Get Drinking Water from Ice or Snow

Doug Williams

We’ve all been thirsty at times, but there’s a real difference between that and absolutely needing water or we will die.

We need water to be between 32 and 212 Fahrenheit or 0 and 100 degrees centigrade. When it’s not within these temperatures it becomes a lot harder to collect and use it, if it’s too cold it freezes and if it’s too hot it turns to steam and off it goes…

There are places like the desert that we know have very little water in them and then there are places that have huge amounts of water in them but it’s being kept below the freezing point so we can’t use it, well, we can, but we need to change its temperature.


If it’s a desert or a frozen landscape, there’s a challenge for us when we need to collecting enough clean drinking water. It is not as simple as putting a piece of ice in your mouth and letting it melt as this will rapidly lead you down the path to hypothermia, not to mention the more immediate pain of ice burn. Hold a piece in your hand for a while, and you will soon feel the burn.

We can ingest snow and turn it into water inside our bodies, but the energy required is high, and the cooling effect of that in our body makes it hard for us to stay warm. So, a little bit of snow now and then isn’t going to create any problem, but if you need a lot of water, you could not process it in your body without serious consequences.

Most winter campers or explorers who travel in cold regions carry modern stoves that come with their own fuel source such as propane gas. Because the cold draws heat away so quickly you need to conserve your fuel, regardless of whether you are using a modern stove or collecting fuel from your environment such as wood you need it to last and melting ice and snow can take a lot of fuel.

Ice produces far more water than snow because snow is full of air, so when possible melt ice. Use a pot that’s got good insulation and a lid; this will help to conserve fuel and also stop any loss from steam.

Do not put lots of ice or snow into your pot, just a little at a time is the way to go. Snow can be very good at insulating and so you can burn the bottom out of your pot because the snow has sealed it like a lid and you don’t notice.


If you don’t have a pot you can wrap some ice or snow in a cloth, a t-Shirt will do and hang this near the fire; the radiant heat will melt it and then it will drip through the fabric, so you need some sort of container below it.

Be aware that bacteria do not die in the cold; they simply become dormant, so you need to boil the water to assure it is good to drink.

When on the move and you have a spare water bag, fill it with some snow and tuck it between layers of your clothing or in the sun. It is important not to have it next to your bare skin. At night you can keep water from freezing by putting it in your sleeping bag with you, make sure they and you are insulated from each other.

If you do come across running water make the most of it and collect some, even in winter the water movement and heat absorption of rocks can sometimes mean there are areas of collectible water, keep your ears open, sometimes you can hear it rather than see it and then you can hunt it out.

On Outdoor Revival we regularly suggest planning and preparing well for all your trips out, this is particularly important in the winter. Always plan for the worst and hope for the best: if you get into trouble help could be a considerable distance away.

Conditions can and often do change rapidly so keep an eye on weather forecasts and talk to local people that know the area.

It’s a good idea to practice the skills in your backyard before venturing out into the wilderness and just hoping all will be well.


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fmssolution is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival