Hypothermia can be a killer out on the trail. It arises when the body’s core temperature drops too far below its normal temperature of 37 degrees.

In this blog post, we’re going to be looking at how to prevent hypothermia, what the signs of hypothermia are and what you can do when you’re out in the hills to keep your party safe.  


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As always, please feel free to read the entire blog or skip to the section that interests you the most.

 

What exactly is hypothermia?

People have a core temperature of 37 degrees, which needs to be maintained in order to survive. Hypothermia is what happens when a person’s core temperature drops progressively causing, in the worst case scenario, unconsciousness, cardiac or respiratory failure or even death.  Typically, in the UK, hypothermia is caused by a combination of the cold, wind chill and physical exhaustion.

Avoiding hypothermia in the winter

Causes of hypothermia

The causes of hypothermia can broadly be divided into those that are environmental and those that are caused personal factors such as a lack of suitable clothing. Environmental factors include windchill and wet environments.

Windchill

Windchill can be the most dangerous at lower speeds, though high-speed winds should also be taken into consideration and treated with respect – particularly given that walking against high winds can often lead to physical exhaustion.

Wet and cold

The other consideration to look out for is the wet and cold. Walking in the hills or mountains requires a breathable outer-shell layer that will protect you from the elements while keeping you dry.

Poor clothing

Your clothing should be based on a layering system (as we looked at in our blog ‘Suntan lotion or raincoats – how to read the UK weather. With a base layer that wicks the sweat away from your body, a middle layer that keeps you insulated and an outer shell which protects you from the wind and the rain.

Physical exhaustion

Physical exhaustion means that not only is the body unable to find any further reserves of energy to go on, but even enough energy to maintain its core temperature.

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How to spot the signs and what you can do

Keeping an eye out for the signs of hypothermia can help you to prevent it from developing further. By recognising the symptoms of mild hypothermia you can treat the casualty before the symptoms get worse and the casualty declines.

Categories of hypothermia

The International Commission for Alpine Rescue (ICAR) has outlined the following formula to categorise stages of hypothermia. These are as follows:

Stage I – Patient alert and shivering (core temperature of casualty around 35-32℃)
II – Patient drowsy and not shivering (core temp 32 -28℃)
III – Patient unconscious, but vital signs present (core temp 28 -24℃)
IV  – Absent vital signs, apparent death (core temp 24-13℃)
V – Death.

Learn how you can avoid hypothermia
What can you do?

Treatment of hypothermia should begin with prevention. However, should the first sign present itself, then immediate treatment is paramount before the symptoms escalate.

Treatment of Stage I

Ensure that the casualty is moved out of the wind, rain, and cold. The casualty should then be given a hot and sugary drinks or food. Provided that there is no injury (aside from the signs presenting in stage I) then the casualty should be encouraged to exercise and, once warmed up, can continue their journey.

Stage II

The casualty in stage II needs to be treated very carefully as they could be suffering from life-threatening heartbeats in not handled gently. Provided that there is no possibility of spinal damage then the casualty should be placed in the recovery position and should be given hot food and drink if there is no risk of choking – evacuation to a hospital should be conducted as quickly as possible.

Stage III/IV  

At this stage, the patient will have a reduced level of consciousness and could be on the verge of fatal dysrhythmia. Prevention of further heat loss is normally impossible at this stage. In stage IV it could be advisable to begin CPR, however, this must be continued until a hospital is reached.

 

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Preventing hypothermia when out on the trail

Rather than finding yourself having to treat Stage II hypothermia, it is preferable to prevent Stage I hypothermia taking place in the first place.  


Ensure that your wearing the correct clothing

Wearing the correct clothing is vital to preventing hypothermia. As we discussed at the start of this blog, when going out in the hills you should adopt a layering system of a base layer, mid layer, and outer or shell layer.  

Take advantage of the layering system

The layering system traps warm air between each of the layers. Wear waterproof trousers and a hat to prevent heat loss through the head and legs.  Wearing the correct clothing also means removing layers as you see fit. Overexertion will lead to sweating which can lead to a lowering of the body temperature. Avoiding sweating in cold temperatures should be a priority.

Check the forecast

It might sound obvious but check the weather forecast before you go out.  Remember, deciding to wait until conditions have improved doesn’t mean that you’ve given up – more that you’re exercising judgment.

Eat well

Physical exhaustion, one of the key elements that can, out in the mountains, bring on hypothermia. The food that you’re consuming should replace the energy that you have expounded on your journey. When working out the amount of food that you will need you also need to take into account the distance that you’re covering, the conditions in which you’re covering it and the level of fitness of your party.  A 20km walk, covering a thousand metres climb (in total across the walk) will expand about 6000 kilocalories.

