Summer Hypothermia: 4 Tips for Preventing the Unexpected

Even the summer months can be dangerous to our outdoor health

Flickr/Paxson Woelber

Recently, a hiking expert and avid explorer passed away due to hypothermia. This is a common occurrence in the extreme outdoors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that from 1999 to 2011 there was a total of 16,911 deaths in the U.S. caused by hypothermia. So, while this unfortunately is far too common, what is most strange about the recent case, is that it happened in June.

Hypothermia,  a condition that occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below the norm and causes a loss in body functions inducing mental confusion and an increased risk of heart stopping, is often associated with winter time. It is when the body becomes too cold, so why would that happen in summer, right?

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Well, the recent death of a hiking expert just proves how it could happen to anyone. “The major issue during the summer with hypothermia is people being under-prepared both physically and also with their expectations,” explains Sarah Knapp, a NY State licensed hiking and camping guide, Wilderness First Responder, and the founder of OutdoorFest.

Especially for people hiking (or doing activities where they're not close to home) they look at the weather, see a warm day and don't bring extra layers. This means that should a situation arise (rain, quickly dropping temperatures etc.) they are unprepared to deal with body heat issues. In the winter, you'll see people being way more wary of getting hypothermia, and therefore planning better.

There are many reasons why hypothermia is so dangerous, especially to hikers. Not only will it induce mental confusion, but certain body functions are at risk. “It impairs wound healing and clot formation, which is important since hypothermia in the summer often occurs on cold, cloudless nights after a day of injury-prone activities such as hiking and climbing,” explained Nick Angelis, nurse anesthetist and author of How to Succeed in Anesthesia School.

Another risk, is that as you reach higher elevation, your exposed sweat can speed up the process, quickly cooling your body. This paired with dehydration can be a dangerous combination leaving someone very susceptible to hypothermia.

The most important thing to remember hiking high elevations during the summer months, is to be prepared for temperature change. And follow these 4 important tips:

1. Stay Hydrated. Staying hydrated while hiking during the summer time is always important while exposed to heat, but also in temperature change. Hypothermia is especially dangerous if a person is dehydrated because it can further imbalance fluid and electrolytes.

2. Stay Dry. If you go swimming, or are drenched in sweat, make sure to change into a dry pair of clothing, especially by nightfall. The moisture left on your body can be a dangerous element in the cold. “Most heat is lost through the head,” Angelis added. “Staying dry is absolutely necessary. Not only does evaporation wick away heat, but conduction (e.g. cold ground) and convection (e.g. cold wind) also work faster under wet conditions.’

3. Bring Layers. While you may not want to carry around your winter jacket in the summer months, you should always have extra layers on hand; sweatshirts, pants, long sleeve T’s, etc. Angelis suggests that combining different types of fabrics works well, and can still be compatible with summer activities.

4. Always Be Prepared. The most important thing to remember in preventing hypothermia is always being prepared, and even over-prepared. Check the weather before you leave on your trip. Know what the weather will be at different times and elevations in the area. Bring dry clothes, water and something to use if you need to contact emergency help. If you aren’t taking a cell phone or GPS, make sure to tell a friend your hiking plan, where you will be and when you expect to be home.

Being prepared and protecting your body in extreme situations is important to every outdoor enthusiast in all seasons of the year. Remember that even the comfy summer months can be dangerous and know what to expect before any of your outdoor adventures.

Click here for 14 dangerous hikes in the U.S.


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