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Ice Conditions and Trip Itinerary

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Ice Conditions

“Thick and blue, tried and true. Thin and crispy, way to risky.”

The ice traveler should look for bluish ice that is at least 4 to 6 inches thick, in order to support people and their gear. Even if the weather has been below freezing for several days, don’t guess about ice thickness. Check ice in several places. Use an auger, spud, or axe to make a test hole beginning at shore and continuing as you go out.

If ice at the shoreline is cracked or squishy, stay off. Don’t go on the ice during thaws. Watch out for thin, clear, or honeycomb-shaped ice. Dark snow and dark ice are other signs of weak spots.

Choose small bodies of water. Rivers and lakes are prone to wind and wave action, which can break ice up quickly. Avoid areas with currents, around bridges, and pressure ridges.

Ice Thickness

In the wintertime, outdoor enthusiasts frequently need to know how thick the ice is and whether it is safe to walk across it. The American Pulpwood Association has published a handy reference chart that gives a good rule-of-thumb for pond and lake ice thickness.

This table is for clear, blue ice on lakes. Reduce the strength values by 15% for clear blue river ice. Slush ice is only one-half the strength of blue ice. This table does not apply for parked loads.

Ice Thickness
(in inches)

Permissable load on clear, blue lake ice.

(Reduce strength values for other types of ice.)

2″

One person on foot

3″

Group of people (walking single file)

71⁄2″

Passenger Car (2 ton gross)

8″

Light Truck (212 ton gross)

10″

Medium Truck (312 ton gross)

12″

Heavy Truck (7–8 ton gross)

15″

Heavy Truck (10 ton gross)

20″

25 tons

25″

45 tons

30″

70 tons

36″

110 tons

What if I Break through the ice?

  • If you break through the ice,
    don’t panic.
  • Don’t try to climb out, you’ll probably break through the ice again.
  • Lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard. This will help lift your body onto the ice. Roll to safety.
  • To help someone who has fallen in, lie down flat and reach with a branch, plank, or rope; or form a human chain. Don’t stand. After securing the victim, wiggle backwards to the solid ice.
  • The victim may need treatment of hypothermia (cold exposure), artificial respiration, or CPR.
  • “If your feet are cold, put on your hat.” That may seem odd, but it’s good advice. Most body heat is lost through the head and neck. So wear a hat, cover your face and neck.
  • Dress in layers. Wool, silk, and certain synthetics are best; they’ll keep you warm even if they’re wet. Insulated, waterproof boots, gloves, and a windbreaker are very important. Take extra clothing.