Learn how to prevent hypothermia this winter

Hypothermia – a recap

Always look at hypothermia with an eye on prevention. Make sure that your party is well dressed and carrying adequate food.  If anyone in the party starts shivering then you should seek shelter from the elements and prepare a hot sweet drink and food if at all possible.

 

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In this week’s blog post we will be looking at plant and tree identification in the UK in winter.  

As the nights draw in and the temperatures drop, being able to identify the plants and trees of the British isles becomes increasingly difficult – many will have lost their distinctive leaves and berries which aid identification in other times of the year. In this week’s blog post we will be looking at how to identify trees in winter, key pointers that you can put into practice and provide you with a list of commonly found trees that you can practice identifying at this time of the year.

As always, please feel free to read our entire blog or skip to the part that interests you the most.

Difference between tree identification in winter and other seasons

The most notable difference in trees in the winter is the effect that the season has on the leaves. While Evergreen conifers are trees that retain their leaves throughout the year, deciduous trees drop their leaves in the autumn/winter and flower again in spring.

Coniferous trees identifying trees in winter



Why identify trees in winter?

Identifying trees in winter can provide you with an added depth to your winter walks. It can also provide you with access to a variety of bushcraft tools – enabling you to access the same natural materials that you would be able to access in the spring – for example; being able to identify trees in winter will enable you to find the correct wood for making a bow drill.  

Key pointers to keep in mind when identifying trees in the winter

When it comes to identifying deciduous trees in the winter the leaves are not there to help us, for this reason, we need to look to the bark, the buds, and their general shape. Tree buds, though they flower in spring, lie dormant in the winter giving clues as to the tree in which they sit. Tree shapes provide an additional clue as to their identification, field maples will, for example, have rounder profiles whereas ash trees are rather slim. Combining the characteristics of the bark and the buds in winter is a great method of identifying the tree.

Characteristics of bark and buds

Combining the key characteristics of bark and buds in a table is a great way of identifying trees in winter – see Collins Gem ‘Trees’ for a more detailed explanation of winter tree identification.  Here are a few examples below:

 

      • Hazel: Brown buds/flaking and peeling bark
      • Horse chestnut: Red and orange/brown buds and flaking or peeling bark
      • Beech: Brown/grey/black buds and cracked or scarred barks
      • Crab apples: Red/orange/brown buds and cracked or scarred bark and.

 

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Several key trees to identify in the winter

Below are a few examples of key trees that you can practice identifying this winter.

Hazel (Corylus avellana):

Look for brown buds, flaking and/or peeling bark.

Hazel bark identifying trees in winter

Hazel bark

 

Hazel bud identifying trees in winter

Hazel bud


Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum):

When it comes to the horse chestnut keep an eye out for reddy -orange/brown buds and flaking or peeling bark.

 

Horse chestnut bark identifying trees in winter

Horse chestnut bark

Horse chestnut bud helping you to identify trees in winter

Horse chestnut bud



Beech (Fagus sylvatica):

Beech trees can, in the winter, be identified by their own/grey/black buds and cracked or scarred barks.

 

Beech bark how to identify trees in Winter

Beech bark

 

Beech bud

Beech bud

 

Crab apple (Malus sylvestris):

Crab apples can be identified by their cracked or scarred bark and red/orange/brown buds.

Crab apple bark

Crab apple bark

Trees in winter Crab apple bud

Crab apple bud

Foraging in winter

Though it might seem like the forager’s patch is sparse in winter, the cold season can offer up a variety of treats for those that know where to look.

Beech nuts  

Beech nuts can make for a tasty nibble when you’re out in the woods. Simply scrape off the brown skin on the inside and eat the edible triangular seeds inside.

Chestnuts  

Chestnuts are perhaps the epitome of winter foraging. Found over most woodland floors, chestnuts can be opened up and removed from their green spikey cases ready to eat once cooked over a fire.

Pine nuts

Pine cones, the open ones at least, can be opened up and shaken to remove the pine nuts within. These can be eaten raw or toasted. For pine cones that are closed, simply put them near a fire for a few days and they should open up.

 

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Garlic mustard

Garlic mustard, also known as ‘jack-by-the-hedge’, is most often found in shady places such as the edges of hedgerows. Its heart-shaped leaves are smooth and hairless – like nettles – when the leaves are crushed they smell of garlic.

The colder season can also be a great time of the year for foraging for shellfish, read more about seashore foraging in our blog here.

Remember  – never eat anything that you have not positively identified.

 

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In this week’s blog post we will look at fire lighting in winter. We will look at the importance of being able to light a fire in winter, some useful bits of kit to take with you, the importance of using deadwood and how to create firesticks. Please feel free to read the whole blog post of skip to the section that interests you the most.


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This blog looks at fire lighting in the UK winter, not the boreal forest, so we won’t be looking at fire lighting in mountains of snow.

