How to find food and water in a cold weather survival situation

Posted by Leighton Taylor on

Food and water are both necessary for survival whether you’re in the middle of Manhattan or stranded in the wilderness. The only difference is that it’s easier to “forage” for these basic necessities in a civilized setting than it is in a survival situation, especially in severe weather.

Since you never know when you may find yourself in a cold weather survival situation, it pays to have a little bit of knowledge just in case.

In this article, we’ll discuss some tips on how to find food and, more importantly, water when trapped in severely cold weather with no amenities or rescue in sight.


Despite what may seem intuitive, staying hydrated is just as important in a cold environment as it is in a warm or hot one. Though cold weather normally doesn’t make you sweat, you still lose water continuously.

There are several reasons for this. Your body loses precious fluid due to the cold, the stress you're under, and any physical exertion you do. In addition, you may also be contributing to fluid loss by drinking coffee to keep you warm which can cause you to urinate more frequently. In any case, it is extremely important to replace any of the lost fluid in order for you to be able to function effectively--something that is absolutely essential in a survival situation.

Ok, so you know water is important. Now comes the tough part--you’ll need to know where to get an adequate supply. And in an extremely cold environment, the only source of water you are most likely to find is snow and ice. So, how do you get water from snow and ice? Below are several tips to help you out.

Tips on Melting Ice and Snow for Water:

  • Use your body heat to melt snow by putting it in a container (i.e. water bag, can, flask) and then placing that container in between layers of your clothing.

  • Use fire to melt the snow. You can place a container filled with ice/snow near the fire or, if you don't have a container available, make a snow marshmallow (packed snow placed on top of a stick) and place it near the fire then use any available material you have to catch the drops of water.

  • Don’t try eating snow or melting ice in your mouth as it lowers your body’s core temperature, taking away your warmth and leaving you cold.

  • Ice is a better source of water than snow since it yields more water and takes less time to melt.

  • Melt snow or ice in small amounts, adding more and more as soon as the previous amount has melted.  

  • Make sure that your container is not filled completely. This prevents the water from freezing. You should also keep your water right next to you to keep it from freezing again.

For a more detailed look at how to melt snow for water, check out the video below:

Take note, if the area you are in happens to have sources of drinkable water such as flowing bodies of water (i.e. rivers, streams), then don’t bother wasting fuel or energy on melting ice or snow.  Just make sure to strain the water to get rid of any sediment and boil it for at least 10 minutes to purify it.


According to what the survival experts call “The Rule of Threes”, you can survive three weeks without food. This means that you don’t really have to worry much about starving to death in most survival situations though feeling hunger can make you feel worse off than you really are. In a cold weather survival situation, however, food is quite important to survival because the calories and fat you consume helps keep your body warm. So, how do you feed yourself when trapped in a cold environment? Check out our tips below.

Tips for Procuring Food:

  • Insects and worms can be found in almost any location; their nesting grounds are usually underground, within rotten wood, or beneath rocks. Be sure to boil them though before consuming and avoid eating any bugs that are brightly colored, pungent, or hairy.

  • Hunting or trapping animals is also a good way to gather some grub though it isn’t going to be easy. You should keep in mind that although a large animal would feed you for a long time, it's much harder to trap/hunt than a small one.

  • When hunting or trapping, look for clues that prove animals frequently pass by the area. Some examples to look out for include trails, tracks, droppings, water areas, and chewed vegetation.

  • Fish, clams, and snails are also a good source of food if you're lost in an area that has bodies of water. Avoid eating any mussels though during the summer months because they contain toxins that are only present during that time.

  • If you want to eat some vegetation, you should be careful to avoid the following: white and red berries, mushrooms (unless you can identify them), water hemlock, and any plants that look like melons, cucumbers, or beans because they are frequently found to be poisonous.

  • Reptiles are a good source of protein and none of them are inedible though the poisonous ones do present some danger when you’re trying to catch it.

  • Some wild plants that you can eat include acorns, chickweed, burdock (also known as wild rhubarb), cattails (the lower stalks and rhizomes), and watercress. Just keep in mind that when in doubt, it's best not to eat the plant.

If you want more information on how to hunt, fish, and trap your food, check out our post about using a survival knife to feed yourself in the wilderness here.

Food & Water Survival skills

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