One of the most difficult survival situations
is a cold weather scenario. Remember, cold weather
is an adversary that can be as dangerous as an enemy
soldier. Every time you venture into the cold, you
are pitting yourself against the elements. With
a little knowledge of the environment, proper plans,
and appropriate equipment, you can overcome the
elements. As you remove one or more of these factors,
survival becomes increasingly difficult. Remember,
winter weather is highly variable. Prepare yourself
to adapt to blizzard conditions even during sunny
and clear weather.
Cold is a far greater threat to survival than
it appears. It decreases your ability to think and
weakens your will to do anything except to get warm.
Cold is an insidious enemy; as it numbs the mind
and body, it subdues the will to survive.
Cold makes it very easy to forget your ultimate
Cold regions include arctic and subarctic areas
and areas immediately adjoining them. You can classify
about 48 percent of the northern hemisphere's total
landmass as a cold region due to the influence and
extent of air temperatures. Ocean currents affect
cold weather and cause large areas normally included
in the temperate zone to fall within the cold regions
during winter periods. Elevation also has a marked
effect on defining cold regions.
Within the cold weather regions, you may face two
types of cold weather environments--wet or dry.
Knowing in which environment your area of operations
falls will affect planning and execution of a cold
Wet Cold Weather Environments
Wet cold weather conditions exist when the average
temperature in a 24-hour period is -10 degrees C
or above. Characteristics of this condition are
freezing during the colder night hours and thawing
during the day. Even though the temperatures are
warmer during this condition, the terrain is usually
very sloppy due to slush and mud. You must concentrate
on protecting yourself from the wet ground and from
freezing rain or wet snow.
Dry Cold Weather Environments
Dry cold weather conditions exist when the average
temperature in a 24-hour period remains below -10
degrees C. Even though the temperatures in this
condition are much lower than normal, you do not
have to contend with the freezing and thawing. In
these conditions, you need more layers of inner
clothing to protect you from temperatures as low
as -60 degrees C. Extremely hazardous conditions
exist when wind and low temperature combine.
Windchill increases the hazards in cold regions.
Windchill is the effect of moving air on exposed
flesh. For instance, with a 27.8-kph (15-knot) wind
and a temperature of -10 degrees C, the equivalent
windchill temperature is -23 degrees C. Figure 15-1
gives the windchill factors for various temperatures
and wind speeds.
Remember, even when there is no wind, you will
create the equivalent wind by skiing, running, being
towed on skis behind a vehicle, working around aircraft
that produce wind blasts.
It is more difficult for you to satisfy your basic
water, food, and shelter needs in a cold environment
than in a warm environment. Even if you have the
basic requirements, you must also have adequate
protective clothing and the will to survive. The
will to survive is as important as the basic needs.
There have been incidents when trained and well-equipped
individuals have not survived cold weather situations
because they lacked the will to live. Conversely,
this will has sustained individuals less well-trained
There are many different items of cold weather
equipment and clothing issued by the U.S. Army today.
Specialized units may have access to newer, lightweight
gear such as polypropylene underwear, GORE-TEX outerwear
and boots, and other special equipment. Remember,
however, the older gear will keep you warm as long
as you apply a few cold weather principles. If the
newer types of clothing are available, use them.
If not, then your clothing should be entirely wool,
with the possible exception of a windbreaker.
You must not only have enough clothing to protect
you from the cold, you must also know how to maximize
the warmth you get from it. For example, always
keep your head covered. You can lose 40 to 45 percent
of body heat from an unprotected head and even more
from the unprotected neck, wrist, and ankles. These
areas of the body are good radiators of heat and
have very little insulating fat. The brain is very
susceptible to cold and can stand the least amount
of cooling. Because there is much blood circulation
in the head, most of which is on the surface, you
can lose heat quickly if you do not cover your head.
There are four basic principles to follow to keep
warm. An easy way to remember these basic principles
is to use the word COLD--
C - Keep clothing clean.
O - Avoid overheating.
L - Wear clothes loose
and in layers.
D - Keep clothing dry.
clothing clean. This principle is always
important for sanitation and comfort. In winter,
it is also important from the standpoint of
warmth. Clothes matted with dirt and grease
lose much of their insulation value. Heat
can escape more easily from the body through
the clothing's crushed or filled up air pockets.
overheating. When you get too hot, you
sweat and your clothing absorbs the moisture.
