“Don’t Eat Snow” Another Survival Myth

Why is this Survival Myth still around?

Video Transcript

Hello, My Name is Bruce Zawalsky and I am Chief Instructor of the Boreal Wilderness Institute, a small Canadian Outdoor Education Company located in Edmonton, Alberta and I would like to briefly talk to you about one of the many myths in Survival Training and that one is the “Don't Eat Snow” Myth. So why is this myth still around?

Yes, Snow is Colder that Tea or Hot Water and I would rather drink hot tea or water if I got trapped in the wilderness, but the Calories lost are not relevant compared to how fast you will become "Ineffective" or what we call in the military “combat Ineffective” from Dehydration. You will quickly lose endurance and soon you will be unable to do the work required to survive, long before you will run out of calories.

Inuit eat snow all the time in their cold dry environment, they need water and the only form they have readily available is snow. In the wilderness, in a cold dry environment, our water requirements go up, not down compared to the heated air conditioned environments we often live in today. Water is a vital requirement of survival. Most of us require about 4L of water per day to survive in the northern forest. It is far more important to our bodies than food. Water is the critical nutrient.

I figure the “Don't Eat Snow” Myth came from individuals actually eating snow blocks and being told don't eat snow you will get chapped lips, which can be debilitating in the wilderness over the long-term. Then they were told to ball up the snow in a small ball and suck on it. This way you cannot cool your core body temperature.

The water that hits your stomach is warmed in your mouth and throat before it gets to your stomach. Yes that uses calories; 1 calorie per gram of water per degree c you need to raise the water. That why hot liquids are better, but lack of water is the real problem, not calorie loss. Please note that the calories I am talking about are little calories or a physics calories, not Kcal’s or food calories. Each Kcal or food calorie has 1000 calories in it.

Think 7/11 and the Slurpee's. Anyone ever die of Slurpee headache (i.e. Brain Freeze), no way. It is god’s way of telling you to slow down sucking on the snow lump or drinking your Slurpee. Yes hot tea will be better and you will use more calories than a hot liquid, but you will become Dehydration far faster than you will lose calories. There is nothing wrong with a snow lump as a survival tool.

What I think happened over time is we shortened the sentence and then forgot what was actually said and simply made assumptions. Some of these assumptions actually sounded correct or even scientific. They just don’t have any facts behind them, they are assumptions.

I have a nice case study I share in class of a guy who sucked on snow lumps for 43 days and lived to be rescued in the Himalayas. He survived because he knew he need water and if snow was the only form available then he used it. If I am thirsty and have no water, I suck on a snow lump, dehydration will kill you way faster than a little low level calorie loss.

There are many myths in survival literature and poorly designed training courses. The internet is full of this kind of silliness. This myth is only one of many I talk about in the “Survival Core Seminar.” Professional survival training is designed to destroy myths and build up real survival skills. This is one of the main reason we spend a day in the classroom before we go out into the wilderness for the rest of your training.

You need to clear your mind of these myths and then you can concentrate on learning the techniques that will really get you home alive. So “What if you had to Survive?” are you ready?

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Chief Instructor of the Boreal Wilderness Institute