It’s an obvious one. Everyone knows we need water to survive, and in most cases we will only last around 3 days without taking any on board. What may not be so obvious though, is finding it in the wilderness, and equally as important as finding it, is making it safe to drink. If you are lucky to have a water source nearby, or you are experiencing rain, then you are at a huge advantage. Collecting it will be a fairly simple task using any containers you have to hand, and then treating it appropriately. It is likely, however, that in a survival situation, you will not have such luxuries, and will have to be prepared to put in a little bit of graft to get it. If you do struggle to find any for some time, then you should avoid eating, as digesting food uses up fluids in our bodies. So with out water, do not eat. The way to think about it is, everything that is alive, will need some amount of water to stay in existence. Therefore, if you are surrounded by green vegetation, then you know for a fact that water is present in that area. Happy days. Even in hotter climates such as the desert, some plant and animal life exists, and if you come across these signs, again this must mean that water is present. Even happier days if you are stuck in the desert! Since humans are so reliant on water sources, it is worth remembering that if you follow a flowing water course, there is a high chance that it will lead you to other human populations. So how do we get a hold of it?
We’ll start with the easiest supply’s of water.
Rivers, Streams, Lakes and Rain.
So if you’ve got yourself a base camp with shelter and a fire set up at a safe but reachable distance from a decent water source for the foreseeable future, then you’re chances of surviving have massively increased. But just because you have found water, doesn’t mean it is safe. Even if it looks and tastes clean, it could still hold some nasty surprises. Running water is usually a good sign, as opposed to ponds or lakes. Still water sources will tend to be stagnant, and harbour some horrible pollutants and parasites, which would be disastrous for you if you contracted an illness from them. Any water collected, should be treated thoroughly by filtering and boiling. Some chemicals can also be used such as chlorine or iodine tablets, but using these will leave an odd taste. Personally I would try to steer away from using chemicals for obvious reasons, and go for filtering and boiling methods when possible, however in a survival situation, this may not be possible and it would be better to drink chemically purified water as to go without. Water sources with no green vegetation or which have animal carcasses around them should be viewed with caution. Always treat water before you consume it.
Solar stills (above ground).
If the area you are in has tree or plant life present, then you can take advantage of them by letting them gather the water for you. Using a clear plastic bag, place it over a leafy branch, with a corner at the lowest point. Tie the bag around the top and let nature get to work. As the sun light hits the bag, the leaves will produce moisture and the heat will evaporate it. The moisture will then be trapped by the edges of the bag and turn it back into liquid water. The water will then run and gather in the bottom of the bag. It is important to remember to tie the bag over the branch to keep the heat in and also to stop the weight of any water from pulling it off the branch. Use as many of these as you can as they will only produce a small amount of water. Only use this method with non-poisonous specimens.
Solar stills (underground)
In hotter climates where there is only a small amount of vegetation present, it may be best to use a solar still below ground. Dig a hole, around 1m x 1m x 1m, and place a container in the centre to collect the water (digging another small depression will help to stop it from tipping over). Place a clear plastic sheet over the top of the hole and seal it all the way around the edge with earth. Placing a stone on top of the sheet directly above the container inside will direct any moisture that that evaporates onto the sheeting into the container. If you also have any sort of tubing available, you can place one end in the bottom of the container, and the other outside of the still so you can collect the water without disturbing the still. This method will work better if you can put any non-poisonous vegetation inside it (it works the same as the above ground solar still). Or alternatively you can urinate in the hole to dampen the earth inside (make sure to do this before placing your container inside). This will evaporate the water from the urine giving you pure drinking water. It sounds disgusting, but it might just save your life. This type of solar still might also trap some insects providing you with a little food. Take advantage of everything you can. Again make as many of these as possible to gather as much water as you can.
Water that doesn’t flow will often harbour harmful parasites and bacteria that if you get into your system can, on occasion, kill you. In a survival situation, sickness is extremely serious. Contracting an illness such a dysentery or typhoid which will result in high fever, vomiting and diarrhea will waste valuable fluids, and give you a real bad time if it doesn’t kill you. So it is so important to treat water before drinking. Even though these harmful things can be present in still water, it can still be collected safely using the still method. For example, over a small stagnant puddle, using clear plastic sheeting, make a tent shape over the water, and roll the bottom of the sheet under itself around the edges. Tying the top to an over hanging branch or other similar improvised mechanism such as a makeshift tripod will help to hold it in place. Weigh down around the bottom with rocks or logs and as the sun evaporates the water it will hit the plastic and run down and collect in the sheeting at the bottom. With this method it is tricky to collect the water, but carefully lifting one side, and letting it run to the other, the sheet can be upturned and the water will pool in it in the centre.
Filtering and boiling.
It is essential to firstly filter any water you can collect. Filtering will help to remove any nasty particles which you wouldn’t want to end up in your system. It’s simple enough to do. for example, if you take a sock, fill it with a layer of sand at the bottom, then a layer of charcoal from your fire (this will absorb toxins contained in the water), a layer of moss or grass, and a layer of pebbles at the top. Pour your water through this and collect it in what ever container you have. This will help to clean the water, however it is still not safe to drink. You must boil it to get rid of any nasty parasites and germs which will slip through the filter. Boiling is also a fairly simple task and can even be achieved with a plastic bottle hanging over a fire. You would be forgiven for thinking a plastic bottle would melt, but the water inside will prevent this. Even a container made from bark such as birch will not burn if there is water in it and you can still achieve a boil. An even simpler method you can use for filtering is to fold a piece of cloth into about 8 layers and pour the water through it. It will still need to be boiled however. The length of time you should boil water will vary depending on your altitude. The higher you are from sea level, the longer it will need. A rule of thumb is to boil for 1 minute at sea level, and for every 1000 feet, add a minute. If you do not know how high you are, boiling for 10 minutes will always make it safe.
There are many ways and places to find water in the wild, and these are just a few methods which you can use. Practising as many techniques as you can as often as you can will really help if you find yourself in a tight situation. We all take it for granted in our technological society that it flows so freely from a tap. But when things go wrong as they occasionally do, knowing where to find, how to collect it and how to treat it is crucial.
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