How to Find Lost Keys in the Snow
Each year, more than 20 million people lose their house or car keys in the United States. And if you’ve lost your keys in the snow, it can be frustrating. It’s cold, wet, and you’ve got warmer places to be.
But don’t panic. You can find your keys. In this article, we’ll cover five options you have for finding keys lost in the snow. You can choose the one that best fits your budget and situation.
1. Retrace Your Steps
An advantage of losing your keys in the snow is that you can retrace your steps. By following your footprints to see where you’ve been, you may find your keys are easily retrieved.
Walk with a flashlight, shining it along where you were walking, and look for the glimmer of metal reflecting back at you.
2. Rent a Metal Detector
Save yourself the struggle of shoveling snow, or sifting through it on your hands and knees. Rent a metal detector to search for your lost keys. Metal detector rentals aren’t available in every city, but they’re a viable option in most metro areas.
You’ll want a detector with at least a waterproof search coil (if not one that is fully submersible). Discrimination settings (to allow you to ignore certain types of metal) are helpful. And, adjustable sensitivity can prevent interference from other metals and minerals in the ground.
If you haven't used a metal detector before, don’t worry. Modern metal detectors are designed to be easy to use with an understanding of the basics.
Tips for Using a Rental Metal Detector
The key (pun intended) to effective metal detector usage is an understanding of basic techniques, and the patience to find what you seek.
Search Coil Orientation
First, keep the search coil parallel with the ground. You'll want to hold the detector about a half an inch (1 cm) from the surface at most. The coil should be just above the ground, so don’t be afraid to swing it into the snow. Any higher, and you’ll lose the ability to detect with enough depth to find your keys.
Next, you’ll need to slowly sweep the detector side to side in a continuous motion. If the detector isn’t moving, it won’t work well, and you’ll be wasting your time. That said, there’s a Goldilocks zone between too slow—and too fast—that will yield the best results.
An ideal sweeping speed is around 3 to 4 seconds from side to side. If it feels comfortable while you're in the motion, you're at the right speed. Sweeping too slowly or too quickly lessens your likelihood of finding your keys.
Search in a Grid Pattern
Take advantage of a technique called a grid pattern to maximize your chances of success. Imagine a grid laid over the search area, like the one pictured below.
As you sweep the detector from side to side, walk across your search area. Walk in a straight line from one edge of your grid to the other. In the image, this would be the white lines. Then, turn 180º and search the same line from the opposite direction. Repeat this process until you’ve searched the extent of where you believe your keys to be.
If you come up empty-handed, search over the same area again. But this time, do so at a right angle to the grid lines you’ve already swept across. In the image, these lines are the pink ones. By doing this, you’ll sweep close to 100% of the ground.
3. Hire a Metal Detector Expert
If you'd rather have someone else do the detecting, you can hire a metal detector expert to search for your lost keys.
Some detecting services charge by the hour. Others operate on a reward basis, which lets you set the price for what their time and expertise is worth to you.
As is the case with metal detector rental, these services may not be available where you live.
4. Replace the Keys
You can get your keys replaced, but it’s not cheap. Modern electronic car keys and fobs can cost between $300 to $900 to replace and reprogram.
House keys are cheaper to replace (typically less than $5 at a local hardware store). But you’ll often still a locksmith to let you in to your house, which can start at $150.
5. Wait for the Snow to Melt
If you’ve got nowhere to be (and have an accessible spare key), you could wait for the snow to melt. Here in Colorado, this is a somewhat viable option, as snow often melts in a day or two. Elsewhere, you could be waiting weeks or even months to see the grass again.
How to Prevent Losing Your Keys in the Future
If you’ve found your keys (or had them replaced), you'll likely want to avoid this situation in the future. Thankfully, there is something you can do. There are Bluetooth tracking devices available that you can attach to your key ring. The next time you lose your keys, you can locate them with the Bluetooth tracker.
However, there are some caveats. Bluetooth key trackers have functional ranges between 40 and 200 feet. This means that you need to be within that range to make use of the locating feature. You’ll need to have your smartphone handy to activate the feature, and be within your cell phone coverage area.