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Maintaining your Body Temperature
One of the other significant challenges you face in the wild is maintaining your body temperature – trying to keep warm and dry, or avoiding low body temperatures (hypothermia). Not protecting yourself against temperature changes is one of the fastest routes to death.
In this chapter, we look at the best ways to regulate your temperature while staying warm, dry, or cool.
Staying warm: layer well
Our first tip is to layer clothing well. We lose heat through conduction when our bodies come into contact with something cold. We lose it through convection when there is a cold wind blowing.
There are three layers to consider when layering well: the base layer, the middle layer, and the outer layer.
The base layer is responsible for wicking – that means keeping the skin dry. Most commonly, you sweat on the go. If the sweat is not removed from the skin, it causes you to get colder.
You want to think about fabric, weight, and fit. Check out this article for more information, as it’s a personal decision which fabric is best for you.
The middle layer is the insulating layer. The warmer this is, the warmer you will be. Try polyester fleece, wool, down insulated jackets, or synthetic equivalents.
Your outer layer – also known as a shell layer – is the layer that will protect you from the rain and the wind. This layer must be waterproof.
There are many waterproof or water-resistant jackets available on the market made of tightly woven nylon or polyester. Although slightly pricey, these are a better investment than soft shells or non-breathable shells. They’re not so well adapted to the wind.
Related to layers is the issue of socks! Always make sure you pack extra pairs. Not only are they useful for keeping your feet dry, but they also protect your feet from rubbing and blisters.
Other useful techniques for conserving heat include wearing a hat. Few people know that we lose between 7 and 10% of our body heat through our heads. A merino wool hat is an excellent choice, especially if it comes with ear flaps. Think about a neck gaiter too. The combination of all these things can make a big difference to your body temperature.
Think seriously about gloves and hand protection too. Although mittens are suitable for colder hands, you lose the dexterity of open fingers. In this case, leather is an excellent choice as an outer glove to not compromise on movement.
If your clothes do get wet, remove them and dry them as soon as you can. Once clothes are wet, they cause you to lose more body heat. The fastest way to dry clothes is in the sun or next to a warm fire, and remember to rotate. If you are going to use a campfire, be careful that your clothes aren’t made of flammable materials.
If you’re on the move, attach your wet clothes to your backpack, so they dry under the heat of the sun.
If they are very wet, it would be better to get rid of the excess water before you start to dry them. Wring the clothes out, and if they are very wet, you can use a towel to help remove extra moisture.
Place the towel on a flat, dry surface, place the damp item on top, and roll it into a sausage. Twist the towel, and you’ll find that the towel absorbs the excess water. Of course, you have the issue of drying the towel, but it’s likely a lower priority.
If you are stationary, for example, in the evening, remember that you can share body heat with other people. Think about how penguins huddle together to keep warm.
Food & Liquids
Our next tips for keeping warm are related to liquid. First of all, remember to keep your bladder empty as storing urine requires extra body heat. To this effect, avoid drinking alcohol as it drops core body temperature. Seems obvious but often unheeded.
In a similar vein, we know that most energy comes from glucose, and we need energy for our bodies to produce heat. Make sure you keep your food intake up as much as possible.
How to stay cool
People most commonly worry about keeping warm in a survival situation. Although hypothermia is a serious concern, remember that dehydration from extreme heat is also a killer.
Remember to avoid activity during the hottest hours of the day. Identify areas of shade to hide from the sun at its peak. Get up earlier to prepare enough water for the day or set up an appropriate shade shelter. This kind of preparation is key to avoiding heatstroke.
An alternative for maintaining a low body temperature is to soak a rag in water and wrap it around your body’s quick cooling spots, aka pulse points. These include your wrists, neck, the insides of your elbows or knees, your forehead/temples, and the tops of your feet. This technique works as these areas of the body contain veins that are very close to the skin’s surface.
With no water available, urinating on a rag and wrapping it around one of these points is always the option.
Another way to keep cool in extreme survival conditions is to take inspiration from animals that thrive in these conditions. In the above video, Bear Grylls takes off his clothes and bathes in muddy water.
He even uses the mud to cover his skin. As we have all seen rhinos do in the wild, this mud acts as protection from the sun’s harmful rays and can lower body temperature.
Maintaining your Body Temperature
Although not always pleasant, survival techniques to maintain your core temperature will keep you alive and comfortable for far longer.
In the next chapter, we’ll see how to orient yourself in the wild. Find out how to make a natural compass and to predict the weather.