A little planning and preparation can save your day in many situations. The winter bison hunts and Dempster Highway caribou hunts are true examples of the extremes in planning and preparation when it comes to snowmobile travel. Some operators, who realize that bad things can happen, carry survival equipment. Others take off without so much as a shovel. Dempster Highway hunts usually take place over short distances, but even still, if you break down or end up injured a few miles from the road when darkness approaches, it can be a stressful situation. The tundra all looks the same and darkness makes it worse.

Winter bison hunts tend to take place in forested areas except when you climb up into the subalpine, where firewood is minimal and snow depth makes walking out impossible. Hunters on day trips often set off with little or no equipment, as they plan to return later the same day. “It can’t happen to me” seems to be the mantra for many of these hunters. But what happens when a machine breaks down, gets stuck in overflow, goes through the ice or you shoot a bison sometime after the middle of the afternoon? Any of these events will keep you out past dark and perhaps overnight. Having survival gear in this situation is critical. All of the listed gear (except the come-along) will fit in a medium-sized pack and can be carried in the skimmer, on your back or tied to the luggage rack. The shovel, come-along and axe will fasten to the luggage rack with bungee cords, which are easier to undo than frozen rope.

Gear List

  • 20 feet and 100 feet of light, strong rope (not poly or any other rope with a memory), looped on each end. Two carabiners for use with come-along.
  • A net float with carabiner to use either rope as a rescue rope if someone goes through the ice.
  • At least one ice screw to use as an anchor point for the come-along and rope.
  • A piece of plywood the size of the floor of your skimmer to put under the track of a machine stuck in overflow.
  • A headlamp, sleeping bag, tarp (for shelter) and ropes to tie it up.
  • Fire lighting material, especially kindling such as a plastic peanut butter jar full of chainsaw chips soaked in kerosene.
  • A pot to melt snow, tea bags, soup, hot chocolate and GORP (good old reliable protein) mix of nuts, raisins, granola, etc. Each person should also have a tin mug.
  • Good quality extra socks, mitt liners and a space blanket. Plastic bags to put over your feet inside your boots. (wet or cold feet.)
  • A whole bag of air-activated hand/toe warmers. These last for up to eight hours and can be placed inside clothing. (ie: in armpits.)
  • Lighting a fire is critical in any survival situation because it keeps everyone busy doing something positive, it gets people warm, it acts as a signal, it heats water or food and the flames have a calming effect on everyone near the fire.