The Alaskan wilderness is a beautiful yet unforgiving landscape that can push even the most experienced adventurers to their limits. Knowing how to survive in such challenging conditions is essential for anyone venturing into this vast region.

Preparation is key to surviving in the wilds of Alaska, so it is important to equip oneself with adequate knowledge and resources before embarking on any journey. The state’s unpredictable weather conditions and potential for encounters with wildlife are just a few of the factors one needs to be aware of.

Here’s my take on surviving wilderness in Alaska.

Preparing for Your Journey

Researching the Area

When planning a trip to the Alaskan wilderness, it’s vital to research the area you will be visiting. Familiarize yourself with the local terrain, wildlife, and potential hazards (such as extreme weather or dangerous animals). 

Consult topographical maps and read up on local travel tips and guidelines designed for the area you will be exploring. Doing so will provide you with invaluable insights into the unique challenges you may face and help you better prepare for your journey.

Packing Essential Gear

Having the proper gear can make all the difference when it comes to surviving in the region. Some essential gear items include:

  • Non-cotton clothing layers: Alaska’s weather is unpredictable, and dressing in non-cotton layers can help keep you warm and dry.
  • Rain gear: Waterproof jackets and pants are essential for staying dry during sudden downpours.
  • Hats and gloves: Even during the summertime, these items help stay warm and protect against the elements.
  • Sturdy footwear: Invest in a pair of waterproof boots or shoes with good traction for navigating potentially challenging terrain.
  • A reliable compass and topographical map: These navigation tools can help you stay on track even if you lose the GPS signal or have limited reception.
  • A headlamp or flashlight: Having a reliable light source is crucial, especially if you need to navigate or perform tasks in the dark.

Acquiring Wilderness Survival Skills

survival tips and tricks in the wilderness

Before heading out into the wilderness in Alaska, it’s important to acquire basic wilderness survival skills such as:

  • Fire building: Knowing how to build a fire is essential for warmth, cooking, and signaling. Choose fire locations away from snow-laden branches to avoid extinguishing your fire.
  • Shelter construction: Learn how to build different types of shelters, such as quinzhees or leaf huts, depending on the terrain and weather conditions.
  • Water purification: Understand how to treat and purify water using various methods, including boiling, filtration, and chemical treatment.
  • Basic first aid: Familiarize yourself with how to treat common injuries and illnesses you may encounter in the wild.
  • Signaling for help: Learn how to use flares, mirrors, or smoke signals to catch the attention of rescuers should you become lost or injured.

By equipping yourself with the right knowledge, gear, and survival skills, you’ll be better prepared to face any challenges.

Navigating the Alaskan Wilderness

It is fair to say that Alaska offers vast and breathtaking wilderness areas that are home to diverse wildlife, stunning landscapes, and unique activities. Navigating the Alaskan wilderness can be pretty challenging, but with the right knowledge and resources, one can do so safely and effectively.

Reading Maps and Using a Compass

Learning to read maps and use a compass is essential when traveling through the Alaskan wildlife. Topographic maps can provide valuable information about the surrounding terrain, such as elevation changes, bodies of water, and distinguishing features. Familiarizing oneself with map symbols and grid systems can aid in accurate navigation.

While many individuals rely on GPS devices nowadays, having a compass as a backup is crucial, as batteries can fail in frigid temperatures. To use a compass properly, one should learn to determine true north, take bearings, and follow a path to reach the desired destination.

Recognizing Landmarks and Terrain Features

In the vast expanses of the Alaskan wilderness, recognizing landmarks and terrain features can be invaluable in ensuring a successful journey. These natural indicators can help travelers keep their bearings and identify their current location.

For example, rivers, streams, and lakes are frequently found in Alaska, and identifying these bodies of water can aid in navigation. Mountain peaks, valleys, and ridges are also useful features to keep track of, especially when visible from various vantage points. Travelers should be cautious to avoid building a shelter at the base of an incline due to the risk of snowdrifts and avalanches.

