Don’t Eat The Snow (No Matter What Color It Is)!

Should you eat snow in a survival situation?

     If we’re stranded or lost in the winter, while shelter might be an issue and it could be difficult to find some dandelions to stuff into our cake holes, the one thing we needn’t worry about is water, right? I mean, look at all that snow! If we get thirsty, we’ll just pop a handful into our mouths and let it melt. Of course, we know all about avoiding the dreaded yellow snow!

"Eating snow for emergency hydration is really not a great idea..."

Evening sun falling on the snow

     Here’s the thing, though. Despite what you may have seen one or another “survival authority” tell folks on TV, eating snow for emergency hydration is really not a great idea, for several reasons.

    First, in a true emergency, your ultimate goal is to maintain your core body temperature. Every single thing you do should be with that in mind.  

Survival is all based on core body temperature

Obviously, things like getting some sort of shelter arranged and lighting a fire a re the first tasks that come to mind. Hydration is also important for maintaining your core temperature. Eating snow presents issues with regards to  your core temp, though. Snow is, of course, cold and ingesting it will cool you off. Just as important to know, though, is that your body will have to expend energy to melt the snow and bring the resulting water up to a temperature such that the body can use it. This means there is less energy available to keep you warm, so your body will have to work harder. We’re trying to conserve our limited resources, not waste them.

"...your body will have to expend energy to melt the snow and bring the resulting water up to a temperature such that the body can use it."

     Second, snow isn’t always nearly as pure as it looks. Recent studies have shown that snow can act as something like a sink or sponge into which pollutants are concentrated. Snow, as it falls, soaks up things like vehicle exhaust and traps those nasty chemicals. If you eat the snow, you’re ingesting concentrated amounts of those toxins. This is still an area of research being actively explored so not all is known about it yet. Suffice it to say, though, that unless you are way, WAY off the beaten path, you could end up making a bad situation even worse.


Eating snow is like eating tiny ninja stars

     Snow consists of small crystals. Anyone who’s seen a snowflake knows that. Here’s the thing, though. Those crystals can be sharp enough to cut your mouth. We’re not talking about massive lacerations that 

would require stitches, of course. But, you could end up with several very tiny cuts inside your mouth after eating snow. Any open wound is bad news, especially in a survival situation.


Cold weather survival infographic for melting snow vs ice and human body thermodynamics

     Honestly, when you get right down to it, there isn’t that much water in snow anyway. Go fill a pot with snow and melt it on the stove and you’ll see what I mean. Given the opportunity, you’d be far better off taking chunks of ice and melting them over a fire. You’ll get a lot more bang for your buck, so to speak.

"...in a true emergency, your ultimate goal is to maintain your core body temperature."

     If you can’t find ice and snow is your only viable option for hydration, melt it prior to consumption if at all possible. Fill an empty plastic bottle with snow and put it inside your coat (though not against bare skin). Let your body heat melt the snow if you are unable to use a fire. If you have a water filter available, use that as well prior to drinking the melted snow. Better to be safe than sorry, right?