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How stupid is it to go into the wilderness without a shelter or survival skills?
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Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: How stupid is it to go into the wilderness without a shelter or survival skills? on 05/27/2013 20:17:52 MDT Print View

The thing about hypothermia is it can creep up on you over hours, even without rain - and it can easily happen in the 50's if you are especially badly prepared. Of course if you get hit with rain unprepared it can slam into you very fast. I mostly worry about people who just naively go into the woods for the first time. No matter how much you read about this, until you experience the onset of hypothermia, and the effect it can have on your reasoning, you may not take it seriously enough. If it is someone with enough experience to recognize the onset, as well as have a plan for whatever happens (including just walking out) and not just for the case they hope will happen, then I'm not worried.

So close to the trail head the main problem is a mental one. It's where you at first don't, and then can't, make the right rational decision on what to do that could get you killed in that case. It requires a bit of extrapolation that not all people seem to be good at. I think every year there are probably people who die of exposure from the sequence, "I feel ok so far, (later) I'm cold but not freezing... (later still) I'm really cold but I can handle it... (too late) I'm wafelye relly frezbum....(finally)gawp!". Should have taken action back at "I'm cold" of one sort of another. Same thing goes at the other end of the temperature spectrum. Every year there are 5-10 people who just walk down into the Grand Canyon in summer on a day hike who are mentally unprepared, make wrong decisions, and die of heat stroke and/or dehydration, or in the best case scenario get rescued by a passer-by.

On the other hand just buy them a couple of those Mylar sleeping bags and tell then to take them, just in case. Then in the worst case scenario they will be miserable, but warm enough. I love cowboy camping too - just need to have actual contingency plans beyond "the weather guy said it probably would not rain or get too cold". In the Sierra there is no such a thing as an "it is not going to rain" condition! All it would take is one localized 30-60 min afternoon/evening rain or sleet shower of the kind that happen every day in the summer at multiple places in the Sierra, regardless of the global weather pattern, to ruin that calculation.

Edited by millonas on 05/27/2013 20:45:53 MDT.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Overreacting on 05/27/2013 21:40:05 MDT Print View

If wet meant death then I would be dead instead of sitting in a hotel right now. At 6:30 this morning I took a little swim and was wet for most of the day. Yet I still was able to make it 25+ miles to the endpoint of the hike. While I had a shelter it wouldn't have done me any good. So lets look at a couple of scenarios. I know the Sierra very well. You can often get away with not taking shelter and you will be fine. And most of time it will be afternoon thunderstorms. So lets say they lay down and go to sleep. They notice it starts raining. What do they do? They could be perfectly fine if they had rain gear and even if they didn't they probably A fit person could hike out in three hours. Or in the middle of the night it starts raining. Do they have rain gear and decent light to hike out? Could they find their way? So no shelter isn't by itself dangerous. But I would stress to them that their ego is writing checks that their bodies can't cash. Not smart and not advisable but likely not dangerous. But Russian roulette is safe 5 out six times.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: Hypothermia on 05/28/2013 06:50:04 MDT Print View

Lots of misconceptions about the onset of hypothermia. For a healthy adult, it can take 30 mins or more for mild symptoms to develop when immersed in ice water (0 C or 32 F). That goes up to 2 hours for moderate and up to 3 hours for severe. This assumes you're wearing appropriate clothing for the season. Bottom line - the onset isn't nearly as fast as people think it is.

Sources - Wilderness First Responder and Whitewater Rescue Tech training

Edited by simplespirit on 05/28/2013 06:51:04 MDT.

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
They took an unnecessary risk on 05/28/2013 08:18:45 MDT Print View

Ten miles from the road at 8,000' is a long way back in. I would bet that 99% of fatal hypothermia cases and rescues on land are closer to a road than that. It sounds like they relied on the weather report for selecting survival gear and that's not a good idea when getting that far from a road. Ten miles may be only a few hours walk IF you are fit. AND you don't get lost. AND if no one gets sick or injured. If an unexpected cold rain had started at 7 PM that night, what then?

It's the type of risk a person can usually get by with, but they should be more careful if they want to stay out of trouble. Most of us have taken unnecessary risks out of inexperience. I call it "confidence through ignorance."

Edited by Colter on 05/28/2013 08:24:37 MDT.

diego dean
Dad and both kids on 05/28/2013 09:14:14 MDT Print View

There was a story last year about a Dad who took his two kids out for a short day hike and got lost somewhere in the Ozarks I believe. They even passed someone who offered to help them out but he declined and kept at it. It started raining and they found the three of them huddled together and dead the next day.

After reading that story I began to take gettingwet and being prepared for even day hikes alot more seriously.

In Active
(blatargh) - F
Re: Re: Hypothermia on 05/28/2013 10:47:13 MDT Print View

I know a person who as a healthy adult was flown by helicopter to a hospital after spending 45 minutes in 50 degree water. He would have drowned had he not been clinging to his kayak.
Survival times in cold water.

Edit: I am responding to this statement...
For a healthy adult, it can take 30 mins or more for mild symptoms to develop when immersed in ice water (0 C or 32 F)

Edited by blatargh on 05/28/2013 10:54:13 MDT.

Ryan Smith
(ViolentGreen) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: Re: Hypothermia on 05/28/2013 11:36:46 MDT Print View

I think the moral of the story is that many folks here could do that trip, and survive in almost any scenario within reason. But, I bet they wouldn't want their son or daughter to try it. A four hour hike in pouring rain and 40-50 deg temps is far from enjoyable and could be dangerous, especially to those with little experience.

So, in summary, yes I think it's dumb. I do agree with others who say it may be difficult to change their mind. Once they experience some discomfort caused by their own decisions it may help them rethink some things.


Edited by ViolentGreen on 05/28/2013 11:40:03 MDT.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: Re: Re: Hypothermia on 05/28/2013 12:03:47 MDT Print View

Even the site you linked directly to states a healthy adult can survive 2 hours while treading water @ 50 F. That's without a PFD. Thanks for reinforcing my point.

Can you get hypothermia in the backcountry? Sure. It's just not nearly as likely as people like to think/say it is.

Edited by simplespirit on 05/28/2013 12:10:36 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: Re: Hypothermia on 05/28/2013 12:09:12 MDT Print View

I could survive with a knife, fire steel and a water container in a forested area, but what a crappy way to spend a weekend!

The whole gist of this is to use some common sense and have the basic gear to cover changes in the weather.

Of couse there are seasonal and regional differences. I wouldn't have the same level of insulation in July than I would in January, but I would still have some backup layers. For my PNW climate, there really aren't any periods that I would trust to have weather dry and warm enough that I could reliably go without some form of basic shelter. That doesn't mean hauling the kitchen sink. A minimalist tarp or a poncho could be very acceptable--- and along ways from having no shelter at all.

My day hiking kit includes a poncho, spare line and a space blanket bivy. With that and my other essentials I could get by in some nasty conditions. That is a 10oz insurance policy.

In Active
(blatargh) - F
Re: Re: Re: Re: Hypothermia on 05/28/2013 15:25:46 MDT Print View

Chris W. wrote...
"Thanks for reinforcing my point."

How does a correction of factually inaccurate information reinforce your point?
What hard evidence do you have that the average person underestimates the amount
of time it takes to become endangered by hypothermia? Don't you think attempting
to convince random novice backpackers on the internet that they have overestimated the threat of hypothermia, without providing accurate guidelines as to what the actual *average* limits and misconceptions are, could be considered irresponsible?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Hypothermia on 05/28/2013 15:34:38 MDT Print View

"What hard evidence do you have that the average person underestimates the amount
of time it takes to become endangered by hypothermia?"

That is one of the most insidious facets of hypothermia. One of the first things to happen is a loss of good judgment. Of course, that is bad in an inexperienced person, because maybe they didn't have much good judgment to begin with. However, in the experienced person, good judgment is reduced during the early stages of hypothermia, and then they just keep getting into worse and worse problems.


Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Hypothermia on 05/28/2013 17:16:18 MDT Print View

I gave factual information. It comes from the Wilderness Medicine Institute/NOLS and Rescue 6 International (whitewater/swiftwater rescue trainers). What you posted says the same thing I did.

32-40F 15-30 min (I said "up to 30 min @ 32 F").

Direct quote:

"Although sometimes called immersion hypothermia, loss of body core temperature requires at least a half hour of immersion." -Wilderness First Responder (latest revision) by Buck Tilton

My issue is with people spewing all this "if you get wet for 15 min you'll be hypothermic" BS. I spent two entire days in/out of 50F water on the Chattooga River last May getting my WRT cert with a veteran whitewater guide and EMS/Firefighter. I was cold and shivering, but never hypothermic, and I'd be on the faster end of the onset scale due to very low bodyfat.

Edited by simplespirit on 05/28/2013 17:49:18 MDT.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: How stupid is it to go into the wilderness without a shelter or survival skills? on 05/28/2013 17:18:13 MDT Print View

Sounds like a good way to cull the species :)

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
hypothermia on 05/28/2013 17:22:24 MDT Print View

the problem with hypothermia is that many people dont know the symptoms ... by the time is very obvious and serious, they start to panic and have their judgement impaired ...

you need to recognize whats happening BEFORE you brain gets too addled and yr hands stop working ...

example ...

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: hypothermia on 05/28/2013 17:36:42 MDT Print View

"the problem with hypothermia is that many people dont know the symptoms"

Agreed. Shivering doesn't instantly mean hypothermia. Neither does cold hands/feet (mine are cold all the time unless it's above about 80F). Same for chill bumps.

FWIW - the WMI defines S/S of mild hypothermia as:

The "umbles" (stumble, fumble, grumble, mumble) *this is a key sign
Lack of sound judgement, confusion, apathy, "mild stupidity"
Increased HR and RR
Pale, cool skin

Shivering, cold hands/feet, chill bumps, etc. can mean any number of things.

S/S of moderate hypothermia:

Violent/uncontrollable shivering (not mild)
Worsening of the "umbles"
Increased confusion
Increased HR and RR
Cold and pale (dusky) skin

S/S of severe hypothermia:

Cessation of shivering
Muscle rigidity
Stupor progressing to unconsciousness
Slow and/or nonpalpable pules and respirations
Cold and cyanotic (blue) skin

Edited by simplespirit on 05/28/2013 17:45:58 MDT.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
And the consensus is.... on 05/28/2013 17:40:47 MDT Print View

What one person sees as reckless flirting with hypothermia, another person sees as a cold day out.

What one person interprets as a completely unprepared potential wilderness disaster is another person's average Sunday morning trail run.

Once again, we've got a classic BPL forum case study in risk aversion and perceived risk in the outdoors.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: And the consensus is.... on 05/28/2013 17:58:13 MDT Print View

isn't the internet wonderful.

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Stupid light? on 05/28/2013 18:19:26 MDT Print View

Being ten miles into the mountains at 8,000 feet with minimal experience and no shelter is, in my opinion, the very definition of "stupid light."

I think it's likely that hypothermia is the second leading cause of death in the backcountry. Deaths attributed to "Lost" on that page are likely almost all hypothermia. Those numbers would undoubtedly be much higher if everyone pushed their luck like the two in the OP. This wasn't a trip where you run into the house in your soggy pajamas when your pup tent floods. ; )

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Re: Re: hypothermia on 05/28/2013 18:20:47 MDT Print View

I haven't taken a course, but I know immersion is not the same wrt to heat loss as being wet and exposed to wind. I am not sure why the argument here is around immersion since that was not the scenario presented by the OP.

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: hypothermia on 05/28/2013 18:29:00 MDT Print View

Spelt, just to bet the immersion thing some more since you seem to be interested:

Your body loses heat 26 time faster in cold water then in the air. Just saying.