By learning to read maps, use a compass, and recognize natural landmarks, travelers can ensure safer navigation through the Alaskan wilderness. These skills, paired with preparedness, knowledge of the terrain, and understanding of the unpredictability of the weather, can help one embark on an unforgettable and secure adventure in the beautiful and wild Alaskan landscape.

Finding Food and Water

Identifying Edible Plants

In the Alaskan wilderness, knowing which plants are safe for consumption is crucial. Some common edible plants to look for include berries, such as blueberries or salmonberries, and leafy greens, like dandelion or fireweed.

Make sure to study these plants and carry a plant identification guide while embarking on your journey. It’s essential to be cautious and avoid unidentified plants, as some can be poisonous and cause harm when ingested.

Hunting and Fishing Techniques

Surviving in the Alaskan wilderness requires skills in hunting and fishing. It is crucial to familiarize yourself with the techniques and tools available, such as snares, traps, and primitive fishing methods.

Be aware of this:

You might encounter animals like rabbits, moose, deer, or fish like salmon and trout in Alaska. Make sure to follow all regulations and guidelines to avoid fines or penalties. Always treat animals ethically and humanely while honing your hunting and fishing techniques.

Locating Water Sources

Staying hydrated is critical for survival. Locating water sources in the Alaskan wilderness can be challenging but essential. Look for flowing rivers, streams, or lakes as potential freshwater sources. It’s advised to filter or boil the water before consumption, as ingesting untreated water can lead to illnesses like dysentery. You can use a metal container or find discarded bottles and cans to boil water. 

Additionally, you can collect morning dew from grasses and leaves with a clean cloth and squeeze it into a container for emergency hydration.

Building Shelter

Selecting a Suitable Location

When building a shelter in the Alaskan jungle, the first step is to choose a suitable location. Look for a spot protected from the wind, flat or slightly sloping ground, and away from potential hazards such as falling trees, avalanches, or flooding. Additionally, consider the availability of natural resources nearby, such as water, firewood, and insulation materials like leaves or moss.

Constructing Different Types of Shelters

Various types of wilderness shelters can be built in the Alaskan wilderness, depending on the materials, weather conditions, and individual needs. Here are some examples:

  1. Quinzhee: This is a dome-shaped snow shelter made by piling snow, then digging out a hollow area inside. Make a fist-sized ventilation hole in the roof for airflow. More about it here.
  2. Leaf hut: Ideal for wet and windy weather, the leaf hut is constructed using a long, sturdy pole (thick branch) that is around 9 to 12 feet long. Leaves and branches are used to insulate and protect the interior.
  3. Tarp shelter: Quickly set up with a plastic tarp and some cordage, a tarp shelter can provide essential protection from the elements.

Can You Just Build a Cabin Anywhere in Alaska?

While building a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness may seem like a good idea for long-term survival, it is essential to consider legal issues and landownership before constructing anything permanent.\

In most cases, you can only build a cabin anywhere by obtaining proper permits and permissions from the landowner or the relevant authorities. Be sure to research the area where you plan to build and comply with any regulations and restrictions in place.

If you need clarification on whether living in the Alaskan wilderness is free, here is your answer.

Staying Warm and Dry

Dressing Appropriately

When venturing into the Alaskan wilderness, it’s essential to wear appropriate clothing to stay warm and dry in the face of unpredictable weather. Wearing non-cotton layers is crucial, as cotton tends to retain moisture, making it difficult to stay warm. Aim for three to five layers, ensuring the top layer is wind and water-resistant. Even during summer, hats and gloves are a common staple in locals’ backpack.

Maintaining Body Heat

In addition to proper clothing, it’s important to take measures to conserve body heat while in the Alaskan wilderness. Whenever possible, stay near your shelter, as straying too far could leave you stranded if there’s a sudden shift in weather. Quickly address any signs of frostbite or hypothermia by immersing affected areas in 100-105 degrees water. 

