The Arctic region is known for its breathtaking natural beauty, frozen wilderness, and savage cold temperatures. When you set off for adventure and exploration, it is essential to understand the dangers and challenges of arctic survival.
From hypothermia and frostbite to limited food and water resources, the Arctic environment can be unforgiving to unprepared people. That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you prepare for and survive in the Arctic.
As mentioned before, I was lucky enough to have gone to Arctic Survival School at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. I later went to work in the North Slope of Alaska for an oil producer, where I still work today. The oil patch where I work is roughly 40 miles northwest of Deadhorse, Alaska.
I’ve never been to the north or south pole. I’ve only lived and worked in the arctic regions of Alaska, but these tips should give you a good understanding of what it takes to survive. I’m sure it’s the same for Canada as well.
Whether planning an Arctic expedition or wanting to learn more about surviving in the dark cold, this guide has everything you need to know to stay safe and thrive in this unique environment.
This will be the first of two posts on the arctic. This one will cover above the tree line, and the second will cover south in the tree line.
Table of Contents
Understanding the Arctic Climate
The Arctic climate is characterized by severe cold temps and long periods of darkness in the winter months. The average winter temperature in the Arctic is around -30°C (-22°F), but temperatures can drop as low as -50°C (-58°F) in some areas. This bitter cold can be dangerous for humans and lead to hypothermia, frostbite on exposed skin, and other cold-related injuries.
In addition to the cold, the Arctic also experiences unique weather patterns that can threaten survival. Blizzards, high winds, and heavy snowfall are common in the arctic and can make travel and survival challenging. It’s essential to understand the weather patterns and conditions of the Arctic to plan and prepare for survival.
Another critical factor to consider in the Arctic is the limited daylight hours. In the winter months, for example, some areas of the Arctic experience total darkness for weeks. This can significantly impact mental and physical well-being, and it’s essential to plan for ways to stay mentally and physically active during these long hours of darkness.
Overall, surviving in the Arctic requires a deep understanding of this environment’s unique climate and weather patterns. Understanding these factors and planning can increase your chances of staying safe and healthy in the cold.
Preparing for Survival In The Arctic
Surviving in the Arctic requires careful planning and preparation. Here are some essential steps to take before embarking on an Arctic expedition:
Research the environment:
Before heading to the Arctic, it’s essential to research the environment and weather patterns of the specific region you’ll be visiting. This will help you understand the potential dangers and challenges you may face and prepare accordingly.
Pack essential gear and equipment:
Essential gear and equipment for the arctic include:
- Warm clothing and footwear.
- High-quality sleeping bags.
- A sturdy shelter.
- A reliable stove for cooking and warmth.
- Navigation tools such as maps and a compass.
Packing enough food and water for your trip is also essential.
Plan for food and water resources:
In the Arctic, food and water resources can be limited. It’s essential to plan for these resources and identify potential food and water sources in the environment, such as wildlife and snow/ice.
Develop a survival strategy:
A survival strategy is essential for staying safe and healthy in the Arctic. This includes creating a plan for finding shelter, food, and water, as well as communicating this plan with other members of your expedition or rescue personnel.
Practice survival skills:
Before heading to one of the coldest places on Earth, it’s essential to practice survival skills such as shelter construction and land navigation in cold and snowy conditions. This will help you feel more confident and prepared for your challenges.
Taking these essential steps before embarking on an Arctic expedition can increase your chances of staying safe and healthy in this unique environment.
Staying Warm in Cold Temperatures
Staying warm in the brutal cold of the Arctic is essential for survival. Here are some tips and strategies for maintaining body heat in the Arctic:
Layering clothing is essential for staying warm. Start with a base layer of moisture-wicking fabric, add an insulating layer of fleece or wool, and top it off with a windproof and waterproof outer layer. Our company issued us warm bibs and a heavy coat with fur ruff that is extremely warm.
Insulating your shelter with thick snow can help trap heat and keep you warm. It’s also essential to choose a shelter location that is protected from the wind.
Use a stove:
A stove is essential for cooking and warming your shelter. Choose a stove that is efficient and reliable. You also need to pack enough fuel for the duration of your trip.
Staying dry is essential for staying warm. If you start sweating, you’ll get cold in a hurry. Modify layers as needed to prevent sweating. Pack waterproof clothing and footwear and change out of wet clothes as soon as possible.
