In this article, I will be explaining where and how to find drinking water in the wild.
71% of the Earth is covered in water, yet only 1.2% of that water can be drinkable.
Water is by far the most valuable resource in any survival scenario. You can easily go a day without food unless you’re in freezing temperatures and you don’t normally need shelter right away.
But water is absolutely essential, and a day without water can lead to dehydration, decreased body and mind function, and desperation. This is why finding water is an essential survival skill.
With two liters a day, the body will be able to pump blood, process food, control body temperature (preventing hypo- and hyperthermia), think clearly, and carry out a variety of other internal processes.
Let’s dig in.
Before We Begin
Before you drink water you scavenge, you want to make sure that you almost always filter the water before drinking it. Water purification is important because it’ll ensure you don’t get sick from drinking water.
If you would like to learn more about different water filtration devices to purify water check out our Lifestraw Vs Grayl article and our Lifestraw Go Water Bottle Ultimate Review. Filtered water is essential for survival, so I reccomend you check those out before reading the rest of this article.
In certain instances, though, it is not possible to filter your water because you do not have the required supplies on hand, but we will go over how you can filter and purify your water here. Clear water does not necessarily mean drinkable water.
Just be aware that any clear water you consume without first purifying it can contain harmful bacteria, putting you at risk.
Some water collection methods are better for drinking straight from the source than others which require water treatment; we’ll go over those in more detail below.
1. Collecting Rainwater
Collecting and drinking rainwater is one of the most secure ways to stay hydrated without risking bacterial infection. This is particularly true in remote and rural areas (in urban centers, the rain first travels through pollution, emissions, etc.).
There are two main ways to gather drinkable rainwater. The first method is to use any and all containers you have on hand.
The second method is to tie the corners of a poncho or tarp around trees a few feet off the ground, make a depression in the center with a small rock, and let the water accumulate.
You can combine these strategies to increase the effectiveness of your containers by tying the poncho or tarp to funnel into your bottle, jar, or whatever you have (as long as it doesn’t leak and waste water!)
Rain water is not clean water, it is slightly contaminated water. However, it is unlikely that it will make you sick.
2. Lakes, Streams, and Rivers
In the wild, these are the most visible sources of water. Clear, flowing water is your best bet because the movement prevents bacteria from growing fast.
This means that small streams should be your first priority. Rivers are fine, but larger ones frequently have a lot of pollution from upstream. Lakes and ponds are fine, but they are stagnant, which increases the possibility of bacteria. Untreated water from lakes and ponds are more risky than some other options, but are a good last resort.
So, how do you go about discovering these bodies of water? Make use of the senses. Standing completely still and listening carefully, you can be able to hear rushing water even though it is a long distance away.
Then use your eyes to look for animal tracks that might lead to water. Insect swarms, while irritating, are another indicator of nearby water. And, particularly in the mornings and evenings, following the flight path of birds can lead you to some much-needed water. In the desert, it is particularly important to observe animal behavior.
Animal tracks in the sand will be easier to find, and they will almost always lead to water. In dry areas, birds will migrate to water in particular.
You can also scout the area you’re in. Water flows downhill, so look for valleys, ditches, gullies, and so on. If you go to low ground, you’ll almost always come across water sources.
3. Fruits and Plants
Water is abundant in fruits, berries, cacti, fleshy/pulpy plants, and even roots. To extract the liquid from each of these, simply collect the plants, put them in a jar, and smash them into a pulp with a rock.
It won’t be much, but in times of need, every little bit counts. Water in plants are usually safe drinking water.
This approach is particularly useful in tropical environments with plenty of fruits and vegetation. Coconuts are a great source of hydration. However, unripe, green coconuts are preferable because the milk of ripe coconuts acts as a laxative, further dehydrating you.
4. Collecting Plant Transpiration
Taking advantage of plant transpiration is another simple method for creating a source of water. This is the mechanism by which moisture is transported from the roots of a plant to the underside of its leaves.
It vaporizes into the atmosphere from there, so you’re going to grab the water before it does.
First thing in the morning, tie a bag (or something you can make into a bag; the larger the better) around a leafy green tree branch or shrub.
Place a rock in the bag to weigh it down a little bit so the water has a place to collect. Over the course of the day, the plant transpires and produces moisture. Rather than vaporizing into the atmosphere, though, it collects at the bottom of your bag.
Never do this with a poisonous plant. This method will help add to the various water sources you will learn how to create.
4. Rock Crevices and Tree Crotches
Like fruits and vegetables, this is another source that won’t provide much water, but it’s definitely something to consider if you’re in a pinch, especially if you’re stranded in the desert.
Water may accumulate in the crevices of rocks. Bird droppings around a rock crevice in an arid area can indicate the presence of water within, even if it cannot be seen.
To extract water from crotches and cracks, insert a piece of clothing or fabric, allow it to absorb some moisture, and then wring it out. Repeat if possible, and return after rain to replenish your supply.
5. Solar Water Still
The advantage of building a still is that it offers a consistent, relatively substantial source of water (when opposed to other methods), and you know exactly how much you’ll be receiving, which allows you to prepare and ration more effectively.
There are aboveground and underground sills; the underground is your better bet because it holds more water, but the aboveground can be useful if you’re incredibly tired and can’t dig a big pit.