This affects your warmth in two ways: dampness
decreases the insulation quality of clothing,
and as sweat evaporates, your body cools.
Adjust your clothing so that you do not sweat.
Do this by partially opening your parka or
jacket, by removing an inner layer of clothing,
by removing heavy outer mittens, or by throwing
back your parka hood or changing to lighter
headgear. The head and hands act as efficient
heat dissipaters when overheated.
your clothing loose and in layers. Wearing
tight clothing and footgear restricts blood
circulation and invites cold injury. It also
decreases the volume of air trapped between
the layers, reducing its insulating value.
Several layers of lightweight clothing are
better than one equally thick layer of clothing,
because the layers have dead-air space between
them. The dead-air space provides extra insulation.
Also, layers of clothing allow you to take
off or add clothing layers to prevent excessive
sweating or to increase warmth.
clothing dry. In cold temperatures, your
inner layers of clothing can become wet from
sweat and your outer layer, if not water repellent,
can become wet from snow and frost melted
by body heat. Wear water repellent outer clothing,
if available. It will shed most of the water
collected from melting snow and frost. Before
entering a heated shelter, brush off the snow
and frost. Despite the precautions you take,
there will be times when you cannot keep from
getting wet. At such times, drying your clothing
may become a major problem. On the march,
hang your damp mittens and socks on your rucksack.
Sometimes in freezing temperatures, the wind
and sun will dry this clothing. You can also
place damp socks or mittens, unfolded, near
your body so that your body heat can dry them.
In a campsite, hang damp clothing inside the
shelter near the top, using drying lines or
improvised racks. You may even be able to
dry each item by holding it before an open
fire. Dry leather items slowly. If no other
means are available for drying your boots,
put them between your sleeping bag shell and
liner. Your body heat will help to dry the
A heavy, down-lined sleeping bag is a valuable
piece of survival gear in cold weather. Ensure the
down remains dry. If wet, it loses a lot of its
insulation value. If you do not have a sleeping
bag, you can make one out of parachute cloth or
similar material and natural dry material, such
as leaves, pine needles, or moss. Place the dry
material between two layers of the material.
Other important survival items are a knife; waterproof
matches in a waterproof container, preferably one
with a flint attached; a durable compass; map; watch;
waterproof ground cloth and cover; flashlight; binoculars;
dark glasses; fatty emergency foods; food gathering
gear; and signaling items.
Remember, a cold weather environment can be very
harsh. Give a good deal of thought to selecting
the right equipment for survival in the cold. If
unsure of an item you have never used, test it in
an "overnight backyard" environment before
venturing further. Once you have selected items
that are essential for your survival, do not lose
them after you enter a cold weather environment.
Although washing yourself may be impractical and
uncomfortable in a cold environment, you must do
so. Washing helps prevent skin rashes that can develop
into more serious problems.
In some situations, you may be able to take a snow
bath. Take a handful of snow and wash your body
where sweat and moisture accumulate, such as under
the arms and between the legs, and then wipe yourself
dry. If possible, wash your feet daily and put on
clean, dry socks. Change your underwear at least
twice a week. If you are unable to wash your underwear,
take it off, shake it, and let it air out for an
hour or two.
If you are using a previously used shelter, check
your body and clothing for lice each night. If your
clothing has become infested, use insecticide powder
if you have any. Otherwise, hang your clothes in
the cold, then beat and brush them. This will help
get rid of the lice, but not the eggs.
If you shave, try to do so before going to bed.
This will give your skin a chance to recover before
exposing it to the elements.
When you are healthy, your inner core temperature
(torso temperature) remains almost constant at 37
degrees C (98.6 degrees F). Since your limbs and
head have less protective body tissue than your
torso, their temperatures vary and may not reach
Your body has a control system that lets it react
to temperature extremes to maintain a temperature
balance. There are three main factors that affect
this temperature balance--heat production, heat
loss, and evaporation. The difference between the
body's core temperature and the environment's temperature
governs the heat production rate. Your body can
get rid of heat better than it can produce it. Sweating
helps to control the heat balance. Maximum sweating
will get rid of heat about as fast as maximum exertion
Shivering causes the body to produce heat. It also
causes fatigue that, in turn, leads to a drop in
body temperature. Air movement around your body
affects heat loss. It has been calculated that a
naked man exposed to still air at or about 0 degrees
C can maintain a heat balance if he shivers as hard
as he can. However, he can't shiver forever.
