Foraging for Food in a Winter Survival Situation

I am not going to sugarcoat things when it comes to winter survival. Winter survival is extremely difficult and that is a major reason why I decided to move to the Big Island of Hawai’i. I still own a charming home in one of the coldest places in the United States and that is what inspired me to find a place that would make survival more tolerable regardless of the season. This article is about foraging for food in a Winter Survival Situation.

During a bitter cold winter, you will face a level of hunger that you’ve never felt before. It’s not impossible to make it through if you know where to find supplies and how to prepare in advance. My tips for winter foraging in a survival situation will work whether you are in the city, the suburbs, or in the wilderness.

Winter Survival Food Challenges

Any survival situation will test your mettle, innovation, and instincts. Know that you will be tested more than ever after a disaster in the dead of winter. The following factors make finding food in the winter more challenging and in some cases, downright dangerous.

Supplies will be severely limited.

Fellow survivors will fiercely guard and protect their stashes. That will make bartering and trading difficult once you deplete your own supplies. Others will be less willing to part with their food supplies even if you have highly coveted bartering items such as dry firewood, fuel, or bottled water. There is also the danger of looting. If you showcase your bartering items too often, you may find yourself without food and your other supplies.

It will be difficult to prepare food.

When the grid goes down, you may not be able to afford the luxury of a hot meal every night. Your meal choices will be limited to cold and uncooked items unless you have batteries, a generator, or chemically-heated food pads. I know that you’re thinking of building a fire, but fires are tough to keep going in the dead of winter. Even if you manage to get a big enough blaze to boil water and cook meat, dry firewood will be difficult to replenish. It is more important to conserve your firewood for small fires that will warm you up when the cold hits. If you’re serious about surviving winter, the reality is that cooking over a campfire isn’t going to be a practical option.

Rodents will destroy your supplies.

It is not that obvious during the warmer months, but rodents are a big issue in the winter. Once their natural food supplies dwindle, they will be forced to enter your shelter and steal your supplies to survive. In addition to stealing your valuable calories, rodents bring parasites, diseases, and injuries to humans. Imagine a rat infestation in your carefully rationed dry goods. No matter how hungry I am, I won’t be eating rice if it has rat poop in it.

Foraging for food in a winter survival situation

Your supplies can be destroyed by dampness, mold, and destructive freezing.

Even if you manage to avoid the problems mentioned above, you are still at the mercy of Mother Nature’s whims. Winter is notoriously damp in most regions and the smallest bit of moisture can speed spoilage (even in the bitter cold). Despite common beliefs, mold spores thrive in the winter months. Mold spores are everywhere, awaiting the right conditions. If there’s condensation, then there’s going to be mold and mildew before long. A single warm breath into your dry oatmeal stock can blow enough moisture and mold spores into the bag and start mold growth. You probably won’t have enough heat in your shelter to dry it all out before the mold spreads.

Shorter days means less daylight for foraging.

When winter begins, you will have dramatically less daylight. If you don’t plan ahead for your winter foraging, you could get caught wandering in unfamiliar territory when it gets dark and the temperature drops. Make it your priority starting today to know the lay of the land and understand what resources are available.

Your caloric requirements will increase in cold weather.

Your body burns calories to stay warm. The process of non-shivering thermogenesis (NST) kicks in around 64 degrees Fahrenheit. In a winter survival situation, it will be much colder than that and your body will definitely shiver. The colder it gets, the more fuel you will need to stay warm.

That list of issues may sound daunting, but don’t lose hope. Winter survival is far from easy, but it is definitely possible if you can anticipate potential problems and know where to find food.

Foraging for food in a winter survival situation
Foraging for food in a winter survival situation

Foraging for food in a winter survival setting

There are two main types of foraging after a disaster:

  • Wilderness foraging
  • Urban foraging

Your location will determine the types of food that you can forage in the wilderness. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you specifically what to look for since I don’t know where you live. I have a lot of experience foraging throughout the United States and Canada and there’s something for everyone. Wilderness survival requires some knowledge of the natural resources, local wildlife, and native plants.

To forage in an urban setting, you will need to know the layout of your town, including local gardens, stores, and restaurants.

Wilderness Food Sources

These food sources are typically readily available in the wilderness even in harsh winter conditions. You may need to dig through the snow, but finding food in the dead of winter is still very possible!

Cattail Roots

Foraging for food in a winter survival situation

Cattails are a lot like potatoes and can be prepared in the same way if you have some heat to cook with. Wash and peel them first and then you’ll be good to go. Additionally, if you’re feeling patient and have a way to dry store, you can dry them and grind them into flour. Otherwise, slice them thinly and boil them for a few minutes.

Wild Food Foraging- Cattail- Veggie Pasta

Pine Nuts

Foraging for food in a winter survival situation

Pine nuts are readily available in most regions of the Northern Hemisphere. You want to get the seeds from closed pine cones that are still on the tree. If you can’t find any on the tree, you can check the ground below, but it is likely that animals have already picked through the cones on the ground. It doesn’t hurt to check!

How to harvest pine nuts in the forest


Foraging for food in a winter survival situation

You can find acorns on the ground. They often get buried under snow so if you come across one of these trees, it’s a good idea to dig a little. Sometimes they hide under dead grass and fallen leaves, so don’t give up if you don’t find any right away.

