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Autumn Brings Lots of Opportunities for Outdoor Fun, But Practice Safety First

Hypothermia awareness and preparedness can prevent accidents and injuries.

By Chris Ravotti, CTRS
Outdoor Specialist, Shepherd Center

Autumn is one of my favorite times of the year. It is the start of football season, leaves are turning and temperatures become more tolerable. It is also the perfect time to enjoy the great outdoors!

In the Southeast alone, there are numerous recreation opportunities, including camping, kayaking, fishing, ATV riding and hunting, to name a few. Regardless of your favorite outdoor recreation activity, preparing for our ever-changing weather is one of the most important factors to consider when it comes to preventing accidents or injuries this fall.

The numbers

From 1999 to 2011, there were 16,911 deaths directly related to exposure to excessive natural cold, according to the CDC. Temperatures do not need to be excessively cold to warrant risk. Individuals exposed to temperatures less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods of time have shown early signs of hypothermia.

What is hypothermia?

Hypothermia – the lowering of one’s body temperature to less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit – can be recognized early on by multiple common symptoms.

Recognize the symptoms of hypothermia:

  1. Shivering
  2. Numbness
  3. Fatigue
  4. Poor coordination
  5. Slurred speech
  6. Impaired mental state

Regardless of the severity of outside temperatures, clothing choice is one of the easiest modifiable factors influencing hypothermia.

Choose the right clothing.

When choosing the appropriate clothing to wear in cool weather situations, there are a few factors to consider:

  • Choose clothing that will be appropriate for the outside temperature.
  • Choose clothing based on the level of activity.
  • Take into consideration the likelihood of precipitation in the area, as well as the wind chill.
  • Layer, layer layer! Layering clothing is the most effective way to accommodate changes in activity level and weather conditions, and it will ensure that you are able to maximize your time outside while remaining safe.

Tips for layering:

  • Base Layer: Choose garments with moisture-wicking capabilities as your base layer.
  • Insulating Layer: Add an insulating layer.
  • Waterproof Layer: Finish with either an additional insulating layer or a waterproof layer.

Layering examples for the body

Core – Insulated base layer (preferably polypropylene), shirt (quilted or wool, if necessary), wool sweater, vest.

Legs – Insulated base layer (preferably polypropylene), wool pants.

Feet – Polypropylene socks, boot socks, insulated boots, boot blanket.

Face – A full-face, moisture-wicking cap, such as a balaclava that can be worn either as a hat or pulled down to cover the face, if necessary.

Gloves – Thinsulate™ insulated gloves, which are water repellent, are available in many varieties. Tip! Mittens are better than gloves for heat retention.

Coat or Coveralls – Add, if necessary.

Although there will never be a perfect solution for any weather scenario, proper clothing, experimentation, and common sense will keep you safe and comfortable in cold weather.

Remember to keep heat in and move moisture away from your body. Stay out of the wind and recreate in the sunshine. It all adds up to staying safe and maximizing outdoor fun in cold weather.

For information on recreation therapy and adapted sports opportunities at Shepherd Center, visit

CHRIS RAVOTTI, CTRS, is an outdoor specialist in the recreation therapy program at Shepherd Center. He holds a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Georgia and a certification in recreational therapy from the National Council on Therapeutic Recreation Certification. Chris has been working as a recreational therapist at Shepherd Center since 2006, during which he has gained experience in spinal cord and brain injury and multiple sclerosis treatment. In addition to Chris’ professional duties, he is on the national board of directors for a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to provide accessible outdoor recreation opportunities for people of all abilities. Chris can be reached at

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.