Survival Scenario – Hypothermia

It’s late October, and you’ve been invited up to Northern Maine to a friend’s camp for an awesome and much-needed week of hiking, fishing, and camping out. You’ve been driving your rental car north from the Portland airport for several hours, down dirt roads, rut-ridden by logging trucks and hunters scouting for the upcoming moose season. You take a sip of coffee to fight off sleep, glance in the back seat at your carefully packed bags full of a weeks’ worth of supplies and clothes, and smile at the prospect of a week with good friends doing things you love.


You take a look at the GPS, and note that around the next bend in the road, is the bridge over a big river that your buddy told you would be the ten-mile marker from his camp. Excited that the end of this torturous journey is soon to be over, and knowing that at 9pm, there wouldn’t be any traffic down this road, you goose the throttle a bit to get you around the bend to see the bridge. As the headlights clear the corner, you’re not expecting to see what you see, even though you should.

Oh shit.

Oh shit.


The moose looms huge in your headlights, its bulk encompassing the entire road. You hit the brakes, but the loose gravel road offers no traction to slow your car, and you enter a skid. You thankfully miss the moose, but the swerve to the right around the big critter brings your rental car just past the guardrail to the bridge, over the enbankment, into the frigid, slow-moving deep river.


When you recover from the shock of what just happened, you realize that your little rental car is slowly sinking into the river. A quick body damage report shows no injury to you (thank God for that seatbelt you were wearing!) but you know you have to get out of this car…you have no idea how deep it is now, and water is seeping in.


You’re able to pull your Leatherman out of its holster on your belt, and with a couple swift blows, you shatter the side window of the car. Brutally cold water pours into the window, and with a deep breath, you kick out of the opening and swim the 8 feet to the surface. The car’s headlights are still lit, creating an eerie glow as you paddle the short distance from shore and climb up the bank to sit down and collect yourself. As the panic and shock subside, you notice a definite chill to the air and a slight breeze…the weatherman said it might even get cold enough tonight for a few flurries.


It’s 9pm at night down a dirt road in the extreme backwoods of Maine. There will likely be no traffic until morning. You are soaked to the bone with only the clothes on your back and your Leatherman tool, 10 miles from your friend’s camp…but you’re not 100% sure where that camp is. They’re expecting you sometime tonight, no real time in mind. The Bic lighter you always carry in your pocket is very wet and very non-functional. You have lots of supplies, but they are in the back of your rental, 8 or so feet underwater, and they are now soaked. The temperature is 45 degrees or so, but dropping quickly. The shivering has started.


What do you do? You don’t wanna end up like this guy!!


46 comments… add one
  • Roseman March 7, 2014, 7:59 am

    If I had no fire making equipment, I would attempt to walk to the camp, trying to maintain a brisk pace in the hope that I can generate and maintain heat from that course of action.
    One would have no chance if walking ten miles was beyond one’s endurance/capability.

  • SEBAGO DAD March 7, 2014, 9:01 am

    Get up on the road and get moving. There are often times logging trucks moving at night to spot for the next day or to be maintained. You might see some traffic. Just as important, be sure they see you! It is also possible that your friends could come looking for you if are late in arriving. 10 miles is a long hike, but you should be able to cover 3-4 miles or so an hour at an easy pace on a road, especially with nothing heavy to carry.

  • S.Q.Whrill March 7, 2014, 9:57 am

    say a quick prayer and start walking like the others said

  • NoSox March 7, 2014, 10:15 am

    Yes i’m with Whrill. Pray first then get to walking….

    IF you had some well-rehearsed primitive fire making skills then you COULD make a quick shelter IF you felt you wouldn’t make it 10 miles before hypo set in. When I was up in Portland & New Brunswick back in the 90’s there were 2 things i really remembered: snow & trees and alot of both.

    Get under a tree where the ground is protected from the snow and make yourself a fire and use whatever you can find to make a shelter and hug that fire.

    Many people would have a hard time making a fire without a lighter. You still may get a spark off it but you’d have to focus with your extremities shutting down on you……Oooh wee!

  • AuricTech March 7, 2014, 11:25 am

    Besides the obvious answers already given, you could also try to find some reasonably-dry pine straw or dead leaves to stuff inside your shirt for insulation.

    • Road Warrior March 7, 2014, 12:09 pm

      Itchy but much better than nothing! I like it!

  • Rob March 7, 2014, 12:38 pm

    First, I would find that moose and take him down with the leatherman. Then I would gut him and climb in to warm up…maybe munch on his heart or liver. But seriously, I would probably go after the gear bag. Meet my demise drowning or die of hypothermia. It’s a risk either way.