It has also been calculated that a man at rest
wearing the maximum arctic clothing in a cold environment
can keep his internal heat balance during temperatures
well below freezing. To withstand really cold conditions
for any length of time, however, he will have to
become active or shiver.
The best way to deal with injuries and sicknesses
is to take measures to prevent them from happening
in the first place. Treat any injury or sickness
that occurs as soon as possible to prevent it from
The knowledge of signs and symptoms and the use
of the buddy system are critical in maintaining
health. Following are cold injuries that can occur.
Hypothermia is the lowering of the body temperature
at a rate faster than the body can produce heat.
Causes of hypothermia may be general exposure or
the sudden wetting of the body by falling into a
lake or spraying with fuel or other liquids.
The initial symptom is shivering. This shivering
may progress to the point that it is uncontrollable
and interferes with an individual's ability to care
for himself. This begins when the body's core (rectal)
temperature falls to about 35.5 degrees C (96 degrees
F). When the core temperature reaches 35 to 32 degrees
C (95 to 90 degrees F), sluggish thinking, irrational
reasoning, and a false feeling of warmth may occur.
Core temperatures of 32 to 30 degrees C (90 to 86
degrees F) and below result in muscle rigidity,
unconsciousness, and barely detectable signs of
life. If the victim's core temperature falls below
25 degrees C (77 degrees F), death is almost certain.
To treat hypothermia, rewarm the entire body. If
there are means available, rewarm the person by
first immersing the trunk area only in warm water
of 37.7 to 43.3 degrees C (100 to 110 degrees F).
Rewarming the total body in a warm water
bath should be done only in a hospital environment
because of the increased risk of cardiac arrest
and rewarming shock.
One of the quickest ways to get heat to the inner
core is to give warm water enemas. Such an action,
however, may not be possible in a survival situation.
Another method is to wrap the victim in a warmed
sleeping bag with another person who is already
warm; both should be naked.
The individual placed in the sleeping bag
with victim could also become a hypothermia
victim if left in the bag too long.
If the person is conscious, give him hot, sweetened
fluids. One of the best sources of calories is honey
or dextrose; if unavailable, use sugar, cocoa, or
a similar soluble sweetener.
Do not force an unconscious person to drink.
There are two dangers in treating hypothermia--rewarming
too rapidly and "after drop." Rewarming
too rapidly can cause the victim to have circulatory
problems, resulting in heart failure. After drop
is the sharp body core temperature drop that occurs
when taking the victim from the warm water. Its
probable muse is the return of previously stagnant
limb blood to the core (inner torso) area as recirculation
occurs. Concentrating on warming the core area and
stimulating peripheral circulation will lessen the
effects of after drop. Immersing the torso in a
warm bath, if possible, is the best treatment.
This injury is the result of frozen tissues. Light
frostbite involves only the skin that takes on a
dull whitish pallor. Deep frostbite extends to a
depth below the skin. The tissues become solid and
immovable. Your feet, hands, and exposed facial
areas are particularly vulnerable to frostbite.
The best frostbite prevention, when you are with
others, is to use the buddy system. Check your buddy's
face often and make sure that he checks yours. If
you are alone, periodically cover your nose and
lower part of your face with your mittened hand.
The following pointers will aid you in keeping
warm and preventing frostbite when it is extremely
cold or when you have less than adequate clothing:
- Face. Maintain circulation by twitching
and wrinkling the skin on your face making faces.
Warm with your hands.
- Ears. Wiggle and move your ears. Warm
with your hands.
- Hands. Move your hands inside your gloves.
Warm by placing your hands close to your body.
- Feet. Move your feet and wiggle your
toes inside your boots.
A loss of feeling in your hands and feet is a sign
of frostbite. If you have lost feeling for only
a short time, the frostbite is probably light. Otherwise,
assume the frostbite is deep. To rewarm a light
frostbite, use your hands or mittens to warm your
face and ears. Place your hands under your armpits.
