Writing characters who are exposed to cold and hypothermia

Because I know many people live in countries without cold winter and I’ve read way too many otherwise amazing fics where the MC faints after an hour in 20 F° (about – 6.5 C°), all this while clad in heavy clothing, sweaters, scarfs and winter coat.


While everyone reacts differently to different temperatures, there are some rules and symptoms of hypothermia. Symptoms, in order as hypothermia progresses:

  • Shivering, which may stop as hypothermia progresses
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Confusion and/or memory loss
  • Drowsiness or exhaustion
  • Slurred or mumbled speech
  • Loss of coordination, fumbling hands, stumbling steps
  • A slow, weak pulse
  • In severe hypothermia, a person may be unconscious without obvious signs of breathing or a pulse

Body temperatures of different stages of hypothermia:

  • Mild: 89-95 F° (31-35 C°)
  • Moderate: 82-89 F° (27.5-31 C°)
  • Severe: lower than 82 F° (27.5 C°)

Keep in mind that some people are more sensitive to cold due to their age or physique. People with increased risk of hypothermia include:

  • The elderly, infants, and children without adequate heating, clothing
  • Underweight people
  • People who are outdoors for extended periods
  • People in cold weather whose judgment is impaired by alcohol or drugs


Everyone with hypothermia needs immediate medical assistance, but until that arrives the character can be helped with the following actions:

  • Moving them to a warm, dry place if possible, or sheltering them from the elements
  • Removing wet clothing
  • Covering their whole body and head with blankets, leaving only the face clear
  • Providing skin-to-skin contact (fanfic material™)
  • Providing warm drinks if the person is conscious, but never caffeine or alcohol
  • Carrying out CPR if the breathing stops

If the shivering stops even though the character hasn’t returned to a warmer place, that’s actually a very bad sign and means that the person’s heat regulation systems are shutting off.

Another thing to note is that when a person faints from the cold, their body temperature is already so low that they must be warmed up immediately, otherwise they die.

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