A Guide to Baffin Island

January 12, 2008
By: Baffin Island Expedition

Ten Survival Tactics for the Arctic

1) Stay hydrated

It’s not easy to make yourself drink water when it’s really cold, but staying hydrated is crucial to surviving cold temperatures. When you’re well-hydrated, you have enough blood volume to keep warm blood pumping to your extremities.

2) Consume lots of calories and food high in fat.

Exercising in the cold burns a lot of energy. Global Warming 101 expedition members need to consume around 5000 calories per day including one stick of butter per person per day. Burning these calories produces much needed body heat.

3) Protect yourself from the wind.

Wind robs heat from your body as it sneaks into your clothing, replacing warm air with cold. Wind also dries and chills any exposed skin. At -20°F with a 30 mph wind, exposed skin will freeze in less than five minutes. A windproof outer layer and a fur ruff around the face are necessities. Inuit people always turn their back to the wind or take shelter behind a komatek sled when possible.

4) Insulate yourself from the cold.

The thicker the insulation in your clothing and the more air it traps, the warmer you’ll be. Any gaps in the insulation, for example between your coat and pants or between your sleeves and gloves, can let a lot of your heat escape. You can also lose a lot of heat by standing, sitting or kneeling on cold surfaces. Thick boots and foam pads can help retain your heat.

5) Protect extremities.

As your core temperature lowers, your body, in an attempt to maintain its core temperature, restricts blood flow to your extremities. Your body is basically sacrificing your non-essential parts to maintain vital organs. For this reason, hands and feet are often the first parts claimed by frostbite. If you feel your feet or hands getting cold, take aggressive action to re-warm them.

6) Stay dry.

Your body will lose heat 240 times more quickly to water than to air. If you let your insulation get wet from sweat, snow or water, your insulation will lose much of its ability to keep you warm. Try to adjust your layers before you start sweating and if clothing gets covered in snow, brush off the snow before it melts.

7) Don’t get lost.

Flat light conditions combined with blowing snow and sometimes featureless topography can make navigation difficult. In addition to a GPS and maps, bring enough food and gear with you when you travel on the land. If conditions deteriorate you can dig in and wait for the weather to clear instead of trying to travel in a whiteout.

8) Avoid weak ice.

A changing climate, warmer ocean currents and shifting winds can make ice conditions unpredictable. Even traditional travel routes may now be unsafe. Travel with caution. If you do fall through the ice, “swim” out and roll in the snow to get as much of the water off as possible, then change into dry clothes.

9) Practice with all gear before heading out.

In cold temperatures even small tasks like putting on skis, tying a knot or stuffing a sleeping bag take longer and are more difficult. Fumbling with unfamiliar gear or discovering that a crucial item is missing or broken could lead to injury or disaster.

10) Take care of each other.

In cold and windy conditions, always check your partners’ faces for frostbite and let them know so they can fix it. Try to notice if someone seems cold or low energy and help them get more food, water and warmth. To be a good safety-net for others, however, you must make sure you’re taking care of yourself as well.