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The Human Burrito

This is NOT a backpacking recipe! It's a technique I learned for warming an hypothermia victim during my Wilderness First Aid certification class in Vermont recently. The Human Burrito is based on vapor barrier survival techniques that I've written about in the past.

Hypothermia occurs when the body's core temperature drops below 95 degrees F. It is an emergency condition that will result in a patient's death unless treated. Symptoms vary depending on the severity of core heat loss. In mild hypothermia, the patient may exhibit the UMBLES, including fumbling, stumbling, and bumbling mental function, shivering, and uncooperative or isolative behavior. In severe hypothermia below 90 degrees F, shivering may actually stop, muscles are stiff, and the patient may lose consciousness.

The first step in creating a human burrito is to lay an impermeable barrier that is large enough to completely wrap the patient, like a plastic sheet, silnylon tarp or space blanket on the ground. In the center, place multiple layers of closed cell insulation to prevent further heat loss from the ground. Next, strip off any wet or moist clothing that the patient may be wearing. If you just have one sleeping bag, place them into it: if you have multiple bags, you can pile them above and below the patient for added insulation.

Next, wrap them up in the outside layer completely enclosing them, except for an airway so they can breath. If you have water and a stove, heat up water bottles and place them in the patient's groin area where blood flows close to their skin. The heat will warm the patient's blood and raise their core temperative. Make sure to wrap the warm or hot bottles in socks or other clothing, so that you don't burn the patient.

Do not get naked and get into the human burrito with the patient. This can be extremely disorienting if they regain consciousness, agitate them, and complicate your rescue.

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4 comments

  1. Very interesting. Presumably it's OK to put the sleeping bag inside the vapor barrier as the patient's condition will preclude sweat production?

  2. Absolutely. My wife was telling me that you did something like this on a trip, in a bivvy sack, with chemical hand warmers near your femoral arteries to stay warm. Same principle.

  3. That is not the hypothermia burrito I was taught. I learned a tarp, two pads, a sleeping bag, a person inside a bag, then another bag, then wrap the tarp around everything. Like this:

    http://blog.alpineinstitute.com/2008/08/burrito-hypothermia-wrap.html

    When I search the web for “hypothermia burrito” or “hypothermia wrap”, I find the three bag version.

    But yes, do not get naked and try to warm them up. That makes two hypothermia victims. Use hot water bottles, they have more heat than a person.

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