Frostbite and Killer Hypothermia

Frostbite can damage your body. Frostbite alone usually won’t kill you unless you get gangrene, but a risk of frostbite comes with a risk of hypothermia, which likely is more common and can kill you fast.

Frostbite by itself can cost you toes, fingers, ear lobes, and the tip of your nose. These can fall off your body. It can also stiffen tissue, making movement more difficult. Like stiff fingers. And your fingers can tingle. Frostbite can affect nerves, so you hardly sense temperature. You can touch a hot coffee or stove and not feel that it’s hot, but still burn your fingers till you need medical treatment.

In severe cases, very cold toes and fingers can cause blood to stagnate. Then new blood pushing from behind creates shunts (or anastomoses) so the blood bypasses the toes and fingers, sacrificing them in order to conserve warm blood for elsewhere. That can lead to gangrene in the places without fresh blood, and that can kill you. Hospitals know what to do. If the frostbite is not that severe, when it sacrifices extremities by conserving warm blood, it’s defending you against hypothermia.

Some say you can train yourself to withstand the cold, to increase circulation in your hands and feet. The technique is to dress more coolly, starting on short trips like in your neighborhood, and to focus on the purpose of your trip, not on being cold. Says one: “By training yourself to endure cold weather around town, you’re teaching your body to keep blood flowing to your extremities. You’ll feel changes in your circulation patterns in a matter of weeks.

Hypothermia is the main killer. Hypo- means ‘less’ or ‘too little’. With hypothermia, your vital organs, meaning your brain and the stuff inside your ribs and north of your pelvis, get too cold to function. Get those warm again or you’ll die.

Red crabapples on branches and covered with ice.

Frostbite is sometimes deadly, but sometimes it protects you against hypothermia. The big problem is hypothermia, which often kills faster.

Websites of Interest

These websites have some interesting content, although I disagree with some of it:


Hiking organizations:

General retailers of outdoor products:

General information: