Can You Melt Snow and Drink It?

Winter camping can be super fun. But you need to know how to get fresh water from snow when the temperatures drop below zero. Find out how in this step-by-step guide.

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Written by: | Reviewed by: Kieran James Cunningham
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Staying hydrated while winter camping is essential. But finding running water in the winter is no easy feat. In the absence of running water, the obvious choice is melting snow.

Snowflake conversion is a great way to get drinking water – if, that is, you follow a few safety precautions.

In this article, we’ll discuss what you need to do to turn frozen H2O into the drinkable kind in cold environments. That way, you can make the most of your wintertime adventures.

Is It Safe to Eat Snow or Ice?

Yes, it is generally safe to eat snowflakes or ice – with some caveats.

As a kid, you were probably told to avoid eating any fluffy stuff that was yellow, red, brown, or any other color besides white. That advice still holds true in adulthood.

water bottle sitting in snow
Snow melt water is generally safe to drink, but with a few caveats.

Snowflakes and ice are just frozen versions of water. On their own, there’s nothing dangerous about eating snow or ice. But they can be contaminated with various substances like road salt, bacteria and algae that can make them toxic to consume.

It’s also worth mentioning that while you can eat them, consuming these frozen substances isn’t a good method for staying hydrated. 

Your body has to burn a lot of energy to warm up snowflakes and ice to the point where it’s in a usable liquid state. This can actually dehydrate you in the long run. In emergency situations, consuming a small amount of snowflakes isn’t horrible, but it’s best to melt it first to get liquid water.

Is It Safe to Drink Melted Ice or Snow?

Most hikers believe it is safe to drink melted snow and ice as long as you avoid melting the yellow, red, brown, or gray varieties. 

hiker holding hanful of snow
While it might look “clean”, white snow can still contain dirt, bacteria, algae, or other “contaminants”.

Scientifically speaking, however, snowflakes need “nucleation sites” to form in the atmosphere. These “sites’ can be bits of dirt, bacteria, dust, pollen, or even smoke particulates. This means that even virgin-white snowflakes aren’t “clean snow”, per se. It also means that boiling or using a purification treatment is the only way to ensure you get truly safe drinking water.

For the majority of folks drinking snow that has melted it is unlikely to have any adverse effects, but if you have a delicate stomach we’d highly recommend you follow method 1, and boil the water to kill off any nasties.

What You’ll Need to Follow This Tutorial

The supplies you need will depend which method you choose:

Method 1: Stove

  • Small amount of water
  • A camping stove, pot, and fuel
  • A flask 

Method 2: Body Heat

  • A water bottle

Method 3: Drip Method

  • A fire
  • An unused, preferably clean shirt

How to Convert Ice or Snow into Drinking Water: 3 Methods

Once you have all the supplies you need, it’s time to convert the fluffy white stuff into drinking water. Here are three methods to try during your next cold-weather camping trip.

Method 1: Stove

campers melting snow in stove
The safest method to melt your snow is with a stove, this should kill off any bacteria or viruses that could be lurking.

The easiest method for creating drinkable water from the fluffy white stuff is the stove method. To use this method, do the following:

  1. Find some clean snowflakes or ice. As mentioned above, the yellow variety is not recommended. If it isn’t human pee that’s turning the white stuff yellow, it’s either animal pee or tree sap, both of which are acquired tastes.
  2. Place a little bit of water into a pot or heat-proof pan over a propane gas, liquid fuel, or canister stove.
  3. Add fresh snow gradually to the pot on your camping stove. Don’t dump it all in at once.
  4. Bring to a boil and leave to simmer for at least 3 to 5 minutes.
  5. Leave your boiling water to cool before adding to your water bottle or enjoy a hot brew.

Pro-Tip: Do not attempt to use this method if you don’t have at least a little bit of water available in your water bottles at the start. If you don’t add a little so-called “seed water” to the bottom of your pot, you will burn the snow. Trust us, burnt snowflakes taste horrible.

Method 2: Body Heat

man sitting outside tent in the snow in sleeping bag intext
Keep your water bottle in your sleeping bag overnight and your body heat should keep the snow/water above freezing point.

If you don’t have a stove or any other fuel you can use to make a fire, this method is your next best bet. To use this method, do the following:

  1. Take your water bottle and add a small quantity of fresh fluffy stuff to it.
  2. Place your full water bottle in your jacket for about half an hour (or take it into your sleeping bag at night).
  3. Add more into the container every half hour or so until it melts.
  4. Enjoy!

Method 3: Drip Method

campers boiling water on campfire
The drip method is an ideal way to “sieve” the snow of any particulates.

The drip method is ideal if you already have a campfire going and can help remove any dirt/grit. To use this method:

  1. Start your campfire but don’t let it get too big.
  2. Suspend a few handfuls of snow well above the fire in a clean shirt.
  3. Place a cup, pan, or other container below the shirt to catch the water as it drips down.
  4. Wait until the water fills up the container.
  5. For hot water or hot drinks, get the water boiling before consuming.

So, Can You Melt Snow and Drink It?

Yes, you can melt snow and drink it if you’re out camping during the colder months of the year. By using any of the above methods, you’ll be able to get your fill of H20 no matter where your winter wanders take you.

How did you like our article? Which of these methods will you try out during your next adventure? Let us know in the comments below! And feel free to share this post with your friends!

Last update on 2023-05-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Gaby Avatar

Gaby is a professional polar guide, wilderness medicine instructor, and freelance writer with a master’s degree in outdoor education. She splits her time between the northern and southern hemispheres, chasing the midnight sun and helping others get outside to experience some of the world’s most beautiful places.

As an outdoor educator, Gaby is passionate about making the outdoors as accessible as possible for anyone looking to get into the mountains or out on the water. She is a certified Polar Guide, an AMGA Climbing Wall Instructor Course Provider, a NOLS instructor, and an accomplished climbing guide with a penchant for telemark skiing.

When she’s not hanging out with penguins in Antarctica or scouting for polar bears in the Arctic, you can find Gaby backpacking in Wyoming’s Wind River Range or drinking debatably excessive amounts of espresso and reading French existentialism in a quirky café.

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