Chocolate, Chapstick, and Baby Wipes: Anubha's Arctic Survival Essentials


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I told my son, 'I forgot something,' and he told me 'it’s too late, the boat just sunk.'

Published in yesterday's Nunatsiaq News, David Kownirk's letter thanking the Coast Guard and Iqaluit's emergency department for rescuing him and his family highlights just how quickly things can change when you're out on the land. Anyone who told you they could predict the weather never lived in Nunavut; as detailed in the excerpt below, she can be fickle, and she can be dangerous:

When we were coming back last weekend from the Tungait outpost camp over 100 kilometres from Iqaluit and we got to Nuvutialujak, it started to get dark and we went into a heavy snowfall. It got dark, so I pulled out the GPS...

About 15 to 20 minutes later it started to snow really heavily and then the GPS arrow started to turn. All of a sudden we hit a shoal and the boat started taking on water right away...

I started throwing our sleeping bags, tent, stove, and lantern, then I got off and we took whatever we had unloaded and started putting it on higher ground.

I told my son, “I forgot something,” and he told me “it’s too late, the boat just sunk.”

I called the emergency department in Iqaluit and started communicating with Michael Salamonie. He told me two boats had left to find us, plus the Coast Guard.

I gave them the GPS co-ordinates and about an hour and a half later we saw a light coming towards us. Then the light started to turn. We kept on flashing our lights towards the boat and when they saw our lights they started heading towards us.

It was the Coast Guard crew. We were brought to the ship, checked by the nurse and brought home the next day.

The Lesson

David's letter refers not only to the Arctic's climatic challenges, but it also highlights one major lesson: the importance of being prepared. The hunters in this story were equipped for an emergency (the satellite phone and GPS allowed them to communicate and coordinate with rescue officials) and ready to survive (David mentions they had with them a stove, sleeping bags, a tent, and a lantern).

Reading this letter also reminded me that it will soon be time for me to venture back out into the tundra. We don't have a boat, but we now have two snowmobiles. Though we only had one Skidoo last winter and spring, we still spent a considerable amount of time on it, taking day or weekend trips whenever the weather (seemingly) cooperated. To be ready for both planned and impromptu journeys, I like to have a backpack stocked and ready to go. Below is a list of what I consider my Arctic survival essentials.

The Gear

arctic survival essentials

I should mention that I used to think picnicking in the park made me outdoorsy. That being said, adjusting to Iqaluit's truly, intensely outdoorsy culture has been the most exciting and satisfying learning experience of my transition north. And while this is by no means a comprehensive list of survival essentials, these are the items I have been taught to have on hand to keep (or make me feel) safe.

Food and Water An obvious need, I like to have delicious non-perishables in my pack, which I often supplement with fresh foods. Canned oysters, jerky, and nuts are light, tasty, and full of protein, but my absolute favourite food item to eat on the land is chocolate. When you're really cold, really hungry, and really tired, chocolate will make everything better.

Location Devices The two location devices we own are a GPS and a SPOT device. A GPS (Global Positioning System) device uses satellites to calculate a user's location. We have the Garmin eTrex 20, though we are planning to upgrade to the Monterra model. Whatever GPS device you own, practice using it and make sure you have charged batteries (and consider buying extra maps if you want better resolution and/or more detail).

A SPOT device also uses a satellite network, only it allows for outgoing communication via text messages. The user can pre-program 41-character messages that will be sent to numbers in their SPOT directory. For example, I can send, "At destination" to my partner so he knows that I arrived safely. You can also send messages to local emergency responders.

Tools For any trip on the land, it is important to have some basic tools, such as a multitool, a knife, a headlamp, a lighter, and rope. For snowmobile trips, we also pack the Skidoo toolkit for any machine-related issues or maintenance.

Extra Parts Batteries, batteries, batteries! Even if your devices are at full power, the extreme cold will suck the juice right out of them. It's also smart to have spare snowmachine parts on hand, namely, an extra belt and spark plugs, as these are most likely to need replacement.

Extra Clothing There's nothing worse than being cold (for me at least), so I stuff my bag with extra mitts, hats, and socks. You will also want to have an extra pair of polarized sunglasses or goggles; the glare from the snow can cause snow blindness, which will make driving a snowmobile or hiking both uncomfortable and unsafe.

First Aid Another obvious inclusion. Make sure you refill your first aid kit after every trip if you use any of its items.

Hygiene Pro tip: baby wipes are the most versatile option for all your on-the-go cleaning needs. You can wipe down your face, hands, dishes, and pretty much anything else (even a baby) with this affordable, portable invention. Combined with a little bottle of hand sanitizer, you can achieve a more than respectable level of cleanliness.

Miscellaneous Ziploc bags and dry bags will help you keep your stuff organized and dry. And while I have not used them yet, I do continue to include a basic survival guide (mine is from CASARA) and the operator's guide for our Skidoo in my bag.

Bonus: I never leave the house without Chapstick and lotion, especially in the north (as stated in an earlier post, we are blessed with a "dry cold").

What do you think of this checklist of essentials? Are there any items you think are missing or could be added? Let us know in the comments or via Twitter; we always appreciate a good travel tip!