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Frostbite

(Adapted from the U.S. Army Survival Manual)

This injury is the result of frozen tissues. Light frostbite involves only the skin that takes on a dull whitish pallor. Deep frostbite extends to a depth below the skin. The tissues become solid and immovable. Your feet, hands, and exposed facial areas are particularly vulnerable to frostbite.

The best frostbite prevention, when you are with others, is to use the buddy system. Check your buddy’s face often and make sure that he checks yours. If you are alone, periodically cover your nose and lower part of your face with your mittened hand.

The following pointers will aid you in keeping warm and preventing frostbite when it is extremely cold or when you have less than adequate clothing:

Face. Maintain circulation by twitching and wrinkling the skin on your face making faces. Warm with your hands.

Ears. Wiggle and move your ears. Warm with your hands.

Hands. Move your hands inside your gloves. Warm by placing your hands close to your body.

Feet. Move your feet and wiggle your toes inside your boots.

A loss of feeling in your hands and feet is a sign of frostbite. If you have lost feeling for only a short time, the frostbite is probably light. Otherwise, assume the frostbite is deep. To rewarm a light frostbite, use your hands or mittens to warm your face and ears. Place your hands under your armpits. Place your feet next to your buddy’s stomach. A deep frostbite injury, if thawed and refrozen, will cause more damage than a non-medically trained person can handle. Some do’s and don’ts regarding frostbite:

Do

Periodically check for frostbite.
Rewarm light frostbite.
Keep injured areas from refreezing.

Don't

Rub injury with snow
Drink alcoholic beverages.
Smoke
Try to thaw out a deep frostbite injury if you are away from definitive medical care.

 Steve's Notes: Alcohol brings blood to the extremities, meaning less chance of tissues freezing, but also a faster loss of body heat. If you absolutely know you will be in a warm shelter in a few hours, you can use alcohol to prevent frozen toes. It is a matter of timing, and hypothermia plus worse frostbite could result if you get it wrong.

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The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Frostbite