- Clear plastic sheeting/saran wrap/plastic wrap
- Digging tool
- (Optional) Straw/plant that can act as a straw/life straw device
- Find a location that receives the majority of the day’s sunlight.
- Make a bowl-shaped pit 3′ wide by 2′ deep. Excavate a small hole inside that for the container.
- Attach the drinking tube to the bottom of the bottle if desired. If you do not have one, you can skip this phase.
- Insert the container into the pit and run the tubing up through the opening.
- Cover the hole with plastic and secure it with rocks and dirt.
- Place a small rock in the center of your sheet, allowing it to hang and form an inverted cone over the jar.
- Drink directly from the tube if you have one. Otherwise, drink the water from the bottom and refill it when the water has been collected again
At that depth, there is almost always moisture in the earth. This will react with the heat of the sun to form condensation, which will accumulate on the plastic.
The condensation is forced down into your jar by the inverted cone. You should anticipate a gathering. 5-1 liters a day, so you’d need more than one (or another source) to cover an entire day’s worth.
6. Melting Snow and Ice
Snow and ice are plentiful, especially in the mountains, well into the summer months, and sometimes all year. If you’re near or on the ocean in a polar area, search for icebergs for freshwater as well as “old ice” that has been through rains and thaws.
Freshwater ice, as opposed to salty ice, which is opaque and gray, has a bluish color. It also has a crystalline structure, and splinters easily with a knife.
If you’re on a boat and are surrounded by saltwater or other water sources, collect some of it in a bottle and freeze it.
The freshwater will freeze first, followed by the salt, which will collect as slush in the middle. Remove the ice and throw away the slush.
While snow and ice are excellent sources of water, they must first be melted and filtered.
Eating straight snow/ice lowers your body temperature, which causes dehydration because it allows your metabolic rate to increase in order to keep you safe.
The easiest way to melt snow/ice and make it taste good is to simply mix it with other water you have on hand, even if it’s in tiny quantities, and slosh it around before the snow melts.
If you’re heating it, mix in some other water; heating snow/ice directly will scorch it and result in a foul-tasting drink.
7. Digging a Well
A well can be an amazing source of water. Begin digging. Dig a wide hole a few feet deep anywhere you see dampness on the field or green plants, and water will most definitely seep in.
The same is true at the base of cliffs, in dry river beds, in valleys/low places, and at the first depression behind the first sand dune of dry desert lakes.
You may not be good, but you might be. This water will, of course, be muddy, so it will need further filtering/purification, but you will have a fresh supply of water regardless.
8. Collecting Water From Metal
Condensation on metal surfaces can occur as a result of extreme temperature differences between night and day. Catch the moisture with an absorbent cloth until the sun rises and vaporizes it.
This also implies that you can keep your metal things out in the open rather than storing them in your bag.
Look for natural water puddles if there aren’t any visible water sources. Puddles of water are common on large rocks, in the crook of a tree, and in valleys. Examine the area, particularly in the shade.
Look for water stuck in crevices on mountains. Look for lush vegetation on the faults as well, as this could mean a spring.
Stagnant water in a puddle is easily contaminated. Examine it for excessive algae or animals that may be living in it. Do not drink water collected from poisonous trees.
When you’ve determined that a puddle is possibly dry, catch the water by soaking it with a cloth and wringing it out into a jar.
10. Avoid Substitutes
In any desperate survival situation, you can be tempted to substitute non-water liquids for freshwater.
These can be avoided in anything but the most extreme of circumstances. Non-water replacements, in general, wreak havoc on your health and vitality. These replacements, as well as their harmful properties, are listed below:
- Alcoholic beverages: Dehydrates the human body and impairs judgment.
- Urine: A form of waste. It contains toxic bodily waste and is around 2% salt.
- Blood: It is possible that illness will be transmitted. Has a high salt content as well.
- Seawater and Ice: Contains 4% salt. It takes more water to flush out the waste from seawater than you get from it. It simply depletes the body’s H2O supply.
Take a sample of the water you have found, let it sit, and wait to see what you’re dealing with if a source is cloudy in any way. If it’s all soil or organic matter, it’ll settle to the bottom and you’ll be able to carefully pour the clear water into another container. You usually want to purify the water just in case, and one of the methods is by boiling it. Check out our How to Start a Fire in the Wild and 5 Best Survival Lighters articles to learn more.
If you find a stream of water in the wild, make sure that you go as upstream as possible. In general, water is cleaner the closer it is to its source, where there is less potential for harmful substances to flow into it.
If you’re at the end of your rope and don’t have a water source, drinking your urine will keep the human body alive for another day or two. It’s 95 percent water, but the other 5 percent is made up of waste products that, if consumed for an extended period of time, will lead to kidney failure. You will need to filter urine before drinking it or it will accelerate your dehydration.
And, of course, when you become dehydrated, this process becomes much riskier.
Until you stick to drinking your own pee, make sure you’ve exhausted all of the other options and wild sources. There’s a fair chance you’ll be able to find genuine H2O with a little effort, experience, and imagination.
Now that you have learned about how to find drinkable water in the wild and create water sources, you have just improved yourself, and you are now more improved.
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