Nobody wants to get stranded in the wilderness. Or by the side of a lonely stretch of road. Or even in their home, for that matter.
This is especially true during the winter when cold weather can give you hypothermia. Or worse.
But one advantage to a wintertime emergency is that you may be able to access snow. And that snow could end up helping you survive until help arrives.
As with everything else, knowing what to do in advance will increase your chances. If you know how to use snow to your advantage in this situation, you’ll be much better off. Below are nine ways to do this.
Some folks think they can just grab a handful of snow, put it in their mouths and get the water they need to survive.
While eating snow is better than dying of thirst, there are some issues with it. For one thing, it will lower your body’s core temperature. Not a good idea when you’re stranded in the cold.
Here’s another. That snow may look clean, but just by falling from the sky its contents have been compromised. It’s hardly a pure hydration source.
Your best bet is to melt that snow with heat. A little at a time. A larger amount of snow will insulate itself and take longer to melt. Boiling it will remove some of the pathogens. Then use other filtering methods if you can.
Refrigeration & hygiene
Another way to use snow for survival is through refrigeration. Depending on how long you’re stranded – indoors or out – you may need to keep food or any game you’ve hunted cold.
This will allow you to ration that food over several days. If you have a cooler, pack it with snow before placing your food in it. Check the cooler periodically and replace the snow if any of it has started to melt.
Remaining clean and healthy will be a challenge when stranded in the winter. This is especially true outdoors. But a home without heat and running water can also get very cold.
Snow can be used for hygienic purposes. Again, melt it first. Then use the water for bathing, washing your hands, and cleaning pots, pans, utensils and surfaces.
Survival situations and injuries go hand in hand. Something cold like snow can
numb an injured area before you treat it. It can also help reduce swelling for a sprain or break. And speed up the healing process.
Make a cold compress using snow in a plastic baggie, piece of tarp, t-shirt or whatever else is available. Apply the compress to the injury in short durations. Such as 20 minutes every other hour.
Icing an injury during the first 72 hours is crucial for healing. But never place snow or ice directly against the skin. Extreme cold can damage your skin and complicate the injury.
For high fever, use snow to make a cold compress for the forehead or back of the neck. This will temporarily help lower body temperature.
Insulation & shelter
Ironically, snow can actually serve as insulation against the cold. And can be used to build a shelter.
Because freshly falling snow has more air trapped in it than packed snow does, it can be used to create an insulated bed in the packed snow. Ten inches’ worth of fresh snow is roughly the equivalent of six-inch fiberglass insulation.
If you’re stranded outdoors, you may be able to use snow to construct a shelter. Such as an igloo.
Your shelter will probably be very rudimentary if you don’t have proper tools. Including a snow saw and a cave carver. But even a “low-tech” shelter can keep you alive by shielding you from the wind and snow.
Fire and signaling
It would seem that a hot fire is the last thing you could create out of something as cold and wet as snow and ice. But it’s possible.
If you can find a chunk of ice in or near snow, clear snow and debris off it and carve it into a lens shape. The “lens” can then be used like a magnifying glass when held over tinder. The sun’s rays will cut through it to provide a spark.
One of the big advantages of snow is that it provides a white canvas. You can use anything dark you find – rocks, logs, tree branches, etc. – to spell out “HELP” or “SOS.”
This can be seen from helicopters and planes and may lead to your rescue if you’re stranded outdoors in the cold.
Earlier I mentioned the importance of melting snow to provide water for drinking, bathing and cleaning. There are a number of ways you can do this, including starting a fire. But they can be easier said than done in the cold and wind.
One of the most reliable ways to melt snow is with a solar cooker. And I’ve got the perfect one for you. It’s the Sun Kettle from 4Patriots. It works quickly and quietly and needs no cords, batteries or flames.
Its parabolic mirrors trap the rays of the sun, which are then focused on the tempered-glass tube. It will turn snow into water and heat it to about 212 degrees Fahrenheit in approximately 45 minutes.
And that will give you water to drink or warm food to eat. You can prepare coffee, prep a warm washcloth and administer first-aid. And it will keep liquid hot for hours. All with the free power of the sun.