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Thread: Wet Clothes/Hypothermia Situation

  1. #1

    Default Wet Clothes/Hypothermia Situation

    Hi everyone, I hope I'm not being impertinent here.

    I am researching for a short story I am writing that has an element of lost in the wilderness/survival situation to it. My question is regarding a potential hypothermic situation where a character is in below freezing temperatures with wet clothes. I've heard that once clothes get wet, it is better to take them off than leave them on. I'm sure that definitely applies for cotton, but does it also apply for wool or polyester, materials that are described as "retaining heat when wet"?

    Does the accessibility of a fire or crude shelter make a difference?

    The situation my character is in, is he is digging a tree pit in the for an emergency shelter, and the sides collapse. Enough snow gets into his clothes to soak the base layers. It is dark and the person has no tinder or kindling foraged (they do have a ferro rod available, but have not yet collected tinder).

    I want to give this character a reasonable shot at not freezing to death overnight.

    Thanks in advance for any help!


    Edited to clarify the temperature of the scenario is just below freezing.
    Last edited by montecarlo; 11-26-2020 at 08:33 PM.


  2. #2
    Senior Member kyratshooter's Avatar
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    I have a problem with the logic of your premise or scenario.

    I am assuming the temp is zero F and not C.

    If the temp is zero F, and moisture is present, the clothes will not remain wet, they will freeze right on your body.

    Second, if it is zero F and the walls of your pit shelter collapse the snow will not get your clothes wet, it will sit there as frozen snow on the surface and can be brushed off.

    Third, in those temps, over night, if you survive the hypothermia the frostbite will get you and you will loose fingers and toes.

    No, you are not going to be ok when the sun comes up the next day.

    Do not think about this as a fire or shelter dilemma, you need both in a big way if you are not equipped to do without one or the other.

    Ask any GI that has fought a winter war. You can survive without fire but you must have shelter in the form of a structure or proper clothing for the situation. Clothing can equal shelter in the correct circumstance.

    In my mind the most dangerous conditions to consider would be the temps hovering around 32F with a sleet/rain mix while wearing jeans, tee shirt, a polyester quilted jacket, cotton socks and sneakers. A dead cell phone battery would add to the drama.

    As you write remember your rule of three;
    3 minutes without air
    3 hours without shelter
    3 days without water
    3 weeks without food
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  3. #3

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    Hi, thank you for the response. I edited the original post to say below freezing, instead of sub zero. I was indeed thinking C and not F.

    I was thinking the character had the outer layer unzipped to keep from sweating while he is digging, and it was warm enough for the body heat to melt the snow and make the base layers wet.

    My hope, as a story teller, is the scenario will be a coinflip in terms of survivability. Not so dangerous survivability is completely implausible, but dangerous enough the reader will be very, very worried.

    Does bringing the temp up to just below freezing make a difference, or do I need to modify the scenario further, e.g. have the character get to the site a little earlier in the day, with enough time to get a small fire going before proceeding to build the shelter?

  4. #4

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    Some more clarifying items: The character survives a small plane crash in rural Canada in the late autumn. They have basic outdoorsman skills and possibly have taken a survival class or two, but are by no means a survival expert. Smart and resourceful though. They always carried survival gear and clothing in the plane. Some if it they pulled out after the "rough landing" but some burned up in the plane.

    I can always modify the list later, but what they originally pulled from the wreck:
    Hatchet, shovel, saw, three days emergency rations, hiking boots, knife, compass, paracord, a pot, mirror, parka, pants, gloves, socks, fish hooks, fishing line, and emergency blanket.

    The clothing on them is outdoorsy enough, all wool/synthetic.

    The scenario takes place several days after the crash.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Phaedrus's Avatar
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    Welcome to WSF, Montecarlo! Definitely if you can take your clothes off and dry them by a fire you're upping your odds of survival a lot.

  6. #6
    Senior Member kyratshooter's Avatar
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    I hate to say this but there is so much you don't know about this subject that you need to pick a topic that you do know for your story.

    This is akin to talking about cylinders on auto pistols and safeties on revolvers and killing deer at a thousand kilometers with a bow and arrow.

    Spend a few weeks reading our archives. We have Canadians here, and Alaskans, though for my time spent I would go look at the Alaskan posts. Unlike the Canadians, they sometimes go outdoors for a trip farther than Tim Hortons. Hours of discussions on the topics you are stressing.

    Or perhaps read Paulson's book Hatchet. If you do not want to read it you can listen to the audiobook on Youtube for free. Many years ago when I was teaching life skills classes in high school this was required reading. Award winning work that it is.

    You do not leave an airplane that has crashed. That plane is perfectly good shelter. Second, all planes for many years have been equipped with crash transponders that signal that a crash has occurred and the location of the plane. I believe that is the law for flying in Canada. They also have laws there about the minimal amount of gear you are required to carry when flying, as in a well stocked survival kit, they have a list.

    http://50.57.173.62/ak_cnda.htm

    When the signal goes out the rescue party is looking for the plane that crashed, not some lone person that roamed a kilometer away hiding under tree roots beside a scraggly campfire.

