Can You Eat Snow to Stay Alive?


It is highly probable, with a few exceptions,  you will experience some level of significant snow precipitation where you live this year. In fact, some of the heaviest snowfall occur in many of the regions of the US and Canada. There are major cities in the US that you would not suspect receive a tremendous amount of accumulation. Cities like Rochester, New York or Quebec City, Quebec on average get one hundred or more inches of snowfall a year!

So, it is not out of the realm of possibilities you may one day find yourself stranded in a car and walking knee deep in snow too far away to walk to the nearest town or village. After a few hours, you begin to be concerned. Besides finding a source of heat,  securing some water may become a matter of life or death for you and your loved ones.

Under these circumstances, can you eat snow to stay alive?  Without drinking water for more than three days, you will eventually die of dehydration.  According to Jeff Gaffney, PhD., snow, for the most part, can be consumed with little risk to your health. It is basically distilled water and thus will keep you alive. You must be aware, however, that eating snow long term may lead towards serious medical issues.

How Much Water from Snow

Snow begins when precipitation occurring high in the atmosphere reaches a temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Celsius) or below.  If snow falls towards the ground and the ground temperature is above 32 degrees, the snow becomes rain. So the ambient air temperature must be thirty-two degrees or colder for us to experience the powdery flakes.

According to NOAA, on average, thirteen inches of snow equals one inch of rain in the US, although this ratio can vary from two inches for sleet to nearly fifty inches for very dry, powdery snow under certain conditions. So to obtain an eight-ounce glass of water you would need to collect (and melt) about 27 inches of wet snow.

It is this yearly accumulation that is a vital and significant part of our planet’s hydrologic cycle. The snow that melts each spring feed into our streams, ponds and other water reservoirs replenishing our groundwater reserves that provide our water demands.

How Much Water Do You Need to Stay Alive

According to various sources, the amount of water consumption you need for survival varies. The National Academy of Science findings state the following water intake as required for one to sustain healthy bodily function:

  • About 15.5 cups or 124 ounces (3.7 liters) of fluids for men
  • About 11.5 cups or  92 ounces (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women

And generally speaking, one normally ingest these stated water levels through daily food (20 percent of water intake on average) and beverage consumption.

It should also be noted, in a British medical study on hunger strike individuals, doctors concluded a person only needed 1.5 liters (6.3 cups or 50 ounces) of water to maintain fluid levels in the body. Of course, the person on hunger strikes typically is not engaged in physical activity and thus would lose a minimal amount of fluid. Being in the cold takes a lot of energy and water to keep the body from freezing. So it is logical to assume your water needs would be closer to those stated by the National Academy of Science.

But also be cautious.  Drinking too much water may be fatal.  There have been reports of marathon runners, overnight partiers or hot weather hikers who after being over-exposed to the hot sun or inebriated, dying from over hydrating also called hyponatremia.  Therefore, you need to monitor and spread out your water intake throughout your stranded period of time.

Importance of Water for Your Survival

There is an axiom among preppers and survivalist. It is called, The Survival Rule of Threes;

  • You can survive for 3 Minutes without air (oxygen)
  • You can survive for 3 Hours without shelter
  • You can survive for 3 Days without water
  • You can survive for 3 Weeks without food

For many, it is to their surprise that water is more important than food.  Water makes up about 60 percent of your total body weight. Every organ and cell in your system needs water for proper bodily function. Without water, or the lack of it, the following may occur;

  • Your body temperature may not maintain equilibrium causing hypothermia or hyperthermia.
  • Your electrolytes like potassium, sodium, chloride, bicarbonate may get out of whack.
  • Your joints may not work properly.
  • Your brain may swell and trigger headaches
  • Your blood pressure may increase or decrease causing fainting, dizziness, and nausea.

A person in a temperate environment with normal physical activity will lose about 2.5 liters of water through the lungs in water vapor, the skin as sweat or through urination.  Oddly, cold weather alters the mechanism that signals the body that it needs to replenish it water demands. Because the cold temperature impacts certain hormones, the brain fails to signal the thirst response making one not feel the need to drink.

