1. Something Blue
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    Something Blue New Member

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    Hypothermia Question

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Something Blue, Sep 15, 2013.

    This is more of a specific question rather than me wondering about hypothermia in general.
    Essentially, two of my characters were immersed in freezing water and would have died of hypothermia had they not managed (details aren't important) to get a raging bonfire up.
    I originally wrote that, after they'd done this, one of the characters strips down naked to attempt to dry his clothes, which he, being more knowledgeable about survival, says will help. The other character (they're both heterosexual males by the way) is a bit more reluctant. But anyway, I use this odd situation to strengthen the bond between the two characters which eventually will become very, very strong.
    However, I did a bit of research on the subject and found conflicting reports. I read that wet undergarments could cause it, but then also read that taking off your clothes would just speed up heat loss, though I imagine in this case it's on about people who have no warmth available to them.

    From a writing perspective though, I really want to get some bonding in between these two characters, and this seems like a great opportunity.

    Can anyone help?
     
  2. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    One purpose of clothes, aside from other obvious reasons, is to insulate the body and slow down heat loss, but when said clothes are wet and cold, they lose that purpose, because your skin is in direct contact with a cold liquid, which conducts heat much faster than the gaseous air. In short, Brokeback the hell out of this scene.
     
  3. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Definitely remove the wet clothes asap, and if possible, make sure the fire is already going, so they can get warmer rather than risk further exposure.
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    This^.
     
  5. DPVP
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    DPVP Active Member

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    if you have no external heat source and its windy then keep the cloths on. the Inuit have a saying, " its not the cold that kills its the wind"

    however it sounds like the water is more the concern then the ambient environment, and they have a bond fire. the only thing that sounds odd is the person having an issue with striping down.
    A.) its a survival situation, people will do all sorts of things to survive.
    B.) how different is it then, the locker room and showers at the gym?
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    Not if said clothes are wet.

    The wind is only being blocked from the skin surface, but the wet clothes are acting to wick heat away from the body faster than wind on dry skin. I believe your Inuit saying refers to dry clothes. I just glanced at a few hypothermia advice web pages and all said take wet clothes off, wind or not. Yes, getting out of the wind is critical. One might even consider building a wind break with the wet clothes, but without the wet clothes physically touching the skin. It's all about conduction.
     
  7. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    If they have a shelter, somewhere they can get out of the elements it would be okay. There are search and rescue tales of people stripping naked when they're hypothermic. Usually the cold has scrambled their nerves and they think they're hot. If that's going on then their inches from death.

    Job one in a survival situation is not build a fire, it's build a shelter. There are many ways to do it, you can research that fairly easily. In the Rocky Mountains it's pretty easy to find a rock cave. It's important to remember that without a shelter the fire is only going to warm one side of you, while the rest is exposed to the elements, like the wind @DPVP mentioned. Getting naked without a shelter would be a very bad thing to do, even wet your clothes are offering you some protection.

    Also: Cotton an most man-made fabrics lose heat when they are wet, wool does not. Most winter hikers have wool socks, wool underwear and wool sweaters. Anything he was wearing that was wool he would keep on, and if they had some idea they were going to be going somewhere in the cold they would have (at the very least) wool socks or a sweater.
     
  8. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Yes, remove those wet clothes and stick like leach to the nearest human you could fine if there are no dry clothes or fire. But if there is a bonfire a person reluctant to remove clothes in front of others might get away with it. Just sitting near the fire will dry the clothes, i.e, taking off clothes is not the only means to survive, he has options.
     
  9. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    I'm an avid camper and a bonfire is actually sort of useless compared to other things. The only thing it would ever provide is sub-standard light and a place to cook food. Stripping down wouldn't be useful either, but they should do it just for the sake of drying the clothes. They'd be better off making a lean-to or using a jacket and sticks to make a "tent".
     
  10. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Yes, shelter first. Striping naked just because you have a bonfire is a recovery operation.
     
  11. GingerCoffee
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    I don't understand why people keep saying this. If you have a source that backs this advice up, I'd love to see it. It makes no sense to me as far as the physics of heat loss goes, but if I'm wrong I'd rather learn than cling to my past. On the other hand, if you're wrong, you should also want to know the facts.
     
