How to Know if Ice is Safe to Walk On

 How to Know if Ice is Safe to Walk On

You MUST understand that it is NEVER safe to walk on ice, it IS ice afterall.

There are however, steps that you can take that will greatly reduce your chances of falling through the ice. There are a number of factors which contribute toward ice thickness and hardness and these need to be taken into consideration. As an example, new ice is stronger than old ice and you should also look at the color. Ice that is more clear and blue-tinged is definitely stronger than ice that is cloudy or black.

Blue to clear ice is strongest, snow ice is half as strong as blue-clear ice, grey ice is unsafe, and slushy ice is a definate no, no!

You also need to remember that although the ice may be a foot thick where you’re standing, a few feet away it may only be half that or less. For this reason it is important that you regularly check the ice thickness throughout your route.

In the table below, you can check the minimum ice thickness safety guidelines.

Ice ThicknessTotal Allowable Load
<3 inchesKeep off!
3 inches1 person walking
4 inchesSkating, or Group walking in single file
5 inchesSnowmobile or ATV

You can measure the thickness of the ice using as ice auger or if this is not possible, you can use a cordless drill with a wood auger bit (don’t use a bit intended for metal). Drill a hole, and then measure with a tape measure, simple.

Prepare in Advance

One of the main points of UK Survival Guides is to teach you that you need to prepare in advance in case certain things happen. This preparation will automatically give you a better chance of survival and of being found. The same goes here.

Before heading out to a frozen lake or similar you MUST tell somebody exactly where you are going and what time they should expect you to be back. It is also not only safer to take a buddy along for the journey but it’s also much more fun so never go alone.

Be sure you are wearing full outdoor winter attire, preferably a snowsuit. Believe it or not, if you fall into the water, the snowsuit will not weigh you down, but will actually help to protect you by providing some insulation from the frigid temperature of the water and flotation for your body. Bring extra dry clothing in a watertight bag. Thick socks, mittens and thermal underwear would be especially welcome if you are trying to warm your body up after a fall through the ice.

Should you happen to fall through the ice, you are going to need something that can help you to hoist yourself out of the cold water so you need to take along at least one of the following items.

  1. ice picks
  2. screwdrivers
  3. large nails

Anything that you can stab into the ice as a means to get out, will be very much needed.

If you do Fall Through the Ice

As we said right at the start, it is never safe to walk on ice and even after performing all the checks possible it may still happen. If you do happen to fall through the ice you should do the following:

  • Don’t panic, you need to remain calm and level-headed. This will allow you to remember the steps that you need to perform and get them done in the quickest time possible.
  • Turn towards the direction you came from, which is likely where the strongest ice will be.
  • Use your ice picks or whatever you have to dig into the ice to give yourself some leverage and hoist yourself out.
  • Once out, do not give in to the natural urge to stand up and start running toward shore! Instead, lay flat on the ground and quickly roll toward land. This will help to prevent you from falling through again.
  • Get yourself warm and dry as soon as possible.

Check out the following video by Rewild University on self-rescue, do not attempt unless you fully understand the risks.

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