Winter survival is no joke. You’re fighting against all the same elements of man and nature you would be during the spring, summer, and fall… except now it’s 20 degrees out at high noon and there’s snow falling a foot at a time making everything even more difficult.
Of course, one of the most basic challenges of any survival effort is making sure you have enough water. You can go a lot longer without food than you can without water. Fortunately, the winter months can provide a long-lasting, ready-made source of water in the form of snow. The problem is that melting and drinking snow isn’t as simple as… well, melting and drinking snow.
The Challenges Of Drinking Snow
Snow is frozen, water, sure. Still, there are problems that come with drinking melted snow. None of these are insurmountable challenges, but they do come with life-or-death consequences if you misjudge things. So here’s what you need to be thinking about if you’re thinking about drinking some snow:
- Purity: All jokes about “not eating the yellow snow” aside, snow can contain a number of impurities from the atmosphere it falls through as well as the surface it lands on. All of this can make it unsafe for you and your family to drink.
- Yield: Snow isn’t going to be as hydrating as you might think. All told, there’s not a ton of water inside of snow. So you need to be mindful of the fact that you’re probably not getting as much hydration as you might like.
- Body Temperature: Drinking snow when it’s too cold (or worse, simply eating it) can have serious consequences on your body’s core temperature that can quickly turn deadly.
- Energy Requirements: You’re going to need a heat source to melt snow and that requires energy… something that can be in short supply in any survival scenario.
The Risk of Contaminants
Contaminants are a serious risk when it comes to snow. There are airborne pollutants to worry about, but also microorganisms that can live in the snow and make you sick. It’s important to address both of these concerns when purifying your snow water.
Chemical pollutants are more a thing to be avoided than a thing to be taken out. So avoid collecting your snow near industrial areas or places known for their heavy traffic. These areas are far more likely to have snow containing heavy metals and other industrial chemical pollutants.
Beyond chemical industrial pollutants, there’s the very real issue of microorganisms in the snow. Generally, snow is free of such contaminants, but it can acquire them, usually through surface contact. This is why it’s important not just to melt the snow, but to boil it, removing all the pollutants.
Proper snow collection begins with location selection. Again, you want to avoid potentially contaminated areas. Then you want to scrape off the top layer of snow, which is the one most likely to contain these potentially deadly impurities.
Melting Your Snow For Survival
It goes without saying that melting snow requires some kind of a heat source. Even in a survival situation, where the grid has entirely collapsed (and civilization along with it), you’re going to have a few options for turning your snow into drinkable water.
- Portable Stoves: Camping stoves are a helpful, though not strictly speaking, necessary part of any bugout bag.
- Campfire: Campfires might be your best option, as they can be built just about anywhere with light and portable tools.
- Solar Melting: It’s not the quickest method, you might have trouble getting it to a boiling point and you’re going to need some sunshine. But you can, in a pinch, melt snow using the reflective power of the sun.
Don’t Die For A Drink: Purifying Your Melted Snow
Once the snow has been melted you’re going to need to, at the very least, filter it. Purification with tablets or through boiling is a better option, but filtration is absolutely better than nothing.
Hand-held water filters are cheap and readily available just about anywhere these days. What’s more, they’re highly effective at removing bacteria and protozoa from the water, which makes your chances of ingesting some debilitating or deadly parasite much better than simply drinking whatever you’ve managed to heat up to room temperature.
Water purification tablets and drops are likewise easy to come by and inexpensive these days.
Both of these are great, but at the risk of belaboring the point, nothing is going to do quite the job that boiling will.
If you find yourself in a winter survival scenario, be it getting lost in the woods on a ski trip or facing down the end of the world as we know it, knowing how to properly and safely melt and then purify snow for drinking water is one of the most valuable skills you can possess. What’s more, it’s not a difficult one to acquire at all, making the investment of time and energy versus the reward an absolute no-brainer.
Do you have any other secrets about staying hydrated in a winter survival scenario? Share your knowledge in the thoughts below.