Fahrenheit or using a companion’s body warmth, as long as they do not become freezing. Another tip for staying warm is avoiding rubbing or massaging frostbitten areas, which could lead to further tissue damage.

When setting up camp, consider building a quinzhee, which is a handy alternative to an igloo. A quinzhee can be made from nearly all types of snow, so it’s easier to construct in varying conditions. Start by piling up gear under a tarp, like your backpack, as a base.

Remember, adequately preparing yourself with the proper clothing and strategies for retaining body heat will go a long way in ensuring your comfort and safety when navigating the Alaskan wilderness.

Staying Safe

Avoiding Wildlife Encounters

It’s essential for anyone venturing into the Alaskan wilderness to be aware of the local wildlife and take precautions to avoid encounters. Traveling in groups, making noise, and carrying a bear spray can help deter bears from approaching your group.

bear in Alaska

Additionally, it’s important to secure food and scented items at night, storing them at least 100 yards from your sleeping area to avoid attracting unwanted visitors.

Navigating and Overcoming Hazards

In the Alaskan wilderness, it’s crucial for adventurers to have a solid understanding of navigation tools and techniques. Carrying a topographic map, compass, and GPS device on your excursion is highly recommended. Knowing how to use them effectively can be a lifesaver if you become lost or disoriented.

Weather in Alaska can change rapidly, so it’s crucial to dress in layers and always be prepared for rain, even in the summertime. Wearing non-cotton clothing is advised to help wick moisture away from your body and keep you warmer in cold conditions.

When attempting to traverse any hazardous terrain, such as steep slopes, river crossings, or icy surfaces, take time to evaluate the situation and make informed decisions. Plan your route carefully to minimize exposure to hazards, and don’t be afraid to turn back if conditions become too dangerous.

By minimizing wildlife encounters and equipping yourself with essential navigation tools, you will be better prepared to explore and enjoy the Alaskan wilderness safely and responsibly.

Signaling for Help

Creating Visual and Audible Signals

In the Alaskan wilderness, creating effective visual and audible signals can significantly increase the chances of rescue. One useful visual signal method is to generate a signal panel, a brightly colored sheet or tarp that can be easily spotted from a distance. Signal mirrors, flares, and high-quality flashlights are also essential for creating visual signs of distress, especially in low visibility conditions such as fog or heavy snowfall.

Consider carrying a high-quality whistle for audible signals as a lightweight and effective method to attract attention. In an emergency, follow the rule of threes: if you have a firearm, fire three shots spaced five seconds apart to signal distress, giving potential rescuers time to identify and locate the sound.

Remember that noise-based signaling and visual cues can complement each other to improve the odds of being found in the vast Alaskan wilderness.

Using Emergency Communication Devices

In addition to creating visual and audible signals, it’s crucial to have emergency communication devices on hand when venturing into Alaska’s remote areas. Here are some examples of recommended devices:

  • Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs): When activated, these devices send distress signals via satellite to search and rescue organizations. Remember that they might not work in deep valleys or dense vegetation areas. Nevertheless, a PLB is an essential tool for any wilderness explorer.
  • Satellite Phones: Unlike conventional cell phones, satellite phones have better coverage in remote areas such as Alaska’s backcountry. Although they might be larger and more expensive, investing in a satellite phone can be critical in an emergency.
  • Two-Way Radios: While range can be limited and reliant on terrain, battery life, and the presence of repeaters, two-way radios can provide a vital means of communication with nearby rescue teams or other individuals that can help direct rescuers to your location.

When preparing for an expedition into the Alaskan wilderness, ensure you have the necessary tools and knowledge to create visual and audible signals and carry reliable communication devices that can operate in extreme conditions.

Being well-equipped and well-informed increases the chances of a successful rescue, ensuring a safe and memorable experience in this awe-inspiring landscape.


My name is John Winger, I was born and raised in Virginia. I spent a good part of my early adult life in the US military, namely the Army and served in Iraq. I saw my fair share of combat missions and thanks to that experience I have a better understanding and appreciate for what my country means to me and the world.