As Seen In: USA Today, Discovery Channel, US News & World Report


The soldier trained to fight and survive in a mountain environment will have increased confidence in himself. Training should include: psychological preparation, locating water, shelter considerations, fire building, health hazards, and techniques for obtaining food (see FM 21-76).

Water Supply

Mountain water should never be assumed safe for consumption. Training in water discipline should be emphasized to ensure soldiers drink water only from approved sources. Fluids lost through respiration, perspiration, and urination must be replaced if the soldier is to operate efficiently.

a. Maintaining fluid balance is a major problem in mountain operations. The sense of thirst may be dulled by high elevations despite the greater threat of dehydration. Hyperventilation and the cool, dry atmosphere bring about a three- to four-fold increase in water loss by evaporation through the lungs. Hard work and overheating increase the perspiration rate. The soldier must make an effort to drink liquids even when he does not feel thirsty. One quart of water, or the equivalent, should be drunk every four hours; more should be drunk if the unit is conducting rigorous physical activity.

b. Three to six quarts of water each day should be consumed. About 75 percent of the human body is liquid. All chemical activities in the body occur in water solution, which assists in removing toxic wastes and in maintaining an even body temperature. A loss of two quarts of body fluid (2.5 percent of body weight) decreases physical efficiency by 25 percent, and a loss of 12 quarts (15 percent of body weight) is usually fatal. Salt lost by sweating should be replaced in meals to avoid a deficiency and subsequent cramping. Consuming the usual military rations (three meals a day) provides sufficient sodium replacement. Salt tablets are not necessary and may contribute to dehydration.

c. Even when water is plentiful, thirst should be satisfied in increments. Quickly drinking a large volume of water may actually slow the soldier. If he is hot and the water is cold, severe cramping may result. A basic rule is to drink small amounts often. Pure water should always be kept in reserve for first aid use. Emphasis must be placed on the three rules of water discipline:

  • Drink only treated water.
  • Conserve water for drinking. Potable water in the mountains may be in short supply.
  • Do not contaminate or pollute water sources.

d. Snow, mountain streams, springs, rain, and lakes provide good sources of water supply. Purification must be accomplished, however, no matter how clear the snow or water appears. Fruits, juices, and powdered beverages may supplement and encourage water intake (do not add these until the water has been treated since the purification tablets may not work). Soldiers cannot adjust permanently to a decreased water intake. If the water supply is insufficient, physical activity must be reduced. Any temporary deficiency should be replaced to maintain maximum performance.

e. All water that is to be consumed must be potable. Drinking water must be taken only from approved sources or purified to avoid disease or the possible use of polluted water. Melting snow into water requires an increased amount of fuel and should be planned accordingly. Nonpotable water must not be mistaken for drinking water. Water that is unfit to drink, but otherwise not dangerous, may be used for other purposes such as bathing. Soldiers must be trained to avoid wasting water. External cooling (pouring water over the head and chest) is a waste of water and an inefficient means of cooling. Drinking water often is the best way to maintain a cool and functioning body.

f. Water is scarce above the timberline. After setting up a perimeter (patrol base, assembly area, defense), a watering party should be employed. After sundown, high mountain areas freeze, and snow and ice may be available for melting to provide water. In areas where water trickles off rocks, a shallow reservoir may be dug to collect water (after the sediment settles). Water should be treated with purification tablets (iodine tablets or calcium hypochlorite), or by boiling at least one to two minutes. Filtering with commercial water purification pumps can also be conducted. Solar stills may be erected if time and sunlight conditions permit (see FM 21-76). Water should be protected from freezing by storing it next to a soldier or by placing it in a sleeping bag at night. Water should be collected at midday when the sun thaw available.


Success in mountain operations depends on proper nutrition. Because higher altitudes affect eating habits, precautions must be taken. If possible, at least one hot meal each day should be eaten, which may require personnel to heat their individual rations.

a. The following elements are characteristic of nutritional acclimatization in mountain operations:

  • Weight loss during the first two to three days at high elevation.
  • A loss of appetite with symptoms of mountain sickness.
  • Loss of weight usually stops with acclimatization.
  • At progressively higher elevations (greater than 14,000 feet), the tolerance of fatty/high-protein foods rapidly decreases. A high carbohydrate diet may lessen the symptoms of acute mountain sickness and is digested better than fat at high altitudes.

b. Increased fatigue may cause soldiers to become disinterested in eating properly. Decreased consumption may result in malnutrition because of the unpleasant taste of cold rations. Leaders should ensure that fuel tablets and squad stoves are available, or that natural flammable materials are used if possible. Although there is no physiological need for hot food, it does increase morale and a sense of well being. Loss of weight in the first few days occurs because of dehydration, metabolic changes, and loss of appetite. Carbohydrate-containing beverages, such as fruit juices and sports drinks, are an effective means of increasing carbohydrates, energy, and liquid intake when the normal appetite response is blunted at altitude.

c. Three major food components are required to maintain a well-functioning body: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. These food components provide energy, amino acids, vitamins, fiber, and minerals. All three components must be provided in the correct proportions to maintain a healthy body.

