In a survival situation, you must be aware of your body core temperature and take active measures to protect against hypothermia or hyperthermia.
For us humans, the perfect body core temperature is thirty seven degrees Celsius, or 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit for us imperial folk on this side of the pond.
Keeping your body at or near that ideal temp is the basis of all human survival skills.
Luckily your body is great at doing this as long as you give it what it needs. This process is called thermoregulation.
Thermoregulation is the ability to regulate our body core temperature within a particular range, even when the temps outside are extreme.
All systems function best at certain temperature ranges. If your body temperature slips beyond the ideal temperature range, you will die.
Thermoregulation is crucial to all living organisms. You, plants, animals. All of us on this big blue globe.
Surviving Your Bodies Thermal Regulation
So what is a normal body temperature? 98.6, right? Well, actually humans are able to live perfectly fine with body core temperatures somewhere between 97.7 to 99.5 Fahrenheit (which is 36.5 and 37.5 Celsius).
Low Body Temperature
Any colder and the shivering mechanism kicks in, your muscles are going to tighten up, and you’ll feel like you have no energy.
If your temp keeps dropping you are going to literally start freezing and hypothermia will kick in until you’re dead. Just how long does it take to freeze to death? That depends on several factors, but it can take less than an hour.
High Body Temperature
If your core heats up beyond that temp range you start sweating, and if you are hydrated enough you’ll actually do ok for the first 30 minutes or so. Soon you’ll feel dizzy and heavily fatigued.
If you continue to heat up you are going to get hyperthermia. Eventually your brain and organs basically boil to death.
How To Regulate Body Temperature
So now you see why it’s really important to keep thermoregulation on your mind when you’re outdoors, especially in a survival situation.
Our body temperature regulation depends on many internal and external forces that we can control, or at least direct. This is why it’s important to prep ahead of time by dressing for your environment, packing food and water, and bringing any unique piece of survival gear you might need for your location.
In case you’re lost, obviously getting rescued is top priority. However, if you would like to be discovered alive regulating your body temp is very important too.
If you’re in a cold environment (note that even deserts qualify, most get very cold at night) and start to shiver, go ahead right then and look for a place to build a warm shelter, make a fire, and bundle up. But don’t sweat or you’ll make it worse and try to stay dry.
If you’re in the opposite situation (like, say, lost in that same desert during the day) and start to feel dizzy or light headed, find some shade and rest for a while. If you have no shade make a bushcraft umbrella out of a piece of bush or from your shirt and a stick. If you are lucky enough to see any water you should take a quick dip, just don’t drink it or let it get in your nose or eyes. Soak your clothes in water or pee on them if you have to. Tying a wet piece of cloth around your head helps too.
In either situation, a good hat made for the location or a simple bandanna helps. They can keep your head warm in the cold and shaded and wet in the heat.
Don’t wait until you start shivering to find your gloves. Don’t wait until you’re about to pass out before wetting a bandanna. Waiting until the body is displaying signs of hyperthermia or hypothermia means it is already too late.
Plan your routes accordingly to the weather. Aim for shade in the heat and aim for sunlight in the cold, and always aim for water and rescue. Do what you must to keep your body as close to 98.6F as possible. Don’t over-exert yourself in the cold. If you begin to sweat you will quickly lose body heat for hours.
In extremely hot temperatures, travel at night rather than the day. This alone greatly increases your chances of surviving desert-like conditions. But that is generic advice, if it is pitch black and you might fall into a ravine, or if large predators are out at night, it is obviously wiser to at least travel in the cooler hours around sunrise or sunset.
If civilization is several days away on the other side of a 120F desert, it won’t do you much good to get there with a fried brain and die shortly after. Travel smartly and keep hydrated as best you can.
Likewise if civilization is several days away on the other side of a 20F mountain, it won’t do you much good to get halfway there and freeze to death that night. Dress accordingly and be prepared to make a warm fire and shelter.
In a survival situation, you must always be aware of your body temp and take active measures to protect yourself from hyperthermia or hypothermia, or you simply will not make it.