Getting lost in the wilderness can be stressful but there are generally more resources available to you in warm weather than in cold weather.
If you find yourself lost in the wilderness or stranded on an isolated highway in cold weather, knowing how to use snow in survival situations may very well save your life.
Emergency Water Source
If you are in a survival situation where you need water to drink and your only source is snow, it’s important to know how to properly use snow to keep yourself hydrated.
Although under normal circumstances, picking up a handful of snow and eating it, won’t kill you, in a survival situation just eating snow or sucking on ice should be your last resort option.
Eating snow or sucking on ice actually reduces your body’s core temperature, something that will cause hypothermia in a short time.
Melt snow slowly in a pan over the fire. Start with a small amount of clean snow rather than packing a pan full of snow. A pan packed full of snow actually insulates itself and melting takes longer.
If you have a small amount of water available, add it to the pan first. Since water is warmer than snow it will expedite the melting process.
As the snow melts, add additional snow slowly until you have the water you need.
Alternatively, you can also wrap snow or ice in a t-shirt or piece of cloth suspended over the fire using cordage or sticks and allow it to drip into your container.
Once you have melted enough snow for your needs, purify and filter when possible as with any other water source to further protect against contaminants. If you let your newly melted snow boil for a few minutes should make it safe to consume.
If you are without a way to start a fire, use the warmth of the sun during the day to heat dark colored rocks, place the snow or ice on these until it melts and allow it to run off into your collection container.
In a survival situation, you can also use snow to water animals. Follow the same steps given above to melt enough snow for your animal’s needs.
In an extended survival situation, you may need to hunt game in order to feed yourself and your family or group. If you are lucky enough to kill a deer or other large animal, you can better ration the food over several days by keeping uneaten meat cold.
In a cold weather situation, you can wrap or pack the uneaten meat in a container full of snow to keep it from spoiling and allow you to ration the meat over several days
In a SHTF or survival situation where you are still in your home, but utilities such as power and water are down, you can melt snow to get a bucket of water which can be used to flush your toilet.
Using snow to get water to flush your toilet allows you to conserve your stored water for drinking and cooking.
Any water that is discarded from laundry or dishes, called grey water, is great for this purpose. It’s important to conserve as much water as you can in those situations.
You can also conserve your drinkable water by using snow for other personal hygiene tasks such as bathing, washing hands, and other cleaning tasks.
If you are injured or become ill in a survival situation, you may not have access to the first aid supplies you need.
To help reduce swelling and hasten the healing process for a sprain or break, make a cold compress using snow wrapped in a t-shirt, plastic bag, piece of tarp or whatever is available. Apply the cold compress to the injury in short periods of time, twenty minutes every other hour.
The ability to ice an injury during the first 72 hours can be critical to starting the healing process.
Never place snow or ice directly against the skin as the extreme cold can cause damage to the skin and further complicate the injury.
For high fever, use snow to make a cold compress for the forehead or back of the neck to help temporarily lower body temperature.
You can also use snow in a survival situation for large, open wounds to numb an area before you cut into it or stitch it.
To Delay Hypothermia
If you’re in a survival situation then something happened to get you there. In the event of falling through ice into cold water you can use snow to keep you somewhat shielded from the wind.
Once you’ve gotten yourself out of the water you can roll your body in snow to shed some of the moisture from your clothing.
This will also freeze the outer layer of your clothing which will create a hard shell against the cold, winter winds. Wind is what makes falling into water so dangerous as it whisks away the heat from your body. This is a temporary fix until you can get back to civilization or get a fire started.
To Throw Someone Off Your Trail
If you’re in a situation where there is snow on the ground and you suspect someone with ill intentions is following you, use it to throw them off your trail.
You can cover your tracks by using a branch to erase your tracks or take it one step further and create some fake tracks to lead your stalker in a different direction than where you are headed.
To Hunt Game or Identify Predators in the Area
If you are lost in the snow in a wilderness area, use snow to track or hunt game or to monitor whether there are predators in the area. If you are skilled in identifying animal tracks, they will be easier to see and follow in the snow.
Trails in the snow from animals can even lead you to water since animals frequently use the same general path to get to and from water sources. If you see tracks from a predator in the area, this could alert you to a future threat or help you know to relocate so you can avoid a confrontation with them in the future.
Unless you’re an experienced cold climate outdoorsman, you may not have considered the insulation properties of snow. Freshly fallen snow has more air trapped within it and is more insulating than packed snow.
