Water in Cold Weather Survival Situations

Water in Cold Weather Survival Situations

Andrew’s Note:  Today we present another lesson from our Military Pedagogy series.  This discussion, from FM 21-76, the U.S. Army Survival Manual [Approved For Public Release; Distribution is Unlimited] is on Water in Cold Weather Survival Situations.  While written by the Army for Arctic survival, much of the information presented is applicable to any cold weather survival situation.


There are many sources of water in the arctic and subarctic.  Your location and the season of the year will determine where and how you obtain water.  Water sources in arctic and subarctic regions are more sanitary than in other regions due to the climatic and environmental conditions.  However, always purify the water before drinking it. During the summer months, the best natural sources of water are freshwater lakes, streams, ponds, rivers, and springs.  Water from ponds or lakes may be slightly stagnant, but still usable.  Running water in streams, rivers, and bubbling springs is usually fresh and suitable for drinking.

Cold WeatherThe brownish surface water found in a tundra during the summer is a good source of water.  However, you may have to filter the water before purifying it.  You can melt freshwater ice and snow for water. Completely melt both before putting them in your mouth.  Trying to melt ice or snow in your mouth takes away body heat and may cause internal cold injuries.  If on or near pack ice in the sea, you can use old sea ice to melt for water.  In time, sea ice loses its salinity.  You can identify this ice by its rounded corners and bluish color.

You can use body heat to melt snow.  Place the snow in a water bag and place the bag between your layers of clothing.  This is a slow process, but you can use it on the move or when you have no fire.

Note: Do not waste fuel to melt ice or snow when drinkable water is available from other sources.

When ice is available, melt it, rather than snow. One cup of ice yields more water than one cup of snow. Ice also takes less time to melt.  You can melt ice or snow in a water bag, MRE ration bag, tin can, or improvised container by placing the container near a fire. Begin with a small amount of ice or snow in the container and, as it turns to water, add more ice or snow.

Another way to melt ice or snow is by putting it in a bag made from porous material and suspending the bag near the fire. Place a container under the bag to catch the water.

During cold weather, avoid drinking a lot of liquid before going to bed.  Crawling out of a warm sleeping bag at night to relieve yourself means less rest and more exposure to the cold.

Once you have water, keep it next to you to prevent refreezing. Also, do not fill your canteen completely. Allowing the water to slosh around will help keep it from freezing.

Andrew’s Note:  If you live up north (or way south) and need a freeze proof (or as close as you’re going to get) water carrier for your get home bag or your bug out bag…get yourself a surplus U.S. Army Arctic Canteen.  They are double wall, vacuum seal insulated and have a rubber gasket to keep your lips from sticking to the metal canteen.  You can also get matching canteen carriers and canteen cups for the arctic canteen.

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