Cold Weather Survival
IV. FOOD AND WATER
a. Importance of Balanced
Meals. Army rations are well balanced. The ration for 1 day provides all the
essential foods the body requires. However, all the ration must be eaten if all
the caloric value is to be obtained. Some items may, at times, not appeal to the
individual sense of taste, but they must be eaten. The tendency to be lazy about
preparing and eating satisfactory morning and evening meals before and after a
hard day on the trail must be avoided, since it is exceedingly detrimental to
continued good health. After having been without normal supplies for a period
of time, it is essential that men be provided with a balanced meal containing
the three basic food requirements (fats, protein, and carbohydrates). When possible
and especially when troops are involved in rigorous activity, it may be desirable
to feed four times daily. A desirable feeding plan would be the normal heavy
meal, a light midmorning meal, a light afternoon meal, with the supper meal being
the main meal of the day. The midmorning and midafternoon meal should consist
of foods high in carbohydrates and include a hot liquid. Concentrated foods found
in some special and survival rations are suitable for
this purpose. Hot soup
or tea are most desirable for the liquid. The evening meal should be heavily fortified
with protein and eaten just before going to sleep. This heavy protein meal will
increase body combustion above basal level, resulting in what is known as specific
dynamic heat. This increase in the output of heat within the body also aids in
keeping the individual warm while sleeping. If awakened by cold a small snack
eaten inside the sleeping bag may increase heat production enough to permit further
b. Importance of Liquids. In cold regions, as elsewhere,
the body will not operate efficiently without adequate water. Dehydration, with
its accompanying loss of efficiency, can be prevented by taking fluids with all
meals, and between meals if possible (para 3–34). Hot drinks are preferable to
cold drinks in low temperatures since they warm the body in addition to providing
needed liquids. Alcoholic beverages should not be consumed during cold weather
operations since they can actually produce a more rapid heat loss by the body.
Use of Mess Gear. Individual mess gear will be difficult to clean and sterilize,
therefore arrangements must be made for return of dirty mess gear to the battalion
trains area where it is cleaned under the supervision of the mess stewards. Clean
mess gear is sent forward with subsequent meals. During periods of extreme cold,
it may be advisable to utilize paper plates and cups instead of mess gear. If
utilized, they should be issued with the rations and sent forward to companies
with the meal. When using paper plates and cups, commanders must insure that they
are not haphazardly left in the unit area. Controlled disposal must be practiced
by burning at squad level or by consolidating at company level and returning them
to the battalion trains area. This problem is minimized, and cooling of food is
minimized, by the use of individual operational rations which may be consumed
directly from their containers.
Many types of rations are used for operations in cold weather.
The type of ration to be used will be determined by the location, supply situation,
mission, and duration of the operation. Rations are normally prepared in the unit
kitchens. Insofar as possible two hot meals per day should be served. These generally
will be the breakfast and supper meals. In situations where this is not practicable,
group rations are utilized and prepared by one member of the
small unit. Under
certain conditions an individual ration may be issued to each man. When serving
meals without shelter, food may become cold or frozen before it can be eaten.
Therefore, and whenever possible, shelters should be provided for the preparation
and serving of food. Certain packaged rations and food packets are ideal under
these circumstances because they are precooked and some components or all of the
ration can be eaten without heating. However, one of the components should be
heated when possible.
a. Bulk Supplied Rations. Rations of this type
are desirable whenever possible. They are characterized by a need for maximum
time and effort for preparation, high palatability, a large variety in menus and
a high caloric content. These rations are also heavy and bulky.
Ration. The standard “A” Ration consisting of fresh foods is issued whenever
possible. The caloric content of the ration is increased to compensate for the
added caloric requirements of cold weather operations.
(2) “B” Ration.