 

The importance of being able to light a fire in the winter

Winter is the perfect time to perfect your fire lighting techniques. Not only will you really appreciate the benefits of a fire when the temperature outside is plummeting and the light is fading – you will also test yourself, wood will be damp and cold. But, before you start trying to light a fire in the winter, you need to ask yourself…

Should you attempt to light a fire at all?

Before you attempt to light a fire in winter time you need to consider the position of your group and your skills. While a fire in winter can be a real morale booster, failing to light one can also have the opposite effect. What is more, choosing to light a fire in winter when you’re exhausted, cold and wet can leave you more exposed to the elements. If you’ve any doubt about your ability to light a fire in these conditions then it can be best to wait in your shelter, tent or sleeping bag until you’ve warmed up enough to give fire lighting another go.

Should you attempt to light a fire in winter

What to bring with you?

Perhaps the most useful bit of kit you can bring with you is an axe. A well looked after axe will serve you better than a knife in many situations. To keep your axe in tip top condition read our blog on looking after your axe. Another useful bit of kit that you can bring with you is a folding saw, such as the Laplander folding saw. In addition, a firesteel and some strike anywhere matches are always a good idea.

The importance of using deadwood

When lighting a fire in the winter, or at any time come to that, it is important to only use standing deadwood. Bushcraft is about harmony with nature, not damaging it. Besides, greenwood will be far too damp to burn effectively.

Getting ready to light your fire

With the above considerations in mind, it is now time to get ready to light your fire.

Choosing a location for your fire

Successful fire lighting in winter, as well as at any other time, depends on preparation. Preparation begins with location. Clear the ground of snow or ice and be careful not to light your fire under any branches laden with snow or ice.   

Build your fire off the floor

Layer the floor where you intend to start your fire with sticks of about finger thickness. This will protect your fire from the floor and the floor from the fire. Be sure to dig through any snow and reach the ground before layering your fire – otherwise, if you light your fire on top of the snow then as it burns it will melt the snow and slowly sink into it.

Gathering materials

When gathering materials for winter fire lighting always gather more than you need, much, much more. Remember that in order to find dry dead wood you may need to look outside of your immediate area. Gather thin sticks that break easily when you attempt to snap them – these should be about matchstick thin. From there gather more deadwood that should be about finger thickness. Once again these should be much more than you need – several armfuls.  

 

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Creating firesticks

One of the biggest issues facing you when trying to light a fire in the UK winter is the fact that the deadwood around you, especially those that are around arm thickness, could be sodden wet. In this situation , fire sticks are a (literal) life saver.  Firesticks are, essentially, pieces of wood around the length of the distance from your middle finger to your elbow. The wood should be split, lengthwise, into four. Using your knife you can then shave ‘feathers’ into the wood, these go from long curls to very short scrapings.

Learn how to make firesticks by watching our video below:

 

 

Using birch bark

Birch bark is one of the best tinders out there. Due to its high oil content, it will burn for a long time and at a high temperature even when moderately wet. Remember though, only ever take birch bark from dead trees – never cut bark off a living tree.

Watch our video to learn how to light a fire using birch bark and a fire steel.

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In this week’s blog post we’re going to show you how to predict changes in the English weather – read on to find out more.

Preparing to go out in the alps is, relatively easy – you expect it to be cold, windy and snowy so you dress as such. Going out in the UK hills though is something of a different matter, within the space of hours it can go from blistering heat to horizontal rain (as anyone who has ever been walking in Scotland will attest). Protecting yourself from the elements involves, of course, dressing for the occasion – as Wainwright famously said: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”. However, there is no point struggling into your waterproof trousers five minutes after the heavens have opened and you’re already soaked. What you really need to do is to be able to predict changes in the weather before they take place.

That’s what we’re going to show you – how to tell if it is going to rain, if it is going to snow and what to look out for in the weather.  


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As always,  please feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the most relevant section.

Being able to predict changes in the weather begins with understanding weather patterns – and checking the forecast. Here’s how to get started.

Understanding how the weather works

A weather front is a boundary between two air masses. An air mass is simply a large “ocean” of air that has acquired the characteristics of the surrounding area – most notably temperature and humidity (for more information on weather fronts out in the mountains see Mountaincraft and Leadership by Eric Langmuir).  There are three different types of weather front, these are:

(1) Cold front

A cold front is a boundary between warm air and cold air. It’s indicative of cold air replacing warm air and is shown as blue on the weather map. Cold fronts normally mean rain as the front passes and may occasionally indicate thunder.

(2) Warm air

A warm front is warm air advancing over cold air. The presence of a warm front normally means precipitation at the front and a jump in the temperature.

(3) Occluded front

An occluded front is when a cold front catches up with a warm front, these are shown as purple on the map.