    Even if the plane burned or sank in a beaver pond, stay close to it.
    Last edited by kyratshooter; 11-27-2020 at 12:24 AM.
    If you didn't bring jerky what did I just eat?

  7. #7

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    KYRatShooter,

    I appreciate the time you took to respond. I'm aware of my weaknesses on the subject, that's why I'm here to learn. Please also be aware that the character is not an expert, so Iím not expecting them to make the best decisions (but I do want them to face realistic consequences!)

    You are also spot on with the plane aspect. I don't have a realistic explanation for help not coming, but the entire theme of the book revolves around the character extracting themselves from the situation, not being rescued. Let's just pretend the plane belongs to smugglers, was flying with transponders disabled, and was taking a detour off the registered flightplan. In all reality, I plan on just leaving this be a plot hole. A lot of great fiction has plot holes, and generally speaking most readers will go along with it as long as the rest doesn't suck. Either way, help does not come and will not come!

    I don't think I'm going to abandon my project because I am not survival expert, which is what you seem to suggest in your first paragraph. The story is 75% complete and will be completed. The only question is whether someone like yourself, when reading it, would be nodding their head or rolling their eyes. I'm aiming for the head-nodding.

    I appreciate the tip on Hatchet. Looks like it's available on Kindle, so I'll download that for my next read.

    Do you have any additional thoughts on my original scenario? Any hope of survival if the character holes up in an emergency blanket and sleeping bag, starting a fire at first light? If thatís out of the question, I will need to think of alternative ways to create an emergency at this juncture.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Phaedrus's Avatar
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    I don't know if you've read it but that's a good summary of the book "The Adventure of a Lifetime" by Brian Adey. He might be a member here, I don't recall. The protagonist is a banker that quits his job and goes to Alaska for a once-in-a-lifetime trip. While there he catches a ride in a float plane with the pilot's daughter. The plane goes down and the pilot dies; the protagonist and the daughter learn no flight plan was filed so they must survive the Alaskan wilderness and make their way to civilization.

    Who is your audience? The average person probably only knows what they've seen Bear Grylls do. Or in other words, basically nothing. This forum is a great place to learn! You might also check out a few good books on survival. Cody Lundin has written a couple good ones, and there are some military survival manual you can download for free. If the book is well written otherwise then many will gloss over any factual inaccuracies (if they even notice them to begin with). Subject matter experts will always find something to nitpick no matter how thoroughly you research.

  9. #9

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    Phaedrus, great point, thank you. Target audience is not survival experts. I suspect it will be people like myself, who enjoy shows like Alone but wish they were more educational and less dramatic.

    Still, while I think I can write something that will sound reasonable to the average reader, I do want to make an effort to be more realistic.

    I will have to add that book to my reading list! Thanks for the tip.

  10. #10
    Super Moderator crashdive123's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by montecarlo View Post
    KYRatShooter,


    Do you have any additional thoughts on my original scenario? Any hope of survival if the character holes up in an emergency blanket and sleeping bag, starting a fire at first light? If thatís out of the question, I will need to think of alternative ways to create an emergency at this juncture.
    Sure, there is always hope for survival. With an emergency blanket inside a sleeping bag (they really don't do much in the very, very cold) surviving the night is possible. Probable even. Starting a fire from what is around an aircraft wreckage site? Lots of possibilities. Fuel from a line or tank as an accelerant using wiring and a battery to spark it to life will work fine. Keeping the fire going? Did the plane crash in a wooded area? If so, no problems on believability. If it is in an area where vegetation is sparse that might be an issue so choose a crash site that makes your scenario plausible. Signaling by throwing tires or material from the wreckage is fine but not a long term solution to warmth unless the plane was carrying an IKEA shipment. Most of the believablility or lack thereof will come from your character development.
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    Oh, and winter's coming up. Get equipped and go out and spend a few nights in the actual cold. The learning curve will heighten considerably...

    Alan

  12. #12
    Senior Member kyratshooter's Avatar
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    I am going to jump on the band wagon with Alan. We often tell beginners to start out with a test night of camping in their back yard just to prove their gear before going out to the woods. All it takes to get a handle on your story is an "overnighter" in the back yard.

    Take your Walmart sleeping bag out into the back yard, spread out a tarp and lay the bag down on it. Stuff your space blanket inside and crawl in. See how long you last before you decide there are better places to be. If you are north of the Ohio River you will not be outside long. Come to think about it, I almost froze to death at a camp just outside Tampa FL about 10 years ago.

    You can even soak yourself down with the garden hose to simulate the wet snow thing!

    Now to add too that. I have been doing this stuff since I was 7 years old and I am now 70. I have camped cold and hot and I have camped in the Army in situations where there was no going to the house if things got bad. There is nothing worse than being in a situation that turns deadly and not having the proper gear. That is why I keep a -20 rated sleeping bag in my truck and have a big tote full of emergency gear in there with it, and I only live in Kentucky!

