Cold weather survival offers many challenges compared to other environments, but one of the perks, if you want to call it that, is the abundance of fresh water to be had in the form of snow.
Since snow is just frozen water, it stands to reason that you could simply eat it to help rehydrate your body when in a pinch. Is the answer to the question really that simple, can you really eat snow in a survival situation?
Yes, you can eat snow in a survival situation but be sure to melt it first. Also be sure the snow is white, otherwise it may be contaminated.
Though snow consists of fresh water, its low temperature will significantly lower your body temperature when ingested, making you more vulnerable to hypothermia, and may be contaminated at the same as any other natural water source. Ideally snow will be melted and processed before consumption.
However, it isn’t all bad news and abundant snow along with a little bit of ingenuity can in fact provide you with a nearly limitless supply of fresh drinking water in cold, snowy environments. We will talk more about the issues with eating snow directly as well as what you should do to make it safe to consume below.
You Should Not Eat Snow As-Is
Bottom line, you should not eat snow directly in order to rehydrate unless you are truly desperate for water, and even then under the circumstances it might well do more harm than good.
Sure, snow is composed of fresh water and the texture lends itself to eating out of hand or using other utensils, but this is a classic survival example of “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Eating snow will provide you with a boost to hydration, but the deleterious effects on your body in other ways mean that it is almost certainly a bad call.
Not for nothing, taking repeated gulps of snow without warming it up is going to start numbing the tissues of your mouth and your teeth in very short order, and that will be quite painful.
What will happen to you if you decide to eat snow anyway? Keep reading to find out.
Eating Snow Lowers Your Body Temperature
The most obvious side effect of eating snow is the reduction in body temperature that will accompany it. Snow is nothing but frozen water, and turning that water from a solid back into a liquid requires a raise in temperature.
Your body is quite warm, especially near its core, so this will do the trick but the trade-off is that you will start cooling off literally from the inside out.
This is no good at all. Any place that is cold enough to produce snow or support snowfall on the ground without melting quickly is cold enough to kill you if you are unable to stay warm.
By lowering your body temperature in exchange for turning snow back into liquid water you’ll be trading one survival priority against another. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but under the circumstances when you have much better options for consuming snow it is foolish.
Also, preppers must know that exposure kills quicker than dehydration almost every time…
Exposure is a Certain Killer in Cold Environments
When discussing survival priorities, most preppers place water at the very, very top assuming they don’t include air on their list of consumables among water, food, ammo and medicine. But when you’re strictly discussing these survival priorities, shelter actually deserves a higher place than water believe it or not.
You can only be able to go a couple of minutes without any air to breathe, and a few days without any water to drink, but you might last only a couple of hours one exposed to a truly hostile environment, particularly a cold environment.
Accordingly, staying on top of regulating your body temperature is absolutely paramount whenever you are outdoors, and it is doubly important in cold environments.
Knowing that, do you really want to start chilling your body from the inside out by eating snow? You might be bundled up with the best cold weather gear that money can buy, but if you are literally putting a cold substance inside your body you’ll be confounding all of your defenses against it!
So, how do we make use of snow for drinking water in these cold areas?
First Melt the Snow, then Drink
All you need to know to make your snow easier and safer to drink is to melt it first. Raising the temperature of the snow means it will turn from a solid to a liquid and, more importantly, won’t be quite so cold when you drink it.
The fastest and best way to do this is by simply packing a flameproof vessel with plenty of pristine snow and then setting it on or near your campfire to warm it up and melt it rapidly.
This will also significantly raise the temperature of the resulting water and reduce the chilling effect that you’ll experience when drinking it.
But if you are away from camp or don’t have a fire going for whatever reason, you still have options for melting snow and raising the temperature significantly, so don’t despair.
Field Expedient Methods for Melting Snow
There are several good ways to melt snow without the benefit of a fire at all. One of my favorite methods involves packing snow into a water bottle or even a gallon sized freezer bag before stashing it in an interior pocket where your body heat can melt it while keeping the cold mass off of your skin or innermost layer.
This takes time, but is reliable and easy to implement when on the move especially if you have multiple bags or bottles that you can fill.
Another good option is to place the snow in a transparent container and then set it out on a backer material off of the cold ground where it can receive full sunlight. A shiny metallic or foil surface is ideal for this since the reflected radiation will speed up the melting of the snow.
Other than this, you might look for melting ice or rivulets of melting snow anywhere in the environment when temperatures are warming for any reason. Setting up a rainwater collection system type of apparatus can easily gather and direct this melting water into any appropriate container.
No fire, no problem!
Snow Melt May Be Contaminated
There’s a reason why melting the snow via fire is the ideal option, and this is because it will eventually heat up and then boil the resulting water, purifying it of any hostile microorganisms.
Yes, I am trying to say that the pristine and beautifully white snow you are collecting to convert into drinking water could be contaminated with hostile gribbly germs the same as any other natural water source.
Accordingly, boiling it for safety and then allowing it to cool before filtering it just like you normally do is a great idea. Anything that the snow has been in contact with, anything that has fallen on it, walked through it or otherwise been deposited on it can contaminate the resulting water.
These are things you might not notice when you are scooping up snow willy-nilly and you shouldn’t need me to tell you to avoid any dirty looking or nasty, slushy snow melt unless you have no other choice.
However, by taking some smart steps it is possible to get fresh water from pristine snow that will be about as safe as any natural source you are likely to find.
Look for pristine, fresh snow that has just fallen, and take care to skim this snow off of the surface without disturbing the ground or other substrate below.
Alternatively, setting up a thin, flexible ground cover when you are experiencing snowfall is a great way to prevent it from touching the ground entirely.
You can eat snow to rehydrate, but this is generally a poor option owing to the fact that it will significantly lower your body temperature and make you far more vulnerable to hypothermia.
Ideally snow will be melted and warmed significantly before drinking as water. With a little bit of discipline and the right knowledge, fresh snow can prove to be quite an asset when you need water in a survival situation.