Unforgiving and bitterly cold.
These are the two words that come to mind when we take time to consider the polar survival scenario. Survival in the arctic climate is hands down one of the most challenging survival scenarios one can find themselves faced with. Blinding snowstorms, unbelievably cold temperatures and dangerous predators are just a few of the challenges that face individuals who find themselves having to survive in the polar climate. If you are ill-equipped and unprepared for this kind of climate the arctic landscape can mean certain, swift death. However, with a little preparation and some knowledge your chances of surviving this extreme climate increase exponentially.
So what exactly do you need to survive in the arctic? In this guide we will cover the necessities for arctic survival and give you the knowledge you need to equip the mal-adapted human form for the rigors of arctic survival.
Dangers of Arctic Survival
The most obvious danger associated with arctic survival is the weather that you encounter there. More specifically, we are talking about the high winds and severe cold that is the hallmark of the polar climate. With the arctic cold, of course, comes a potential for cold related illness.
Some cold related illnesses that you may encounter in arctic survival are hypothermia, snow blindness, immersion foot and frost bite. These common conditions can prove fatal when trying to survive in the polar regions. Some are more prevalent in the winter months than the summer months, like immersion foot and snow blindness, but they are all very real threats to your survival in the arctic landscape and their prevention should be a serious concern. For example you want to keep your feet warm and dry to combat immersion foot and frostbite. Water eye protection to save your eyes and layer up. The adjustments seem small, but make a huge difference.
In addition to cold related illness there is also the very real threat of exposure posed by the arctic climate. In the vast arctic tundra for example, there are very few places to take refuge and survivors find themselves exposed to the elements for extended periods of time. It’s for this reason that finding shelter is high on the priority list in arctic survival.
Predators are another danger that the arctic survivor faces when stuck in a polar survival style scenario; the most dangerous of these predators being the polar bear. While there are wolves and other predators that call this region home they are far and away less likely to approach humans as they generally perceive humans as a threat.
Bears however, do not always perceive the human as a threat on when the two meet and there is potential for attack if you find yourself in close proximity to a hungry polar bear. This is especially true for juvenile males as their development renders them more aggressive, and females that have recently given birth . Loud noise producing devices like air horns are very good deterrents to polar bears wandering too close for comfort, but be advised that once they charge there is little that will deter them short of a large caliber bullet so be wary of your surroundings. Watch for and avoid game trails and be aware of bear tracks and droppings as these signs will help you avoid an encounter.
The best thing to do is to avoid predators whenever possible.
Find or build a Shelter
Among your biggest priorities in the harsh arctic climate is shelter.
Exposure kills and does so quickly and effectively in the arctic climate so its important to establish shelter sooner rather than later. When choosing what kind of shelter you are going to utilize you must first assess your surrounds carefully. How close are you to a potential water source? Are there any game trails nearby or a risk of your shelter being flooded, crushed or infested by pests?
If you choose to inhabit a cave take stock of what you are sharing the space with. Predators, bats and all manner of creepy-crawlies frequent these enclosures seeking the same shelter from the elements that you are.
Check to be sure you are in fact alone.
If you aren’t, smoking out the cave with a small controlled fire is good way to prepare the space for conversion to a temporary shelter.
Be advised that if you choose to take shelter in a cave and light a fire that rapid heating of a cave in this cold climate can lead to cave ins as the rock cracks and collapses. It’s for this reason your fire must initially be small and controlled to both smoke out the competition and slowly heat the space. Natural formations are ideal, but you may not always find one in a viable location.
So what do you do in the absence of natural features? Well there are a few quick shelters that can be improvised in the absence of natural formations. A quick lean-to or snow trench are the most common choices for fast shelters in the arctic climate. The necessary materials are all easily accessible and construction time leaves time enough to secure other resources or to accomplish right before night fall if necessary.
Tree-pit Snow Shelter
If you have a bit more time to devote to shelter construction, a tree-pit snow shelter offers a bit more protection. Simply find a tree with thick leafy branches and dig down until you hit the ground. Pack the snow that makes the walls and top entrance tight and line it with evergreen boroughs if possible. You may also want to line the bottom with evergreens or use a tarp or Poncho to avoid laying on the cold ground. Be advised that snow pits can’t be heated for obvious reasons.
Finding fresh water sources in the arctic climate is an easier task in the case of polar survival compared to many other survival scenarios; the advantages to being surrounded by ice. In the summer months, streams, springs, creeks and lakes are easier to find closer to the subarctic region. Even closer to the poles you’ll find pools of melted ice which are all good sources for fresh water. In the winter months, depending on your region, it can become a bit more difficult. The water beneath the arctic tundra is usually seawater and therefore undrinkable so digging down is ill advised.
Collecting snow and ice and allowing it to melt is your best alternative for fresh water in those scenarios. If you obtain your water from a body of water or flow be sure to purify the water before drinking. Drinking unpurified water is always more of a risk than you want to take in a survival scenario. You can easily contract a waterborne illnesses like dysentery or contract a parasite if you don’t take the time to purify your water. Symptoms of waterborne illness include weakness, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The water loss can exacerbate the survival process and make the likelihood of survival less likely.
Anything that makes the survival situation less bearable with little to no payoff is simply not worth it so don’t take shortcuts. Take the time to purify your water either through boiling or chemical purification.
When it comes to obtaining food in the polar regions there are a few different options you can explore. What options you will have available will depend heavily on your region and the season in which you find yourself attempting to survive.
Hunting & Trapping
In the summer months there are arctic hares, small rodents and other mammals you can trap for food.
There are also a number of wild edibles that are available well into the winter months. Arctic willow shoots, rhodiola rosea, polygonaceae (a member of the buckwheat family), and claytonia, otherwise known as eskimo potatoes are a few of the edible species you’ll encounter in the arctic region.
The option of fishing usually is available year round in the arctic region. The process of ice fishing or fishing in general requires a certain level of skill, but it’s well worth the effort if you were prepared enough to bring the proper gear.
In arctic survival, it’s all about drawing from your surroundings and utilizing your equipment wisely so a little bit of knowledge goes a long way.
In arctic survival, preparation can mean the difference between life and death. While it’s possible to find food water and shelter in your surroundings they aren’t going to mean much if you can’t remain warm in this bitterly cold environment. Holding on to your body heat is all about your gear so having proper equipment is going to be the deciding factor of arctic survival.
- Cold weather gear – You want to pack at least thermales in addition to whatever you are wearing to protect against the cold.
- Sturdy knife- Whether you settle for a fixed blade or one with a sturdy locking mechanism you want to have a knife on you regardless of your survival scenario. They are good for cooking, improvising tools and a number of other functions
- Flint – Used in tandem with your knife to start fires.
- Waterproof matches & Lighter – Your primary fire starting tools in the arctic climate.
- Poncho – This is you most versatile and lightweight piece of wet weather gear. Can also be used to improvise shelter.
- Ice Pick – Can be used to harvest ice, dig a trench or crack the ice for ice fishing
- Food Rations – Non-perishables
- Water source – Can be a canteen, or bottle. Avoid water bladders as the constant freezing and thawing that occurs in this climate can cause them to fail.
- Aid kit – You always want a first aid kit on hand for emergencies.
- Duct tape or 5/50 cord – There are a million and one uses for this item so don’t forget it.
Surviving the arctic climate tests an individual on a number of levels. It tests their endurance both physically and mentally with its unforgiving nature. It tests their survival knowledge and ability to adapt. But most of all it tests their will to survive.