    You have the advantage of being able to equip your hero with whatever gear you wish him to have, so do that. Give him a -20 rated bag, his space blanket and some chemical warmers to use inside the sleeping bag!

    Don't make me roll my eyes!

    I have quit reading modern fiction just due to the fact that almost every writer now tries to impress the reader with the vast understanding of subjects on which they are completely ignorant. Don't be that guy.

    Walk the land you write about, eat the food you talk about, get cold before you write bout cold and get your inspiration first hand, not second hand from someone on a forum. That is not research!
    If you didn't bring jerky what did I just eat?

  13. #13
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    For a long time I had one of those "old school" canvas tents that were great in the cold rain as long as you didn't touch the inside of the tent. There are few experiences that can compare to bailing the ice water out of your tent and trying to wring the water out of a down sleeping bag, in the rain, in the cold, in the dark.... Kinda makes you not even want to write about it. I have done very little camping in freezing weather, and I'll be just fine with that...

    Alan

  14. #14
    Administrator Rick's Avatar
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    Not too many years ago I headed out to spend a night or two only to find the five gallons of water in the back of the truck had overturned soaking everything. I promptly turned around and drove home. I'm dumb, not stupid.

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by kyratshooter View Post
    I am going to jump on the band wagon with Alan. We often tell beginners to start out with a test night of camping in their back yard just to prove their gear before going out to the woods. All it takes to get a handle on your story is an "overnighter" in the back yard.

    Take your Walmart sleeping bag out into the back yard, spread out a tarp and lay the bag down on it. Stuff your space blanket inside and crawl in. See how long you last before you decide there are better places to be. If you are north of the Ohio River you will not be outside long. Come to think about it, I almost froze to death at a camp just outside Tampa FL about 10 years ago.

    You can even soak yourself down with the garden hose to simulate the wet snow thing!

    Now to add too that. I have been doing this stuff since I was 7 years old and I am now 70. I have camped cold and hot and I have camped in the Army in situations where there was no going to the house if things got bad. There is nothing worse than being in a situation that turns deadly and not having the proper gear. That is why I keep a -20 rated sleeping bag in my truck and have a big tote full of emergency gear in there with it, and I only live in Kentucky!

    You have the advantage of being able to equip your hero with whatever gear you wish him to have, so do that. Give him a -20 rated bag, his space blanket and some chemical warmers to use inside the sleeping bag!

    Don't make me roll my eyes!

    I have quit reading modern fiction just due to the fact that almost every writer now tries to impress the reader with the vast understanding of subjects on which they are completely ignorant. Don't be that guy.

    Walk the land you write about, eat the food you talk about, get cold before you write bout cold and get your inspiration first hand, not second hand from someone on a forum. That is not research!
    The way you wrote that, you should be a story teller yourself!

    I'm not sure I'm ready to douse myself with the garden hose and crawl into a sleeping bag quite yet, but I am tempted to just to see how my wife reacts!

  16. #16
    Senior Member Phaedrus's Avatar
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    Check out this one about winter survival in the north from Les Stroud:

    https://youtu.be/38lj3oYPIcA

  17. #17

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    Lol. Kyratshooter is a story teller. And I usually agree with him. Like in this instance. Most authors delve into unknown territory with research. Nobody knows everything. But in the wilderness survival genre there is beaucoup BS. If you're not going into "embracing the suck", I wouldn't worry to much about realism. Your readers likely will have no clue. Lotsa armchair survivalists out there. So no matter what you write it will be criticized brutally from their standpoint. The folks who have been there don't really see the point of critique. I'd write from the "adventure" POV. Get a grasp on the basics and write from what you feel. You really can't get the feel of thirst, hunger, and hypothermia from reading.

  18. #18
    Senior Member kyratshooter's Avatar
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    Yep, you want to hear stories about winter survival, I have real ones that are better than any fiction ever written. Build a fire and put on some coffee.

    I'll tell you about Mary Draper Ingles, who escaped from her Shawnee captors about 10 miles from where I live. She walked all the way back to Virginia, 500 miles of uncharted wilderness, through the fall and winter without fire, firearm or shoes with only a scrap of a blanket to keep her warm.

    Or Simon Kenton, chased into a blizzard by the Indians, naked. He walked over 100 miles of snow covered Kentucky wilderness to find help.

    Or a bunch of buckskin clad, buffalo robe wrapped men and boys that left the border of TN and VA with a 1000 head heard of cattle, in November. They went north through the Cumberland Gap, then west across half of Kentucky until they dropped south into the Nashville basin. They walked down the road I used to live on, it was a buffalo trace then, and they drove those cattle across a frozen Cumberland River at Christmas. There were 100 of them, the oldest 70 and the youngest 10 and not a one of them suffered frostbite or sickness.

    Yep I have stories about winter survival for you. Don't get me started!
    Last edited by kyratshooter; 11-29-2020 at 06:12 PM.
    If you didn't bring jerky what did I just eat?

  19. #19

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    ...told ya.

  20. #20

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    Been trying to post so this is a test. Hello b t w

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