  12. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    I don't know how avid you are, but I can assure you that when hypothermic shock kicks in, even the smallest of fires can make the difference between life and death. By the way, it seems that few people here payed notice to the statement that his characters are able to build a blazing bonfire, not just a small campfire. There's a discrepancy between the two, including how effective and necessary they are during hypothermia. There's also the indisputable fact that most people, when very, very cold, think of how to get warm, not which procedure is more correct when surviving in the great outdoors. Unless you're Bear Grylls, a fire is the most logical step.
     
  13. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I've worked for search and rescue for Larimer County CO for about 4 years. In that time I saw 16 corpses, almost all dead from "exposure" (hypothermia). During a rescue operation our job was to find the person and get them warm and dry as fast as possible. That never involved building a fire, but to be fair, we were carrying warm equipment.

    Well a couple different facts:
    1.)
    Here's three survivalist websites that list building shelters before building a fire,
    http://wildlife.state.co.us/Hunting/PlanYourHunt/ResourcesTips/Pages/SurvivalHypothermia.aspx
    http://survivalcache.com/hypothermia-survival-stay-dry-survival-gear/
    http://www.wikihow.com/Treat-Hypothermia

    Wikihow explains it best. You see when you're out in the cold and you have a fire the fire heats one side of you. Everything else is exposed to the elements, wind, ambient moisture, the cold ground etc. Building a shelter allows you to get naked, while still protecting you from the elements. It insulates your body, and once the fire is built in the shelter, it magnifies the effect as the shelter insulates the heat from the fire. There's a reason when people die in the wild we call the cause of death, "exposure".

    I'm not saying, "don't build a fire" that's crazy. But building a fire is not job one. Job one is to build a shelter.

    It's also worth noting that, without a firepit it's very difficult to build an unprotected fire, the wind will continually knock it out. If you build the fire in the shelter you don't have to deal with that.

    2.)
    Not all clothing looses heat when it's wet. As I said before wool, and some man made materials will stay warm even if they're completely soaked. If the character knows enough to get naked, he would (hopefully) know enough to have wool underwear and socks.

    3.)
    I'm sorry, but total immersion is a death sentence. On it's own it will kill you in about 15 minutes. If the characters had some dry equipment, poncho's, sleeping bags, coats, dry clothes, a thermos full of coffee, they might make it. But if all their equipment is cold and wet? They'll start the recovery operation in the spring.
     
  14. DPVP
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    from my understanding and what i was taught, when the wind is below the freezing point this changes and the barrier helps more. personally i have never run into this situation at temperatures above freezing. my usual response is to get back onto the ice, then run off the lake to where their is shelter from the wind. i am still alive to talk about it.

    wool sweaters on probably helped
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2013
  15. GingerCoffee
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    @Jack Asher:
    I specifically asked about wet clothes. I'm not arguing about shelter vs fire, though I can't imagine how a raging bon fire would be out performed by a heatless (except body heat) shelter.

    Your first link cites:
    1. So that does not support your claim.[/quote]
    Your second link is a mirror site of the first, not sure what that point was.
    Your third link became attached to the second but here is the corrected link: http://www.wikihow.com/Treat-Hypothermia
    It says
    So that does not support your advice to leave wet clothes on.

    I did find some links supporting the claim that wet wool could still be insulating: Stay Dry – The First Rule of Survival
    I don't dispute that either.

    I'm not sure what you mean by, "total immersion is a death sentence". It may be, but wet clothes, with the excepted fabrics, is less than total immersion, it is total immersion with a boost.
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2013
  16. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    In every article I sited that suggested taking off clothes, the preceding step was getting the person into a shelter, a car, a sleeping bag, anything but naked outside.
     
  17. GingerCoffee
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    Sorry, pet peeve rant follows:

    People need to stop repeating things they were taught, things they heard, etc., unless these are things people are certain of or check to see if they are correct. You seem to be claiming that when the ambient temperature (with or without the windchill factor) is below zero, one should leave wet clothes on. NO YOU SHOULD NOT!

    Stop repeating this dangerous advice.

