The car broke down, and it’s snowing. You’re far from the nearest town, and there’s no sign of any houses nearby. Hopefully, you’ve got help coming, and a way to stay warm, but what if you get dehydrated? You eat some snow… don’t you? Sorting the facts from fiction when it comes to survival can be difficult, but I’ve got the skinny on staying hydrated in winter storms.
Is it safe to eat snow when thirsty? Eating snow when you’re thirsty is not safe. Everyone knows to avoid the yellow snow, but color alone isn’t enough to tell you if snow is contaminated. Like all water sources, you should always filter water from snow before you drink (or eat) it.
Snow is Dirty
It looks so pristine lying there on the ground, so many people eat snow when they’re thirsty. Yet snow is not as clean as you might think. Unfortunately, as it falls from the sky, snow picks up airborne pollutants. Car exhaust, factory smoke, and other contaminants are part of that pretty white blanket.
I won’t give you a pithy line about making snap judgments based on what you think you see. However, when survival is on the line, trusting your eyes alone means overlooking many dangers.
What You Don’t See
You don’t see many stories on acid rain anymore, but it still exists. Because snow comes from the same place as rain, acid snow is a real phenomenon. Furthermore, it’s a danger to your body.
The buildup of pollution in the atmosphere collects in the clouds. The result can do much more than peel the paint off of cars. Other, less apparent pollutants from fires and human activity also get trapped in your snow.
Next time you see cute kids trying to catch snowflakes on their tongues, think twice about what’s really going on there.
You need an outstanding water filter to make any water drinkable. No matter how clean it looks. Pack a Survivor Filter Pro from Amazon in your BOV for peace of mind. While a lot of filters are tested to remove anything down to a micron in size, this one is certified down to 0.01 microns. That means it will catch what others fail to get out of your drink. Learn more by clicking here.
Yellow snow is gross, but it’s not the only danger out there. Pink snow, for example, can be a warning sign. When concentrations of iron from the soil below leach into a snowbank, the color is often pink. A little extra iron won’t hurt you, but this form isn’t healthy.
It’s vital to take the time to examine any snow you plan to melt for drinking water. When it looks dirty, it is dirty. Snow with visible debris is a no-no. Additionally, any snow that isn’t the right color, off white, pink, or any other color should be avoided.
Grey snow at the roadsides is worse for you than yellow will ever be. Regardless of the color, snow from roadways is never the right choice. Not only does it carry pollution from the cars and the road surface, but also other sources. Road sweepers may use chemicals to clean, and the salt used to remove snow builds up in these areas.
Snow is Cold
Eating snow when you’re thirsty is foolish at best. A single mouthful isn’t the problem, though you won’t get very much water from it. However, cooling your body down when it’s cold out is the path to hypothermia and death.
Causing yourself to freeze at the core and waste energy to heat frozen water internally can kill you very quickly. However, if you are warm, or too warm, and you have a bottle handy, packing it with snow might allow you to use body heat to melt it. Place the container inside your clothing, but not against your skin. As long as you are moving and staying warm, the snow will melt.
Using this as a stopgap while you hunt for a source of unfrozen water could save you. However, you should always have a way to start a fire if you’re going out in the cold. Regardless of whether you think you need it, firestarters are essential.
Do You Have Water
If you have water, but it’s not enough, adding snow into your existing source will help it melt faster. The heat exchange will be higher. Therefore the warmer water will help you make more liquid from the powder.
Keep in mind; it’s still not safe to drink that water. You should get a good portable water purifier to keep in your car. Choose one like the Sawyer Products Gravity Water Filtration System from Amazon that you can easily carry with you. It will hold up to a gallon at a time so that a whole family can use it. Even more critical, The GWFS has a syringe you can fill with clean water to clean the filter. Pick one up now by clicking here.
You can use the last of your current water supply, and the technique I described above to melt more snow into water easily. Having a bag or bottle filtration system is more practical for unfreezing water than a straw filter. Always take the right tool for the job, and you will survive.
It’s Never Enough
The myth that you can or should eat snow if you’re thirsty is a big problem. Unwary travelers have died because they believed seemingly sensible advice without checking their facts. Snow is pretty, and it stacks up fast in a storm. However, looks aren’t everything.
While snow is undoubtedly made of water, it’s mostly air. That means you aren’t eating as much solid water as you think. Resultantly, most of what you’re ingesting is frozen air. You would need to eat, and heat about ten quarts of snow to extract a single quart of water.
Using the inside of your body to heat your water would be a lousy plan anyhow. The trouble is, in addition to potential contaminants and freezing, you’re only going to dehydrate yourself worse. The energy it takes your mouth to defrost ten quarts of snow isn’t worth the minimal refreshment. You’ll use up that water just making it.
Winter Water Preparedness
Whether or not you used to believe you could ‘just eat snow’ if you got thirsty, water prep in winter is one of those vital and often overlooked subjects for newbie preppers. Sadly, when temperatures plummet, people forget about ‘summer problems’ like water storage and dehydration.
When I suggest you should inventory and safety check your supplies monthly, it’s no joke. That may seem like a lot if you’re just getting started. However, it could save your life, and it will almost certainly save you money.
Water in the Car
Storing water in your car is an excellent plan. Unfortunately, as we all know, when temps drop, those plastic bottles and jugs can burst as they freeze. I suggest you either remove the containers or take some of the water out, freeze them yourself and recap them. Yes, you should leave the caps off while you freeze water.
Frozen water won’t do you much good until it melts, but there will be a lot more of it than there is inside snow. Hence, it still does you some good to keep your frozen water bottles in the car in winter.
The next thing you need is a way to warm the water back up. There are plenty of articles on this site for starting a fire. Whether you use waterproof matches or a magnifying glass and some tinder, you should always carry a firestarter in your EDC.
Alternatively, you can opt for portable heat packs if you prefer. The chemicals don’t get as hot, so your water or snow melts slower, but it will melt. However, don’t make the mistake of assuming you can get power from your car in an emergency. Always carry a pot for boiling and a way to make fire.
Purifying Your Water
Now that you have water from the snow, you need to clean it. If you started a fire, you can sit around and boil it in a pinch. That will kill most things. However. Carrying a portable water purifier is a much better choice. Boiling doesn’t remove the same contagions.
Run your water through a large water filter like the MSR MiniWorks EX. The pump handle is easy to use, and so is the replaceable carbon and ceramic filter. Better still, when you keep one of these in your car, you can also grab it when you go hiking. If you have to leave your car to walk for assistance, or because there’s no other option, you’ll still have water. Get an EX from Amazon by clicking here.
High-quality water filters will remove protozoa and other problems that a basic boil can’t handle. It’s not worth risking your health or life on some dirty snow. Always make sure you have clean water. Without it, your other preps are useless.
Please do not eat frozen snow in a cold, emergency survival situation. It’s not even a good idea to catch snowflakes on your tongue for fun when there’s no danger. Always filter your water sources.
Freezing internally is just as bad as poisoning yourself. However, you need to be aware of all the dangers. Even with a heat source to avoid dropping your core temperature, melting and drinking snow water straight from the cup isn’t a smart plan.
When it’s freezing outside, the chill can distract us from common sense. Don’t make the situation worse by eating snow.