Tundra Survival Tips

Tundra Survival Tips
The University of California's Museum of Paleontology defines the tundra as the coldest of all biomes marked by extremely low temperatures, little precipitation, short growing seasons and poor nutrients. As you would expect, those conditions make for one of the most difficult survival scenarios on Earth. In addition to the standard survival procedures, including carrying a full survival kit, tundra and other cold-weather environments demand a set of procedures all their own.

Think Clearly

In any survival situation, and particularly one as challenging as a tundra-based one, it pays to stay calm and think clearly and logically. According to the U.S. Field Manual 21-76: "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." Maintain the will to survive, and act according to a logical plan.



Before setting out into a tundra or other cold-weather environment, dress properly. You'll need a quality waterproof/breathable jacket and pants. When exercising, you'll constantly perspire regardless of temperature. This perspiration can saturate the wrong types of clothing, making you moist and cold. To prevent this issue, use good base-layer garments that wick your perspiration away and keep you dry. Garments should be made from wool, polyester, treated silk or other suitable materials. Be sure to wear a mid-layer between your base and outer layers to provide ample insulation for the weather. Do not overdress however, as this will increase perspiration and heat loss. Keep your clothes clean and dry.

Also, keep your head and hands covered. Wear dark sunglasses (glacier glasses) that protect your eyes from the sunlight and glare off the snow.


Don't forget to drink water regularly as you will lose water through perspiration. According to a University of New Hampshire study, cold weather presents an increased risk of dehydration because people don't feel as thirsty in cold weather. Drink regularly and be aware that darker urine indicates dehydration and the need for water.

While water won't necessarily be in short supply thanks to snow, frost, ice and running water, it will be more difficult to keep water in its liquid state in the cold. Store your water bottle underneath your clothing to keep it warm. Do not eat snow or ice in place of drinking water as this can lower your body temperature. It's also important to clean your water using a filter, chemical treatment or boiling. Despite images of crystal-clear, glacial waters, water from tundra-based sources can still contain harmful parasites. The U.S. Army Field Manual 21-76 states that ice formed from salt water loses salinity over time and suggests looking for salt-water ice chunks that are bluish in color and rounded on the edges. Melted ice provides more water than melted snow.

Keep Clean

During a trying survival situation, taking a shower will be the last thing on your mind. However, the U.S. Army Field Manual 21-76 states: "Washing helps prevent skin rashes that can develop into more serious problems." The manual suggests using snow to wash the areas of the body where sweat and bacteria can gather including under the arms, on the feet and in the crotch. Change your socks and underwear as often as possible.

Medical Conditions

Beware of cold-related medical conditions, including hypothermia. Recognize the symptoms and know what to do. Pay attention to your own body as well as the other members of your group. The initial symptoms of hypothermia include shivering and slower thinking/irrationality. Later symptoms include muscle rigidity, loss of consciousness and death. If you or someone in your party begins experiencing symptoms, it's vital to get out of the cold and bring the body temperature up.

Other conditions brought on by cold weather include frostbite and snowblindness. Learn the symptoms and treatments of these conditions before venturing out into the cold.


Snow is an excellent insulator and is highly sculptable. If you don't have your own shelter, you can make a variety of shelters out of snow. Familiarize yourself with the different types of snow shelters and how they're made. Igloos are an excellent form of shelter when you are on a flat, open area with hard, wind-packed snow. A snow cave will work when building a shelter into the side of a hill.


Food can be scarce on the tundra, depending upon the time of year. Food sources will vary depending upon where you are and what time of year it is. Before setting out, be sure to study the natural food sources, both plant and animal, and bring the appropriate tools for killing and preparing food. Also, bring your own supply of food and ration it as needed.


Navigation can be particularly difficult in cold-weather environments, as whiteouts and snow-covered terrain can make it difficult to discern where you're going. Avoid traveling during snowstorms and be sure to carry an appropriate map and compass. Beware that compasses are unreliable when you are close to the North and South Poles. Use a pole to probe the snow or ice in front of you and test its integrity. Make snowshoes if faced with deep snow.


Article Written By Joe Fletcher

Joe Fletcher has been a writer since 2002, starting his career in politics and legislation. He has written travel and outdoor recreation articles for a variety of print and online publications, including "Rocky Mountain Magazine" and "Bomb Snow." He received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Rutgers College.

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