The standard “B” Ration is the field ration used for mass feeding in areas where
kitchen facilities, with the exception of refrigeration, are available. The ration
consists of approximately one hundred nonperishable foods. These are canned and
dehydrated. Hot meals furnish approximately
3,900 calories per day with a 15-day
cycle of menus. Caloric content may be varied to meet requirements of varying
climatic conditions or degree of physical activity.
b. Packaged Operational
Rations. Rations found in this category are characterized by a need for minimum
time and effort for preparation. They have a high caloric content, limited menus
and are lightweight. Maximum advantage is taken of dehydration and concentration.
They are for the most part served hot, but certain components may be consumed
(1) Ration, individual, trail, frigid. This ration is designed
for trail use under cold weather conditions. While hot meals can and are intended
to be prepared
from this ration, all components, except the dehydrated soups
and beverages may be eaten without preparation. Components of the ration such
as, processed cheese, fruitcake bars and candy are especially adaptable to consumption
in mobile situations. The inclusion of several condiments enables maximum flexibility
in component preparation. The ration supplies a minimum of 4,400 calories. It
is intended for use by members of small patrols or trail
parties for short
periods of time during which resupply is not feasible.
(2) Meal, combat,
individual. This ration is designed for and is issued as the tactical situation
dictates. It can be used in individual units as a meal or in multiples of three
meals as a complete ration. Twelve menus are available. Each meal furnishes approximately
one-third of the minimum nutrient intake prescribed by Army regulations.
Food packet, long-range patrol. The packet was designed for use by forces
in remote areas where resupply may be uncertain for as long as 10 days,
tactical situations that require men to eat as individuals, but where normal supply
of water is available. There are eight menus, all flexibly
packaged. Each furnishes
over 1,000 calories, and consists of a precooked, dehydrated, combination item
as the main component, with a confection, a cereal, or fruitcake bar, coffee,
cream, sugar, toilet paper and matches. Five menus also include cocoa beverage
powder. The average volume is 40 cubic inches and the average gross weight is
11 ounces. The principal menu components are packaged in a flexible combination
package attached to a chipboard base which gives the package a rigid bottom while
the food is being reconstituted in the bag. The main component may be eaten dry
with drinking water or reconstituted. If hot water is used the main component
will reconstitute in 2 minutes, if cold water is used, in 5 minutes.
Survival rations. Survival rations are designed for use in emergency situations.
The food is highly concentrated, lightweight and requires little or no preparation.
Per volume it is high in caloric content but contains much less than the minimum
required nutrient prescribed by Army regulations. These rations, when available,
are especially good to supplement the special rations discussed above.
Individual or Small-Unit Messing
Frequently, while on patrol or during
combat conditions, individuals will find it necessary to prepare their own meals
or to combine rations with other individuals within the unit.
The one-burner M1950 gasoline cooking stove is a cooking and heating unit for
a group of from 2 to 5 men operating in an isolated or forward area where the
use of heavier equipment is not practical. The mountain cookset is combined with
the stove to make the one-burner cooking outfit.
(2) Rations may also be heated
on the M1950 Yukon stove. The top and to a small degree the area underneath the
stove is used for this purpose.
(3) Any fuel-burning device will give off carbon
monoxide, which is poisonous. Adequate ventilation must be provided when using
priority is the procurement of water (para 3-30). If snow or ice must be melted
to obtain water, all available stoves are utilized for this purpose. After water
is obtained, the stoves are used for food preparation. For convenience in preparation
of meals and for conservation of fuel and labor, cooking should be done for as
large a group as the situation permits.
(2) Meals must be prepared efficiently
and as quickly as possible. Areas sheltered from the wind should be chosen for
stoves or fires. A few blocks of snow or ice or a hole dug in the snow will serve
as a windbreak and provide for more efficient use of fires. Heating tablets are
not efficient in extremely cold weather accompanied by high winds. Individuals
may have to prepare and eat one item at a time, but a hot meal will be worth the
(3) Instructions for preparing the components of the rations will be
found on, or inside, the package. The possibility of combining the various ration
i.e., mixing meat and vegetables to make stew, should also be considered.
Canned foods are cooked and require little heat to make them edible. Overcooking
will waste fuel. The juices in canned vegetables are tasty, and contain vitamins
and minerals. Drinking them will conserve the water supply. Cans must be punctured
or opened before heating by open fires or stoves.
