Best Substrate for Russian Tortoise (2021) | Buying Guide and Reviews

by Carl Crane | Updated: March 14, 2021

Some substrates are great, and others can be lethal. We will help you to choose the best russian tortoise substrate and show you exactly how to avoid the substrates that could kill your tortoise.

Using the wrong type like sand can cause gut impaction when it gets eaten, alfala substrate can irritate the tortoise’s eyes and others can be even toxic.

There can be a lot of options but some tortoise keepers have limited time and resources to be able to try them all and figure out which one works the best for their pet.

The comfort of your pet is, of course, your priority and the choice of the substrate will go a long way in ensuring that your pet stays in an environment that is as close to its natural habitat as possible.

Having the right substrate is essential in the overall health of your tortoise and so you have to get this right, just like everything else.

The first factor to consider is the location of your tortoise.

Do you want to keep it into an indoor or outdoor enclosure

No matter the choice you make, it will be in constant communication with the ground, and what it comes in contact with is very important.

We Recommend

After observing numerous russian tortoise substrates, we have a pretty firm idea of what qualities make the russian tortoise substrate, and the Zoo Med Eco Med Earth Loose Coconut Fiber Substrate it’s our top choice.

The Best Type of Substrate for a Russian Tortoise

The best substrate that you can use for a Russian tortoise is a combination of play sand and soil. 

Tortoises love to dig as it has many thermoregulatory advantages to them, the soil gives them the capacity to do so. 

While the introduction of sand helps you regulate the humidity levels. Using sand alone is a terrible decision that can lead to many problems, but in a mixture with soil, it can be used safely.

The proportion of the mixture is not random but depends on the humidity of your area. If you live in a place with high humidity, then the amount of sand you will add is a little more than someone who lives in a place with low humidity.

Generally, the substrate mixture should be 70% to 80% of the soil, and the rest of the sand.

Substrates also help in providing temperature and footing regulation.

The soils and sand you will use is nothing special than the regular ones you can find lying everywhere.

But care should be taken that the soil and sand you use is 100% natural, free from fertilizers and other chemicals. The sand also has to be relatively small in size.

For the warmer months of the year, we recommend that you use coconut fiber as a substrate material because it is good at keeping the humidity high during the dry season.

Avoid keeping them for too long as they will develop mold.

Instead, change them in a month or two just to be sure your pet stays safe. 

Constantly check them to be sure they do not get overly dry because they get dusty.

Best Substrate For Russian Tortoise

best substrate for russian tortoise

1. Zoo Med Eco Med Earth Loose Coconut Fiber Substrate

Top on our list of best substrate for Russian tortoise is this Zoo Med Eco Med Earth Loose Coconut Fiber Substrate.

Coconut fiber is one of the best types and is great in mimicking a natural habitat for your pet. It is not only ideal and loved by reptiles like your tortoise, but it is also loved by amphibians and invertebrates. 

You can regulate the moisture content if you think it is too dry by adding a little bit of water to dampen it.

It is made from coconut husks and can be used as an alternative to soil or manure. It naturally absorbs and breaks down odor and waste products in the terrarium. 



2. Reptichip Premium Coconut Substrate

The Reptichip Premium Coconut Substrate is a quality substrate that allows you to provide a comfortable and natural habitat for your Russian tortoise.

It is made of coconut chips that have been properly taken care of to be free from dust, dirt, and fiber. It is perfect for use not only with your tortoise but also amphibians and invertebrates.

Make use of a product that is easy to maintain. It is easy to clean and absorbs odor. You can regulate the humidity of your reptile’s terrarium by damping with water.

It is made completely of organic materials, making it safe for your reptile, eco-friendly and ready for use right out of the box.



3. REPTILE Prime Coconut Fiber Bedding Substrate

This is a superior product for humidity control. You can choose to use it either wet or dry, depending on the needs of your tortoise at the moment.

It is not only great for use with your Russian tortoise, but it is also great with amphibians, invertebrates, and other reptiles. For desert and tropical dwellers, you have to ensure it stays dry.

Reptile Prime Coconut Fiber Bedding Substrate has good absorbing properties and can absorb your pet’s waste, break down odor and keep the terrarium smelling fresh and clean.

It is eco-friendly and can be recycled for use as an alternative to soil or manure



4. Exo Terra Plantation Soil

This soil is made of compressed coconut fiber. It is ideal to keep the humidity levels high and meets the humidity requirements of your Russian tortoise.

It is 100% natural and totally safe for use with other pets like frogs, salamanders, and other burrowing animals.

You can recycle it for planting or as manure, and you can choose to plant on it in the terrarium. The incubation of eggs can take place here as it is hygroscopic. 

For the best life, give your pet the best products. Its needs are not so demanding and Exo Terr Plantation Soil is one of the substrates that can offer your tortoise a comfortable home away from home.



5. Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding

Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding is natural and made from cypress mulch.

This makes it a comfortable substrate for your Russian tortoise and guarantees the safety of your pet.

It is not only great for use with tortoises, but can be used in terrariums of frogs, lizards, snakes, salamanders, tarantulas, and others.

It is also great at moisture retention, regulating the humidity of the terrarium. If you desire to give your tortoise a natural-looking home, you have to look no further than this product.



Things to Look Out For In a Good Russian Tortoise Substrate

The Type of Soil

There are a lot of substrates that can be used for your Russian tortoise, but not all are good enough for use with it.

To understand its substrate needs, you have to take your mind to what its natural habitat feels like. Russian tortoises naturally live in Asia, specifically Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.

The soil is mostly clay to loam, and the PH and limestone levels are high.

So the best substrate for it would be one that is close to or the same as its native land.

The Microclimate

The microclimate of your Russian tortoise’s substrate is essential for its health. Your pet is native to semi-arid and arid land that has very low humidity.

Making a home for it with a substrate that is too humid will cause health problems. 

Humidity is not something that your tortoise can get used to and so to ensure it stays healthy and comfortable, make use of a substrate whose humidity can be regulated.

Microclimate also affects the insects and bugs that thrive in the soil. A different micro-climate means different insects and it is dangerous if the wrong insects cohabit with your tortoise.

They will cause harm and make it sick so you have to ensure that if insects appear, they will have no effect on the health of your tortoise.

Moisture Level of the Substrate

The humidity levels of a substrate for a Russian tortoise should be maintained at 30% to 50%.

Humidity is very important as it helps the tortoise maintain its body temperature. Tortoises rely on their environment for thermoregulation and so the wrong humidity level can have severe consequences.

If the humidity is too high, your tortoise will have shell rot, and if it is too low, the shell and skin will be dehydrated.

The Depth of the Substrate

Russian tortoises love to dig the soil. They dig for heat control and also for fun sometimes.

So you need to make the substrate as deep as possible to allow for this. An ideal depth would be around 6 inches. 

It is not always possible as space is a problem for some people, but make sure your substrate is no less than 2 inches deep.

This way your Russian tortoise can dig at will with no hindrances.

Tortoise Substrate Tips

  1. Maintain enough heating, with temperature ranges to allow thermoregulation
  2. Provide proper hydration through water bowls, spraying and humid hides within the enclosure
  3. Keep the food off the substrate by using dishes
  4. House the babies/hatchlings on a paper towel or reptile carpet
  5. Provide furnishings that stimulate natural behaviors like climbing, basking and foraging.
  6. Monitor the substrate for mites and mold growth
  7. When using bedding for horses or small animals, make sure you filter it and remove the sharp pieces

Types of Substrates for Tortoises

These type of substrates that are not good for your tortoise and you should avoid using. One of the reasons why you should avoid using these products is because they can cause gut impaction, eye irritation and can be toxic and provoke injuries.

Some other types of substrates that are not commonly recommended but some tortoise keepers use:

When you ask a fellow pet owner to recommend a good substrate that would be great for your tortoise, the most common and trusted substrates will be any of the following:

Commonly Asked Questions About Russian Tortoise Bedding

Q: How Often Should You Change The Substrate Of A Russian Tortoise?

Changing the substrate depends on the depth, and also the size of the terrarium. If your substrate is about 2 inches deep, then you will need to change it in 3 or 4 months. If it is 6 inches deep, then you will need to change it after 5 or 6 months.

Q: How Deep Should A Substrate Be?

Tortoises love to dig and burrow. You should keep this in mind when filling out the substrate so as to allow for this activity. The depth of your tortoise’s substrate should be anywhere from 2 inches to 6 inches.

Q: What Bedding Should I Use For My Russian Tortoise?

Since tortoises love to dig, what will come to mind is play sand. That is not a good choice as the use of sand substrate can cause many health problems.

A mixture of play sand and soil is perfect and will allow your tortoise to live happily and carry on its activities.


The overall health of your pet Russian tortoise is dependent on a number of factors, your choice of a substrate being one of them.

The endless list of choices has been narrowed down to these top 5 that provide exactly what your tortoise needs from a substrate. If you are still confused about which to choose, we would recommend Zoo Med Eco Earth Substrate

It is natural and helps keep the terrarium clean by absorbing odor and moisture. It also helps to regulate the humidity so your pet has favorable conditions. You can also choose Reptichip Premium Coconut Substrate

It is easy to use and free from harmful chemicals so your tortoise stays safe. It ensures good humidity levels and is free from dust and dirt. 

Carl, the reptile-obsessed creator of this website, got his first turtle years ago and he made a ton of mistakes along the way. His goal now with TheCritterCove is simple: help others to not make the same mistakes that he did!