Acorns need to be soaked for 3 days and you must change the water at least 3 times to remove tannins. If you are short on water then skip the acorns because they’re not worth losing water over.

Acorns – Survival Food!

Foraging for food in a winter survival situation

Milkweed Seeds

Did you know that milkweed seeds can be eaten? Also, the fluff makes great tinder, insulation for shelter and clothing, and stuffing for pillows. Simply break open the pods to release the seeds and fluff. The pods burn well too.

Wild Food Foraging- Common Milkweed


Foraging for food in a winter survival situation

Watercress grows year round and is found in dense clusters in creeks and springs. It is edible raw and this makes it very useful for winter survival when you need to conserve your heat-making resources.

Desert Survival Food: Watercress


Crabapples are cold-hearty and high in nutrients. You can often find them hanging in their trees in the wintertime. While, it is possible to eat them off the ground, you will want to look out for signs of decay and vermin activity. You should never eat crabapples or any items that are full of insects. It’s not worth risking parasites.

Everything You Need to Know About Crab Apples! | DAFT

Wild Berries

Berries are excellent winter foods. In the Pacific Northwest, I loved hiking through the forests from November – January to find the last salal bushes and black huckleberries. Only eat the berries that you are familiar with because unfamiliar berries could make you sick.

How to Not Poison Yourself Eating Berries


Mushrooms can survive in cold winter weather. However, you want to make sure that you can identify the mushrooms and are certain that they are edible, otherwise skip them. They are a wonderful source of nutrients, but they can also kill you. Many varieties of mushrooms grow in the winter, but the exact varieties will depend on your location. Search for them in rotting logs and vegetation, especially after a thaw. If you’re new to identifying mushrooms, this article is a good place to start.

16 Wild Edible Mushrooms You Can Forage This Autumn

Bugs and Grubs

Bugs and grubs typically stay underground in the cold winter months, but with a little digging you can collect enough to keep your body fueled. Search for rotting logs, vegetation, and signs of insect activity in trees. Crickets, ants, and termites are widespread and usually safe to eat. As a general rule, I always boil all of the insects that I find. Boiling will kill most parasites and bacteria and can neutralize the acid in ants. I would never eat bugs that I can’t identify. As a whole it is always a good idea to avoid brightly colored insects. As the old saying states, “If it’s brown, swallow it down!”

How To Eat Every Insect | Method Mastery | Epicurious

The Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles: Learn How To Forage, Prepare & Eat 40 Wild Foods is the top rated foraging guide on Amazon. I keep it in my bugout bag because it makes identifying edible plants easy. I love that it has clear illustrations and step by step directions for identifying each plant.

Hunting and Trapping

Hunting and trapping are very viable ways to get your food in the winter time. All of the natural food sources that I mentioned above will attract animals so it is very beneficial to know where they are growing. Set your traps accordingly then wait to shoot your shot. You will need a suitable rifle or a powerful bow if you want to take down deer or elk.

Be on the lookout for rabbits, raccoons, beavers, and rats. A rat may sound very unappealing, but it’s better than starving to death. Rats are the easiest to trap because because they have less fear of humans than the other animals. As I mentioned above, the rats will often come to you because they will try to raid your food supply. Make sure that you thoroughly cook all of your meat to kill bacteria and parasites. Also, you should never eat a random dead animal that you come across.

Urban Food Sources

If you are a city dweller and you get caught off guard without supplies, don’t worry! You can still find food in suburban and urban areas.

  • Community Gardens are very popular in cities. City dwellers often grow potatoes because they are easy to grow and don’t require a lot of care. Root vegetables will survive underground for months even in the coldest temperatures. If a community garden already looks cleaned out, it doesn’t hurt to do some digging to search for potatoes, carrots, turnips, and other root veggies.
  • Abandoned Restaurants are a good place to restock your food. After the first few days, most of the items will be gone since they are usually perishable. If you’re quick and lucky, you may be able to find some dry goods or suitable items in the walk-in freezer. If 3 days have passed since SHTF, I would avoid restaurants because by then the food will be spoiled or gone.
  • Abandoned Grocery Stores will be the best place to find food once SHTF (if you are quick enough.) As soon as the dust settles, everyone will race to the grocery stores. Search breakrooms, backrooms, and lockers for hidden treasures. Many looters will overlook frozen items. Frozen foods are preserved and good options. There are many foods will extremely long shelf lives.
  • Empty Vehicles sometimes have stashed protein or granola bars and other goodies stashed in glove compartments. I’d aim for minivans to find the best haul.
  • Dumpster Diving is much better in the winter than the summer. The freezing temperatures slow down spoilage and it is less smelly. Many people in urban areas throw out perfectly good food. Grocery stores and restaurants usually have the best dumpsters and apartments sometimes have good options too.

I don’t recommend searching people’s homes for supplies. Even if a house may look abandoned, it could be another prepper’s home and you may end up with a rifle in your face. If you must enter a home, you should knock first out of courtesy.


Winter foraging and survival will take problem solving, creative thinking, and killer prepper skills. At this point, I hope you have a better idea of where to find some viable food sources. Take some time to start scouting and creating a solid survival plan.

Have you ever gone winter camping before? Do you have more winter survival and foraging ideas? Please comment below to share!

See you soon!