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Cotton kills and how to avoid hypothermia

Winter mountaineering (photo: MCofS)

Winter mountaineering (photo: MCofS)

Cotton can kill. That's the stark message going out to mountaineers as part of a bid to stop people freezing to death.

Each winter people die of exposure and hypothermia in the Scottish mountains. Heather Morning, Mountain Safety Advisor with the MCofS, advised that wearing cotton clothing can significantly increase your risk of developing hypothermia in the Scottish winter mountains.

When cotton clothing gets wet, whether through rain, snow-melt or perspiration, it provides no insulation and will quickly cool the skin. Outdoor clothing manufacturers produce their garments from either man-made synthetic fabrics or wool, which ‘wick’ moisture away from the skin and retain warmth even when wet or damp.

The onset of hypothermia usually has several causes, and inappropriate clothing is only one factor which may contribute to the problem. Eating adequate and appropriate food is also important.

Heather said: “The human body is a bit like a car: it needs to have enough fuel, of the right sort, to run efficiently.

“Carbohydrates of both the slow and quick release varieties are best for fuelling a day on the hill. A great start would be a substantial bowl of porridge, topped up with quick and easy-to-eat fuel throughout the day such as mini pork pies, tablet, chocolate and sugary sweets.

“Keep your snacks easily accessible as it is unlikely that you will have the luxury of ‘stopping for lunch’ as you would in summer conditions, because when you stop you get cold very quickly. If you do stop then ensure that you add an extra layer, otherwise within minutes your body will start to cool.”

Knowing the right clothes to wear and the right food to eat can be vital in avoiding potentially fatal hypothermia, more information is available on the MCofS website.


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Walking can be dangerous and is done entirely at your own risk. Information is provided free of charge; it is each walker's responsibility to check it and navigate using a map and compass.