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A Survival Guide for the Alaskan Wilderness

Survival Knife

Not preparing yourself for surviving in the Alaskan wilderness is dangerous, just ask Abby Flantz and Erica Nelson, two hikers who disappeared for four days in 2008. The two faced below-zero temperatures, miles of snow and ice and forests that made it difficult to identify their location and ice along the ground. Alaska covers over 650,000 miles of land, with many mountainous areas and large regions without many inhabitants. Surviving in this rough terrain is easier when carrying a kit with the items recommended by the state of Alaska.

What to Bring:

Axe
Survival Knife
Mosquito/Insect Headnet
Signaling Devices (Mirror, Watch)
Fishing Line and Hooks
First-aid Kit
Food
Coffee Can

Pack a survival kit, following the Alaskan state law AS 02.35.110. Emergency Rations and Equipment for small groups. Bring an axe of around 3-4 pounds, preferably with leather or another material covering the handle, which keeps your hands from touching the freezing metal and a knife of 13-15″. Survival knives with a partially serrated blade is best because the non-serrated area cuts animal hide, while the serrated side saws through tree limbs and harder surfaces.

A mosquito or insect headnet protects your face from biting bugs and signaling devices, including a mirror or watch let you contact search parties. Bring fishing hooks and a line, a first-aid kit, a coffee can and enough food to survive one week. If you’re in a group or traveling with others, each person needs their own survival kit, in case one person get lost or separated from the group.

Ration out your food, especially if your trip takes longer than intended. Dehydrated foods, granola bars and candy bars provide enough calories to survive, without weighing down your pack. Place all your food in a central location and divide it equally between anyone in your group. Determine the number of calories needed to survive, which is typically 800-1,000 and dole out your daily allowance each day.

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Alaska does have wild plants and berries, as well as wild game, but those are hard to find during the winter. The lost hikers mentioned before, managed to survive on just melted snow and a single granola bar. Put non-perishable foods back, if you find wild game, fruits or plants. Save the food in your pack for the days when you don’t have access to wild food or game.

Watch for any signs of human life or inhabitants in the area, including sounds of civilization or trash left behind by hunters. Signal for help when you see planes overhead and watch for people on mountains when you’re in valleys or lower areas. Shout to grab the person’s attention or use your mirror.

Raise your hand to eye-level and create a “V” with your thumb and forefinger. Hold the mirror in your other hand and turn it to catch the sunlight. Wait until the person or plane you’re signaling reaches the “V” and then adjust the mirror until the beam from the sun hits the exact spot between your fingers, which causes the beam to hit them. This also works with the back of a compass, the back of your watch or anything else with a reflective surface.

Leave behind some marker that indicates you were on a trail or passed through an area. This is for both search parties and yourself. Tear small pieces of fabric from your clothes and tie a piece around a tree or other landmark in the area. Arranging small rocks into a memorable formation also works if you can’t spare the fabric. As you walk through the region, you’re bound to see mountain ranges and ice formations that look similar and this helps you see where you’ve already been.

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Build a fire inside a small coffee can or some type of metal container, by lining the inside with smaller branches and kindling, which offers a small amount of light and heat, as well as a cooking area. Keep the fire away from the ground by creating a tripod.

Locate three branches of roughly the same size and shape and bind together with a piece of fishing line. Push the branches into the ground for more security and set the coffee can on top. The snow and ice is harmful to your fire, as melting snow may reach the fire and put it out. It’s also helpful to put some protection between the bottom of the can and the ice, such as an extra jacket.

Other Tips:

Seek shelter as soon as possible. Look for a small cave and check for animals inside before setting up camp. Another option is building a snow cave by melting ice inside a snow drift and waiting for the water to freeze over.

References:

Alaskan Survival Kit Regulations
Backpackers survive four days in Alaskan wilderness
Basic Wilderness Survival Skills