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Stay Warm, Stay Safe

The summer hiking season almost upon us, but don't be fooled by the 'summer' label, mountain weather can be both volatile and surprisingly chilly. Sudden temperature drops can lead to dangerous cold-induced injuries. It's essential to know how to prevent, identify, and treat them, to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, no matter the UK's mood swings.


Body temperature under normal conditions should be 37℃. The NHS defines hypothermia as a drop in temperature to below 35℃. Severe hypothermia occurs if core body temperature drops below 30℃, and is often fatal. For this reason it's important to be able to recognise the signs of a potential climatic injury early, not only in others, but also yourself.

Early Signs

Of course, it's not practical to constantly be taking people's temperature, so instead we need to be monitoring for the signs of hypothermia as they develop. These can include:

  • Feeling Cold This one may seem obvious, but it's important to recognise that feeling cold for more than a few minutes should be a trigger for taking steps to prevent hypothermia developing*.
  • Poor concentration This can also manifest as poor decision making, navigation errors or difficulty holding a conversation.
  • Fatigue Hill walking is, by it's nature, a tiring activity, but hypothermia will advance the onset of exhaustion.
  • Irritable mood Just as being hangry is a thing, the same thing happens when you're cold.

If, after feeling cold, an individual starts to develop a strong sense of warmth, this can be a sign of severe hypothermia.


The initial focus for treating hypothermia needs to be preventing further decline of body temperature, followed by slowing bringing it back up to a normal level.

  • Shield from wind Wind will accelerate heat loss, so finding, or creating, some shelter is crucial.
  • Remove and replace any wet clothing Wet clothing will also accelerate heat loss, so should be replaced whenever practicable.
  • Add additional layers Particularly ensuring that the persons head is well covered.
  • Protect from ground Cold or wet ground will take heat away very quickly, so even something as simple as a roll mat or a rucksack will do wonders here.
  • Rewarm slowly Slowly is an important word here, as doing this too quickly can cause serious issues. Never apply direct heat, as this can cause burns. A hot drink and some high-energy food are a good idea. If possible, wrap the person in a foil blanket, or a sleeping bag with another person to provide additional warmth.
  • Monitor and extract If caught and dealt with early, hypothermia can be avoided, and the individual may be okay to continue. In any case, they should be monitored for further signs of cold induced injury, and be prepared to extract them if needed.


The NHS defines frostbite as "damage to skin and tissue caused by exposure to freezing temperatures". Extremities are the most common areas to be affected.

Early Signs

Frostbite is likely to initially present itself as pins and needles, a throbbing/aching, and the skin will become cold, numb and white. As it progressed, the skin may become hard and frozen - at this point it is at the intermediate stage, and medical intervention is required to prevent lasting damage.


Treatment for frostbite is to slowly rewarm the affected area, but this should be performed by a medical professional. Immediate steps however should be to cover the affected area to prevent further damage, making sure not to put any pressure on it.

It is important not to warm the affected area if it is likely to refreeze, as this can lead to further tissue damage.


As is the case in many situations, prevention is far better than a cure, so spotting not only the signs of a cold induced injury early, but also the risk factors can stop a medical issue occurring.

Risk Factors

  • Wind chill
  • Wet or damp clothing and skin*
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of activity
  • Alcohol and drugs
  • It's worth pointing out that when hiking, clothing can become wet not only from rain, but also from sweating.

Appropriate clothing (including lots of layers), sufficient food and hot drinks and being prepared to turn back if necessary are key to ensuring a safe and enjoyable time.


Remember, the unpredictable nature of mountain weather can catch even the most seasoned hiker off guard occasionally. As you head back out onto the hills, stay vigilant for early signs of hypothermia and frostbite. Shield yourself from the wind, layer up, and keep an eye on your fellow hikers. Whatever the conditions, prioritize safety and enjoy the breathtaking landscapes. Happy hiking! 🏔️❄️