Finding Water in The Wild
Living in the cities, we tend to take water for granted. We turn our taps and we have instant access to fresh, clean water. We cook, clean and wash with it every day without a passing thought as to how precious this substance really is. The most important function of water is life. Water sustains the lives of plants and animals and even us humans. We need to stay hydrated to function. Without water, we would start to dehydrate and that can lead to all sorts of life-threatening problems.
We all know the dangers of dehydration and the importance of making sure we drink enough water and always have access to it. In residential areas, it’s not a problem. There’s always somewhere to buy bottled water or simply get water from a tap. But have you ever thought of what would happen if you ran out of water in the wild? If you can get back to civilization fast enough, you’ll be fine. However, if you don’t have water and you’re far away from a fresh source, you need to kick-start yourself into survival mode. If you find yourself stuck in the wilderness, your first priority is to ensure you get some drinkable water. Don’t panic! There are a number of ways you can find water in the wild and although it takes a little bit of effort, you can survive until you get back to the safety and comfort of your home and an endless supply of water.
If you find yourself stuck in the wilderness and it’s raining, you’re in luck. Rainwater, particularly in the forest, is safe and clean to drink. Collecting rainwater is relatively simple. Use whatever you have on hand – bottles, cans, etc. With the help of a tarp, waterproof backpack or rain jacket, you can stretch these out to catch rainwater and funnel it into whatever containers you have. If it’s at all possible, boil the water before you drink it. However, if this is not possible at the time, go ahead and drink. The most important thing to do is to stay hydrated. Also, try not to get too wet as you gather rainwater. Getting enough water is important, but so is staying dry. Being wet in the wild can lead to you getting very cold which can also lead to hypothermia. Stay hydrated, but warm and dry too.
Any body of water is fine in a pinch, but wherever possible, avoid still water. Running water that comes from rivers and streams is always moving so it’s generally safe to drink. Larger lakes are also pretty safe but water from ponds and dams tends to stagnate and may be contaminated. However, if this is your only option, try to boil it before you consume it or collect the water in filtered water bottles. You may not remove all of the microbes in this manner, but it will be safe enough to keep you hydrated. If you’re in the mountains, chances are there are natural springs hidden in the rock. If you’re lucky enough to find one of these, stock up. This water is usually naturally filtered and completely safe to drink. Just look for areas seem greener or lusher than others. Chances are, you’ll stumble upon a natural mountain spring and possibly the purest, cleanest water you’ve ever tasted.
Fruit and Other Vegetation
Fruit and vegetables are packed with water so eat away. You’ll not only get some liquids but also some valuable nutrients too. Forests tend to be packed with berries and these are an excellent source of water. The added bonus is that berries are delicious so eat your fill and pack what you can. If you’re in the tropics look for coconuts. You’ll definitely have plenty of fluids and precious nutrients too. Before you embark on any outdoor adventure, look up the region you are exploring to see what edible plants there are. Unfortunately, as much as there are beneficial fruits in the wild, there are also toxic ones. If you aren’t 100% sure it’s best to give it a miss.
The morning dew is a great source of fresh, clean water. You can collect it from grass and other plants. There are two ways to collect dew. You can shake leaves into a cup until you’ve collected enough water, or you can run an absorbent cloth over plants and grass until it is quite wet. You can then squeeze the collected water into a container or straight into your mouth. Be careful though. As safe as this water source usually is, if you collect water from toxic plants, you will be consuming these toxins in the water.
Do Some Bird Watching
You may be wondering what bird watching has to do with finding water in the wild. It’s not so much about watching the birds as it is watching where they go. Birds, and animals in general, instinctively know where to find water. Look up to see which direction birds are flying and the same goes for ground animals too. Keep a safe distance but watch to see where they’re headed. Chances are, they’ll lead you straight to a source of water.
Plants do this amazing thing of pulling up enormous amounts of water through their root system to the underside of their leaves. Normally, this water will just evaporate into the air, but if you tie plastic bags around branches, the water will collect in these bags. Palms, in particular, have large leaves which means you can collect a decent amount of water. You can then transfer this pure, clean water to flasks and be on your way.