 

Cloud patterns

(thanks to the Met Office for the following information)

There are ten types of clouds which are divided into the following three categories;


High clouds

High clouds are mostly composed of ice crystals and exist between 18,000 and 45,000 feet. Typically clouds at this height are Cirrus clouds and resemble wispy brushstrokes.  

Medium clouds

Medium clouds are usually composed of a mixture of water droplets and ice crystals. They exist at around 6,500 – 18,000 feet.

Low clouds

It is the low clouds that are usually composed of water droplets, they have a base below 6,500 feet. These clouds are typically:

Stratocumulus – a series of typically white rounded rolls.  

Predicting the weather in the UK Stratocumulus clouds

Stratocumulus clouds

Stratus – these are layered clouds of grey with a uniformed base. These don’t normally mean unpleasant weather though from time to time they can bring showers.

Predicting the weather Stratus clouds

Stratus clouds


Cumulus
– these are vertical rolls or towers with a flat base.  These are most commonly associated with pleasant weather.  Though they can transform into…

Predicting the weather in the UK Cumulus and cirrostratus

Cumulus and cirrostratus

Cumulonimbus – these are the ones to look out for. They are large cauliflower-shaped towers, these often have ‘anvil tops’ and sometimes give warnings of thunderstorms, showers or snow.

Predicting the weather Cumulonimbus clouds

Cumulonimbus

 

Useful sources for weather forecasts

Before going out in the hills it is essential that you check the weather forecast. There are a number of resources that you can use, obviously, there’s the MET Office (https://www.metoffice.gov.uk) – who also has a wonderful app, but there is also the Mountain Weather Information Service (http://www.mwis.org.uk/) . The latter is an essential resource when heading out into the Scottish, English, and Welsh mountains.

Signs of change in the weather

Observing the world around us can help us to predict changes in the weather. Here are a few ways in which you can detect changes in the weather by observing nature. 

There’s truth in the old sayings

Some of the old sayings have a ring of truth to them – remember the phrase ‘red sky at night shepherd’s delight, red sky in the morning shepherd’s  warning’? Well, it turns out that phrase may have more than a ring of truth to it. This is because the weather in the UK normally comes from the west. So a clear evening sky heralds fine weather, while a red morning sky can be caused by high cirrus clouds at the leading edge of a front.  

“Rainbow in the morning give fair warning”, this saying also has a ring of truth to it, as it indicates rain in the west and heading your way.


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Looking at wildlife  

Wildlife can provide good clues as to what the weather will do. Right before it rains birds tend to fly lower to the ground because the air is thinner just before a storm. If you’re along the coast then the sight of seagulls nesting or seeking refuge rather than flying is also a sure sign that a storm is along the way. Before a storm begins cows may also huddle together or even lie down, ants and spiders also become more active just before a storm.

Heed the wind  

The wind can also help you to predict changes in the weather. If the wind has been blowing for a few hours, you can see how fast it is blowing by watching the clouds, and then it suddenly drops it is a good sign that a storm is on its way.  

Dewy mornings

Dew can also be a good sign of a good day’s walking ahead. Lots of dew first thing in the morning, or late in the evening can indicate a clear day ahead.

Essential clothing for the mountains

When you’re heading out into the mountains, the moors or the hills the correct clothing is essential. What this comes downs to is layering. When out walking several thin layers are better than one thick one.  The layering system can be divided into base layers, mid layers, and outer layers. We’ll look at these in more detail below.

Base layers

The base layer is the layer closest to your skin. Whatever you choose as a base layer when out in the hills it needs to draw sweat away from the body. Cotton T-shirts, for example, are particularly bad at drawing sweat away from the body, that is to say, that cotton T-shirts hold on to the sweat. This means that when you stop sweating all the moisture that is held in the T-shirt close to your body begins to cool down very quickly,  this, in turn, can make you very cold. The act of drawing the sweat away from the body is known as “wicking”. Some of the best materials for wicking base layers include Merino wool or synthetic materials.

Mid layers

Mid-layers go, as you might expect, between the base layers and outer layers. Mid-layers keep you warm and can include fleece tops, tops of synthetic fibres, other T-shirts, jumpers, etc. anything to keep you warm.  


Outer layers

The outer layer is designed to keep you dry and safe from the wind. In terms of choice of material, a waterproof jacket or smock forms the best outer layer. When choosing such a jacket it is advised that you pay particular attention to the hood. The hood should be able to be drawn tight around the face to protect from the elements but open enough to allow you to move your head.

 

 

Keep safe from the elements by learning how to build shelters, make fires and find sources of food on our weekend bushcraft course – click here for more information.
Learn more about bushcraft with weekend bushcraft courses in the UK from Wildway Bushcraft