Surviving The Sun – Protect Yourself From Heatstroke

Sunstroke, a form of heatstroke frequently occurs in survival situations. Learn more about the cause and effect of heatstroke and follow these simple steps to avoid unnecessary illness.

Survival - Tools, Techniques & Guides

Heatstroke contributes to many of deaths in survival situations.  When stranded it is easy to react to this by racing against the clock to find water, food, and shelter.  However, it is important to remember that your body reacts differently in different situations.  In a hot environment, staying cooler is better for staying alive.

When your core temperature increases and your body loses the ability to cool down, the result is heatstroke.

The Symptoms Of Heatstroke

The symptoms of heatstroke are broad.  One problem with heatstroke and particularly sunstroke is that the symptoms often don’t present themselves until after you have finished doing what you were doing that caused it in the first place.  You may have noticed some or all of these symptoms after a long day in the sun.

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Intense thirst
  • Increased heart rate
  • Confusion
  • Sickness
  • Cramps

If your core body temperature isn’t cooled down, loss of consciousness can follow.  Furthermore, if your core temperature stays over 40 degrees Celsius more than a few hours, you may suffer permanent brain damage.

Because heatstroke is slow to set in, there are steps you can take to avoid it altogether.  Similarly, treating heatstroke is possible without medical intervention.

Causes Of Heatstroke

  • Prolonged exposure to heat, resulting in decreased blood flow and low blood volume
  • Over-exertion without stopping to cool off and rehydrate
  • Dehydration, either intentionally or because water is scarce
  • Sun exposure/sunburn – not protecting yourself from the sun

There is no difference between sunstroke and heatstroke.  Sunstroke is heatstroke caused by exposure to the sun.

Exposure To The Sun

Exposure to the sun causes sunstroke.  The sun’s rays are good for the body in small doses.  Sunlight creates vitamin D in our bodies benefits of which include enhanced mood and helping your body absorb calcium.  The vitamin D from sunlight also strengthens your immune system.

Sunlight produces UVA (ultraviolet A) and UVB (ultraviolet B).  UVB is the greater cause of sunburn.  UVA penetrates deeper into the skin and is responsible for long-term problems including skin cancers and premature skin aging.

Prevention is always better than cure.  Follow these steps to avoid sunstroke:

  • Limit exposure to the sun by finding or making shade.
  • Cover up, especially your head and neck.
  • Stay shaded between 10 am and 4 pm when the sun is at its peak.

The obvious way to avoid sunstroke is to use a shop bought sunscreen.  However, this is not practical if you find yourself in a survival situation.  If you cannot avoid being out in the midday sun, some natural sunscreens and sunblocks can help.

Sunblock, as the name suggests blocks all of the harmful rays of the sun.  Sunscreen, allows the sunlight to penetrate the skin, whilst filtering out most of the harmful effects

elephant-using-mud-sunblockNatural Sunblocks

Because they protect your skin with a physical barrier, they are very efficient at reducing sunburn and sunstroke.  Also, sunblocks can be relatively easy to find and apply in most situations.  The most prevalent of a natural block is mud.  Mud spread all over the body is a fantastic sunblock.  It doesn’t have to be mud.  Any dust or dirt covering all of the body and head is a proven to protect yourself from the sun.

Elephants and other animals have been using this natural sunblock since the dawn of time.

We cannot stress highly enough; the best sunblocks are shelters to shade you from the peak sun times.

Natural Sunscreens

There are several effective sunscreens available from nature.  Sunscreens have an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) rating.  Almost all of mother nature’s sunscreens have a low SPF, although there is one notable exception.

aspen-tree-bark-as-sunscreenAspen Tree Bark

The bark of the Aspen tree can be scraped off and used as a sunscreen.  The SPF is very low, as a result regularly applications are necessary.  Scrape the bark with the side of a knife so powder forms, then apply to the skin.  Store excess powder for future use as its easy to collect and keep.


mushroom-coral-mucusMushroom Coral

The mucus from many corals provides a fantastic sunscreen.  Some corals boast an SPF over 90%.  Corals that are underwater at high tide become exposed during low tide.  As a result, they have developed a natural sunscreen of their own.  To harvest the natural sunscreen from these corals, remove them and place in the sun for around 30 seconds.  When the water has dripped away, mucus will take its place.

Apply the mucus directly to the skin.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil doesn’t make a brilliant sunscreen. However, the coconut itself can have a dual purpose.  A cause of heat stroke is dehydration.  The milk from coconuts is great for rehydration. After drinking the milk, leave the husk in the sun until oil forms.  The SPF of coconut oil is very low, so certainly shouldn’t be relied on as a final solution.  It will, however, offer some temporary relief.

Corals removed from the sea should always be put back where they came from once used.

What should I do if I have heatstroke?

The process of treating it is very similar to hypothermia, in reverse (see Hiking Hypothermia).  Treatment of heat stroke is simple.  Cool down the body.  Because your body has reached a point where it cannot cool down on its own, you must help it along with the process.

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Bath in cool running water, or the sea
  • Apply cold compresses to the neck, groin, and armpits
  • Raise feet slightly

aloe-vera-plant-as-aftersunIf sunburn has already set in, use the same techniques to soothe the skin.  If Aloe Vera is available, you can soothe burnt skin with the gel contained in the leaves.

In conclusion, it is far better to shade yourself than have to treat yourself.  If you are in a survival situation and the environment is hot, keep shaded.  Do your hunting and building outside of peak times and keep shaded when the sun is at its highest.


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