Frontier Adventure

How to Prevent Hypothermia While Hiking and Backpacking

By Michael Lanza

Rain and wind battered two friends and I as we hiked across exposed meadows high in the Olympic Mountains—our second straight day of heavy rain. Dripping, knee-high vegetation ladled cups of water onto our pants and boots. My rain jacket kept my upper body dry, but my soft-shell pants eventually soaked through. That, and the wind, slowly made me steadily colder—more than I realized.

After a strenuous ascent of a steep mountainside, carrying a heavy pack with my jacket hood up—which should have made me quite warm—it occurred to me: I’m still cold.

I was hypothermic.

What’s more, we had all—ironically, given the rain—run out of water more than an hour earlier. We undoubtedly hadn’t eaten enough to replace the calories burned through a full day of hard hiking in cold wind and rain. Now, as the rain continued pounding us, night approached and we were nowhere near a water source or flat ground for camping.

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Backpackers hiking in rain in the Bailey Range, Olympic National Park.
” data-image-caption=”Jeff Wilhelm (behind) and me hiking in rain in the Bailey Range, Olympic National Park.
” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ decoding=”async” width=”900″ height=”675″ src=”″ alt=”Backpackers hiking in rain in the Bailey Range, Olympic National Park.” class=”wp-image-44611″ srcset=” 1024w, 300w, 768w, 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Jeff Wilhelm (behind) and me hiking in rain in the Bailey Range, Olympic National Park.

We understood that our situation was serious. We calmly discussed our priorities. First and foremost, we needed a spot to pitch our tents—under the circumstances, shelter was more important than water, because we knew we could survive a night without water and that we’d find some in the morning, and we had plenty of food. But a night without shelter in those conditions posed far greater risks.

We backtracked to a flat area we had recalled passing about an hour earlier. The rain stopped before we set up camp, and we spent the night dry and warm in our tents. Clear skies greeted us the next morning. Two hours after leaving that camp, we reached a creek and drank copiously. We had gone about 20 hours without water, but hadn’t felt any serious effects from dehydration.


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