(1) Protein. Proteins consist of a large number of amino acid units that are linked together to form the protein. The amino acids, resulting from digestion of protein, are absorbed through the intestine into the blood, and are used to make or replace body proteins (muscle and body tissue). Sources of readily useable animal proteins include eggs, milk, cheese, poultry, fish, and meats. Other foods such as cereals, vegetables, and legumes also provide amino acids. These proteins are not as balanced in essential amino acid composition as meat, eggs, or milk proteins. The minimum daily protein requirement, regardless of physical activity, is 8 ounces for a 154-pound man. Since amino acids are either oxidized for energy or stored as fats, consuming excess protein is inefficient and may increase the water intake needed for urea nitrogen excretion. Protein requires water for digestion and may facilitate dehydration. Proteins provide the body about four kilocalories of energy per gram and require the most energy for the body to digest.

(2) Fats. Fats are the most concentrated form of food energy. Of the total daily caloric intake, 25 to 30 percent may be supplied as fats. Main sources of fats are meats, nuts, butter, eggs, milk, and cheese. Fats require more water and oxygen, and are harder to digest at higher altitudes. Fats are the body’s natural stored source of energy. Fats provide the body around 9 kilocalories of energy per gram and require less energy for the body to digest than protein but more than carbohydrates.

(3) Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are an important source of calories. In the form of glucose, carbohydrates are found in the most important energy-producing cycles in the body’s cells. If carbohydrate intake exceeds energy needs, moderate amounts are stored in the muscles and liver. Larger amounts are converted into fats and stored in that form. Carbohydrates should compose up to 50 percent of the total daily caloric intake. Nutritionally, the most useful sources of carbohydrates are foods such as unrefined grains, vegetables, and fruit. Carbohydrates provide the body around four kilocalories of energy per gram and are the easiest to digest.

(4) Vitamins. Vitamins are classified into two groups on the basis of their ability to dissolve in fat or water. The fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K. The water-soluble vitamins include the B vitamins and vitamin C, which are found in cereals, vegetables, fruits, and meats. A well-balanced diet provides all of the required vitamins. Since most water-soluble vitamins are not stored, a proper diet is necessary to ensure adequate levels of these vitamins. If an improper and unbalanced diet is likely to occur during a deployment, vitamin supplements should be considered, especially if this period is to exceed 10 days.

(5) Minerals. Mineral elements can be divided into two groups: those needed in the diet in amounts of 100 milligrams or more a day such as calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium; and trace elements needed in amounts of only a few milligrams a day such as iodine, iron, and zinc. Required minerals are contained in a balanced diet (meats, vegetables, fruits).

d. Eating a balanced diet provides the energy needed to conduct daily activities and to maintain the internal body processes. A balanced diet containing adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals ensures an efficient metabolism. Since climbing is a strenuous activity and demands high-energy use, a balanced diet is a necessity.

(1) The efficiency of the body to work above the basal metabolism varies from 20 to 40 percent, depending on the soldier. Over 50 percent of caloric intake is released as heat and is not available when the soldier works. (About 4,500 calories are expended for strenuous work and 3,500 calories for garrison activity.) Heat is a by-product of exertion. Exertion causes excessive bodily heat loss through perspiration and increased radiation. During inactivity in cold weather, the metabolism may not provide enough heat. The "internal thermostat" initiates and causes the muscles to shiver, thus releasing heat. Shivering also requires energy and burns up to 220 calories per hour (estimated for a 100-pound man).

(2) With an abrupt ascent to high altitudes, the soldier experiences physiological acclimatization. The circulatory system labors to provide the needed oxygen to the body. Large meals require the digestive system to work harder than usual to assimilate food. Large meals may be accompanied by indigestion, shortness of breath, cramps, and illness. Therefore, relatively light meals that are high in carbohydrates are best while acclimatizing at higher elevations. Personnel should eat moderately and rest before strenuous physical activity. Since fats and protein are harder to digest, less digestive disturbances may occur if meals are eaten before resting. A diet high in carbohydrates is not as dense in energy and may require eating more often. Carbohydrates, beginning in the morning and continuing through mid-afternoon, are important in maintaining energy levels.