If you use approximately 10 inches of fresh snow, it’s roughly the equivalent of six inch thick fiberglass insulation. It’s the pockets of air within fresh snow that gives it the insulating property. In a survival situation, you can use the insulating property of snow to create an insulated bed in the snow.
To Build a Shelter
There are several different ways you can use snow in survival situations to build a shelter if you feel you may be stranded for an extended period of time. Snow shelters are typically called igloos and quinzhees.
For those that spend a lot of time outdoors in the cold climate, you may want to invest in and take along the proper tools such as a snow saw and cave carver seen in this video, to build a Snow Shelter:
Build A Snow Trench
Wind is your worst enemy in the wintertime. It will penetrate all of your clothing and steal your heat faster than you can produce it. In the deep snow your best bet is to get low and build a snow trench.
A snow trench is a canal dug right down to the forest floor. The idea is to build the trench into a connected snow shelter so eliminate any wind that might want to come through. These only work in deep snow (4 feet or higher) however, you can use surrounded snow to build up the canal walls.
The difference in temperature is significant and you can even build a fire down inside the trench to stay warm. Since snow is an excellent insulator these are great alternatives to the traditional snow shelters.
Removing Sticky Resin
Resin from coniferous trees is an important survival tool to use. It can be used to start fires, heal wounds, and waterproof just about anything. However, resin is incredibly sticky and as such, can be a pain to remove from skin or clothing.
Using snow to rub against the resin will lower the temperature just enough to harden it up. The pliable sticky substance suddenly becomes easier to almost flake off.
It might take a little bit to get the resin off but it’s much more effective than just using water and soap, even when you’re not in a survival situation.
Anchoring Down Your Tarp Shelter
If you’re using a tarp shelter in a survival situation you can use the snow to prevent strong winds from blowing it down.
For example, if you were building a standard A-frame shelter you can pitch it a little lower so that the sides of the tarp create what’s called a snow skirt. A snow skirt is used to stop snow from blowing up underneath your tarp shelter.
Piling snow on top of those snow skirts will anchor the structure down. Once the snow settles and hardens it will be virtually unmovable from that position. Keep in mind that if the wind is very strong it can potentially tear your tarp and blow it away anyways.
Keep Your Drinkable Water From Freezing
If you’ve ever gone camping in the winter then you know what it’s like to wake up having your water bottle frozen solid. Then you have to take time to heat it up using a fire and sometimes it can take quite a while.
If you store your water bottle in a snowbank, the insulating properties of the snow will keep your water from freezing.
Ensure that the water bottle you are using is insulated as well or there is a chance it could freeze if the material is thin enough. In any case this is better than just leaving the bottle out in the cold.
Everyone has to poop sometimes. This is no different than out in the wilderness in a survival situation.
Really great packing snow is ideal for use as toilet paper. It is absorbent enough and also abrasive enough to be able to thoroughly clean your body. All you need to do is grab some snow and form it into a ball or pancake and then it should be good to use.
Great For Trapping
Snow has been used for centuries to create pathways that are designed to herd small mammals such as rabbits to a particular snare. Looking for existing rabbit runs is a great place to start setting up shop.
Using the snow you can create a mini quinzhee that has multiple entrances carved out of it. The inside is hollow and the roof is open.
Set up your snares inside the entrances and fill the inside with Birch tree trips (the end of the new growth) as this is a favorite food for rabbits and hares. Once they go to get their snack they get caught in the snare, either going in or leaving.
Leaving An SOS
Another thing you can do with snow is stamp out an SOS message big enough for a rescue plane to see. Simply use your feet and carve out “SOS” in the surrounding snow. It’s best to do this in a large field or rocky area as there is more visibility in those settings.
Once you’re done you can outline the snow letters in charcoal or fill the depression with coniferous bows to add some contrast for easier sighting. Couple this with a nice smoky fire and you should be in a good position to be spotted quickly.
When things go awry and you are trapped in the wilderness during colder weather, remember all of these ways to use snow in survival situations to help you make the best of your situation.
It’s a good idea to carry basic tools with you, dress for cold weather in layers, and follow safety procedures such as carrying signaling gear and letting someone know where you are going, and what time you expect to arrive back.
If you follow the basic wilderness safety precautions and keep calm, you can use snow in survival situations to stay dry and warm until help arrives or at least until the weather clears enough for you to get back to safety.
Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart.
For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared for whatever may come along. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of nine grandsons and one granddaughter, is learning everything she can about preparedness, basic survival, and self-sufficient homesteading. She is passionate about sharing that knowledge so that others can be increasingly prepared to protect their families.