Place your feet next to your buddy's stomach. A
deep frostbite injury, if thawed and refrozen, will
cause more damage than a nonmedically trained person
can handle. Figure 15-2 lists some do's and don'ts
These conditions result from many hours or days
of exposure to wet or damp conditions at a temperature
just above freezing. The symptoms are a sensation
of pins and needles, tingling, numbness, and then
pain. The skin will initially appear wet, soggy,
white, and shriveled. As it progresses and damage
appears, the skin will take on a red and then a
bluish or black discoloration. The feet become cold,
swollen, and have a waxy appearance. Walking becomes
difficult and the feet feel heavy and numb. The
nerves and muscles sustain the main damage, but
gangrene can occur. In extreme cases, the flesh
dies and it may become necessary to have the foot
or leg amputated. The best prevention is to keep
your feet dry. Carry extra socks with you in a waterproof
packet. You can dry wet socks against your torso
(back or chest). Wash your feet and put on dry socks
When bundled up in many layers of clothing during
cold weather, you may be unaware that you are losing
body moisture. Your heavy clothing absorbs the moisture
that evaporates in the air. You must drink water
to replace this loss of fluid. Your need for water
is as great in a cold environment as it is in a
warm environment (Chapter 13). One way to tell if
you are becoming dehydrated is to check the color
of your urine on snow. If your urine makes the snow
dark yellow, you are becoming dehydrated and need
to replace body fluids. If it makes the snow light
yellow to no color, your body fluids have a more
Exposure to cold increases urine output. It also
decreases body fluids that you must replace.
Exposed skin can become sunburned even when the
air temperature is below freezing. The sun's rays
reflect at all angles from snow, ice, and water,
hitting sensitive areas of skin--lips, nostrils,
and eyelids. Exposure to the sun results in sunburn
more quickly at high altitudes than at low altitudes.
Apply sunburn cream or lip salve to your face when
in the sun.
The reflection of the sun's ultraviolet rays off
a snow-covered area causes this condition. The symptoms
of snow blindness are a sensation of grit in the
eyes, pain in and over the eyes that increases with
eyeball movement, red and teary eyes, and a headache
that intensifies with continued exposure to light.
Prolonged exposure to these rays can result in permanent
eye damage. To treat snow blindness, bandage your
eyes until the symptoms disappear.
You can prevent snow blindness by wearing sunglasses.
If you don't have sunglasses, improvise. Cut slits
in a piece of cardboard, thin wood, tree bark, or
other available material (Figure 15-3). Putting
soot under your eyes will help reduce shine and
It is very important to relieve yourself when needed.
Do not delay because of the cold condition. Delaying
relieving yourself because of the cold, eating dehydrated
foods, drinking too little liquid, and irregular
eating habits can cause you to become constipated.
Although not disabling, constipation can cause some
discomfort. Increase your fluid intake to at least
2 liters above your normal 2 to 3 liters daily intake
and, if available, eat fruit and other foods that
will loosen the stool.
Insect bites can become infected through constant
scratching. Flies can carry various disease-producing
germs. To prevent insect bites, use insect repellent,
netting, and wear proper clothing. See Chapter 11
for information on insect bites and Chapter 4 for
Your environment and the equipment you carry with
you will determine the type of shelter you can build.
You can build shelters in wooded areas, open country,
and barren areas. Wooded areas usually provide the
best location, while barren areas have only snow
as building material. Wooded areas provide timber
for shelter construction, wood for fire, concealment
from observation, and protection from the wind.
Note: In extreme cold, do not use metal, such
as an aircraft fuselage, for shelter. The metal
will conduct away from the shelter what little heat
you can generate.
Shelters made from ice or snow usually require
tools such as ice axes or saws. You must also expend
much time and energy to build such a shelter. Be
sure to ventilate an enclosed shelter, especially
if you intend to build a fire in it. Always block
a shelter's entrance, if possible, to keep the heat
in and the wind out. Use a rucksack or snow block.
Construct a shelter no larger than needed. This
will reduce the amount of space to heat. A fatal
error in cold weather shelter construction is making
the shelter so large that it steals body heat rather
than saving it. Keep shelter space small.
Never sleep directly on the ground. Lay down some
pine boughs, grass, or other insulating material
to keep the ground from absorbing your body heat.
Never fall asleep without turning out your stove
or lamp. Carbon monoxide poisoning can result from
a fire burning in an unventilated shelter. Carbon
monoxide is a great danger. It is colorless and
odorless. Any time you have an open flame, it may
generate carbon monoxide. Always check your ventilation.
