How to Find Wilderness Survival Water


Where to Find Water Outdoors


Where's the Water?

© copyright 2004, by Gary Benton



While we may many needs during survival, most of what we want is simply desired items. We want more or better food, a bigger or better shelter, and the list goes on. Usually, what we have will keep us alive until rescued, but not always. Our actual needs vary and depend on the climate we are surviving in. In all cases though, we will need (not necessarily in this order) food, shelter and water, as a minimum. Water; do you know how to find it in the wild?


Do you know you can live three weeks or more without food while drinking only water? Do you know that in the heat of the desert you can die from the lack of water in as little as a few hours? Water, it is the basis of our being. It is important for most of us to drink two to three quarts of good clean water a day. Also, it is important in survival situations for us to retain what body fluids we already have.


Immediately, once you know you will have to survive, find a shady spot to rest and think. Consider your survival options in the shade and not in the sun, even if the day is not very hot. Do not sit on the hot rocks or the hot ground. Avoid talking anymore than you have to, and breath through your nose, you will lose less water that way. Stay out of direct sunlight and either cut back, or stop eating. Foods speed up the dehydration process. The body takes moisture from itself to process waste. And, keep in mind not to drink coffee, tea, or alcohol at all. All three speed up dehydration. Check your urine for color each time you go. If the urine turns brown in color you are dehydrating. These hints will assist you in retaining what fluids your body has stored.


Well, you know you need water, but where do you find it? If you are lucky you may be near a stream, river, lake or a spring. Then, water is not much of a problem. You should also consider snow, rainwater, hail or sleet as possible water sources. Additionally, you can use trapped water if necessary from stumps, holes in rocks, ponds, or even mud puddles. This trapped water should be your last choice and used only in an emergency. Some water may have debris floating in it or contain grasses and stems. You can filter it easily.


If you use trapped water, or water from a pond, you may have to filter it. Set up a tepee by sticking three limbs in the ground, tie the tops together and make three platforms from material. In the top platform place grasses, the second platform should have sand, and the third platform should contain ground-up charcoal from your fire. Make sure all three platforms have a drooping center and under the bottom platform you need a container to catch the filtered water (see the illustration). Remember to purify the water by boiling or use chemicals (I always carry water purification tablets) before drinking.


Do not take water that has "scum" floating on it, or dead vegetation around it. Also, in the desert check any water you find for excessive amounts of salt. Many desert lakes or ponds may contain a high level of salt in the water. If the water "bubbles" or if it has an unnatural color, or smell, avoid it if possible. Always try to take your water from fast moving sources and take only clear, clean looking, water. Purify all water you take from the environment.


What do you do when you don't have any water? You have looked and can't find any rivers or streams. How do you find water? Do you know where to look for water? Try searching low areas around you. Water will sometimes pool in low areas. Also, on the side of a hill look for eroded places where the water has ran down during a heavy rain. Follow the drainage down hill and maybe to a source of water.


Also, you can often find water by digging at the lowest point on the outside bend of a dried up streambed or riverbed. Do your digging in the cool of the evening and not during the heat of the day. You may lose what body fluids you have digging and there is no assurance water will be found. Use your head to stay cool.


Also, go to a high spot around you and take a look around. Do you see a line of trees by themselves? This row of trees may seem out of place or all alone. Do you see a spot of lush grass? Both of those may indicate sources of water, perhaps a small puddle (grasses) or a river (trees). If not, don't panic yet. Look around yourself very cautiously, with a critical eye.


Do you see animal tracks? They may indicate the direction of a water source. Especially if more than one trail leads in the same direction. All animals have to drink, though it may be infrequent when compared to humans, so consider the tracks. Or, you can watch birds early or late in the day. The movement of birds (flight direction) may indicate the direction of a water source. Finally, if you can, watch for a swarm of insects, especially bees. They may be located near water. I have even heard of columns of ants leading to water. Most animals and insects will be around water at different times. Keep your eyes and ears open for any sign of movement.


Now, if you are in snow country, do not eat the snow. It will lower your body temperature, speed up dehydration, and may even cause injury to your lips (cracked or chaffed skin) if done over a long enough period of time. Always melt ice and snow before you consume it. Usually, the best way to melt the snow or ice is to place it in a container near the fire. While ice can easily be melted, snow can actually scorch. I know from experience that scorched snow has a terrible taste and smell. If you have a choice, take ice over snow.


Finally, a few things you should not do. Do not drink urine. It is a waste product of a body and is just that, waste (think about that for a second…when a body passes urine, it is not longer need or useful). Drinking urine can even make you sick. Also, avoid drinking unpurified water if at all possible. Even clear and clean looking water may contain water borne diseases such as dysentery, cholera, or typhoid (this is why it is important to keep your immunizations up to date). All water should be boiled or treated with chemicals to make it safe to drink.


You will be better off if you sip a little water frequently than if you drink a large amount at one time. Check your urine color to make sure you are staying hydrated, watch for the dark urine. Remember to stay in the shade, do as little moving as possible, so you can conserve what fluids your body has already. Think smart and move only when you have to.


Finding drinking water is not that difficult in most of North America. But, it can prove to be a problem in the southwestern part of the United States and in some other isolated areas. However, water is usually all around you. Keep in mind what you have learned in this article and you too can find water when you need it.


Stay safe and take care. I will see you on the trail.


Find Water

Gary Benton has over 45 years of outdoor experience in camping, hiking, fishing, and other activities. He's no armchair survival man, he's walked the walk from the arctic to the desert and all the area in between. Gary has an associates degree in Search and Rescue, Survival Operations, a B.S. in Industrial Occupational safety, and all but his thesis completed for a M.S. in Counseling Psychology.
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