Don’t just go looking for the obvious water sources like rivers and streams. There may not be one nearby. If you get stuck for a water source, look at the crevices in trees and rocks. Water often pools in crevices and it’s generally safe enough to drink. Also look at some other water pathways. Sometimes, spring water from the mountains finds its own outlet so and if you find the path, chances are there are puddles of water all over the surrounding area that you can access. If it’s possible, try to collect some to last you a while. You can do this by scooping it up with a cup, or soaking a t-shirt or towel and squeezing it into a container. Caution is advised here, so if you have a filtered water bottle, pass this water through the bottle as a precaution.
If you’re in a really dire situation, you can find water by digging a hole. Find a spot with lush vegetation or where the ground feels particularly wet and start digging. Slowly, but surely, this hole will start to fill with water. It may not be a huge amount, but it will be enough to have a drink. If you’re near the sea, dig a hole that is higher than the ocean’s waterline to avoid digging up salt water.
Make a Water or Solar Still
This method is probably one of the most time-consuming methods of collecting water in the wild but it’s still a useful method in desperate situations. First, you need to dig a relatively large hole. In the middle of the hole, place a cup or something similar to collect the water. Around this cup, place lush vegetation, mud or anything that has a lot of moisture. Place a sheet of plastic over the hole and secure it at the edges with rocks. Then place a small rock in the middle of the plastic sheet, right above the cup. This works best if the plastic sheet is black. The sun will cause the moisture from the vegetation and soil to condense on the underside of the plastic and the rock in the center acts as a type of funnel, directing the water into the cup.
In a similar way, you can also make sea water drinkable. Simply boil the sea water and catch the steam that rises from it. Again, boil this water under a plastic sheet or tarp and direct the trapped steam into a container. You can also use the water or solar still method on a beach. Simply dig a hole in the sand and fill it with sea water. Just as the moisture from vegetation will condense on the plastic, so too will sea water – minus the salt. Never drink sea water without distilling it first. The salt content will dehydrate you a lot faster than not drinking at all.
Let It Snow
Snow in the mountains isn’t just for skiing and snowboarding. If you are looking for fresh water in a snowy area, you’re literally walking on water. If you’re able to boil the snow, that is definitely preferable. Boil a few batches and fill your water containers. This is where an insulated water bottle comes in really handy. You’ll be able to keep the water warm which is preferable in cold weather. If you’ve packed some teabags, even better. Certain herbs are great for increasing your circulation which will keep you warmer. Try to avoid eating the snow as this will lower your core body temperature a lot faster. If you aren’t able to boil the snow, fill your containers anyway and keep them in your backpack or under your jacket, close to your body. The snow will eventually melt into drinkable water.
Always Prepare For the Worst
Before embarking on any adventure in the wild, study the terrain. If you’re not familiar with a particular area, don’t go too far and look into hiring the services of a local guide who does know the area. Pay attention to the weather. Depending on the highest temperature expected on a particular day will determine how much water you need to take with you. The hotter the day, the more water you will need. Take along matches and other items so that you can boil any water you find. If you’re a real novice at trekking through the wild, enroll in a survival course. These courses will teach you how to look for water in the wild as well as other practical survival techniques.
Remember the Rule of Threes when it comes to survival. You can survive three minutes without oxygen, three hours exposed to the elements, three days without water and three weeks without food. This is only a general rule though and will depend on the climate. Knowing this rule is crucial in knowing what you can endure if you find yourself stuck in the wild. Keep in mind that even though you can survive three days without water, this can change drastically depending on the weather. You will also start to feel pretty bad after the first 24 hours and you’ll continue to feel worse from there.
The wilderness is an amazing place to explore, but it’s not a place where you can get complacent. Never go exploring without telling someone where you plan on going and when they should expect you to return. Make sure you take at least 2 liters of water for each day you plan on being in the wild and make sure you have a working, fully charged smartphone or two-way emergency radio so you can call for help if you need to. A solar charger and dehydrated camping food could also save your life in crucial moments.
The key to surviving in the wilderness is to always be prepared. First and foremost, you should always look at packing enough water with you … even on short hikes. Don’t wait for an emergency to start these water finding survival techniques. Put them into practice when you are on a short hike through territory you are familiar with. While you are hiking, look around you for potential water sources and learn how to make a water or solar still. It’s always better to learn these skills before you actually need them. You don’t have to collect water if you already have enough, but it’s good to know you can find water if you ever need to.