Items Needed to Survive in the Tundra

Alaska's Denali National Park is in the tundra biome.
Alaska's Denali National Park is in the tundra biome. (Image: miracky/iStock/Getty Images)

The tundra has the coldest climate of all the biomes on Earth. If you’re heading out on an Arctic expedition, pack the right gear and know how to use it before you leave. If it’s your first trip in a tundra environment, bring at least one experienced traveling partner along. Knowledge, experience, the proper gear and careful planning can make the difference between a great trip and a tragedy.

Choose Proper Clothing

Layer clothing to regulate your body temperature. During periods of activity, remove one or two layers to avoid perspiration, which can leave you cold and damp once you stop moving. Four layers are ideal in the tundra. The layer closest to your skin should be an undershirt made of a thin, wicking fabric. On top of the undershirt, wear a thick wool sweater or shirt with cuffs and a high neck. Add a light jacket or lined shirt with a hood and top the ensemble with a waterproof, insulated coat that will protect you from the wind. Don't forget a hat with earflaps; 47 percent of heat loss comes from the head. Mittens and polar boots are essential. If your hands become numb, you won't be able to build a fire; if you can't feel your feet, you can't walk. A thin pair of gloves under waterproof, insulated mittens is best. Polar boots should be watertight and cover your calf.

Invest in Quality Shelter

Temperatures on the tundra can dip as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit overnight; spending the night exposed in this kind of cold can be fatal. Choose a freestanding, double-wall tent that is just large enough for you and your traveling partners. An aerodynamic or dome shape will shed snow and reduce wind shear. Practice setting up and dismantling your tent before you leave for you trip, so you’re not trying to read the directions in a blizzard. Snuggle up in a goose-down mummy bag that’s rated at least minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the cold from seeping through your bag with a good quality sleeping pad.

Bring Plenty of Food and Water

In the tundra, you’ll expend more calories because your body uses extra energy just to keep you warm. You’ll need 5,000 to 6,000 calories per day in the tundra. Pack plenty of calorie-dense foods such as nuts, jerky, chocolate and dried fruit. At the end of a long, cold day, heat a dehydrated meal to warm you up from the inside. Avoid dehydration. Although you might not feel thirsty when it’s cold, you still need to drink water. Keep your water bladder tucked into your coat to maintain it near body temperature so it doesn’t lower your body temperature. Use a water filter when drinking from rivers or melting snow. Bring along a backpacking stove and fuel, and some matches in a waterproof container.

Carry Communication Tools

When the floatplane drops you off in a remote tundra location, you’re completely cut off from the rest of the world. Cell phones don’t work, so carry a satellite phone and spare batteries in case of an emergency. You can rent a satellite phone if you don’t want to purchase one for the trip. GPS assists you with navigating and also provides details about your location in a rescue situation. Include flares or a beacon in your backpack to help the rescue team find you.

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