Survival Tips in the Arctic

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Advances in clothing, tents, sledges and motorized vehicles for ice and snow make a trip to the Arctic Circle a much easier, more comfortable experience than when Robert Peary and his men explored the area during the turn of the 20th century. Despite these advances, however, the unexpected can happen in the Arctic. Survival research and preparedness is critical before ever venturing to the Arctic during the coldest months.


Timbered areas in the Arctic provide protection from the wind, fuel for fire, and evergreen boughs that add heat to emergency trenches or pits. A trench dug into the snow creates an insulated area for sleeping or waiting until help arrives. Igloos made from blocks of ice may be necessary if a wooded area isn't available, but these shelters require prior know-how and equipment for carving and digging out snow and ice blocks. The Wilderness Survival website recommends opting for a simple pit dug near the base of a tree, then lining the pit with pine boughs or grass for added insulation. Covering a trench or a pit with a sheet of nylon or a tarp provides a functional emergency shelter.

Building a Fire

To survive in the Arctic, it is crucial to stay dry, keep warm, and have a means to signal for help. A fire can provide all three. Resinous pine boughs tossed onto a fire create a lot of smoke for signaling. Proper venting is essential since carbon monoxide develops quickly and insidiously inside an enclosed shelter. Starting a fire with a lighter or a box of dry matches is the preferred fire-starting method, but a spark generated from a carbide steel knife against a piece of metal or flint, or a snowmobile battery will ignite a small amount of very dry timber, grass, paper or plastic. Remember to have plenty of dry kindling ready to keep the newly ignited fire going. The Ultralight Backpacking website says a small amount of gunpowder carefully removed from the casing of a bullet will also quickly ignite with a spark.

Proper Clothing and Essential Survival Gear

The biggest enemy against surviving in the Arctic is wet clothing. If possible, change into a spare set of clothing or dry wet clothing near a fire. The Ultralight Backpacking website advises wearing a hat at all times, even when sleeping. The National Weather Service states than in any winter storm a person should cover all exposed body parts to prevent frostbite and heat loss that can lead to life-threatening hypothermia.

Before venturing into the Arctic, put together a survival kit containing a knife or other cutting tool, a well-appointed first-aid kit, flashlight with extra batteries, sleeping bag, small shovel, matches in a water-proof container, small emergency candles, a hand mirror for signaling, cubes of bouillon, zippered plastic bags, an emergency fishing kit that includes hooks, line and sinkers, a compass, fish hooks and nylon cord.

Food and Water

The Wilderness Survival website says to melt ice rather than snow in a fireproof container over a fire. If snow is more readily available, melt small amounts in an empty can or other fireproof container. Without a fire, snow packed inside a zippered plastic bag will melt slowly from body heat when stashed away between layers of clothing.

Rely on any emergency fishing gear to fish in open Arctic waters. It's best to have planned ahead packed a supply of non-perishable food items like high-protein food bars. Still, shelter, a fire, keeping warm and dry, and finding a supply of fresh drinking water are the most important, initial steps to surviving in the Arctic. Forage for food when all other steps have been met.