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CHAPTER 15 - COLD WEATHER SURVIVAL
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
REGIONS AND LOCATIONS
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
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
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.
PRINCIPLES OF COLD
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 and equipped.
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.
Keep 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.
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.
Wear 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.
Keep clothing dry.
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 core temperature.
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
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 worsening.
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
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
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:
Maintain circulation by twitching and wrinkling the skin on your face making
faces. Warm with your hands.
Wiggle and move your ears. Warm with your hands.
Move your hands inside your gloves. Warm by placing your hands close to your
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 regarding frostbite.
Trench Foot and Immersion Foot
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 daily.
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 normal balance.
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
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
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 glare.
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 treatment.
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
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 insulation.
Snow Cave Shelter
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
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 your situation.
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
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
- 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 signaling purposes.
- 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
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 it.
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. For example--
- 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 camouflage.
- 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 and equipment.
- Melting overhead snow may get you wet, bury
you and your equipment, and possibly extinguish your fire.
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
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 sculpins.
The bivalves, such as clams and mussels, are
usually more palatable than spiral-shelled seafood, such as snails.
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 swollen.
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 ice holes.
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 for descriptions).
- 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
- 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
- Consider the clear arctic air. It makes
estimating distance difficult. You more frequently underestimate than
- 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
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
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
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
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 high-pressure conditions.