Even in a ventilated shelter, incomplete combustion
can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Usually, there
are no symptoms. Unconsciousness and death can occur
without warning. Sometimes, however, pressure at
the temples, burning of the eyes, headache, pounding
pulse, drowsiness, or nausea may occur. The one
characteristic, visible sign of carbon monoxide
poisoning is a cherry red coloring in the tissues
of the lips, mouth, and inside of the eyelids. Get
into fresh air at once if you have any of these
There are several types of field-expedient shelters
you can quickly build or employ. Many use snow for
The snow cave shelter (Figure 15-4) is a most effective
shelter because of the insulating qualities of snow.
Remember that it takes time and energy to build
and that you will get wet while building it. First,
you need to find a drift about 3 meters deep into
which you can dig. While building this shelter,
keep the roof arched for strength and to allow melted
snow to drain down the sides. Build the sleeping
platform higher than the entrance. Separate the
sleeping platform from the snow cave's walls or
dig a small trench between the platform and the
wall. This platform will prevent the melting snow
from wetting you and your equipment. This construction
is especially important if you have a good source
of heat in the snow cave. Ensure the roof is high
enough so that you can sit up on the sleeping platform.
Block the entrance with a snow block or other material
and use the lower entrance area for cooking. The
walls and ceiling should be at least 30 centimeters
thick. Install a ventilation shaft. If you do not
have a drift large enough to build a snow cave,
you can make a variation of it by piling snow into
a mound large enough to dig out.
Snow Trench Shelter
The idea behind this shelter (Figure 15-4) is to
get you below the snow and wind level and use the
snow's insulating qualities. If you are in an area
of compacted snow, cut snow blocks and use them
as overhead cover. If not, you can use a poncho
or other material. Build only one entrance and use
a snow block or rucksack as a door.
Snow Block and Parachute Shelter
Use snow blocks for the sides and parachute material
for overhead cover (Figure 15-4). If snowfall is
heavy, you will have to clear snow from the top
at regular intervals to prevent the collapse of
the parachute material.
Snow House or Igloo
In certain areas, the natives frequently use this
type of shelter (Figure 15-4) as hunting and fishing
shelters. They are efficient shelters but require
some practice to make them properly. Also, you must
be in an area that is suitable for cutting snow
blocks and have the equipment to cut them (snow
saw or knife).
Construct this shelter in the same manner as for
other environments; however, pile snow around the
sides for insulation (Figure 15-5).
Fallen Tree Shelter
To build this shelter, find a fallen tree and dig
out the snow underneath it (Figure 15-6). The snow
will not be deep under the tree. If you must remove
branches from the inside, use them to line the floor.
Dig snow out from under a suitable large tree.
It will not be as deep near the base of the tree.
Use the cut branches to line the shelter. Use a
ground sheet as overhead cover to prevent snow from
falling off the tree into the shelter. If built
properly, you can have 360-degree visibility (Figure
5-12, Chapter 5).
20-Man Life Raft
This raft is the standard overwater raft on U.S.
Air Force aircraft. You can use it as a shelter.
Do not let large amounts of snow build up on the
overhead protection. If placed in an open area,
it also serves as a good signal to overhead aircraft.
Fire is especially important in cold weather. It
not only provides a means to prepare food, but also
to get warm and to melt snow or ice for water. It
also provides you with a significant psychological
boost by making you feel a little more secure in
Use the techniques described in Chapter 7 to build
and light your fire. If you are in enemy territory,
remember that the smoke, smell, and light from your
fire may reveal your location. Light reflects from
surrounding trees or rocks, making even indirect
light a source of danger. Smoke tends to go straight
up in cold, calm weather, making it a beacon during
the day, but helping to conceal the smell at night.
In warmer weather, especially in a wooded area,
smoke tends to hug the ground, making it less visible
in the day, but making its odor spread.
If you are in enemy territory, cut low tree boughs
rather than the entire tree for firewood. Fallen
trees are easily seen from the air.
All wood will burn, but some types of wood create
more smoke than others. For instance, coniferous
trees that contain resin and tar create more and
darker smoke than deciduous trees.
There are few materials to use for fuel in the
high mountainous regions of the arctic. You may
find some grasses and moss, but very little. The
lower the elevation, the more fuel available. You
may find some scrub willow and small, stunted spruce
trees above the tree line. On sea ice, fuels are
seemingly nonexistent. Driftwood or fats may be
the only fuels available to a survivor on the barren
coastlines in the arctic and subarctic regions.
Abundant fuels within the tree line are--
- Spruce trees are common in the interior regions.
As a conifer, spruce makes a lot of smoke when
burned in the spring and summer months. However,
it burns almost smoke-free in late fall and winter.