Overexertion can lead to sweating, which can lead to heat loss and hypothermia. Be sure to take breaks and rest when needed to avoid sweating.
Remember that hypothermia and other cold-related injuries can happen quickly, so it’s essential to monitor your body temperature and take action if you start to feel cold or experience symptoms such as shivering or confusion.
At cool school, we had to construct a snow cave using logs and sections of parachutes to build a snow cave to live in. There won’t be any logs that far north, but you can dig a snow cave that is relatively warm if you have a decent shovel.
If you have a tarp, you can fill it with snow to pull into the cave opening to seal off the weather and keep heat in the cave.
If all else fails, you can survive in a high-quality sleeping bag as long as you can get out of the wind. Either dig down slightly or build a wind wall to protect yourself from the wind.
In the Arctic, finding water can be challenging due to the dang cold and limited water resources. Here are some tips and strategies for staying hydrated:
- Identify natural sources of water: In the Arctic, natural water sources include snow and ice. Use an MSR stove to melt snow and ice. North of the tree line will be void of firewood. There is driftwood on the beaches, but they’ll be under ice and heavy snow.
- Warm your water: You should drink your fluids hot to increase your core body temperature. Drinking warm water will warm your body up and help increase blood flow.
- Filter and purify water: Even natural water sources in the Arctic can contain harmful bacteria and parasites. Boil your water.
- Store water properly: Proper storage is essential for storing water. Store water in a clean, airtight container, and avoid exposure to sunlight and extreme temperatures.
- Conserve water: Conserve water by limiting use for cooking and cleaning and avoiding activities that may cause excessive sweating.
Remember that dehydration can occur quickly in the dry cold, so drinking water regularly and monitoring your body’s hydration levels are essential.
Hunting and Gathering Food in the Arctic
Food resources can be limited in the Arctic, making hunting and gathering essential for survival. Here are some tips and strategies for hunting and gathering food in the Arctic:
In the Arctic, food sources include wildlife such as caribou, muskox, arctic fox, and red fox during winter. Research the specific region you’ll be visiting to identify potential food sources.
Use ethical hunting practices: Hunting in the Arctic requires ethical practices to ensure that you are not harming the environment or endangering wildlife populations.
Follow local regulations and guidelines for hunting and use methods such as hunting with a rifle or bow and arrow. I know there are safety corridors along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and haul road in Alaska.
By following these tips and strategies, you can increase your chances of finding and gathering food in the Arctic. Hunting and gathering can be dangerous, so it’s essential to practice these skills safely and responsibly. Also, properly cook and prepare food to avoid food-borne illness.
Navigation in the Arctic
Navigation and communication are essential for staying safe and connected in the Arctic. Here are some tips and strategies for navigating and communicating in the Arctic:
- Use navigational tools: Navigational tools such as maps, compasses, and GPS devices are essential for navigating the Arctic. It’s important to understand how to use these tools and bring backup navigation methods.
- Plan your route: Before embarking on an Arctic expedition, plan your route and identify potential hazards or obstacles through terrain analysis. This will help you navigate safely and avoid dangerous situations.
- Communicate with others: Communication is essential for staying connected with other members of your expedition or with rescue personnel. Bring a communication device, such as a satellite phone or two-way radio, and communicate regularly.
- Signal for help: In an emergency, it’s essential to know how to signal for help. Use flares or other emergency signaling devices to attract attention.
Following these tips and strategies can increase your chances of navigating safely and staying connected with others in the Arctic.
Polar Bears Are Big, and They Are Real!
Polar bears are a real thing. I see them every year or two. You are smaller on the food chain than a polar bear. They are an endangered species and shouldn’t be killed unless absolutely necessary.
You could use bear bangers or bear spray if you encounter a polar bear. Make yourself large and loud. Hopefully, that will drive the bear off. If not, you may have to resort to a firearm.
Final Thoughts on Arctic Survival-
Surviving in the Arctic requires preparation, knowledge, and adaptability. This extreme climate has unique challenges. Following the strategies and tips outlined in this guide, you can increase your chances of staying safe and thriving in extreme cold.
Remember to pack essential gear and equipment, plan for food and water resources, stay warm and dry, and communicate with others. While the Arctic may seem daunting, with the proper preparation and mindset, it can also be an advantageous and awe-inspiring experience.
We hope this guide has provided you with the information and tools you need to confidently and succeed in your Arctic adventure.