Failure to do this may result
in an explosion. No puncturing is needed if the can is submerged in water during
the heating process.
(5) Food, including frozen meat, should be thawed before
cooking. Partly frozen meats may cook on the outside while the center remains
raw. Fresh meats must be cooked thoroughly to kill any germs or parasites that
may be present.
(6) Whenever possible, dried fruit should be soaked overnight
in cold water, then simmered slowly in the same water until tender, and sweetened
(7) Canned rations, either frozen or thawed, can best be heated by
immersion in boiling water. This water can then be used for making tea, coffee,
or soups and for washing soiled utensils or personal hygiene.
In winter the simplest way to preserve certain perishable foods such as meat products
is to allow them to freeze. Rations should be stacked outside
the shelter and
their location carefully marked. Only as much food as can be thawed and consumed
before spoiling should be brought into the shelter.
(2) Frozen food should
not be placed near heat where it may be thawed and later refrozen. Once thawed,
certain foods may spoil. Meat thawed and
refrozen two or three times is tasteless
and watery, and resultant bacterial growth may be sufficient to cause food poisoning.
Eating. Meals should be prepared at regular times and as much time as possible
allowed for cooking and eating. Men should be allowed to relax after each meal.
There will be times when it may not be possible to prepare a meal. Under such
circumstances the meal or components of meals must be distributed to individuals
before breaking camp. Any frozen food is thawed before issue to individuals. These
items are wrapped in spare clothing and placed in the rucksack or in the pack
to prevent them from refreezing. If time permits, halts should be made for the
purpose of heating food and drink. To the extent possible, preparation of the
following day’s food should be done during the night bivouac in order to shorten
the time required to break camp in the morning.
Organize and control cooking.
(2) Insure that all food is eaten; save any usable
leftovers for snacks between meals.
(3) The squad leader supervises the meals
and makes sure that each man is receiving his portion.
(4) Check continuously
to see that each man’s mess equipment is kept clean.
(5) Food is prepared
for as large a group as possible.
(6) Fuel is conserved by prethawing food.
This may be done by utilizing heat in the engine compartment of a vehicle or by
placing cans of food under and around the tent heating stove.
(7) Canned rations,
either frozen or thawed, can best be heated by immersion in a pot of hot water
on the stove. This water can then-be used for washing soiled utensils.
Adequate training of all men in the preparation and cooking of cold weather rations
(9) One-pot meals, such as stews, save preparation time and
fuel and can be kept warm more easily than several different food items.
a. One Man Responsible. One man should be responsible
for the preparation of each meal and this job should be rotated throughout the
squad. The squad leader is responsible for supplying any additional assistance
needed by the cook.
b. Ingenuity in Cooking. Ingenuity on the part of
the man assigned to cook for the small unit will aid immeasurably in the success
of field messing in cold weather. Potatoes, onions, or bacon, when available,
will increase the palatability of the food and can satisfactorily be added to
many foods. The habit of making the morning coffee the night before, or using
two stoves to melt snow or ice for the evening’s water supply, and of thawing
out those rations that are going to be used the next morning, will save time and
greatly simplify food preparation at mealtime.
c. Eating Arrangement.
When the weather is moderate, the mess line feeding system may be used. During
cold weather in a bivouac area the food can be prepared hot and then carried in
insulated containers to each tent for consumption in a heated shelter. Food may
also be transported in this manner to frontline troops by using track vehicles
or other methods of transport.
Natural Food Resources
a. In some cold regions, animals are abundant
at certain seasons of the year. In other areas, very little game can be found
during any season of the year. A person without food in these areas must know
how to “live off the land” and subsist on what is available. Fish are present
in fresh-water lakes and rivers
during all seasons of the year, and some salt
water near shore will normally yield fish. Fish will form the most readily available
and largest portion of available nourishing foods.
b. Small animals
and birds are also present in most areas at all times of the year. Large animals,
because of migratory habits or other characteristics, are not a reliable source
of food in many areas. Game should not be shot unless necessary for survival.
