By Jill J Easton
It’s you against the universe on these cold, wet winter days. Add in wind and a few hours outdoors can turn a normally hot-blooded hunter into a danger to himself and others.
After as little as 20 minutes without moving, your brain and heart start limiting blood flow, any exposed parts, even protected hands and feet, begin tingling and then they go numb. It hurts and it can be dangerous.
Being cold is double dangerous for women and children who chill faster and generally don’t have access to the same quality of outdoor wear as men. A lady’s hunting jacket is often made for good looks, not warmth and protection. But there are risks to consider before anyone spends time in the cold.
Cold related dangers
Hypothermia happens when your body chills faster than it can produce heat. It starts with shivering, eventually as your body cools further it will cause confusion, (think stupid decisions), slurred speech and extreme tiredness. If your body core temperature drops much below 95 degrees it can lead to coma and death.
If you are wet, heat loss can occur five times as fast. Exposed skin is the culprit, so cover extremities, head, hands, neck and feet. If someone exhibits signs of hypothermia quickly get them in a warm environment.
If the individual becomes unconscious away from transportation, the best way to warm him is to strip him/her, then surround the victim with nude people front and back and wrap all three in blankets. (I’m not making this up.) The warm bodies won’t cause damage that can happen when reheating the victim using hot water.
Frostbite is another very real danger for people who go outdoors in winter. Unprotected hands and feet can become vulnerable in as little as five minutes, again wet extremities add increased danger. It’s not uncommon for people to lose toes to frostbite. The best fix is to put the affected hands or feet in cool water and gradually add warmer water as circulation returns. There will be tingling and discomfort as the blood flows to the affected digits.
Raynaud’s Syndrome affects more than 10% of women and some men. It makes outdoor time in winter particularly unpleasant and challenging. I have Raynaud’s in all of my fingers and toes, in most people, it only affects one or two digits. Wet and wind quickly turns my fingers and toes to fish-belly white dead things. When this happens it’s hard to perform the simplest tasks like pulling a trigger.
If circulation is cut off for too long it can cause permanent damage. There is a plethora of information about Raynaud’s on the internet. The Mayo Clinic and Hot Hands websites both have useful information and helpful suggestions. There are several excellent blogs on Raynaud’s and things that can be done to make the problem less severe and painful.
Unlike frostbite which should never be treated with hot water, Raynaud’s responds well to a warm water soak.
How to stay warm out there
Keep your hands, feet, neck and head warm and dress in multiple layers that include wool or man-made materials like Thinsulate and the rest of you will stay warm too.
Another best friend for the cold of hand, are hand, torso and foot warmers sold under names like Grabber, HotHands or HeatMax. These warmers are made out of silica and magic and are activated by opening the package and shaking them a few times. Some of the warmers last 10 hours or more.
Many outdoor jackets come equipped with hand warmer pockets. After a day of hunting, cutting wood or trapping there is still a cozy warmth radiating from the hand warmers that I opened in the morning.
Hands-Hunter Safety Systems makes the best muff I have ever found and I’ve tried many. No, muffs are not just for little girls, they are real, practical outdoor equipment. Bow hunters made the muffs popular, they gradually crossed over to use by still hunters. The Hunter Safety muff is thoroughly insulated, has cuffs that seal the cold out at each end, are made out of soft materials that make no noise and has four pockets (two zippered) to hold bullets, keys and other small necessities.
Put two or three hand warmers inside the muff and fasten it around your waist with the attached straps. My hands love it. Hand warmers also work well in coat pockets or inside of gloves or mittens. This is a better solution if you are going to move around a lot.
Feet-There are many foot and toe warmers and all of them help to some degree. Battery run socks are clunky to wear and don’t do a good job of warming my toes. The warmer insoles work very well and don’t constrict toe movement like the smaller toe warmers. They are what I use most often when hunting from a blind.
Head and neck-A double lined or fur hat with ear flaps will go a long way towards keeping your brain in gear and ears warm. Add a scarf or turtleneck to keep the blood going to your brain from chilling. Many of the skull caps popular with bow hunters come with camo on one side and orange on the other so you will be visible or invisible no matter what you are doing in the woods.
Gas and rechargeable hand warmers all have merits, but the rechargeable warmers don’t heat to the 110 degrees reached by the silica single use ones. The battery life is limited. Mine seemed to lose charge and heat when they were most necessary.
Try several methods. Whatever works best for you is the one to go with. If you respect the cold, dress right and stay warm. You will be a safer, better hunter and will definitely enjoy winter adventures more.