I love doing this – see other hiking myths HERE
Myth: A little nip of alcohol helps to warm you.
Sipping your favored alcoholic beverage on a winter trail might make you feel good, but much more than a sip is dangerous outside in cold weather. Alcohol opens blood vessels in your skin (the warm blush of drinking), but that encourages loss of heat from your skin. And alcohol lowers your core temp a bit. “Ah,” you say, “what if I’m dressed appropriately?” You might not lose a dangerous amount of heat if your skin is adequately protected, but you will lose the keen edge of mental sharpness.
There are other uses for a bit of the bubbly. Here on a many-hour tough climb up to summit of Capitol Peak, friend and climbing master Andy Mishmash surprised me by pulling out a few splits of Prosecco to celebrate right there at 14,131 feet.
I insisted on us sharing only one and saving the other for when we were back down all the difficult pitches
So save the toddy for chats by the fireplace at home, or if camping, at least until camp is set up with a fire going and you only have to crawl to your sleeping bag if you get chilled. Even then or at a summit, moderation increases the joy of being close to nature.
Myth: You lose most of your body heat through your head.
The amount of total body heat you can lose through your head, according to the myth, varies from half to as much as 85 percent. But your head accounts for only 10 percent of your total body surface! And, guess what? That is actually how much body heat you lose from your head—10 percent. You do not lose heat faster or more easily from your uncovered head. Of course if it’s cold outside and you are bundled up but have nothing on your head – then most of your body heat loss will be from your head, but why would you do that? 10 percent is more than enough to be concerned about, and ears and noses remain high on the list of favored sites for frostbite. Bundle up your noggin if hiking in cold weather or at nighttime when camping.
Myth: Drinking hot liquids warms you faster than drinking cold liquids.
There should be no misunderstanding about hydration: you must be drinking to maximize internal heat production and to perform at your best. You need at least as much fluid in winter as in summer. It is, however, almost impossible to drink enough hot liquid to raise the temperature of your body’s core. And you can drink cool water faster than you can sip down a hot drink. Yes, there is a psychological lift gained from a warm mug, but don’t count on it to warm you up inside. Most of the time, drink cool liquid, preferably water, to stay warm in winter. For more on hydration, see my post here.
Myth: Hypothermia kills you within minutes of falling into icy water.
Those who die within minutes of plunging into deeply cold water are victims of drowning. This is because they panic, inhale water, go down, and never come up. Hypothermia, the dangerous lowering of your body’s core temperature, takes at least a half hour to become a problem, even in ice water. If you fall into icy water, guru of cold-weather medical research Gordon Giesbrecht, Ph.D., suggests using the first minute to calm down and control your breathing. Then, he says, use the next 10 minutes to try to get out of the water. After 10 minutes, the cold will have sapped your ability to move usefully. If you can’t get out, try to relax and float. Panic is debilitating in all emergencies, including immersion in icy water. You have about an hour more of consciousness. Those wearing a personal flotation device might survive long enough to be rescued.
Myth: All black and blue berries are safe to eat.
A common rule of thumb for foragers is that nearly all white and yellow berries are toxic, about 50 percent of red berries are poisonous, and most blue and black berries are safe to eat. As a guideline, this isn’t bad—but it’s not good enough to keep you safe, so it is NOT my rule of thumb. The key word here is “most”, not all, and consuming a black or blue berry without knowing what specific kind of berry could prove fatal. For example, pokeberries and the blue berries of Virginia Creepers are lethal.
The only way to stay safe: Don’t eat any berry that you can’t positively identify. See more on trail edibles in my post here.
Myth: Look for food first when lost
If you get lost, should you start by looking for food first? NO! Assuming you can’t reliably reverse course to your last known milestone, the first thing you want to do in such a situation is look for shelter from the elements, then work towards signaling others, then search for water and THEN look for food.
The human body can survive without food for days before starvation. Nature, dehydration and the elements can damage you a lot faster. See more on what do to if you get lost in my post here.
Myth: Clouds protect against sunburn
On a cloudy day, sunscreen is often left at home when going for a hike. Why protect yourself if you can’t see the sun? What many people do not know is that a thin cloud cover absorbs only about 10% – 20% of the sun’s ultra-violet radiation. The remaining 80% – 90% hits our skin if unprotected by sunscreen. Also, you should always remember that the higher up you go, the stronger the UV radiation gets. Its intensity increases by up to 20% per 1,000 meters of altitude! Appropriate sun protection on mountains is always important – especially in winter when snow reflects the UV rays.