Vilhjálmur Stefánsson

Arctic Explorer & Scientist

“I was gradually broken in to native ways; by the middle of October, I had thrown away my nearly outworn woolen suit and was fur clad from head to heal, an Eskimo to the skin”
— Vilhjálmur Stefánsson

Vilhjálmur Stefánsson [1879 to 1962]

Vilhjalmur Stefansson Photo

Vilhjálmur Stefánsson was born in Gimli Manitoba and received his University Education in the US including Harvard University. Stefánsson's accomplishments are widely recognized as an explorer. He went on three expeditions into the Arctic, travelling extensively into both Canada and Alaska. He was also the last explorer to discover new lands in the Arctic. Stefánsson learned well from both the people he met in the arctic and the experience he had there.

Stefánsson recognized the unique qualities of the Inuit culture and scientific achievements in cold weather clothing. He was the first to show that the Inuit had invented "Modern Cold Weather Clothing" and we would be required to copy their garment styles and invent new fabrics if we wanted to first mimic them and afterward improve on them. His work as a cold-weather scientist was far more important and therefore his work with the Inuit on these subjects is really his lasting legacy. His study of the Inuit diet is also of note as well as his lasting legacy as an arctic traveller and explorer.

“Of course our trouble had been from closing the house too tightly...we had escaped this time by a narrow margin...this...adventure was the narrowest escape we had on our whole expedition.”
— Vilhjálmur Stefánsson, My Life with the Eskimo, 1912.

He published over 20 books and hundreds of papers during his long career. Stefánsson was not without controversy both scientific and political. His exploration career was stopped short by the loss of the ship Karluk in 1914 and the Wrangel Island expedition which ended in a disastrous fiasco in 1923. Although he helped to found the US Army Cold Weather Laboratory and was a long time member of the Explorers Club he was denounced as a Communist in 1951 which basically ended any hope of renewed interest in his excellent work.

“The perfection of Eskimo garments comes through the skill of the maker rather than though special processes.”
— Vilhjálmur Stefánsson, Arctic Manual, 1945

His various articles, the Arctic Manual, along with his work on cold-weather clothing and the all-meat diet is still read today by nearly everyone studying modern wilderness survival. A knowledge of Stefánsson's work is essential for anyone who plans to make a serious study of cold weather wilderness survival. If you want to explore the science of survival a good place to start is a study of Vilhjalmur Stefansson and his work.

“The most striking contradiction of our civilization is the fundamental reverence for truth which we profess and the thoroughgoing disregard for it which we practice.”
— Vilhjálmur Stefánsson

Article by (, Updated 11th March 2020)
Chief Instructor of the Boreal Wilderness Institute