    Yes, "material that continues to insulate even when wet or is quick drying, such as wool (SmartWool), or lightweight moisture wicking synthetic material, such as Polartec or polypropylene," should stay on. Yes, start a fire, yes build a shelter, and depending on circumstances, one may be a better option than the other.

    If someone has valid supporting evidence that one should leave wet clothes on (not counting the excepted materials) in certain temperatures, with or without wind, whatever, post it. Support the claim and we can all learn something about survival in potentially hypothermic situations. But if not, think about the dangers of passing bad information by word of mouth.

    I don't mean one shouldn't post things they are confident of their expertise on. I respect that Jack has some expertise. So do I. But I asked for some evidence when what I thought I knew was contradicted. Sometimes it's a matter of clearing up what was said, there was a misunderstanding. Sometimes it's a matter of learning something I previously believed was wrong. Nothing wrong with being wrong as log as we are willing to correct our wrong beliefs.

    But passing on word of mouth knowledge is where an awful lot of our wrong beliefs come from. It's an important thing to keep in mind, IMO. [/rant]
     
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  18. GingerCoffee
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    Are you or are you not saying wet clothes (not counting wool) are better than bare skin out in the elements?

    It may very well be that one is toast either way, but the claim that wet clothes (except a few fabrics) are better than bare skin goes against the physics of heat loss. I'm not sure why you keep insisting wet clothes are better than bare skin. I'm still open to supporting evidence, or perhaps you never meant to say wet clothes should stay on and I'm just mis-reading your posts?
     
  19. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    What precisely was your expertise again?
     
  20. DPVP
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    now my rant,
    this is why i hate dumb ass academics. because in their view i have no expertise because i am drawing from experience and training. where the flip side is most of these idiots have "expertise" because they have no real world experience.

    my experience with hypothermia is specific situations involving low temperatures, high levels of wind, no cover, and some really cold water. i dont see how i could survive by stripping down on a frozen windy lake and trying to start a fire. first of that removing of cloths is robbing me of time i could be moving to cover, keeping me exposed to winds that are removing heat. i dont see where any thinking comes into this equation, its like an ambush first priority is leaving the danger zone for a safer one.
     
  21. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    No kidding. I just got off the phone with the training directer of CSAR. I called him 3 times trying to record the call and every time it failed. He confirmed my theory but no one will ever know.

    Just to sum up the argument, in a hypothermia situation (assuming that you were an idiot and wore only cotton clothing) your priorities should be:
    1. Fire
    2. Shelter
    3. neked to dry clothes
    Important to note that, being hypothermic, your motor skills and decision making process will be little better than a raging alcoholic in the midst of a three day bender.
     
  22. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    As always, different situations call for different measures.
     
  23. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    Also, let's all note that they probably have no clue what to do in this situation. Would we? No, unless they are soldiers or survivalists or something.
     
  24. Dean Stride
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    Dean Stride Contributing Member

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    Exactly my point. This sure escalated quickly.
     
  25. GingerCoffee
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    I would hope people could take the personal affrontery down a notch and pull some useful elements out of this thread rather than feeling their expertise challenged or discounted. I am not challenging or discounting anyone's expertise. I am merely saying, let's check if things being said are true, before passing on potentially dangerous information to the next person. And I am saying, think about the source of your information. Did you learn it by word of mouth, or is this something you have looked into and/or know something specific about?

    Glad to see you've come around. I am confused how this is consistent with what you said earlier about leaving wet clothes on, but I don't care. This post is on the same page I've been on.


    There's a bit of straw here.

    Expertise is gained from many places besides academia. I have not suggested otherwise. But expertise does not come from, "that's what I've been told", "that's what I've always believed" and similar places. If a person does not really know where some belief came from, and that belief is being challenged, it's a good idea to investigate the evidence.

    It would appear keeping the wet clothing on it is an intuitive conclusion on your part. Intuitive conclusions can be wrong when we are missing some underlying knowledge. In this case the underlying knowledge is the physics of heat transfer through the skin. Wet skin loses heat much faster than dry skin and the barrier wet clothes would provide against the wind is easily outweighed by the heat loss due to the water contacting the skin.
     

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