Why Do People Start Taking off Their Clothes when in Hypothermia?

People exposed to extreme cold may get into hypothermia and suffer from frostbite. This may also be accompanied with hallucinations. Several sorts of strange behavior that are observed in such situations are discussed here.

The fact that people start taking off their clothes when in hypothermia, is related to what is known as paradoxical undressing. This is a sort of behavior before an imminent death.

Why Do People Start Taking off Their Clothes when in Hypothermia? Top picture from my tour to Pigne de la Le, Swiss Alps.
From my tour to Pigne de la Le, Swiss Alps.

What is paradoxical undressing?

In my separate post about surviving without oxygen on Everest, I added a video which address the question of the so-called paradoxical undressing.

I am giving video here again because it is so important for explaining this issue. There is a person who was doing exactly this after being left for dead in the death zone on Everest. Some other group found him alive next day in the morning and he was undressing.

This is a fascinating video, but you can jump to the critical description which is at 40th minute:

This person was in the final stage of hypothermia. Here are the exact words of one of the people who found him:

So the person unzipped his jacket and he was half-dressed. From the video you can hear that up to 50% of those suffering from hypothermia are found with the clothes off.

The whole process can be summarized as follows.

If you get into the stage of hypothermia and frostbite, your body first tries to preserve the core temperature. This means that blood vessels tend to constrict so that blood is preserved for essential organs only. This is when your extremities begin to freeze.

Further stages of the process are explained nicely in an article where the author writes that, in time, the muscles involved in this vasoconstriction become exhausted and fail. This may cause warm blood to rush from the core to the extremities.

So in the moments just before an imminent death, blood is returned to the body extremities and the victim has a sensation of warmth. This is when the paradoxical undressing starts.

This is why in some situations this may be wrongly understood as a result of a sex crime, while it is not so.

What is Terminal Burrowing?

But there is also what is described as terminal burrowing that happens after the undressing.

In some cases there are abrasions to the knees and elbows while there are no similar damages on the clothing. So this crawling and burrowing happens after undressing.

In other words, the victim tries to find a shelter for protection from the cold, and this in spite of the fact that he or she has removed clothes before this.

So this is a really hard topic to discuss, but it is important to know at least some details. If you go into high mountains you may find yourself in such situations or may be there to help somebody else who suffers from the symptoms discussed here.

More about dangers of mountaineering you can read in my separate text. Check also my text about nosebleeds at high altitudes, and yet another presenting the issue of high altitude flatus expulsion or HAFE.

This site is all about outdoors questions and answers and I add texts here on a regular basis, so bookmark it and keep as a reference.

Please use the comment box below in the case of questions or comments. Thank you for reading and have a nice day.

Me on Jalovec.Hi, I am Jovo, the founder of this OutdoorsFAQs site and several other outdoor sites. I have been mountaineering for almost 40 years already, and I have created this site to use as a reference for various questions that I receive in my sites. Being a theoretical physicist by profession, I tend to base my answers on facts and on my own personal experience.

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