Finding Water In The Wild
If you ever find yourself in a survival situation, one of your top priorities will be to find water. Water means life. You can only live 3 days without water. Although you can technically survive that many days without drinking water, your body will begin to shut down and you will feel sick and miserable on about day 2 of no water. You have to find water in order to live.
Now, this isn’t always easy when you are not blessed with a beautiful flowing river or a lake for you to take all the water you need. However, there are still ways you can find water, even when it is not obvious. These are some tips and skills you will want to know just in case you ever find yourself stranding in the wilderness, desert or out in the forest with no obvious bodies of water.
Before we discuss how to find water, let’s make one thing very clear:
All water you collect is considered unsafe to drink.
The only real exception to that rule is rainwater. However, unless the container you catch the water in is clean and free of contaminants, you would still want to treat the water just in case there was a nasty bug lurking inside the container. The bug would be invisible to your naked eye, but it could cause you to become extremely ill if ingested.
Use Your Senses
If you are walking through a forested area or an area that limits your view, you could very well be very close to water, but just not be able to see it. The key is to open your mind and let your remaining senses do the work.
- Listen for sounds of running water. Gurgling or that tell-tale whooshing sound of water rushing down a hillside will be music to your ears.
- Listen for the sounds of birds. Birds need water. If you hear a number of birds singing, follow the sounds.
- Take a deep breath and really smell your surroundings. Green, lush vegetation often has a bit of an acrid smell to it. The dampness creates a bit of a musty, earthy smell that signals water is near.
- Look for signs of animal activity. Watch the ground for tracks. Animal tracks can lead you right to water.
- If you can find a hill, climb a tree or find another place that puts you higher than the terrain, go up and take a look at your surroundings. If you see a green patch, there is water.
- Look for trees that indicate water; cottonwood, willow, river, river maple and cypress. Learn what these trees look like so you can use them to find water in an emergency.
Once you have found your water, it is time to collect it. How can you collect water if you don’t have a bowl or bucket? Sadly, the world is filled with trash. There is no inch of land that is completely untouched by humans who have not left a little piece of themselves behind (except possibly Antarctica). You need to scour the area and look for “trash” that will save your life. The following list includes some of the things you could use to collect water from a stream, lake or river.
- A garbage bag is perfect. If you have a bug out bag and happened to remember to pack some bags in it, you are in luck.
- Those plastic bags from the grocery store will also work to collect water. Tie off the corners where there tends to be small tears. This will also make it a little sturdier.
- Old water and soda bottles will work.
- Empty cans are great and can also be used over a fire to boil the water to purify it.
- Your shirt can be used to scoop water. Yes, you will lose some water, but you can still hold life-giving water in fabric.
- If you are handy and have the time, weaving a basket out of reeds or twigs is another possibility. This option is best for times when you have water on hand and are looking to make something a little more durable and capable of holding more water.
Pond water or water from a stinky swamp is probably not at the top of anybody’s list, but the water can be purified and made safe to drink. When gathering water from a pond or any body of water for that matter, do your best to collect the water from a few inches below the surface, but not off the ground. You don’t want to inadvertently scoop the sediment and other debris from the floor of the river, pond or other body of water. The water near the top will likely have “floaties” that can make the water unpleasant to drink. The water in the center will be the cleanest as far as debris.
You can help make the water a little easier to drink by pouring it through a corner of your shirt, a bandana or another piece of fabric. The fabric will help filter out the majority of the sand, sticks and other debris. It will still need to be boiled or treated with water purification tablets.
How To Find Water When You Can’t See It
In extreme situations, you may find yourself stranded with no visible or obvious bodies of water to procure water from. It may be the heat of the summer that has dried up all the creeks or you may be in an area where water is just not to be found. You can still “make” water with these tried and proven methods.
- Collecting the dew from grass is one good option. An easy way to do this is by using your shirt, a bandana, a towel or even a pair of socks to collect water. Place the items on a grassy area and leave them overnight. Then collect the items first thing in the morning before the sun has a chance to warm them and evaporate the collected dew. Wring out the water from the clothing. However the amount of water you will be able to obtain using this method will be limited. You can expect get several tablespoons of water or more by using this method. A good practice using this method would be to toss out every available or spare piece of clothing or material you have to collect as much water as possible.