    • Road Warrior March 7, 2014, 12:47 pm

      “I thought they smelled bad…..on the outside!”

      • NoSox March 7, 2014, 12:51 pm

        They did it in Star Wars! Now where’s my light saber? lol

    • NoSox March 7, 2014, 12:48 pm

      Actually that isn’t a bad idea. He said all the gear was in the backseat not trunk and a simple fire steel, wool blanket, and some paracord would save your life.

      Yeah you would be cold after the dive but if your life depended on it you could pull it off.

      • Road Warrior March 7, 2014, 1:06 pm

        hey, at least your need for water isn’t as pertinent. :)

  • Jason March 7, 2014, 12:48 pm

    You are already wet & can’t get any wetter so dive down & open the trunk & get what you can – you never know what you’ll find that is salvageable (relatively dry). While you are down there, get your rental contract to make sure the rental car is covered for the accident – haha.

    Survival driving tip – slam the brakes hard & intermittently for emergency stops, it is what they teach in high pursuit driving. The idea is to mitigate the tires from locking up & going into an uncontrollable skid.

    • Road Warrior March 7, 2014, 1:04 pm

      That makes sense. I’ve stomped on the brakes losing control while going too fast around a corner on a dirt road, and the ABS didn’t do anything. The intermittent brake slam would work whether ABS is present or not.

      • Jason March 7, 2014, 4:18 pm

        A good friend of mine used to teach all of the high speed driving at the academy for the California Highway Patrol – that’s where I picked up the tip.

        He said many times if they are really hauling butt they will not turn on their overhead lights because people in front of them become unpredictable when they see the emergency lights on in their rearview mirror – they will either stop, go slower, pull one way or the other then back.

        He also said that when they zip along at subsonic speeds without their overhead lights on, people always call to complain about them speeding & occasionally accuse them of speeding to the nearest donut shop! True story.

        • smokechecktim March 7, 2014, 5:54 pm

          it’s SOCAL. They were speeding to a taco stand!

  • Steve (From the Cape) March 7, 2014, 1:02 pm

    I agree with Rob above except: gut the Moose, eat and then crawl inside the Moose. Body heat shouls last until AM at least. Otherwise it sounds like it is bend over and kiss your ass goodbye time before you are so frozen that you can’t bend over anymore!

  • irishdutchuncle March 7, 2014, 1:02 pm

    … (note to self) time to re-evaluate the manner in which I pack gear in the car. time to start carrying a better “pocket” kit. time to learn a few more intense prayers. time to look into PLB’s.

  • Steve (From the Cape) March 7, 2014, 1:03 pm

    OOPS i didnt read the part about climb in

  • NoSox March 7, 2014, 1:09 pm

    One comment i’d like to note abut the moose is that those beasts are HUGE! We had one decide to walk thru our campsite this summer and i’m tellin’ ya your gonna need more than a leatherman to drop that beast!

    I told my wife if she’s driving and an animal is in the road she better hit it. I’d rather have a totaled truck than a dead family.

    • Road Warrior March 7, 2014, 1:13 pm

      The problem with moose is that they’re so tall and spindly-legged that if you hit them with anything, the legs come out and all 900+ pounds of them roll right into the vehicle cabin, even with a big truck. I know it’s not a real moose, but the Mythbusters did a pretty good test on it.

      • NoSox March 7, 2014, 1:21 pm

        That would royally suck man…..

    • irishdutchuncle March 7, 2014, 2:06 pm

      I got a large whitetail doe that way, back in November. no time to brake, or steer. she went under, instead of over…
      I didn’t buy my hunting license this year, so I couldn’t keep her. (and no room in the freezer)

      • Jarhead Survivor March 7, 2014, 2:50 pm

        A moose is essentially a cow on stilts, just like in that video. We usually get two or three people killed every year up here from hitting one. I’ve seen them run down the road in front of a car for a couple hundred yards before deciding to run into the woods. They ain’t the smartest critter out there!

  • Jarhead Survivor March 7, 2014, 2:21 pm

    Think about the Rules of 3.

    3 minutes without air.
    3 hours without shelter.
    3 days without water.
    3 weeks without food.

    You’ve managed to remove yourself from the first one. Why put yourself back in that situation? (See my comment at the end.)

    Water and food won’t be a problem, so all you have to worry about is staying warm/shelter.

