Author: Janet A. Aker, MHS Communications
Never forget the power of nature and its effects, especially if exploring outdoors during the coldest months of the year. In wintertime, “hands down, the worst mistake you can make is to underestimate what challenges nature is capable of and overestimate your own abilities,” said Army Master Sgt. Daniel Fields.
“These are the root causes of the majority of the troubles that I have seen.” Two crucial aspects of retaining readiness in winter climates are nutrition and liquids uptake, he said. The same safety tips apply to hikers, skiers and campers.
The field packs that infantry troops carry contain more nutrient-dense foods and snacks, for example.
Despite the added nutrients, “soldiers can spiral pretty quickly into hypothermia from the ‘shell-core effect,’“ Fields said. The shell core effect takes over when soldiers are on the move in the winter. They use up more energy. They sweat in their winter uniforms. If they don’t eat or drink, they can become dehydrated, cold and fatigued.
“There is decreased blood flow to the extremities,” he explained. “A consequence is cold diuresis, where they urinate more and more frequently,” thus becoming more and more dehydrated. Diuresis occurs because the body has to filter more blood through the core to keep warm, thus engaging the kidneys in more urine production as they eliminate toxins.
A slew of other issues can also happen, such as chilblains and frostbite, even when soldiers have been educated about the effects of the cold, Fields noted. That’s what training is for: “Sometimes it takes a little while to get them to understand until they’re experienced and comfortable working in the cold.”
For those dealing with winter’s cold temperatures and possibly snow, sleet, or frozen rain, here is Fields’ top advice:
- Embrace the extremes of the environment. Don’t hide from it.
- Seek every available opportunity to acclimate and train in the cold. This only builds confidence and proficiency.
- Prior to conducting an outdoor winter activity, seek ways to educate yourself about the specific activity.
- Invest in quality outdoor clothing and equipment. The dividends will be priceless.
- Understand the effects of the cold (or altitude) on the body.
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