- The tamarack tree is also a conifer. It is the
only tree of the pine family that loses its needles
in the fall. Without its needles, it looks like
a dead spruce, but it has many knobby buds and
cones on its bare branches. When burning, tamarack
wood makes a lot of smoke and is excellent for
- Birch trees are deciduous and the wood burns
hot and fast, as if soaked with oil or kerosene.
Most birches grow near streams and lakes, but
occasionally you will find a few on higher ground
and away from water.
- Willow and alder grow in arctic regions, normally
in marsh areas or near lakes and streams. These
woods burn hot and fast without much smoke.
Dried moss, grass, and scrub willow are other materials
you can use for fuel. These are usually plentiful
near streams in tundras (open, treeless plains).
By bundling or twisting grasses or other scrub vegetation
to form a large, solid mass, you will have a slower
burning, more productive fuel.
If fuel or oil is available from a wrecked vehicle
or downed aircraft, use it for fuel. Leave the fuel
in the tank for storage, drawing on the supply only
as you need it. Oil congeals in extremely cold temperatures,
therefore, drain it from the vehicle or aircraft
while still warm if there is no danger of explosion
or fire. If you have no container, let the oil drain
onto the snow or ice. Scoop up the fuel as you need
Do not expose flesh to petroleum, oil, and
lubricants in extremely cold temperatures.
The liquid state of these products is deceptive
in that it can cause frostbite.
Some plastic products, such as MRE spoons, helmet
visors, visor housings, aid foam rubber will ignite
quickly from a burning match. They will also burn
long enough to help start a fire. For example, a
plastic spoon will burn for about 10 minutes.
In cold weather regions, there are some hazards
in using fires, whether to keep warm or to cook.
- Fires have been known to burn underground, resurfacing
nearby. Therefore, do not build a fire too close
to a shelter.
- In snow shelters, excessive heat will melt the
insulating layer of snow that may also be your
- A fire inside a shelter lacking adequate ventilation
can result in carbon monoxide poisoning.
- A person trying to get warm or to dry clothes
may become careless and burn or scorch his clothing
- Melting overhead snow may get you wet, bury
you and your equipment, and possibly extinguish
In general, a small fire and some type of stove
is the best combination for cooking purposes. A
hobo stove (Figure 15-7) is particularly suitable
to the arctic. It is easy to make out of a tin can,
and it conserves fuel. A bed of hot coals provides
the best cooking heat. Coals from a crisscross fire
will settle uniformly. Make this type of fire by
crisscrossing the firewood. A simple crane propped
on a forked stick will hold a cooking container
over a fire.
For heating purposes, a single candle provides
enough heat to warm an enclosed shelter. A small
fire about the size of a man's hand is ideal for
use in enemy territory. It requires very little
fuel, yet it generates considerable warmth and is
hot enough to warm liquids.
There are many sources of water in the arctic and
subarctic. Your location and the season of the year
will determine where and how you obtain water.
Water sources in arctic and subarctic regions are
more sanitary than in other regions due to the climatic
and environmental conditions. However, always
purify the water before drinking it. During
the summer months, the best natural sources of water
are freshwater lakes, streams, ponds, rivers, and
springs. Water from ponds or lakes may be slightly
stagnant, but still usable. Running water in streams,
rivers, and bubbling springs is usually fresh and
suitable for drinking.
The brownish surface water found in a tundra during
the summer is a good source of water. However, you
may have to filter the water before purifying it.
You can melt freshwater ice and snow for water.
Completely melt both before putting them in your
mouth. Trying to melt ice or snow in your mouth
takes away body heat and may cause internal cold
injuries. If on or near pack ice in the sea, you
can use old sea ice to melt for water. In time,
sea ice loses its salinity. You can identify this
ice by its rounded corners and bluish color.
You can use body heat to melt snow. Place the snow
in a water bag and place the bag between your layers
of clothing. This is a slow process, but you can
use it on the move or when you have no fire.
Note: Do not waste fuel to melt ice or snow
when drinkable water is available from other sources.
When ice is available, melt it, rather than snow.
One cup of ice yields more water than one cup of
snow. Ice also takes less time to melt. You can
melt ice or snow in a water bag, MRE ration bag,
tin can, or improvised container by placing the
container near a fire. Begin with a small amount
of ice or snow in the container and, as it turns
to water, add more ice or snow.
