Preparing a cold-weather first aid kit is essential. Becoming a victim of cold weather injuries, be it hypothermia or frostbite, is often the result of a lack of preparedness. Even if you live in a “warmer climate,” there is still a risk of cold-related injury.
To create a cold weather first aid kit, there are several key components to consider. These key components include emergency blankets, hand warmers, and hot packs. Also, you should store various emergency supplies in your vehicle. Here’s one of the most important things to remember about cold weather: it’s sneaky.
With that said, let’s talk about the risks of cold weather (even for those who don’t live in a traditionally “cold” climate). Then, we’ll outline the items you should have to stay safe.
Why Cold Weather is So Dangerous
Cold weather? What’s the big deal? I’ll just put on my winter coat, crank up the heat, and call it good. Hopefully it’s that simple. Before we go on, let’s talk about the reasons you shouldn’t overlook cold weather emergencies.
Here are several reasons cold weather is so dangerous:
A warm climate can fool you
It’s like a slow cooker (but cold)
Many people overlook the danger
If you take some time to prepare, you can overcome these dangers. Let’s look at them in more depth.
Why Living in a Warm Climate Can Be Deceiving
Those who don’t live in traditionally cold or snowy states are at risk of overlooking the dangers of cold weather. Even areas that are typically thought of as quite warm, such as Florida, still have regions that drop down into the 40s at night during the winter months.
We’ll talk about this in more depth later, but even temperatures that aren’t thought of as “cold” such as temps in the 40s and 50s, can still be dangerous if someone is left exposed.
If you live in a warm environment, and you’ve typically overlooked a cold weather first aid kit, consider the following scenarios.
How it gets cold in warm climates:
The power goes out at night. This can happen anywhere. And, even if the temperature is only dropping to the 50s, hypothermia can still result if there is no way for the person to keep warm, or if they are already at risk.
Your car is stranded in a multicar pileup (and you run out of gas). This is one that many people completely forget. Sadly, pileups happen. Sometimes due to rain, fog, or a winter storm. When these pileups happen, it can be days before people are rescued – sometimes they happen in remote areas, where the nearest town is miles away.
You have impaired mobility, and you fall outside. As a paramedic, this is one we see all the time. Someone falls in their backyard in the evening, they break their hip, and they don’t have their cell phone.
Someone falls into cold water. No matter where you live, if you fall into cold water, it can take minutes for your body to become dangerously cold, particularly if you’re unable to move, or you’re trapped for a while.
As you can see, there are many scenarios where cold weather can still present a danger even if you don’t live in Alaska.
Cold Weather is Like a Slow Cooker (or Slow Freezer)
Becoming hypothermic can be a slow process. One of the dangers of hypothermia is that, at a certain point, your mind becomes affected, and you stop making good decisions and are unable to get help.
This makes hypothermia especially dangerous. During winter weather, you need to stay vigilant to ensure that you don’t pass the point of no return.
This same thing can happen with frostbite, though in a different way. Your fingers, ears, or nose become so cold that, eventually they are completely numb, and you don’t notice the irreparable damage is taking place.
Believe me, though the name would suggest otherwise, true frostbite is not cool.
Many People Overlook Cold Weather Preparedness
The fact is, even among people who live in the northern United States, there are many who simply overlook the dangers of cold weather.
Why is this? Well, I guess we can blame central heat, modern cars, and . . . woodstoves? These are all great things, but of course, they can sometimes become a bit of a crutch. If we don’t take steps to be prepared, there can be devastating effects when something goes wrong.
Let’s now talk about the core supplies and techniques needed for your cold-weather first aid kit.
Supplies for Cold Weather First Aid Kits
Staying warm doesn’t require a degree in advanced thermodynamics. It just requires keeping your eyes peeled for danger and having a few key supplies ready to go. In the next sections, we’ll list a few items you should have in your first aid kit to ensure you stay warm during the chilly months.
We’ll list several items for keeping you warm, and then a few to help you out of emergency situations in the cold.
First aid gear to help you stay warm:
Emergency blankets. Having some emergency blankets is smart. If you get quality ones, you can even use them for a shelter if needed. Store these everywhere. Also, keeps some real wool blankets around too (in the car, in your home). Wool can keep you warm even if it gets damp.
Heating pads. Small heating pads are a great way to keep your hands and feet warm during the cold. You can tuck these in mittens or in shoes, helping you stay warm.
Hot packs. Hot packs are similar to heating pads, but they are even faster, and they can be used to rapidly warm someone in an emergency. Place them around the body's core, which means the groin, armpits, neck, belly, and chest. Some of these can get pretty hot so be careful about placing them directly on the skin.
Hats, mittens, winter coats. Keeps some extra winter hats, mittens (they keep you warmer than gloves), and winter coats in the car. Also, keeping a warm change of clothes in the car wouldn’t hurt either.
Canned compressed air to repair tire (Fix a flat). If you get a flat in the middle of a blizzard, you don’t want to be outside trying to make a repair in inclement weather. Instead, use something like fix-a-flat to get you to safety, and then make the repair.
Reflector, electronic flare. Flares and reflective vests can keep you visible if your car goes off the road, or if you need to make a roadside repair. Also, if you’re hiking in a blizzard, a reflective vest can help people find you if you become lost (keep this in mind for pets!).
Sand for traction. Think about tools, such as sand and traction tiles, to help you get unstuck. If your car is caught in the snow, you want to be able to get out. Cars can’t idle forever!
Jumper cables. Cold weather is known to kill car batteries. If you can’t start your car, you can’t stay warm. Have some jumper cables ready and ensure that they are in working order – and that you know how to jumpstart a car!
Maps and navigation. In a blizzard or a storm, the GPS on your phone might not work. Be sure you always have a paper map ready to go when you’ll be in an unfamiliar area. What’s the one thing worse than being trapped in a blizzard? Getting lost, and being trapped in a blizzard.
Matches and a way to get water. If for some reason you do become stranded, you’ll need some way to get water. In this case, some type of tin can, or tin cup will allow you to melt some snow and boil it for water (you’ll need some waterproof matches!).
Alright, hopefully, you can go through this list and add some items to your emergency supplies. Where should you store all these items? Well, it’s a good idea to have some in the house, and some in the car.
If you’d like, here is another list of cold-weather preparation supplies.
Conclusion: Staying Safe During Winter Weather
Cold weather can often be deceptive. Some people don’t realize how dangerous the cold months can be. For those who live in snowy environments, there are a number of new dangers - power outages, slippery roads, blizzards. You must stay prepared.
And even for those who don’t live in a cold weather environment, it’s critical not to underestimate the dangers of cold, or even cool, weather. If you become stranded in a vehicle, or you can’t get up in the backyard, it could be dangerous. For those with known mobility issues, think about getting a life alert necklace or bracelet, this will ensure you can always get help if you need it.
If you’d like, read about how to build a vehicle first aid kit. Staying prepared may not seem all that exciting, and it may seem like a lot of money in the beginning, but when you do need the supplies (and believe me, eventually you will), you’ll be very, very glad you took the time to prepare.