Survival Skills: How to Get Drinking Water From Snow and Ice

Dripping Icicles

Water is always of the utmost concern in any survival situation, but during the winter snow and ice would seem to make finding water easy. However unless you know how to properly harvest it, all the snow in the world won’t be enough to quench your thirst!

Choosing your water source

Although most of us know not to eat the yellow snow, the truth is that even white, undisturbed snow can still contain poisons and harmful pathogens and any water gained from snow or ice should be purified properly before drinking. However, there are still some places that are cleaner to draw from in order to reduce the amount of junk in your filter or if you don’t have a filter available.Smoke carries poisons from building materials up into the air. Beware snow and ice nearby that may be contaminated!

  • Avoid any snow that looks contaminated by tracks, feces, urine, or windblown particles of dirt and debris. This will reduce the majority of potential dangers right off the bat. Be sure to check for potential runoff if the snow you’re using is in a valley or the side of a hill.Smoke carries poisons from building materials up into the air. Beware snow and ice nearby that may be contaminated!
  • If there are chemical factories, nuclear plants, or large numbers of open smoking fires treat local snowfall with extreme caution. Like rain, snow catches airborne pollutants and drags them back down to the earth. Particularly in the immediate aftermath of a major disaster, you may need to be miles away from towns where homes and other structures burn and throw poisons into the sky.
  • Icicles can be heavy in minerals and runoff from the structure it is attached to. Those icicles on your roof? Probably contaminated with some of the tar and other chemicals used in the tiles. Generally speaking I would choose snow over icicles if possible since those frozen spears are much more likely to be toxic.

How to get water from snow and ice

You melt it! Before you roll your eyes, understand that the key is in how to properly melt the frozen substances into usable water without dying from heat loss first. You see, although just popping some snow in your mouth will eventually give you water to drink it will also drain massive amounts of heat from your body and you will begin suffering from hypothermia much faster as a result.

However, you can still properly harness your body heat to get some drinking water without turning into a human Popsicle. If you have a water bottle, you can place a small handful or two of snow into it, place the bottle between the outer and inner layer of your clothing, and use ambient heat to melt that small amount. Generally speaking, if you actually become chilled by the bottle you should move it to the next layer outward in order to minimize heat loss. This small amount of water can then be used to help melt more snow, and the more water you slowly acquire the more snow you can melt until the bottle is full.

The more water you have, the more snow you can melt at once!

The more water you have, the more snow you can melt at once!

Alternatively, you can put the snow into a heat-resistant container and melt it with a fire or camping stove. Again, melting a small amount of water first and then adding successively larger amounts of snow as you get more water will speed up the melting process. This has the added advantage of allowing you to boil the water which will reduce the number of pathogens left alive.

Preserving water you have acquired

Keeping this water from freezing again can be simple if you are able to keep that bottle close to your body heat or if you keep your fire going, but if you need to leave water behind for later in the day you may have to improvise.

The key to keeping water from freezing is insulation, slowing down the cooling process by trapping heat near the bottle or other container. Since your jacket and other warm clothing will be needed to keep you warm and insulated, you can use fluff from cattails, dried grasses, and leaves to cover the bottle and keep it warm. For best results, digging a hole just deep enough for the container and packing that hole with insulation can greatly extend the time before freezing. Depending on the outside temperatures, you can keep your newly acquire water from freezing for up to several hours.

Clean, drinkable water is hard to find even in the best of circumstances, but with these simple tricks you can greatly expand your ability to gather some even in the depths of icy winter.


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