Safe on ice


Today we've the honor to present our friend and first guest blogger: Jonas Sjöblom! In this post Jonas will share some tips for anyone who wants to get out on natural ice. With knowledge, company, gear, experience and curiosity, we're taking the first steps towards feeling safe and confident on ice.

Jonas Sjöblom teaches outdoors life at Ålands folkhögskola. He is a pathfinder, kayak-guide, nature photografer and craftsworker. Jonas is raised and resident at Åland (Finland), nowadays in a log house he has built himself.

Jonas loves to roam in balance with nature, preferably with canoe and the more time in the wild the better. He has crafted most of his outdoor gear himself and he's also an incurable prankster.

The photos in this post are Jonas', unless otherwise stated. 


The ice is a wonderful playground for both children and adults. You can ski on it on a bright winters day, dash away on long-distance skates, jump between floes or sit down and fish from a hole in it.

Of course, as we all know, this playground can be treacherous. Right underneath the shiny surface lies cold water and if the ice would brake, the game turns into a way more serious scenario. Still the ice mesmerize us and some of us simply can't stay away from it. Then it's good to befriend the ice, get to know it and all it quirks - and be prepared the day it breaks.

Company, in combination with knowledge, experience and proper gear, company makes the best life insurance out there. It's also more fun to share the trip with someone.

Spike, it may have a simple look. A rod with a metal spike in one end and a handle in the other, but it's the most important tool to travel safely on ice. With the spike we can stab the ice, to check both thickness and quality of the ice.

How many stabs you need and how hard you need to stab, depends on the design of your spike. Most commercial spikes ar designed to get through with one powerful stab when the ice (core) is about 5 cm thick. And a lighter stab if the ice (core) is between 3-5 cm. That's also the range in thickness where core ice can carry the weight of an adult. By 5 cm it's safe for an adult, even though it might make spooky creaking noises. A group of people may want to keep some distance from one another while out on ice this thin.

Choose a sturdy and stiff spike.

Ice prods, are helpful if you fall through the ice. These are two handles wit prods in one end. You keep them on a ribbon around your neck and you use them to pull yourself out of the water in case of an involuntary plunge.

Backpack, is good in many ways. Besides to bring your snack in it and sit on it during lunch break, you can fill it with a dry set of clothes packed in a water proof bag. The backpack will help, keeping your body afloat if falling through and a dry set of clothes brings your warmth back afterwards.

Bring at least:

  • Rain clothes (the backpack is wet after your swim, the rain clothes protect you dry clothes)
  • Two sturdy plastic bags (so you wont get your socks wet when you squeeze them back in your boots)
  • Towel
  • Cap, gloves, dry socks, scarf or buff, underwear, under garment, woolen sweater or down jacket.
  • A small first aid kit and some hot drink.
Photografer: Matthias Crommelinck
Photografer: Matthias Crommelinck

If you fall through the, most common, first reaction is to panic and hyperventilation. Taking a few deep breaths before turning around towards where you came from (that's usually where the ice is strongest) helps you to calm down and focus. Kick with your legs and try to get your feet on the edge of the hole, try to spread out your weight and pull yourself forward with the ice prods. Keep pulling yourself away from the hole about 5 m before getting back on your feet.

Photografer: Matthias Crommelinck
Photografer: Matthias Crommelinck

Kastlina is good to keep easily accesible on your backpack. You can use it either if you or someone else has fallen through. Make sure that the rope isn't tangled in the bag. Check out some educational videos on the internet to learn how to pack and use it. And practice at home on throwing it.

Knowledge, is more important than gear. It's good to keep updated on the condition of the ice, it varies throughout the season and also the weather for the last days.Get to know your gear. What's in that first aid kit and how do you use it? Take some time learning from other peoples experiences.

Experience is built over time. It'll get easier to understand the ice, get to know your spike and trust your intuition. But it takes time. Many outdoor organizations arrange workshops on ice rescue technique. Take the chance!  And try your limits while out on thin ice and shallow water, it gives you the perfect opportunity to experiment.

Finally, there's a difference between safety and safety-bustle. Don't let your fears overshadow your experience. Rather live than survive!

Was this post helpful? Feel free to share with your friends. Have you spent any time on ice this winter? Please, share your icy memories in stories and tag @tracelessintiveden so that we may join you out!

Play it cool!