- Use a garbage bag or even a plastic Ziploc bag tied over a leafy branch of a tree or shrub. Find a branch that has plenty of leaves and greenery in order to maximize your water collection. Leave the bag overnight and carefully remove it in the morning. Again, you will discover you have collected several tablespoons of water in the bag. If you have several bags, use them all to get the most water possible. Do not use this method on bushes like poison ivy! This method works best when the nights are cool and the days are hot.
- You can make a solar still with a few rocks, an old tin can or water bottle and a sheet of plastic. Dig a hole deep enough that your can or bottle is about half to a full inch below the rim of the hole when standing upright. Toss some green plant material into the hole around the bottle. If there isn’t any plant material, that is okay, you can still collect water. Place the plastic over the hole and secure it around the edges with several rocks. Place a small rock on the plastic directly over the opening of your water bottle or tin can. The center should dip down, forming a small bowl over the hold. Leave the still set up overnight. Dew will collect on the underside of the plastic and drip into your container.
Digging for Water
If avoidable, you never want to dig for water if you are not absolutely sure there is going to be water just below the surface. Digging is exhausting and you will expend a lot of calories and energy trying to dig deep enough to find water. If you are already bordering on dehydration, you cannot afford to work up a sweat and lose more water. Be selective before you randomly start digging. Look for the following signs below that indicate water is present.
- Old creek beds are a good place to start. Start at the outer edges around rocky banks. The rocks will have prevented the sun from drying out the water completely. You can also check in the center or where there is an obvious area where the water would have been deepest.
- Dig in areas where there is clumps of green vegetation.
- Look for signs of a wash going downhill. When it rains or there is snowmelt, the water will typically form trenches. Follow the trench down and look for small pools of water under rocks. Dig along the trench where it has been shaded.
Do not panic when you find yourself in a survival situation without water. Use these tips that will lead you to water. Panicking and not using good judgment can lead to more stress and ultimately prove fatal. Practice using these water-finding skills today so they will be second nature to you in a real survival situation.
Purifying Water In the Wild
Everybody knows that water is life. Without water, survival is impossible. Unfortunately, even if you do find water to drink, it isn’t safe. There are a number of viruses, protozoa and bacteria that are in the water that you cannot see. If you drink the water and the viruses and bacteria are absorbed by your digestive track, you could be looking at a serious, life-threatening illness.
Bugs in the Water
Some of the bacteria and viruses that are lingering in water you find in the wild are as follows;
- Cryptosporidium parvum
- Giardia Lamblia
- Hepatitis A
Where do They Come From?
Various bacteria, virus and protozoa are typically deposited in the water by animals using the bathroom in or near the water. Humans are also culprits. Fecal matter is the main cause of these dangerous water contaminants.
What Happens if You Drink Contaminated Water?
You could become extremely sick. The viruses, bacteria and protozoa get into your digestive system and cause things like diarrhea, vomiting, fever and stomach cramps. The symptoms can be severe enough to cause dehydration and ultimately death if not treated. It can take anywhere from 1 to 2 days for the symptoms to appear. Don’t assume that because you didn’t become violently ill within the first few hours of drinking unclean water that it is safe to drink.
What is Purifying Water?
Fortunately, there are several options you can use to purify water and make it safe to drink. Purifying water simply means you use either chemicals or heat to kill any living organisms in the water that can make you ill. Think about cooking meat. We cook it to kill off any bacteria that is lingering in the raw meat. Your water is essentially the same thing. It needs to be cooked to kill off the nasty bugs that are living in it.
Is Filtering the Same as Purifying?
It is important to note that purifying water is not the same as filtering water. Filters can remove the majority of protozoa and bacteria, but it is not as effective against viruses. This is because viruses are super tiny and can pass through the filter pores. However, technology is constantly advancing in this area and filters are getting more effective at removing all contaminants from the water. To help you get a better picture; viruses are .01 micron in size. Bacteria are .1 and protozoa are 1 micron. There are some new filters that are hitting the market that can remove microns down to .02. The key is reading the labeling and making sure you are getting a filter with the smallest pores possible.
