Winter Warning: Tips for Preventing Frostbite and Hypothermia
Outdoor sports don't have to stop just because it is cold. In fact, many hikers, bikers, runners, and winter sport lovers enjoy the cold of the winter months.
Follow these steps to avoid frostbite and hypothermia before you head out for a long day in the cold.
Dress in Layers
Wear clothing in layers. The number of layers will depend on the temperature and thickness of the layers. You may wear:
- A synthetic layer close to your skin to wick away sweat
- A middle layer of wool or fleece to absorb sweat and keep you warm
- An outer layer made of water-repellent and wind-proof material to protect you from the elements
It is just as important to stay dry as it is to stay warm. Adjust layers as needed and bring extra clothes to change into if they get wet or sweaty.
Cover your head, face, and neck with a hat (or hood) and a scarf or a ski mask. Mittens are warmer, but gloves let you use your fingers. Try wearing light gloves under your mittens in case you need to use your hands. Keep your feet warm and dry with extra thick socks or 2 pairs of socks (wool or synthetic).
Dehydration can lead to hypothermia. Drink plenty of water and drinks with electrolytes if you will be active for a long period of time. Avoid drinks with alcohol and caffeine.
Eat for Heat
Your body needs food to fuel your exercise and to create body heat. Do not head outside on an empty stomach. And bring along plenty of snacks, like trail mix, energy bars, fruit, and bread.
Monitor Your Energy
Fatigue can lead to hypothermia. Be aware of your energy level and plan how long you will be outdoors. Rest when needed and go home early if you start feeling tired.
Bring a Buddy
A friend can help you if you get tired and keep an eye on your face, cheeks, and ears for signs of frostbite. Do frequent checks for cold, wet, and numb areas, especially your face, feet, and hands.
Choose Your Days Wisely
Temperatures below freezing (32°F or 0°C) and slightly higher temperatures with a wind chill are risk factors for hypothermia and frostbite. Keep an eye on weather forecasts and plan your outdoor activities for warmer days without snow or rain.
Appalachian Mountain Club
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Curtis R. Outdoor action guide to hypothermia and cold weather injuries. Outdoor Action website. Available at: http://www.princeton.edu/~oa/safety/hypocold.shtml. Accessed October 14, 2021.
Frostbite. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/frostbite. Accessed October 14, 2021.
How to avoid, recognize, and treat hypothermia. Washington Trails Association website. Available at: https://www.wta.org/go-outside/trail-smarts/how-to/how-to-avoid-prevent-and-recognize-hypothermia. Accessed October 14, 2021.
Hypothermia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/accidental-hypothermia. Accessed October 14, 2021.
Winter weather. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/index.html. Accessed October 14, 2021.
Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 10/14/2021