Animals to be used for food should be thoroughly bled, internal organs removed,
and the carcass chilled as soon as possible. This will prolong the keeping time
of the meat. To expedite the chilling clean snow can be packed in the body cavity.
All meat should be cooked thoroughly as a safeguard against harmful micro-organisms
and parasites that might be present in the carcass. Only healthy animals should
be used; in the absence of a person qualified to determine if the animal is healthy,
meat from the animals that appear sick should not be handled or eaten. For additional
information, see FM 21-76.
Animals of Cold Regions
a. Caribou and Reindeer.
(1) These are
mainly herd animals found in the high plateaus and mountain slopes as well as
in the grassy tundra areas. Their favorite year-round food is the lichens or “reindeer
moss.” Their summer diet consists of grasses, shrubs, and brush tips. They are
very curious animals and will often approach a hunter merely from curiosity, thus
presenting a good target. Sight of a human may have no effect on them but the
slightest hint of human scent will send them galloping. It is possible to attract
them near enough for a shot by waving a cloth and moving slowly toward them on
all fours. In shooting, the aim should be for the shoulder or neck rather than
(2) Reindeer have long been domesticated in Scandinavia and northern
Asia for their meat, milk, hide, and as draft animals.
(3) Both caribou and
reindeer should be skinned promptly. Animal heat is the largest factor in meat
spoilage. Fast and complete field dressing will eliminate most of this hazard
and airing will finish the work. The bones and muscles can hold heat for as long
as 48 hours, if the surrounding temperature
is not below freezing. Fat should
be kept with the carcass, not with the skin. If time does not allow skinning,
at least the entrails and genitals should be cleaned out of the animal.
A poncho may be used for wrapping the meat, whether for packing it out or if it
is to be left hanging for the second trip. Meat should be raised off the ground
as soon as possible because this will cool it sooner and keep it away from predators.
Dirt and contamination should be washed from the meat and the meat then dried,
if possible. A carcass should never be washed until it has cooled and is ready
to be butchered and stored.
b. Mountain Sheep and Goats.
animals are available in many northern areas. Although they normally live in the
higher elevations, during periods of heavy snow, they may be more readily available
than other animals.
(2) The procedures for skinning and care of caribou and
reindeer are also applicable to sheep and goats.
moose is the largest known species of the deer family. They are found in most
areas of the northern hemisphere. Full grown bulls weigh from 1,000 to 1,200 pounds
and may stand two meters (6') high at the shoulder. They require a large amount
of forage and usually may be found in areas where food of this type is plentiful,
such as burn-offs, swamps, and lake areas.
(2) The procedures for the skinning
and care of caribou and reindeer meat are applicable to moose.
Seals are widely distributed and generally common. Their flesh is an excellent
food. The liver should be avoided since it may contain toxic levels of Vitamin
(2) The seals should be shot as they come to the surface of the water to
breathe or as they are basking on rocks. The aim should be for the head. Most
the seals shot through the head will float, while about half of those shot
through the body will not. Seals will also be found in the open leads in the icepack
or may be found at their breathing holes in the ice. However, hunting seals through
breathing holes requires extreme patience and the holes are difficult to locate
without the use of dogs.
(3) In the spring, mother seals and their pups may
sometimes be located under snow hummocks adjacent to and over breathing holes,
where they have
given birth to their young. In the spring, also, seals lie
on the ice and bask in the sun. They must be carefully stalked and the hunter
must be close enough at the time he shoots to retrieve the dead seal before it
slips into a hole in the ice.
(4) It takes great skill to stalk a seal. The
Eskimo usually tries to imitate noises made by the seal, and he may use a white
screen behind which he crawls
while the seal sleeps, remaining absolutely still
when the seal raises its head to look around. Seals normally sleep only for a
few seconds at a time and then look around for their enemies or a few seconds
before sleeping again. Seal meat from which the blubber (fat) has not been entirely
removed will turn rancid in a short time.
e. Walrus. The meat and blubber
(fat) of walrus are edible, as are the clams which may be found in their stomachs.
