Ever wonder just how cold it would need to get before you freeze to death? That thought pops into my mind every time I get the uncontrollable shivers.
What’s the lowest temperature a human can survive without freezing to death? Humans freeze to death when their internal body temperature drops below 70 degrees. It’s possible to freeze to death in 40 degree temperatures, but that’s rare. The amount of time you can survive in the cold drops along with the temperature.
Most of the boundaries that humans can survive are well known. We all know the “rule of three” for air, water and food(3 minutes without air, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food), but we don’t know the other limits of human survival.
You never really think about testing the boundaries of life until you’re in a life or death situation. We never plan on freezing to death, but you never know what’s going to happen in the winter. So what’s the lowest temperature a human can survive?
What’s The Lowest Temperature a Human Can Survive?
It’s hard to accurately test the human body without putting the patient in danger. However, over the past few decades there have been a few experiments that test the limits of the human body.
Figuring out what temperature a human freezes to death is actually kinda hard. How one person responds to changing temperatures will be completely different to the next.
It’s also going to depend on how fast the temperature changes from the norm. The body can typically make subtle adjustments to handle frigid temperatures. Our body starts constricting blood vessels transporting warm blood to the internal organs.
We typically freeze to death when our body temperature drops to 70 Degrees(plus or minus a couple degrees). How long that takes will depend on how much time you spend in the cold and your level of fitness. In general if the temperature is below 40 degrees there is a chance of freezing to death.
When Does a Person Freeze to Death?
A person freezes to death when their core temperature starts to drop. Our core body temperature typically hovers around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia doesn’t start to set in until your body temp drops below 95 degrees.
It doesn’t have to be freezing to experience hypothermia. You can actually experience hypothermia between 30-50 degrees fahrenheit. Hypothermia at modest temperatures is fairly unusual.
If you’re wet the temperature range may be even higher. Your body loses temperature much faster in water than air(almost 25 times faster).
Surviving Subzero Temperatures
Trying to survive in subzero temperatures is a whole different beast. When the temperatures drop below negative 20 you can freeze to death in 10-20 minutes. At colder temperatures (-40) you can get hypothermia in under 5 minutes. With proper cold weather gear you can last much longer.
Stages of Hypothermia
Symptoms of mild hypothermia (95 Degree) tend to seem fairly mild. You’ll start to experience shivering, general weakness and mild confusion. Letting your body temperature drop lower can be downright deadly.
- Below 95 Degrees: You’ll start shiver, feel weak and mild confusion may occur.
- Below 91 Degrees: Your body starts to shut down with amnesia occurring. All sense of survival skills will be forgotten.
- Below 82 Degrees: Loss of consciousness occurs. Without immediate medical attention death is a serious possibility.
- Below 70 Degrees: When body temperature drops below 70 degrees death is almost inevitable. Even though some adults have been known to survive, profound hypothermia has occurred.
Signs of Hypothermia
Dehydration, lack of food, and fatigue makes you more susceptible to hypothermia. Not everybody is affected the same way by cold weather. One member of your group can be affected with hypothermia while everyone else is fine. It’s important to recognize the symptoms and warm up the victim quickly.
Early Warning Signs
- Complaints of feeling cold
- muscle cramps
- General Fatigue
- Uncontrolled Shivering
- Confusion and inability to follow verbal commands
Dangerous Warning Signs
- Slurred Speech
- Confusion and inability to focus
- violent outbursts
- Stumbling and Falling
- Coma and Death (If Left Untreated)
Our Bodies Can Handle More Than You Think
Coming out of an ice age, our bodies are actually pretty hardy in the cold. We have a few mechanisms to protect our vital organs from freezing conditions.
Once cold air starts to hit your face your body starts working to insulate itself(it’s called vasoconstriction). It starts moving blood away from the skin and external extremities towards the internal organs. That’s why your fingers and toes are the first body parts to get cold.
Your body also starts to shiver trying to produce body heat. This extra body movement will help raise body temperature.
Water Speeds Up Hypothermia
Hypothermia can occur out in open air, but it’s most common in the water. On cold weather backpacking/camping trips falling in water can be a death sentence. Water saps heat away from the body very fast.
When getting out of the water quickly put on dry clothes and seek shelter. If your teeth start chattering and you start shivering hypothermia is soon to follow. Putting on warm clean clothes and try to increase body temperature.
To treat hypothermia you need to get the victim to shelter quickly. Either a premade structure or build a quick shelter to escape the wind, rain and cold. Remove all wet clothing and replace with dry clothes and blankets.
Light up a fire and give them a warm sugar filled drink. Sugar is easy for the body to burn increasing internal body temperature. Use emergency rations to increase the blood sugar level.
If you’re alone and find yourself shivering and showing signs of hypothermia you need to act quickly. Get out of the wind/rain and strip out of wet clothes. Use all of your emergency rations and try to get warm. Immediately signal for help and if possible light a fire.
If you don’t stop the progression of hypothermia quickly you’ll lose consciousness so you need to act immediately. Remember that you’ll feel a lack of motivation and hopelessness, but you need to work through it. Call for help and build a fire while you’re still able to function.