Beating the Cold
Liz and Peter May in San Francisco wonder what...

Joe Springfield answers:

The most obvious thing to watch out for is hypothermia – a decrease in the core body temperature to a level at which normal muscular and cerebral functions are impaired. Conditions that lead to this are cold temperatures, improper clothing and equipment, wetness, fatigue, exhaustion, dehydration, poor food intake and most important: Ignorance.

As I always preach, prevention is better than cure, so you need to follow some of the basic rules, like dressing appropriately. Layers are the most efficient way of regulating temperature, especially when you're passing from one extreme to another and care should be taken to ensure that the fabric you chose is one that will still insulate, even when wet. You need to stay as dry as possible.

You should also avoid alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. So don't take a hiking trip into the snow if your were up to 3 am on too many brandies the night before.

If the worst comes to the worst, signs to watch for are the" umbles". Stumbles, mumbles, fumbles and grumbles – all of which indicate a loss of motor and consciousness control. Also, uncontrolled shivering, and an inability to do complex tasks like climbing or skiing.

The solution? Apply additional clothing, trade out wet for dry clothing, and take plenty of hot liquids. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine and tobacco of course work towards aiding recovery too.

But none of this should happen to you, of course. You'll be surrounded by experts who know what they're doing, and as long as you watch out for those “umbles” everything should be fine!