Extreme Cold Weather Travel: Avoiding Hypothermia

Winter is a popular time to travel. Not only do people travel to visit their relatives, it’s also the time many like to take outdoor vacations such as skiing, snowboarding, and riding snow mobiles. Even if you do not plan to spend extended periods of time outdoors while traveling, it’s very important that you are prepared for extreme cold weather should you become stranded.  
What Is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia is the lowering of your body’s core temperature, the overall temperature at which your body functions. Normal body temperature is 98.6 and reaching a temperature just four degrees below can be dangerous.  

It’s important to know that temperatures do not need to be near zero to be dangerous. Temperatures near 40 degrees Fahrenheit are cold enough to present a danger to you.  As the temperature gets colder, your body will attempt to maintain its normal operating temperature, expending energy to generate extra heat. When your body fails to generate enough heat to compensate for falling temperatures, your body’s core temperature begins to decrease.  As your body temperature decreases, hypothermia can gradually set in.  Sources at health and fitness website Helium,  report that if you are outdoors and get wet in these temperatures, your body will lose heat up to 200 times faster than if you are dry. Understanding how to avoid hypothermia and recognizeing its symptoms are crucial to winter safety and successful winter vacationing.

  • Extreme Cold - Watch for feelings of extreme cold in your body parts – typically fingers and toes. This is the first sign that action is needed. Do NOT ignore this feeling! 

  • Shivering – This is a sign that your body has nearly exhausted its resources to maintain your temperature.  When you shiver, your muscle movements help to create heat. This does come at a cost, however, as it exhausts energy your body needs for activities like walking and thinking. 

  • Tiredness - Once hypothermia has progressed beyond feelings of cold and/or shivering, you may feel sleepy or tired. This is the stage where outdoor deaths may  occur as victims are unable to make good decisions about their own care.  The sensation of feeling cold may disappear; your body may lose the strength it needs to stay conscious or to breathe. 
Avoiding Hypothermia
You can help to avoid hypothermia by staying alert for its symptoms and traveling prepared: 
  • Dress adequately – Be sure to wear weather appropriate clothing:  

    o  Clothing Articles - Clothing should include water resistant coats (with sleeves that are snug at the wrist), water resistant boots, mittens, and a scarf or mask to cover your face/mouth. 

    o Appropriate Fabrics - Wear wool or polypropylene as these materials will insulate you even if you are wet. Avoid wearing cotton as it acts like a negative insulator and takes heat away from your body when wet. 

    o Wear a hat or wrap your head in an article of clothing. Your brain requires a large amount of blood to function; thus, your body circulates and loses a large amount of heat through your head.  Wearing a hat will help to conserve your body heat.

  • Pack supplies -   Pack extra clothes, carry strike-anywhere matches and carry a cup with you that can be used to melt snow into drinking water to stay hydrated.  If you are outdoors, make sure you pack a shelter (even if you don’t plan on camping) you can quickly set up in case of an emergency. 

  • Notify Friends/Relatives – Carry a mobile phone with you and make sure your friends and relatives know that you are traveling in extreme weather conditions. Let them know your scheduled route as well as expected departure and expected arrival times.  Should you become stranded, they know when to expect you and can also alert authorities to your potential locations. 


US Travel Insurance Association (UStiA)
UStiA is a national association of insurance carriers, third-party administrators, insurance agencies and related businesses involved in the development, administration and marketing of travel insurance and travel assistance products.