Cold Weather and Travel

Family walks in snow

You don’t have to travel to the artic or high altitudes to feel the effects of cold temperatures. Learn how to avoid cold weather injuries and what to do if you find yourself in a dangerous situation due to the cold.

Most people get cold injuries because of accidents, severe unexpected weather, or poor planning. Take steps to avoid cold weather injuries.

  • Wear warm clothing in several loose layers.
    • Wear a tightly woven, wind-resistant coat or jacket.
    • Wear inner layers of light, warm clothing as well as mittens, hats, and scarves.
  • Make sure your equipment is appropriate for the weather, climate, and your activities.
    • In wet conditions, choose waterproof shoes that have good traction.
    • For water activities, choose an appropriately thick wet suit to prevent hypothermia.
    • Use personal flotation devices. They are lifesaving if someone becomes unable to swim due to injury or the cold.
  • Stay dry, your body loses heat quickly when wet.
    • Sweat and wet clothing can chill the body rapidly and increase heat loss.
    • If you’re actively moving, remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm or start to sweat.
  • Do not ignore shivering.
    • Shivering is an early sign that your body is losing heat.
    • Constant shivering is a sign you need to find shelter and get warm.

Common Cold Injuries

In cold temperatures, heat can leave your body more quickly. Heat loss can lead to serious health effects, like hypothermia and frostbite.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is when core body temperature drops below 95°F (35°C). Hypothermia usually occurs at very cold temperatures, but it can even happen at mild temperatures (around 50°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or being in cold water. People can quickly get hyperthermia in water, even in mild temperatures.

Early symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • Feeling tired
  • Clumsiness
  • Confusion

As a person’s body loses more heat:

  • Shivering may stop.
  • Skin may turn blue.
  • Pupils of eyes may expand (dilate).
  • Pulse and breathing slows.
  • Person may lose consciousness. 

If a person’s body temperature is below 95°F or has any of the above symptoms, get medical attention immediately. If immediate medical care is not available:

  • Find shelter indoors, in the warmest room possible.
  • Remove all wet clothing.
  • Warm the chest, neck, head, and groin first using a warm dry compress or electric blanket, if available. You can also use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
  • Drink a non-alcoholic or non-caffeinated warm beverage. Warm beverages can help increase body temperature. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person with hypothermia.

Frostbite

Frostbite is an injury that occurs when skin is exposed to freezing temperatures. Frostbite can range from mild to severe and most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite is treatable, but can be severe and cause damage to deep layers of tissue under the skin

Early signs of frostbite include numbness, tingling, stinging, or pain in areas of the body most exposed to the cold. 

If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care immediately. If immediate medical care is not available:

  • Move to a warmer room or shelter.
  • Remove all wet clothing.
  • Soak the affected body part in warm water.

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