[Updated] How cold does it have to be to freeze to death?

How cold does it have to be to freeze to death

Knowing how cold does it have to be to freeze to death is important knowledge that we all should be aware of. Around the globe, people experience different types of weather and phenomena. One of them is having a cold location.

Anyone can endure cold temperatures, but as humans, as we are, there will always be a boundary of our capabilities. Here in this article is a bunch of information about the limits of the human body to a cold environment.

How cold does it have to be to freeze to death?

Normally, a human body can hold an average temperature between 97°F (36°C) to 100°F (37.7°C). Someone can freeze to death when there is a sudden loss or decrease in your body heat of less than 95° F (35° C), which is called Hypothermia.

Why hypothermia is lethal
This condition is considered to be dangerous because once the body temperature drops, hypothermia will affect the normal functioning of the internal organs. It targets our heart, lungs, nervous system, and is followed by other body systems. Factors resulting in hypothermia are too much exposure to very cold weather and extremely cold water.

Mild hypothermia
There are several levels of hypothermia which are mild hypothermia, moderate hypothermia, and severe hypothermia. Mild hypothermia experiences a temperature of 95°F (35°C) down to 90°F (32.2°C).

An individual will start shivering, unable to perform complex motor functions but still able to walk or talk, and have constricted blood vessels of peripheral areas of the body such as the fingers and toes.

Moderate hypothermia
Moderate hypothermia happens with a body temperature between 90°F (32.2°C) and 82.4°F(28°C). There is already a decreased level of consciousness followed by dilation of pupils, irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, and loss of motor control.

Severe hypothermia
Severe hypothermia will induce shock and deterioration of body organs. A person will have labored breathing, pulmonary edema, and until the heart shuts down into a cardiac arrest. The temperature that can lead to death is less than 82.4°F (28°C).

What does dying of hypothermia feel like?

Hypothermia begins when your body is being exposed to extreme cold that causes your body temperature to fall below 95°F (35°C). In a minute, through your skin, signals will be sent to the hypothalamus, what is known as the ‘Thermoeffector’ response. When the body is losing heat, vasoconstriction and shivering thermogenesis operate to increase metabolic heat production to maintain thermal balance.

Vasoconstriction is when the blood vessels in our skin constrict for the body to maintain its core temperature. Shivering thermogenesis is when brown adipose tissue activates using a high level of glucose and lipids to produce heat.

It will constantly contract your skeletal muscles. But if you are still exposed to the cold you could get frostbite within 30 minutes. It will damage your cell membrane, and your body still tries to prevent frostbite in your skin through vasodilation to increase the blood flow to warm the skin cells.

Delirium is one of Hypothermia’s advanced stages where your organs begin to fail, your breathing rate slows, you also lose coordination, your heart rate begins to slow down, and your body will stop shivering. 25% of the cases the victims undressed before they died.

There is a theory that because of brain damage due to extreme cold, people think they are burning up. Another theory is the muscle responsible for cutaneous vasoconstriction in our blood vessels gets drained and causes blood from our core to fill the surface of our body.

Is freezing to death humane?

There is no guarantee that any kind of death can be humane. But two things are for sure, almost all humans do not want painful death and that life is not complete without dying. People always ask the question if dying from freezing is painful.

When your shivering is uncontrollable it is more likely that your temperature falls below 34 °C. If you reach 32 °C, you can experience amnesia, irrational thoughts, sluggish thinking, amnesia, and difficulty speaking, but you can still experience calmness even though you know you are in a serious situation. You cannot feel serious pain or distress.

The moment it drops below 32 °C, your shivering stops. Some organs from your body start to shut down, lying and sending messages to the brain telling it that these are not affected. Your brain does not have a clue anymore if it is cold.

Now, this is the time you start to experience paradoxical undressing behavior that makes you feel confused, combative, and disoriented. You start to remove your clothes as you feel that your skin is too hot and burning. You did not know that it increases your rate of heat loss. But you cannot feel that you are frightened or even alarmed.

At what temperature is it dangerous to be outside?

You cannot fully base your temperature according to your thermometer, it is something that you should not be concerned about. It depends on the climate in your environment that can affect the temperature you feel. It is called “apparent temperature”.

High environmental temperatures can be dangerous to your body. 90˚ and 105˚F (32˚ and 40˚C), you can experience exhaustion and heat cramps. In between 105˚ and 130˚F (40˚ and 54˚), there is a higher chance to get exhausted. And of course, you should limit your activities to this range. 130˚F (54˚C) environmental temperature can lead to heatstroke.

Opposite to that, extreme cold temperatures can also be dangerous to the human body. You should use the wind chill as the basis if it is too cold to be outside. In general, you cannot get frostbite if the air temperature is above 32˚F (0 C).

Indoor breaks should be expected to happen every 20-30 minutes if the temperature hits 13 degrees to 31 degrees. But if it’s 0˚F (minus 18˚C) with a wind chill of minus 19˚F (minus 28˚C), you will be more likely to be frostbitten in 30 minutes; but if it’s minus 15˚F (minus 26˚C) with a wind chill of minus 55(minus 48˚C), you could get frostbite in just 5 minutes according to the National Weather Service.


Even if humans have the ability to adapt, death still strikes in extremely cold temperatures. The lowest body temperature considered to be severe for humans is at 82.4°F (28°C) and below. The shortest time of freezing to death is 10 minutes with a temperature of minus 30°F (minus 34°C).

Therefore, a body will not directly freeze to death, but it will take some time to process and experience different symptoms before completely dying. We hope this article helped you attain the necessary information as well as answer your question, how cold does it have to be to freeze to death.

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