(3) Extra food should be carried in case resupply operations fail. Food should be lightweight and easy to digest, and be eaten hot or cold. Meals-ready-to-eat (MREs) meet these criteria and provide all of the basic food groups. Commanders may consider supplementing MREs with breakfast bars, fruits, juices, candies, cereal bars, and chocolate. Bouillon cubes can replace water and salt as well as warming cold bodies and stimulating the appetite. Hot beverages of soup, juices, powdered milk, and cider should also be considered. Since coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are diuretics, the consumption of these beverages should not be relied upon for hydration.

(4) Warm meals should be provided when possible. When cooking, the heat source must be kept away from equipment and ammunition. At higher elevations, the cooking time may be doubled. To conserve fuel, stoves, fires, and fuel tablets should be protected from the wind. Extra fuel should be stored in tightly sealed, marked, metal containers. Use stoves and heat tabs for warming food and boiling water. Canteen cups and utensils should be cleaned after use. All food items and garbage are carried with the unit. If possible, garbage should be burned or deep buried. Caution must be taken to prevent animals from foraging through rucksacks, ahkios, and burial sites. As all missions are tactical, no trace of a unit should be detected.

(5) Certain drugs, medications, alcohol, and smoking have adverse effects on the circulation, perspiration, hydration, and judgment of soldiers. Therefore, they should be avoided when operating in extremely cold conditions or at high altitudes.

Personal Hygiene and Sanitation

The principles of personal hygiene and sanitation that govern operations on low terrain also apply in the mountains. Commanders must conduct frequent inspections to ensure that personal habits of hygiene are not neglected. Standards must be maintained as a deterrent to disease, and as reinforcement to discipline and morale.

a. Personal Hygiene. This is especially important in the high mountains, mainly during periods of cold weather. In freezing weather, the soldier may neglect washing due to the cold temperatures and scarcity of water. This can result in skin infections and vermin infestation. If bathing is difficult for any extended period, the soldier should examine his skin and clean it often. Snow baths in lieu of a water bath are recommended. This helps reduce skin infections and aids the comfort of the soldier.

(1) Snow may be used instead of toilet paper. Soldiers should shave at rest periods in the shelter so that oils stripped in shaving will be replenished. A beard may mask the presence of frostbite or lice. Water-based creams and lotions should be avoided in cold environments since this will further dehydrate tissues and induce frostbite by freezing. The nonwater-based creams can be used for shaving in lieu of soap. Sunscreens and chap sticks should be used on lips, nose, and eyelids. Topical steroid ointments should be carried for rashes. The teeth must also be cleaned to avoid diseases of the teeth and gums. Underwear should be changed when possible, but this should not be considered a substitute for bathing. When operating in areas where resupply is not possible, each soldier should carry a complete change of clothing. If laundering of clothing is difficult, clothes should be shaken and air-dried. Sleeping bags must be regularly cleaned and aired.

(2) The principles of foot hygiene must be followed to protect the feet from cold injuries. The causes of such injuries are present throughout the year in high mountains. Boots should be laced tightly when climbing to provide needed support but not so tight as to constrict circulation. Socks should be worn with no wrinkles since this causes blisters on the feet. Feet should be washed daily, and kept as dry and clean as possible. If regular foot washing is impossible, socks should be changed often (at halts and rest periods or at least once a day) and feet massaged, dried, and sprinkled with foot powder. Talc or antifungal powder should be used when massaging; excess powder is brushed off to avoid clumping, which may cause blisters. Feet can be cleaned with snow, but must be quickly dried. Whenever changing socks, soldiers should closely examine their feet for wrinkles, cracks, blisters, and discoloration. Nails should be trimmed but not too short. Long nails wear out socks; short nails do not provide proper support for the ends of the toes. Medical attention should be sought for any possible problems.

(3) Feet should be sprayed two or three times a day with an aluminum chlorohydrate antiperspirant for a week and then once a day for the rest of the winter. If fissures or cracks occur in the feet, it is best to discontinue spraying until they are healed or to spray less often to control sweating. This process stops about 70 percent of the sweating in the feet.

(4) During periods of extreme cold, there is a tendency for the soldier to become constipated. This condition is brought about by the desire to avoid the inconvenience and discomfort of defecating. Adequate water intake plus a low protein, high roughage diet can be helpful in preventing constipation.

b. Sanitation. In rocky or frozen ground, digging latrines is usually difficult. If latrines are constructed, they should be located downwind from the position and buried after use. In tactical situations, the soldier in a designated, downwind location away from water sources may dig "cat holes." Since waste freezes, it can be covered with snow and ice or pushed down a crevasse. In rocky areas above the timberline, waste may be covered with stones.

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