Finding water in a survival situation will be your number one priority. Some people will think that during wintertime, water will not be an issue, this is true as long as they melt the snow before consuming it, otherwise eating snow will have some dangerous consequences which will actually lower your chances of survival.
Yes, eating snow does dehydrate you as your body will use more energy and water to melt the ingested snow. In addition to this, eating snow can be especially dangerous as it lowers your core body temperature which also leads to dehydration. People who live in a cold environment always melt the snow before consuming it, this is the only safe way to use snow for hydrating yourself.
Even melted snow could contain dangerous bacteria and chemicals, in this case, my personal recommendation is to use a portable water filter which filters out 99% of waterborne bacteria, in addition to this you can use both with normal water and with melted snow water Click here to check it out on Amazon.com
Some people will not only eat snow to quench their thirst but also get some nutrition, the problem is that snow is made of water and some dust particles, end neither of these will actually quench your hunger. As for how damaging eating snow will be to your physical condition depends on a number of factors, like your general health, your level of fitness, how well are you insulated, and when you can warm up near a fire.
Generally speaking, the people who will suffer the most from eating snow are the young and the elderly, as neither of these has the necessary energy to melt snow in their stomachs and they will slowly start to go into hypothermia. From there on their situation will start to rapidly deteriorate, especially if the snow which they have ingested has not been melted and compacted itself into a hard snowball, this will inevitably lead to hypothermia and will increase their chances significantly to develop frostbite.
If you ask any wilderness or survival expert if you can eat snow then their most likely answer will be yes, but in only some exceptional cases, like if you are close to a heated room, and even then only a small bite. The problem is that if you are thirsty once you eat that small piece of snow, you will immediately want more, this is mainly because your mouth will melt some of the snow and once your tongue absorbs the water it will think that it is a good source of hydration, basically tricking you.
If you are wondering how long will dehydration starts to affect your survivability during wintertime, then check out my recent article How long does it take to die from dehydration? ( Days or Weeks? ).
Eating snow uses up more water to be digested thus it dehydrates you
The main reason why eating snow will dehydrate you is because after you have ingested snow, your body will try to break it down and digest it like with anything else you drink or eat. The problem is that snow is actually extremely good at absorbing water. So your body will not only need to use more water to melt the snow, but it will also need a lot more water to actually digest it. If you have a dog, you have probably seen him eating snow, and you are probably wondering does snow dehydrate dogs.
The short answer is yes, snow does dehydrate dogs also. As for how severe the dehydration will be, it depends on the dog breed itself. Some dogs are well suited for winter temperatures, while others have to be dressed up due to their short fur. Most dogs that are well adapted to winter temperatures are fairly active and they will probably be able to melt the ingested snow in a short period of time.
Now you might think that if you eat snow, and simply start running to raise your core temperature will help in digesting the snow faster and eliminate potential dehydration. The problem is that even if you will raise your core temperature you will still use up a lot of energy, and in a survival situation, conserving energy is vital. You have probably heard of different portable water filters, which you can use with snow water, if you want to find out more about them then check my recent article Do Lifestraws work? ( Or do they? ).
Eating snow lowers your core body temperature which leads to dehydration
One of the effects of eating snow is that it lowers your core temperature. No matter how well you are equipped for the winter, or how many insulating layers you might have, if you eat snow you will put your body under significant stress.
If you have ever taken a simple walk during wintertime, you have probably noticed that even after a mild walk of around one hour that you feel tired. This is normal, as your body uses a lot more energy during the wintertime if you are outside. No matter how well insulated you are, your body will still have to fight the elements mostly because while you are breathing in the cold air, your body needs to warm the air up and then distribute it, which takes a lot of energy.
The human body loses most of its heat through the head, the body will work extra hard to keep the brain at normal temperature, no matter how cold it is outside. If you are traveling to your bug out location during wintertime on foot and without a hat and also eating snow, then your situation will start to deteriorate fairly quickly. If you want more information about bug out locations then check out my recent article Bug out location ( Top 16 Things To Know ).