    There’s a little trick you can try if your Bic lighter gets wet. Hold the part you flick against your thigh and rub it back and forth about twenty times very fast. The temp is in the 40’s (friggin’ warm by this year’s standards!) and the butane should still work ok. The friction from rubbing the flint and fly wheel on your leg should dry it out enough to start a fire. I’ve actually used this method in the past and it works.

    I might spend five or ten minutes trying to get it to light. If it did light I’d start a fire and dry my clothes out and then wait for morning.

    If it didn’t light I’d wring as much water out of my clothing as possible. Do some body weight squats to stay warm! Then find whatever I could find for insulation to stuff inside my clothes IF there’s enough light to see by. (I liked the idea above – from Auric Tech I think.)

    If I didn’t know exactly where the camp was I’d keep my ass right there until morning. I’ve BEEN on those roads in Maine at night and unless you’ve got a flashlight (not in the scenario) or a full moon it would be foolish to go wandering around on those roads. You’re likely to wind up even further away and that won’t do you any good.

    Remember – always try to stay near the wreck or broken down vehicle.

    Come morning – if my buddies haven’t shown up – I’d think about diving down to the car when I could see. I’ve done night diving and without a light there’s a good possibility of getting stuck in the wreck. If you think it’s dark on the road you should try looking around in 8 feet of water after dark without a light and no mask. If you’re an *excellent* swimmer, never panic under stress, can hold your breath for three minutes while swimming, and have balls that clank when you walk, then you might attempt it at night, but I’d probably wait it out.

    Great scenario!


  • Jesus March 7, 2014, 2:49 pm

    You could try to get some waterproof lighter instead of the Bic one, for 3$:

    But of course, you should think “not waterproof until you test it”.

  • Rob March 7, 2014, 2:49 pm

    Clank, Clank. Oh sorry, just out for a stroll.

  • Chuck Findlay March 7, 2014, 3:12 pm

    That guy in the picture looks to be having a bad day.

    • NoSox March 7, 2014, 4:59 pm

      Classic Jack Nicholson in one of my favorite movies. ‘Here’s Johnny!’ lol

      What happened to him in that movie perfectly illustrates what Jarhead said about not running around outside if you don’t know where you’re going.

  • Steve suffering in NJ March 7, 2014, 7:37 pm

    Well if it was my gear in the car I would have a fire steal or 2 cotton balls with Vaseline and road flares. Got in the Habit of carrying 2 flares with me when winter kayaking. They start a fire quick and with little dexterity. Usually put clothing in trash bags in my pack if I’m going outdoors. This said I’d seriously consider diving for the pack if the water was slow moving. If water conditions were unfavorable guess I’d be jogging the 10 miles to camp. I’d shed as much wet clothing as I could. Your body will dry on its own. Cold hell yes but a wet sweat shirt only keep your body wet ensuring more heat loss. Loose the wet clothing and jog would be plan B

  • Don March 8, 2014, 10:56 am

    I agree that I would probably go back and get my gear out of the car. it’s only 8 feet. With a Bic lighter I could start a fire easily. Even totally submerged in water, they dry out in under 2 minutes just by rolling the striker wheel and blowing on it. Once I have the fire started (near the road so I am visible) I would get out of the wet clothes and dry myself and the clothes.

  • Rebel March 8, 2014, 3:33 pm

    Priority 1, make a fire. You have a lighter and a means to cut wood, make feather sticks or scrape birch bark to make tinder. Make a fire and dry off. Next question, can you still see the car? Can you get to the gear? Once your clothes are dry , and you can see the car, strip off and go for it. When you get the gear you now have warm clothes, a fire and your gear. Improvise a shelter, stack the fire and wait for traffic tomorrow

  • Chuck Findlay March 8, 2014, 5:32 pm

    I always have a bic (knock-off) lighter and a Firesteel in my pocket along with 3 knifes, so I think I could do well starting a fire. But being soaking wet in the outdoors when help may be hours or a day or more would be a very bad situation. I’m sure I’m like many here and think I’m prepared, but to have to jump out of a sinking auto into cold water with just what’s in your pockets may kill you. I don’t know if I would survive. But I would work hard to do it. Fire would not be too hard as I practice it outside all times of the year.

    I live in a city with a river and several bridges over it. I have given some thought to being in some kind of auto accident and my truck being thrown into the icy river water. Like most American autos my truck has power windows. I do not think / know if they would work when under water. I assume they will not work and what I did is to buy an automatic center punch and mount it in a 1/2-inch piece of PVC tube that I mounted to the base of the drivers seat. Even in the dark I can get to it as it’s always in the same spot.

    These punches are made to make a dimple in metal to act as a guide for a drill bit. N have several of these. 1 Snap-On brand and at least 5 of the HT ones. I normally don’t buy low-end tools but someone bought me a HT punch years ago and I have it in my drill kit. I would not think a $3.00 tool would hold up, but it has. I use it on all kinds of metal including stainless steel and the tip stays sharp.

    These center punches have a spring in them and all you have to do is push it against a window and it will snap and blow out the side window of any auto. I have a family member and he swears it works. I have also tested it on a van I had that had a blown motor and the tow truck was about to take away to make into new Kia’s.

    Anyone that has a river in their city that they regularly drive over should look into one of these punches.

    I also have one in every one of my BOB’s – Get-Home-bags. Anyone that works in any building that has windows could easily blow out a window if the people in charge of the building ever lock it down. Just because they think you should stay put doesn’t mean it’s a good idea or in your best interest to stay put, (Just ask the people that stayed in the 2 towers on 9/11, Oh wait, you can’t ask them because they did what they were told and ARE DEAD.)

    Here is a link to the Harbor Tools punch.

    It’s well worth the $3.19 to have one of these tools.


  • Steve suffering in NJ March 9, 2014, 12:47 am

    Chuck a non spring loaded center punch works just as well on auto glass. Often I can’t push hard enough against auto glass to compress the spring in the auto center punch before the glass breaks.

    Autos are nice, but not required. Esp when trying to break the glass from inside the vehicle. Auto glass is easier to break from the inside out opposed to outside in.

  • Road Warrior March 9, 2014, 9:44 am

    Many “First Responder” type knives have hardened steel spokes built into them for this very reason….so firemen, medics, EMTs, etc., can break the glass of a car to get to someone hurt inside. Luckily, they also work from the inside out. I have a model similar to this S&W Extreme Ops knife:

    and it works VERY well to blow side glass out. Also, this is of note: Windshields are laminated glass, and are meant to catch large objects that may fly into the window (not moose big, but you get the idea)…they are two panes of glass laminated together with a very strong clear glue, and good luck getting that out of the car in an emergency. Always blow out the side glass, as it is tempered (heat-treated) and will blow up into little tiny shards when the glass surface tension is broken aggressively. BE SURE TO SHIELD YOUR EYES! If you do this trick underwater, you will have lots of water suddenly cascading in, carrying a window’s worth of small sharp glass fragments with it. You’re theoretically in bad enough shape; you don’t want to be battling hypothermia with a shard of glass the size of a popcorn kernel in your eye.

  • bill March 10, 2014, 5:39 pm

    I’am dead !!!!!!!

    • irishdutchuncle March 10, 2014, 9:26 pm

      … well it does look pretty bleak, but don’t give up bill.

  • Chuck Findlay March 10, 2014, 11:43 pm

    Never give up.

    The big guy above can have my life when he pry’s it from my cold dead…

    Well you get the idea.

  • riverrider March 11, 2014, 11:35 pm

    i for one have taken a spill on a cold weather canoe trip. it is VERY hard to get your body to work in any coherent way. you’re not going to be able to wait for the lighter to dry out. you need fire, NOW. first strip off the wet clothes. if cotton, you’re better off nekid. if poly or wool, wring them out and put back on. then decide whether you can/want to dive in for your gear that you should have brought out with you to start with. you can avoid this delima by pocketing a sparkie or such instead of a bic. btw, i have gotten bics wet that NEVER worked again. convenient, but never depend on a bic. this i know from heartbreaking experience.

    • irishdutchuncle March 12, 2014, 3:48 am

      I went and looked at a sparkie yesterday on my day off, but didn’t buy one yet. I’ll take this as an endorsement of the device from riverrider. one great thing about it: you can use it one handed, like a lighter. firesteels require both hands…
      I have also seen a spark maker that uses a wheel, and flints, like from a “ZIPPO”. (i think it was in the “SOL” fire kit) my main focus though, was what to get for emergency tinder.
      I have a magnesium block, somewhere. (need two more) for now, I’ve wrapped up a few Coghlans emergency tinders, in pieces of aluminum foil to keep in my pocket. I saw “WetFire” tinders on the internet, I’ll need to look into them next. my pocket kit still needs work, but I won’t need to lose any more sleep thinking about it.

      • riverrider March 13, 2014, 6:43 pm

        irish, i don’t have one yet, and i read that the blastmatch is better. i may go that way. saw many reviews of sparkie, most good, but a few bad. it is small enough for the pocket or keyring tho. one handed op is a must for me.


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