How to Purify Water
Boiling water is the most common method. As soon as water hits the boiling point, all bacteria, viruses and protozoa are killed. Despite what you may have heard in the past, you do not need to boil water for 15 minutes or even 5 minutes. Dead is dead. Boiling water any longer than that is wasting it because it will evaporate.
You can use iodine, chlorine or chlorine dioxide to effectively treat water. However, protozoa have hard little shells that can make it nearly impossible for iodine or chlorine to penetrate. This means, they will still be alive and in the water you drink. Your best option here is chlorine dioxide. You can find tablets that are super easy to carry in a backpack or even in the glovebox of your car that are made with chlorine dioxide. You drop a tablet or two in a quart of water, wait 30 minutes and the water is safe for you to drink.
What To Do When You Can’t Boil Your Water?
If you find yourself in a situation that excludes boiling your water as an option and you don’t have any of those little chemical treatment tablets, do not despair. There are a couple of other options you have to purifying your water.
You will hopefully have a fire. You need a fire for survival. Look for a container to hold your water. Do your best to clean off a few rocks that will fit into your water container without making it overflow. Place these rocks in your fire if you have a couple of long sticks you can use to remove the rocks once they are hot. If you don’t have a way to get the rocks out, place the rocks on the outer edge of your fire. They will take a little longer to heat, but they will get hot. Once the rocks have been in the fire for about 5 minutes or so, remove the rocks and carefully place them into your water. The heat from the rocks will be enough to heat the water and ultimately kill all the contaminants. Allow the rocks to remain in the water until they are warm or cool. Remove the rocks and the water is ready for you to drink.
The sun is another option to heat your water to a point that is hot enough to kill off any bugs that may be living in it. Now, you have probably heard the dire warning about leaving your bottles of water in the sun. The sun heats the plastic and the plastic leeches chemicals into the water. Fortunately, more companies are switching to safer plastics so this is not a major issue. If you are in a survival situation, the slim possibility of harmless chemicals leeching into your water is going to be the least of your concerns. Use that bottle to purify your water.
Follow these steps to purify your water using solar disinfection.
1-Fill the bottle with water and place the cap on it. You can use an old water bottle or a clear soda bottle.
2-Once the vessel is filled, cap it and lay it on its side in an area that gets direct sunlight. On a south-facing rock or on your survival blanket if you have one is excellent. The heat from the rock or blanket will help heat the water.
3-Allow the water to sit in the sun for 6 hours.
Some tips about solar disinfection.
- Do not use colored bottles—the color absorbs the UV rays
- The bottle must be placed on its side
- Use bottles with a 1 on the bottom in the center of the recycling ring
- If the sky is cloudy, it can take up to 2 days to disinfect the water
- Do not use glass jars—it blocks the UV rays
- Do not use a bottle that is more than 2 liters—a gallon jug will not work
Set Up a Solar Still
This option has dual purposes. It collects water that is safe to drink and does not need further purification. It is fairly simple to set up a solar still anywhere.
1-Dig a shallow hole and place a bowl, cup or water bottle into the hole. The rim of your vessel should be 1 to 2 inches below the edge of the hole.
2-If there is green plant material available, place it around the vessel in the hole. If there isn’t any available, that is okay.
3-Stretch a piece of plastic over the hole, leaving it sagging just a bit in the center.
4-Use rocks, heavy branches or bury the edges of the plastic to hold it in place.
5-Place a single rock or a few small ones in the center of the plastic, directly over the opening of your water vessel.
6-Condensation will be created and drip into the vessel. The water is safe to drink.
Can I Drink My Urine?
If you have ever watched a survival show, you have probably seen experts drinking their urine in desperate situations. This is misleading and actually rather dangerous. The short answer to this question is no. Urine is the result of your body cleaning and processing the stuff you have consumed. A person who is fully hydrated and has been drinking plenty of fluids will have fairly clear to light yellow urine that is typically more water than waste. However, a person that is in a survival situation and likely dehydrated is going to have little urine output and the urine that does come out is going to be dark in color. This means it is more waste than water. Drinking that urine is putting the body’s waste back into it. This will cause your body to work harder to try and get rid of it—again. This will ultimately only further dehydrate you. Avoid drinking your urine and do what you can to find water elsewhere.