What do you do if your car breaks down this winter on an isolated road or maybe slippery roads cause you to slide into a ditch? What do you do if your car won’t drive and you don’t have any cell phone reception? Should you stay with the car or go for help?
According to Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, professor of thermophysiology at the University of Manitoba and one of the world’s foremost authorities on the body’s response to cold, the answer is clear. The hypothermia expert says you should stay with the car.
“Leaving the car and potentially getting lost and stranded without shelter puts you at risk for frostbite or hypothermia,” explains Giesbrecht. “Given certain conditions, such as wind chill and wetness from rain or snow, you can begin to suffer from hypothermia, even in temperatures above freezing. This can quickly become life-threatening.”
Giesbrecht adds that survival in this situation comes down to the 3 P’s: preparation, prevention and performance.
Preparation. Prepare for a reasonable worst-case scenario, like being stranded overnight in the cold. Keep a bag in your trunk with items for insulation, such as a sleeping bag or blanket, an old parka, snow pants and spare mitts and boots. Other important items include a wide-based candle and lighter or matches, and non-perishable snacks.
Prevention. Do what you can to avoid being stranded in the first place. For example, make sure your car is working properly and your tires are inflated and in good shape. Ensure you have a full tank of gas and avoid travelling in poor weather conditions. If you must travel, share your plans. Ensure a friend or relative knows of your route and estimated arrival time.
Performance. Know what to do if you do get stranded. Stay with your car. If you’re stuck but the motor still works, make sure that your tailpipe is free of any snow or ice so that you can run the car intermittently for heat. Staying with the car also gives search and rescue teams a larger object to spot. Statistics show that 95 per cent of searches are successful within 24 hours.
Reports indicate that this winter will be particularly cold for most of Canada. Wearing the appropriate clothing, for children at play as well as adults, can be a first line of defense against hypothermia, frostbite and other cold-related 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 recommends a layering strategy similar to dressing like an onion.
Inner layer. The layer closest to the skin (this includes underwear) should draw or wick moisture or sweat away from your body to help keep you dry. Keeping dry is critical to keeping warm. Fabrics like wool and polyester are recommended instead of cotton, which actually absorbs and holds water and takes a long time to dry.
Middle layers. These layers hold the heat and provide insulation. Look for wool, or fleece and other synthetic fibres.
Outer layer. The outer layer or protective shell should be wind resistant and repel water to protect the insulating layers. It includes both jacket and pants.
When choosing a jacket, Dr. Giesbrecht recommends a parka or other outer garment with an insulated hood and a high collar that zips up to the top of the collar. Sleeve ends and cuffs should be elasticated, and mitts should fit easily and fully inside or over the sleeve. The jacket should be longer so it overlaps the pants. This minimizes heat loss at the waist.
Don’t forget your hands and feet. Mitts are warmer than gloves, and a thin glove made of wool, silk or nylon next to the skin will help if mitts need to be removed to handle clothing or equipment. Winter boots with good insulation are important.
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.