Urine production is diminished thus falsely making one think no real fluid loss is occurring. So because the body is tricked into focusing on maintaining heat temperature, the importance of bodily fluid balance is neglected to lead easily to dehydration.

Once serious dehydration sets in (loss of greater than 15% are usually fatal), it is a matter of time you would go into shock and lastly death. If you are fortunate and survive dehydration, re-hydration must occur quickly. So eating or drinking melted snow would definitely decrease the chances of dehydration and increase your chances of staying alive. Because the type of water in snow is concerning, there is a limit to the amount you may consume before other health factors arise.

This is why you might consider carrying an emergency car survival kit. You can click here to go to a highly recommended kit on Amazon that is compact and can be stored in your trunk or a small car space.

Is Snow Clean to Eat/Drink 

Importantly, snow falling from the sky is not exactly “pure.”  As the snow falls, any particulates blowing in the air are captured within each snowflake. Traces of soil, pesticides, mercury, sulfates, and many other pollutants are commonly found within the snow.  However, according to experts, these are mostly within safe limits.

To get the cleanest snow, they recommend waiting a while, if it has been snowing, and capture the latest accumulation. It is this source that would have the least amount of particles.  These experts also say to avoid eating urban snow if at all possible.  This snow tends to contain elements of chemicals from gasoline exhaust in the air, like toluene, xylenes and benzene, a known carcinogen.

Snow as Distilled Water

As mentioned, snow is basically distilled water. The professionals say that even though there might be impurities (ambient pollutants), it is purified and safe to drink. The problem with distilled water is in its chemical composition and the effect it has on humans drinking it over a period of time.

First, snow lacks essential minerals (calcium, sodium, magnesium., etc…) necessary for normal organ and tissue function.  During the time you are stranded, your body is naturally releasing these minerals through your sweat and urination. Thus a deficit in these minerals occurs until your organs begin to not work normally and show signs of stress and breakdown. This can cause heartbeat irregularities, high blood pressure and a significant increase in toxicity due to the body not releasing all of the necessary waste products from the body.

Secondly, drinking distilled over a period of time increases acidity within your body. The human body must maintain an acid pH level between 7.35-7.45.   Distilled water lowers the level in the blood to a pH of  7.00. Acidosis sets in.  Acidosis may lead to the following health complications:

  • Kidney failure
  • Bone disease
  • Cancer
  • Death

How long can you go eating or drinking snow before it becomes an issue?  It all depends on one’s overall health. Although there might be more immediate threats to your survival situation (staying warm, protecting yourself against any potential animal attacks), you need to find other sources of food or electrolyte additives (ex. Gatorade or lemonade powder) within before your health becomes compromised.

Last Thoughts

In a AAA report, there were over 32 million vehicles in one year stranded and need roadside assistance. It, therefore, makes sense to constantly keep up with the upkeep of your vehicle. Check the air pressure of your tires (including the spare), car battery and scheduled car maintenance constantly. Before taking your trip, identify the route and alternates. Try to identify places or stops along the way where you can find food, water, and auto repair facilities.

AAA also reported 40 percent of car owners lacked any type of emergency car kits or provisions kept in their car in case of an unforeseen car mishap. Knowing the possibility of being stranded without help nearby is there, it makes sense to always carry some sort of emergency kit or supplies. This can be as compact as an everyday pocket size kit you have in your pants, jacket or book bag to having an emergency car kit stored away in the trunk of your vehicle.   It might not be a bad idea to include cups, plates, and utensils among your emergency supplies.

As you pack your gear, take time to identify those items that will expire and replace them as needed. Maybe a time to keep in mind to do a review is during the fall and spring when most people change out old batteries from their smoke alarms or fire extinguishers.  Above all, always keep a loved one not traveling with you informed on your travel plans. Their awareness might just save your life.

After reviewing the article, I am sure you are now aware more than ever the need to keep some emergency items in your trunk or vehicle storage area just in case your family gets stranded. One emergency car kit I recommend can be purchased at Amazon click here for the latest pricing.

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