature varies throughout the day, both because of what you’re doing AND because of the fact that you are a mammal.
The NORMAL range is nice to know, but for our purposes, we need to know something else: What is a SAFE range? Of course, that depends. A key concept that we need to understand is that too hot is bad. Another key concept is that too cold is also bad. A few degrees too hot or too cold for an hour is uncomfortable. A few degrees too hot or too cold for several hours will cause problems. Here’s a handy guide:
- When your body temperature reaches about 104, you start dying from heat. (Note that there are A LOT of variables here. For example, people who have suffered heat-related incidents may be more susceptible to repeat them. Also, any number of factors (obesity, humidity, electrolytes, etc.) can impact your own survivability. YMMV.).
- At about 100, you have hyperthermia. You are suffering from a heat-related illness. I mean REALLY suffering. Not “I need to turn up the AC” but true physical health consequences. You should know how to identify and treat heat-related illnesses.
- When your temperature is about 95, you have hypothermia. You are suffering from a cold-related illness. Again, not just ‘put on another blanket’ but real physical risk. You should know how to identify and treat cold-related illnesses.
- At about 91, you stop shivering and you need to get warmer or you’ll die.
Don’t get too hot.
Staying cool is usually pretty simple. When it’s hot, take it easy. Take breaks. Drink lots of water. If you start overheating, find a way to get cool. If you live in a hot place, you should amplify this guidance. Take it easier. Take MORE breaks. Drink MORE water. Also, if you happen to be in the desert, you should be quicker to adjust what you’re doing. The hotter you are, the faster you should make adjustments.
The best way to survive a heat-related emergency is to avoid a heat-related emergency. Our first line of defense is our shelter.
Don’t get too cold.
Staying warm is also usually simple. When it’s cold, put on more clothes, move to where it’s warmer, or otherwise add heat to your body. Depending on where you are and how cold it is, it might be warm clothes. It might be a campfire. It might be a heater, a sleeping bag or blanket, or dogs. All of these things we discuss in terms of shelter from the cold.
In the wilderness, lots of people die from the cold. It’s what ultimately gets a lot of people who get lost. They die of ‘exposure’ which is another way of saying they freeze to death. That’s why if you get lost or otherwise stranded in a remote environment, shelter is a high priority. Being wet is a severe complicating factor. Being wet and cold without the ability to get dry and warm will kill you. If it’s cold, avoid getting wet. If you’re wet and cold, get dry.
Get Prepared for Heat / Cold Emergencies
To avoid getting hurt or killed by heat / cold emergencies, we have to think about preparing our shelter.