Digesting snow is stressful for the body and it can lead to dehydration
Once you ingest snow, your body will get a thermal shock, the more you eat the bigger this thermal shock effect will become. Now the body has to not only heat the air which you inhale but also raise your core temperature to a sufficient level to warm up your stomach. Its main goal isn’t necessary to melt the snow but to protect your stomach from the cold. By doing this the body will use a lot of energy and water, which inevitably will lead to dehydration.
This is why many people after eating snow feel weak and some of them even faint. The body’s main priority is to keep the vital organs functioning correctly, your vital organs can only function correctly if their temperature is normalized, otherwise, they will struggle. This means that the blood from your extremities will rush towards your organs. As your extremities are no longer heated by your body this will make you feel extremely cold and tired.
If this process of reheating your organs takes a long time then you will inevitably develop frostbite on your extremities. This can even happen if you are wearing winter clothes as the winter clothes are for insulation and they do not have any heating properties. The heat has to come from your body, which your clothes insulate and keeps you warm. But once your extremities are not heated anymore as your body is struggling to warm up your vital organs, there will be no heat generated at your extremities which your winter clothes can insulate. If you are wondering if it is safe to keep water in milk jugs then check out my recent article Is it safe to reuse milk jugs for water? ( Top 7 Things to Know ).
The consumed snow may turn into ice inside your body thus dehydrating you further
Snow is made of water, once it enters your body it will start to slowly melt, provided that your core temperature is high enough and you have only ingested a small amount of snow. The problem is that in a survival situation where you are fighting the elements and dehydration at the same time is that you probably will not stop at just eating a small handful of snow, odds are you will eat as much as you can in order to quench your thirst.
As you are eating more and more snow, it will start to get compacted, now add water to it in your stomach and if you do not have the energy to melt it in your stomach then it will start turning into ice. Once the snow has turned into ice in your stomach it will start becoming a life-threatening situation. Your body will fight as hard as it can to melt the ice, but if your energy resources are low then you will probably just faint and most likely never wake up. If you want to know how to store water long term then check out my recent article How to store water long term ( In 7 Easy Steps ).
Consumed snow may be contaminated which can accelerate the dehydration process
A lot of people think that white snow is fine to eat because it is pure water. Snow has the ability to absorb water, once it touches the ground it will absorb the surrounding water and any contaminants it may have. In addition to this, as the snow is dropping down from the clouds, it will inevitably pick up harmful particles like pesticides and toxic chemicals. This is even more prevalent in an urban area where pollution is off the charts.
As the snow is falling down it will slowly start to absorb the smog in the air, which are small dust particles made from car exhaust pipes and industries. This is why in some areas where the pollution is high, the snow isn’t actually white but somewhat a yellowish-brown color. If you are wondering can you get sick from eating snow, then the answer is yes. A lot of people who eat snow which has been contaminated will actually vomit or have diarrhea.
This is because their body has identified as potentially dangerous and it wants to eliminate it as soon as possible. And trust me the last thing you want in a survival situation is to have diarrhea as this will dehydrate you even more.
Eating snow lowers your survival chances
If you are wondering if eating snow is bad for survival, then the answer is yes. Not only it will dehydrate you but it will also lower your core temperature. In a survival situation, it is vital to preserve as much of your energy as possible, as you never know what other difficulties you may have to face later down the road. The problem is that even people who know that eating snow will dehydrate them, still end up eating snow.
This is mostly because they are faced with an extremely difficult scenario, either feel the effects of dehydration and let their body slowly deteriorate, or try and eat some snow and hope for the best, at this part if you are desperate enough you will probably end up eating snow. This is exactly the same dilemma that some survivors who have been drifting in the sea have faced, they do know that saltwater will dehydrate them but out of desperation to quench their thirst they will end up drinking saltwater.
Snow no matter in what quantities you ingest it will inevitably dehydrate you. While eating some snow in a normal setting would not give you a lot of problems, but in a survival situation, eating snow can be extremely harmful. Eating snow will create a “snowball” effect, the more you ingest the more harmful it will be and the lower your chances of actually surviving will be.