Another way to melt ice or snow is by putting it
in a bag made from porous material and suspending
the bag near the fire. Place a container under the
bag to catch the water.
During cold weather, avoid drinking a lot of liquid
before going to bed. Crawling out of a warm sleeping
bag at night to relieve yourself means less rest
and more exposure to the cold.
Once you have water, keep it next to you to prevent
refreezing. Also, do not fill your canteen completely.
Allowing the water to slosh around will help keep
it from freezing.
There are several sources of food in the arctic
and subarctic regions. The type of food--fish, animal,
fowl, or plant--and the ease in obtaining it depend
on the time of the year and your location.
During the summer months, you can easily get fish
and other water life from coastal waters, streams,
rivers, and lakes. Use the techniques described
in Chapter 8 to catch fish.
The North Atlantic and North Pacific coastal waters
are rich in seafood. You can easily find crawfish,
snails, clams, oysters, and king crab. In areas
where there is a great difference between the high
and low tide water levels, you can easily find shellfish
at low tide. Dig in the sand on the tidal flats.
Look in tidal pools and on offshore reefs. In areas
where there is a small difference between the high-
and low-tide water levels, storm waves often wash
shellfish onto the beaches.
The eggs of the spiny sea urchin that lives in
the waters around the Aleutian Islands and southern
Alaska are excellent food. Look for the sea urchins
in tidal pools. Break the shell by placing it between
two stones. The eggs are bright yellow in color.
Most northern fish and fish eggs are edible. Exceptions
are the meat of the arctic shark and the eggs of
The bivalves, such as clams and mussels, are usually
more palatable than spiral-shelled seafood, such
The black mussel, a common mollusk of the
far north, may be poisonous in any season.
Toxins sometimes found in the mussel's tissue
are as dangerous as strychnine.
The sea cucumber is another edible sea animal.
Inside its body are five long white muscles that
taste much like clam meat.
In early summer, smelt spawn in the beach surf.
Sometimes you can scoop them up with your hands.
You can often find herring eggs on the seaweed
in midsummer. Kelp, the long ribbonlike seaweed,
and other smaller seaweed that grow among offshore
rocks are also edible.
Sea Ice Animals
You find polar bears in practically all arctic
coastal regions, but rarely inland. Avoid them if
possible. They are the most dangerous of all bears.
They are tireless, clever hunters with good sight
and an extraordinary sense of smell. If you must
kill one for food, approach it cautiously. Aim for
the brain; a bullet elsewhere will rarely kill one.
Always cook polar bear meat before eating it.
Do not eat polar bear liver as it contains
a toxic concentration of vitamin A.
Earless seal meat is some of the best meat available.
You need considerable skill, however, to get close
enough to an earless seal to kill it. In spring,
seals often bask on the ice beside their breathing
holes. They raise their heads about every 30 seconds,
however, to look for their enemy, the polar bear.
To approach a seal, do as the Eskimos do--stay
downwind from it, cautiously moving closer while
it sleeps. If it moves, stop and imitate its movements
by lying flat on the ice, raising your head up and
down, and wriggling your body slightly. Approach
the seal with your body side-ways to it and your
arms close to your body so that you look as much
like another seal as possible. The ice at the edge
of the breathing hole is usually smooth and at an
incline, so the least movement of the seal may cause
it to slide into the water. Therefore, try to get
within 22 to 45 meters of the seal and kill it instantly
(aim for the brain). Try to reach the seal before
it slips into the water. In winter, a dead seal
will usually float, but it is difficult to retrieve
from the water.
Keep the seal blubber and skin from coming into
contact with any scratch or broken skin you may
have. You could get "spekk-finger," that
is, a reaction that causes the hands to become badly
Keep in mind that where there are seals, there
are usually polar bears, and polar bears have stalked
and killed seal hunters.
You can find porcupines in southern subarctic regions
where there are trees. Porcupines feed on bark;
if you find tree limbs stripped bare, you are likely
to find porcupines in the area.
Ptarmigans, owls, Canadian jays, grouse, and ravens
are the only birds that remain in the arctic during
the winter. They are scarce north of the tree line.
Ptarmigans and owls are as good for food as any
game bird. Ravens are too thin to be worth the effort
it takes to catch them. Ptarmigans, which change
color to blend with their surroundings, are hard
to spot. Rock ptarmigans travel in pairs and you
can easily approach them. Willow ptarmigans live
among willow clumps in bottom-lands. They gather
in large flocks and you can easily snare them. During
the summer months all arctic birds have a 2- to
3-week molting period during which they cannot fly
and are easy to catch. Use one of the techniques
described in Chapter 8 to catch them.
Skin and butcher game (see Chapter 8) while it
is still warm. If you do not have time to skin the
game, at least remove its entrails, musk glands,
and genitals before storing. If time allows, cut
the meat into usable pieces and freeze each separately
so that you can use the pieces as needed. Leave
the fat on all animals except seals. During the
winter, game freezes quickly if left in the open.
During the summer, you can store it in underground
Although tundras support a variety of plants during
the warm months, all are small, however, when compared
to plants in warmer climates. For instance, the
arctic willow and birch are shrubs rather than trees.
The following is a list of some plant foods found
in arctic and subarctic regions (see Appendix B
- Arctic raspberry and blueberry
- Arctic willow
- Eskimo potato
- Iceland moss
- Marsh marigold
- Reindeer moss
- Rock tripe
There are some plants growing in arctic and subarctic
regions that are poisonous if eaten (see Appendix
C). Use the plants that you know are edible. When
in doubt, follow the Universal Edibility Test in
Chapter 9, Figure 9-5.
As a survivor or an evader in an arctic or subarctic
region, you will face many obstacles. Your location
and the time of the year will determine the types
of obstacles and the inherent dangers. You should--
- Avoid traveling during a blizzard.
- Take care when crossing thin ice. Distribute
your weight by lying flat and crawling.
- Cross streams when the water level is lowest.
Normal freezing and thawing action may cause a
stream level to vary as much as 2 to 2.5 meters
per day. This variance may occur any time during
the day, depending on the distance from a glacier,
the temperature, and the terrain. Consider this
variation in water level when selecting a campsite
near a stream.
- Consider the clear arctic air. It makes estimating
distance difficult. You more frequently underestimate
than overestimate distances.
- Do not travel in "whiteout" conditions.
The lack of contrasting colors makes it impossible
to judge the nature of the terrain.
- Always cross a snow bridge at right angles to
the obstacle it crosses. Find the strongest part
of the bridge by poking ahead of you with a pole
or ice axe. Distribute your weight by crawling
or by wearing snowshoes or skis.
- Make camp early so that you have plenty of time
to build a shelter.
- Consider frozen or unfrozen rivers as avenues
of travel. However, some rivers that appear frozen
may have soft, open areas that make travel very
difficult or may not allow walking, skiing, or
- Use snowshoes if you are traveling over snow-covered
terrain. Snow 30 or more centimeters deep makes
traveling difficult. If you do not have snowshoes,
make a pair using willow, strips of cloth, leather,
or other suitable material.
It is almost impossible to travel in deep snow
without snowshoes or skis. Traveling by foot leaves
a well-marked trail for any pursuers to follow.
If you must travel in deep snow, avoid snow-covered
streams. The snow, which acts as an insulator, may
have prevented ice from forming over the water.
In hilly terrain, avoid areas where avalanches appear
possible. Travel in the early morning in areas where
there is danger of avalanches. On ridges, snow gathers
on the lee side in overhanging piles called cornices.
These often extend far out from the ridge and may
break loose if stepped on.
There are several good indicators of climatic changes.
You can determine wind direction by dropping a
few leaves or grass or by watching the treetops.
Once you determine the wind direction, you can predict
the type of weather that is imminent. Rapidly shifting
winds indicate an unsettled atmosphere and a likely
change in the weather.
Clouds come in a variety of shapes and patterns.
A general knowledge of clouds and the atmospheric
conditions they indicate can help you predict the
weather. See Appendix G for details.
Smoke rising in a thin vertical column indicates
fair weather. Low rising or "flattened out"
smoke indicates stormy weather.
Birds and Insects
Birds and insects fly lower to the ground than
normal in heavy, moisture-laden air. Such flight
indicates that rain is likely. Most insect activity
increases before a storm, but bee activity increases
before fair weather.
Slow-moving or imperceptible winds and heavy, humid
air often indicate a low-pressure front. Such a
front promises bad weather that will probably linger
for several days. You can "smell" and
"hear" this front. The sluggish, humid
air makes wilderness odors more pronounced than
during high-pressure conditions. In addition, sounds
are sharper and carry farther in low-pressure than