Arctic Survival Foods
(Adapted from the U.S. Army Survival Manual)
There are several sources of food in the arctic and subarctic
regions. The type of food-fish, animal, fowl, or plant - and
the ease in obtaining it depend on the time of the year and your
During the summer months, you can easily get fish and other
water life from coastal waters, streams, rivers, and lakes.
The North Atlantic and North Pacific coastal waters are rich
in seafood. You can easily find crawfish, snails, clams, oysters,
and king crab. In areas where there is a great difference between
the high and low tide water levels, you can easily find shellfish
at low tide. Dig in the sand on the tidal flats. Look in tidal
pools and on offshore reefs. In areas where there is a small
difference between the high- and low-tide water levels, storm
waves often wash shellfish onto the beaches.
The eggs of the spiny sea urchin that lives in the waters
around the Aleutian Islands and southern Alaska are excellent
food. Look for the sea urchins in tidal pools. Break the shell
by placing it between two stones. The eggs are bright yellow
Most northern fish and fish eggs are edible. Exceptions are
the meat of the arctic shark and the eggs of the sculpins.
The bivalves, such as clams and mussels, are usually more
palatable than spiral-shelled seafood, such as snails.
WARNING : The black mussel, a common mollusk of the far north,
may be poisonous in any season. Toxins sometimes found in the
mussels tissue are as dangerous as strychnine.
The sea cucumber is another edible sea animal. Inside its
body are five long white muscles that taste much like clam meat.
In early summer, smelt spawn in the beach surf. Sometimes
you can scoop them up with your hands.
You can often find herring eggs on the seaweed in midsummer.
Kelp, the long ribbon like seaweed, and other smaller seaweed
that grow among offshore rocks are also edible.
Sea Ice Animals
You find polar bears in practically all arctic coastal regions,
but rarely inland. Avoid them if possible. They are the most
dangerous of all bears. They are tireless, clever hunters with
good sight and an extraordinary sense of smell. If you must kill
one for food, approach it cautiously. Aim for the brain; a bullet
elsewhere will rarely kill one. Always cook polar bear meat before
CAUTION : Do not eat polar bear liver as it contains a toxic
concentration of vitamin A.
Earless seal meat is some of the best meat available. You need
considerable skill, however, to get close enough to an earless
seal to kill it. In spring, seals often bask on the ice beside
their breathing holes. They raise their heads about every 30
seconds, however, to look for their enemy, the polar bear.
To approach a seal, do as the Eskimos do-stay downwind from
it, cautiously moving closer while it sleeps. If it moves, stop
and imitate its movements by lying flat on the ice, raising your
head up and down, and wriggling your body slightly. Approach
the seal with your body side-ways to it and your arms close to
your body so that you look as much like another seal as possible.
The ice at the edge of the breathing hole is usually smooth and
at an incline, so the least movement of the seal may cause it
to slide into the water. Therefore, try to get within 22 to 45
meters of the seal and kill it instantly (aim for the brain).
Try to reach the seal before it slips into the water. In winter,
a dead seal will usually float, but it is difficult to retrieve
from the water.
Keep the seal blubber and skin from coming into contact with
any scratch or broken skin you may have. You could get "spekk-finger,"
that is, a reaction that causes the hands to become badly swollen.
Keep in mind that where there are seals, there are usually
polar bears, and polar bears have stalked and killed seal hunters.
You can find porcupines in southern subarctic regions where
there are trees. Porcupines feed on bark; if you find tree limbs
stripped bare, you are likely to find porcupines in the area.
Ptarmigans, owls, Canadian jays, grouse, and ravens are the
only birds that remain in the arctic during the winter. They
are scarce north of the tree line. Ptarmigans and owls are as
good for food as any game bird. Ravens are too thin to be worth
the effort it takes to catch them. Ptarmigans, which change color
to blend with their surroundings, are hard to spot. Rock ptarmigans
travel in pairs and you can easily approach them. Willow ptarmigans
live among willow clumps in bottom-lands. They gather in large
flocks and you can easily snare them. During the summer months
all arctic birds have a 2- to 3-week molting period during which
they cannot fly and are easy to catch. Use one of the techniques
described in Chapter 8 to catch them.
Skin and butcher game (see Chapter 8) while it is still warm.
If you do not have time to skin the game, at least remove its
entrails, musk glands, and genitals before storing. If time allows,
cut the meat into usable pieces and freeze each separately so
that you can use the pieces as needed. Leave the fat on all animals
except seals. During the winter, game freezes quickly if left
in the open. During the summer, you can store it in underground
Although tundras support a variety of plants during the warm
months, all are small, however, when compared to plants in warmer
climates. For instance, the arctic willow and birch are shrubs
rather than trees. The following is a list of some plant foods
found in arctic and subarctic regions (see Appendix B for descriptions).
Steve's Notes: I have looked at the literature,
and I cant find one example of a poisonous berry in arctic regions.
If there is one, it probably tastes bad anyhow. This means you
can relatively safely experiment with any good tasting berries
in an arctic survival situation.
Arctic Food Plants
Back to the main page of:
Steve's Notes: In all the stories of arctic survival
I have read, bird eggs seem to be one of the most common saviors.
There are no trees for the birds to nest in, so collecting eggs
isn't usually too difficult. Of course, you have to be there
at the right time of year.
Cold Weather Survival
Back to the main page of the: