The Rules of Three, which we will cover in more detail next week, state that you can only survive three days without water.
As dehydration advances, you begin to experience dizziness, headaches, weakness, and a loss of stamina. It can develop into heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which brings on muscle cramps, disorientation, seizures, unconsciousness, and eventually, death.
Most of us get plenty of water in the foods we eat every day, but you’ll also notice that many survival foodstuffs are dehydrated, meaning that the water has been removed to make it smaller and lighter.
Add to that the fact that in an extended emergency situation, your diet is going to change (maybe radically), and you’ll see that you won’t be able to count on getting a lot of water through food.
That being the case, you should know how to find safer water in a survival situation. Let’s dive in!
How much water do you need?
The short answer is: It depends. Daily water requirements will vary from person to person due to activity level, physical fitness, weather, certain medical conditions, and other factors. Ask ten people how much water you should drink daily and you’ll get twelve different answers.
Some lists recommend 64 ounces a day (half a gallon). Some lists swear that a liter (33 ounces) a day is all you need (a quarter of a gallon). You’ll also see pre-packed survival kits that include three small, 8 ½ ounce “juice boxes” of water per person per day (25.5 ounces).
Most survival kit checklists recommend a gallon of water per person per day. That’s not just for drinking, but for cooking and cleaning, too. Keep in mind, though, that water weighs 8.35 pounds per gallon. That can add up quickly.
A family of four, using the one-gallon recommendation, would need to store and carry just over 100 pounds of water in their three-day survival kit. It’s up to you to decide how much water you want to include in your kit initially, but at some point, you’ll need to find more.
How do you find water in the wilderness?
There are very few places in the interior U.S. where water is difficult to find. If you’re in a mountainous area, head downhill.
You’ll run across a stream or river eventually. Underground aquifers can be found all over the country, as lakes and ponds, and these will be fed by streams, springs, or run-off.
If you happen to end up in an area with no immediately apparent water, there are several ways of finding it.
- Follow the animals
Animals get thirsty, too.
Follow them (or their tracks) to the local watering hole.
Follow them (or their tracks) to the local watering hole.
- Look for vegetation
Green, leafy vegetation and grasses indicate water that is close to the surface.
Scrub vegetation indicates a source that is deeper underground or further away. Thorny vegetation is furthest from the source.
Even if a riverbed is dry on the surface, water may still be running beneath it.
Dig at the outside curves first, then work towards the middle.
What are the different ways to collect water?
Sometimes water just falls from the sky! Make sure you have containers available to collect it (your cookware, for example).
Natural basins such as holes in stone will trap water from a few hours to a couple of days, depending on their exposure to the sun. You can rig up a tarp to catch rainwater or use a cotton cloth to collect dew from plants before wringing it out into a container.
If you place a clear plastic bag around the green, a leafy branch of a non-poisonous tree or bush, and weigh down one corner, it will collect water as it evaporates from the leaves.
The bag must be emptied every two hours, or the built-up vapor pressure will stop the leaves from transpiring. Some plants such as aloes, agaves, and certain cacti have water inside them. If you can’t treat it on the spot, fill your water bottle and take it with you (remember to sterilize the bottle afterward!).
How to make clean drinking water in the Wilderness?
Ideally, your best source of water is a clear, fast-running stream. Murky water may indicate the presence of pollutants, and standing water can harbor dangerous bacteria. Regardless of the source, there are many ways of treating found water.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Treat all found water, no matter how clean it looks. That river may have toxic debris or dead bodies in it upstream from you.
The Environmental Protection Agency suggests boiling any found water vigorously for at least one minute (preferably more) to kill any disease-causing microorganisms that may be present. At altitudes above 5000 feet above sea level, add five minutes.
The flat taste of boiled water can be fixed by rapidly pouring it back and forth between two clean containers several times (called aeration).
Add 8 drops of clear, unscented household bleach per gallon of generally clear water (16 for cloudy or murky water). Mix thoroughly and allow to stand, covered, for 30 minutes. When finished, there should be a slight chlorine smell in the water.
If you can’t smell bleach, there are still organisms present; repeat the procedure. If the chlorine taste is too strong, allow the water to stand exposed to the air until tolerable, or aerate it.
- Iodine tablets
Similar to bleach, iodine tablets kill microorganisms and viruses that may be present in water. Different manufacturers have different procedures for use, so always follow the directions on the labels.
Iodine tablets also have a limited shelf life, so replace as needed. Some packages even have additional tablets to neutralize the iodine taste.
Ranging from handheld straws to pumps, there are many filters available on the market. They can use chemicals, ceramic filters, UV light, activated charcoal (or a combination of these) to clean your water.
Some filters, such as our Water Filter System, allow you to safely drink directly from any water source without using other purifying methods first.
- Solar Stills
If you don’t have a fire, it is still possible to purify found water; it just takes longer. Dig a hole two feet wide and two feet deep. Place a clean, empty container in the middle.
Place green vegetation and/or containers of found water in the hole around the empty container. Cover the hole with clear plastic and place a weight directly over the empty container in the middle, forming an inverted cone in the plastic sheeting.
As the sun raises the temperature, water will evaporate from your sources and collect on the underside of the plastic. The weight allows gravity to pull the droplets to the middle, where they fall into the clean container.
If you want to leave you’re solar still in place and drink from it throughout the day, you can run a length of tubing from the middle container up and out from under the plastic sheeting.
Water obtained in this manner is absolutely pure, but it does not produce a great volume at a time. Do not expect to be able to rely on this as your sole source of water.
Technically, a solar still is a distillation, but it’s passive. Active distillation involves boiling the found water, and channeling the steam into a clean container, usually through a tube.
It can be very simple or very complicated, depending on how much lab equipment you have access to.
Come back tomorrow when we’ll find a lot of water. We’re talking about hurricanes! See you then!