Bears. All bears are edible, although the flesh must be thoroughly cooked
to guard against trichinosis. The liver of the polar bear should not be eaten
because of toxic Vitamin A concentration. All bears are dangerous and hard to
kill. There should be two or more hunters in the party when hunting; soft-nosed
bullets should be used. The shoulder shot is best. If the bear stands up, the
aim should be at the base and center of the throat for a shot which will sever
g. Wolves and Foxes. Wolves and foxes are edible. Wolves
follow caribou herds. Arctic foxes follow polar bear and eat their leavings. Foxes
will hang around a camp or follow a trail party and try to steal food.
Rabbits or Hares. Rabbits or hares can be snared or shot. They should be shot
in the head or very little meat will be left. A whistle will probably cause a
running one to stop long enough for an aimed shot. When cooking hare or rabbit,
fat of some sort, should be added as the meat is very lean. They should not be
dressed or cut up with bare hands because of the danger of contracting tularemia
(rabbit fever) from contact with the raw flesh. Completely
cooked flesh is
safe to handle and eat.
i. Marmots. Marmots are woodchuck-like animals
that live above the treeline in the mountains. They are excellent food, especially
in late summer when they are very fat. The hunter should wait until the marmot
moves away from his den before shooting or he may fall into his burrow.
Porcupines, Beavers, and Muskrats. These animals are found throughout the
colder regions. Porcupines are excellent food, as are both beaver and muskrat.
All are easily obtained. The porcupine, beaver, and muskrat when found on land,
can be easily killed with sticks.
k. Ground Squirrels. Ground squirrels
abound in most cold areas and are easy to catch. They can be easily dug out of
their burrows. They are especially common along streams with sandy banks.
All birds and their eggs found in cold regions are edible. Certain
nonmigratory birds are found in cold regions in wintertime. Several species of
grouse, like the ruffed, sharp tail, spruce, and ptarmigan (which turn white in
winter) are common. To obtain the greatest food value from birds, they should
be plucked rather than skinned.
Fish form a large part of the native diet in cold regions and are
almost the entire diet of work dogs in these areas. Along the coast, salmon, tomcod,
flounder, sculpin, sand sharks, herring and other fish are found. Inland waters
yield salmon, several varieties of whitefish, blackfish, and suckers. All fish
and shellfish are edible, with the exception of the black mussel. Mussels from
Pacific waters should be avoided entirely. Mussels are easily distinguished from
clams and oysters by their orange-pink flesh. Shellfish can be cooked by boiling
them in water.
Water points, operated by Corps of Engineer personnel, offer the
best source of water supply for all troop units in any area and in any season.
Under normal operating conditions, an Engineer unit with a water point capability
will be attached to task forces of brigade size or larger. Engineer water point
operations under cold weather conditions are discussed in FM 31–71. This paragraph,
together with paragraphs 3–31 and 3–56 offers possible solutions
to the problem
of water supply that confronts individuals and small detachments operating in
isolated areas away from normal support activities.
a. Water is plentiful
in most cold regions in one form or another. Potential sources are streams, lakes
and ponds, glaciers, freshwater ice, and last year’s sea ice. Freshly frozen sea
ice is salty, but year-old sea ice has had the salt leached out. It is well to
test freshly frozen ice when looking for water. In some areas, where tidal action
and currents are small, there is a layer of fresh water lying on top of the ice;
the lower layers still contain salt. In some cases, this layer of fresh water
may be 50 to 100 cm (20" to 40") in depth.
b. If possible,
water should be obtained from running streams or lakes rather than by melting
ice or snow. Melting ice or snow to obtain water is a slow process and consumes
large quantities of fuel, 17 cubic inches of uncompacted snow, when melted, yields
only 1 cubic inch of water. In winter a hole may be cut through the ice of a stream
or lake to get water; the hole is then covered with snowblocks or a poncho, board,
or a ration box placed over it. Loose snow is piled on top to provide insulation
and prevent refreezing. In extremely cold weather, the waterhole should be broken
open at frequent intervals. Waterholes should be marked with a stick or other
marker which will not be covered by drifting snow. Water is abundant during the
summer in lakes, ponds, or rivers. The milky water of a glacial stream is not
harmful. It should stand in a container until the coarser sediment settles. c.
