OHIO OUTDOOR NOTEBOOK
By Laura Jones, Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Dress for success on your next winter outing.
Picking the right attire for a day of cold weather play isn’t just a question of fashion or fad. It can also be a matter of survival! By all means, get out and enjoy one of the most beautiful times of year in Ohio. But when the temperatures dip, it’s time to kick it up a notch in clothing and in common sense.
The right clothes can help you enjoy cold-weather fun and even save your life!
No one wants a fun day in the snow to turn nasty even tragic due to hypothermia or frostbite.
Choose the appropriate clothes and you’ll be well on your way to safely enjoying the solitude of a winter’s hike or a day cross-country skiing, sledding or ice fishing.
An outing earlier this winter amid the giant, frozen icicles and waterfalls of Hocking Hills State Park really brought this cold weather concern home to me. A week of extremely cold temperatures preceded my trek, making that afternoon’s mid-30s seem balmy. Along the trail I encountered several hikers with their coats flung open, heads uncovered, and gloves tucked ineffectively away in their pockets. What they didn’t realize was they were vulnerable to suffering the ill effects of hypothermia or frostbite.
Hypothermia is nothing to take lightly. It’s a dangerous though preventable condition resulting from the cooling of the core body temperature. It occurs with prolonged exposure to cold, windy or wet weather. Believe it or not, hypothermia can even occur in temperatures as moderate as 50 degrees. Mild symptoms include shivering and loss of coordination. In its later stages, hypothermia causes disorientation, loss of consciousness and, if left untreated, even death. If hypothermia does strike, the most important step is to immediately get warm and dry.
Skin that is overexposed to freezing temperatures is in danger of frostbite. Most at risk are the face, hands and feet. General symptoms include a “pins and needles” sensation or numbness to the affected area. To treat mild cases, get to a warm place and apply lukewarm water so the skin thaws gradually. More advanced cases may require medical attention.
But, as is often said, the best offense is a good defense. Dressing in layers and wearing insulated, waterproof boots sets the stage for a safe, cold-weather adventure. Begin by choosing clothes that keep you warm even when they are wet. Wool, fleece, and modern synthetics are excellent fabrics. Avoid cotton, which, when wet from perspiration, snow or rain, loses all of its insulating value.
Each layer of clothing acts as a line of defense against the cold. On the other hand as your body warms from physical exertion, such as hiking you can open or remove layers, regulating body temperature and preventing perspiration. Just remember to reapply those layers before you begin to chill.
There is a natural tendency to dress to stay warm while inactive, but your level of activity should dictate the layers of clothing you apply. For instance, the high-energy sport of cross-country skiing requires different layers than the more sedentary pursuit of waterfowl hunting.
Did you know hypothermia is also linked to dehydration? In winter, as in summer, water is an essential element to your health. Staying hydrated helps regulate your body temperature, so don’t leave that water bottle at home when heading outdoors.
If ice fishing, ice skating or ice sailing are on your outdoor agenda this winter, you should not only prepare to ward off hypothermia and frostbite, but be in tune to the dangers of frozen water.
Despite its appearance, ice-covered water is never completely safe. The one constant in Ohio is that the weather is never the same. Temperature fluctuations, wind and under-flowing water all alter the composition of ice. Frozen water with a coating of snow could be a real fooler, and should be approached with special caution. Snow is an insulator and could mask the true condition of the surface beneath.
No one wants to fall through the ice, but being prepared is the best course to follow. When venturing onto ice, experts recommend wearing a life jacket or float coat, a winter-jacket floating device that minimizes body heat loss.
You might ask, “Is it all worth it?” And my answer is an emphatic “Yes!” The winter season is both exhilarating and peaceful. It’s a time when solitude in the outdoors is far easier to find than in summer. So, dress in layers and be prepared and you’ll surely keep the fun in your next outdoor adventure!