In winter or summer, water obtained from ponds, lakes and streams must be purified
by chemical treatment, use of iodine tablets or in emergencies by boiling.
During chemical, biological, and/or nuclear warfare, precautions should be taken
against using contaminated water sources. In general, cold weather conditions
tend to prolong or conceal contamination hazards, and unexpected contamination
may thus be encountered. When snow or ice is thawed to
provide water supplies,
detection tests should be conducted during or after the melting operation, since
frozen contamination may not be detectable. Radiological contamination which has
been covered with snow or ice may or may not show up on radiac instruments, depending
upon the thickness of the cover. Boiling or treating with water purification tablets
has no effect on radioactive contaminants in water. In emergencies, water suspected
of radiological contamination may be filtered through a 15 cm (6") column
of loose dirt and then chlorinated or iodinated. Purification of water showing,
or suspected of containing, chemical contamination should not be attempted.
After the water is obtained, the problem of transporting and storing it arises.
Units operating in the field under cold weather conditions may store water in
5-gallon water cans with insulated covers, or other similar type containers for
use by small detachments or individuals. Immersion-type heaters may be used to
prevent freezing of water supply tanks. Some points to be remembered are-
Transportation of water by wheeled vehicles in barren, sparsely settled areas
under snow and ice conditions is practicable only when there is a road net established.
The best way to transport water in cold regions is by the use of track-laying
vehicles which are not dependent on roads for maneuverability. If 5-gallon cans
are used to carry water, they are filled only three-quarters full to allow agitation
of the water and help prevent freezing while in transit. Cans are stored off the
floor in heated shelters as soon as they are delivered. Sledmounted, 250- to 300-gallon
water tanks in which immersion-type heaters have been installed have proved satisfactory.
For small units of two to four men, the 5-gallon insulated food container is satisfactory
for water storage. These can be filled at night and will hold enough water for
the next day’s needs for about four men. The insulation of these containers is
sufficient to keep water from freezing for as long as 40 hours at an ambient temperature
of –20° F., if the temperature of the water was at boiling point when the
container was filled.
Types of Ice and Snow
a. When water is not available from other
sources, it must be obtained by melting snow or ice. To conserve fuel, ice is
preferable when available; if snow must be used, the most compact snow in the
area should be obtained. Snow should be gathered only from areas that have not
been contaminated by animals, humans, or toxic agents.
b. Ice sources
are frozen lakes, rivers, ponds, glaciers, icebergs, or old sea ice. Old sea ice
is rounded where broken and is likely to be pitted and to have pools on it. Its
underwater part has a bluish appearance. Fresh sea ice has a milky appearance
and is angular in shape when broken. Water obtained by melting snow or ice may
be purified by use of water purification tablets, providing it has not been contaminated
by toxic agents.
c. If chemical, biological, or radiological contamination
is detected, procedures as outlined in paragraph 3-30 d will be followed.
Procedures for Melting Snow and Ice
a. Burning the bottom of a
pot used for melting snow can be avoided by “priming.” Place a small quantity
of water in the pot and add snow gradually. If water is not available, the pot
should be held near the source of heat and a small quantity of snow melted in
the bottom before filling it with snow.
b. The snow should be compacted
in the melting pot and stirred occasionally to prevent burning the bottom of the
c. Pots of snow or ice should be left on the stove when not being
used for cooking so as to have water available when needed.
or ice to be melted should be placed just outside the shelter and brought in as
e. In an emergency, an inflated air mattress can be used to
obtain water. The mattress is placed in the sun at a slight inclined angle. The
mattress, because of its dark color, will be warmed by the sun. Light, fluffy
snow thrown on this warm surface will melt and run down the creases of the mattress
where it may be caught in a canteen cup or other suitable container.
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