Water: The essential requirement for all life. It seems simple enough for any survivalist to keep water high on their list of priorities. While it may seem obvious to pack plenty of water or keep water stockpiled during a survival/SHTF/WROL situation, what happens if you’re stuck away from home and social services collapse? What do you do if you find that egress is the most practical and sound solution to your situation? Simple, right? Pack up water in your hydration sources and bring your trusty water filtration device and head out. How long though will it be until your supply runs out?
There’s only so much water one can pack out considering the weight of water (8.34 lbs per gallon) and the weight of other essential gear. In a situation where mobility is key, finding water from natural sources to supplement your ready supply is essential to keeping your pack weight low and to keeping you on the move. In this article, I’m going to cover just a few of the easy ways to procure water in a survival situation.
1. Transpiration Bags
One of the easiest and simplest ways to obtain water in the wild is by the use of a transpiration bag. While this method may not be one of the more mobile methods for obtaining water, it is reliable in any environment that contains living and green vegetation. This method does require you to carry large, clear polyethylene or similar bags in your kit. In a pinch, gallon-sized or larger Zip-Loc bags will work as well.
The first step in gathering water from plant materials is to first ensure the plant you’re planning on using is not toxic. There are plants that release toxic alkaloids as they transpire as well as plants that have a surface coating of irritating chemicals such as urushoil oil. Always determine beforehand whether or not the plant you’re going to use to obtain water is safe.
The concept of the transpiration bag is simple. As plants undergo photosynthesis, pores on the leaves open to allow the passage of carbon dioxide and oxygen. During the period that these pores are open, oxygen exits and water vapor is also released. Your goal in this process is to trap this transpiring water as it escapes.
The first step in setting up your transpiration bag is to secure a fairly large leafy branch (preferably one that is under full sunlight) and place it gently into your transpiration bag. Try to ensure that one of the corners of the bag is on the bottom as this is where the water will collect. Additionally, you can add a small clean stone to that corner of the bag to ensure that the water pools there. Secure the mouth of the bag as tightly as possible to prevent the transpired water from escaping the bag. With the bag secured, the only thing left to do is to wait and allow the water to collect during the heat of the day.
Once the temperature begins to cool it should be time to gather the water. Keep the small pool of water in the bag low and gently shake the branch that the bag is on. Then carefully untie the mouth of the bags and slide them off the branch. Collect the water in your hydration source and pick out any leaves or bugs that may have fallen in and consume within 24 hours. While the water may be clean and safe to drink, fallen plant materials or insects may contaminate the water if they are left to sit for too long.
The advantages to this system are: the fact that the bags are easy to set up, that multiple bags can be set up to increase your chances of both collecting water and to increase the volume of water collected, and that this system can be used indefinitely. In addition, the water that is transpired through the plants is clean and ready to drink. The main disadvantage to this system is that it is only effective during the day.
2. Dew Collection
Collecting dew is an easy way to procure water in even the most arid environments. Before anyone collects dew it is important to have situational awareness of the area the dew is being collected from. Dew is simply water condensed onto surfaces when temperatures are optimal and the dew point of a certain area is reached. Reference the chart to the side to determine at what temperature the dew point may be in your locality. Dew should not be collected in or near areas with a high possibility of chemical contaminants, human or animal waste piles, or poisonous plants.
In humid areas, dew collection is as easy as tying on an absorbent cloth from your ankles to your knees and walking through tall grass. Another method is to simply get on one’s hands and knees and pat dew off of vegetation. Once the cloth is soaked with dew, just squeeze the water into your hydration source.
In arid or desert climates, dew collection is a little more complicated but still possible. While you may not able to collect dew by using the walking method, condensation can still be found on vegetation and rocks in the early morning. Soak up this moisture with an absorbent cloth and wring it into your hydration source or directly into your mouth. Be careful around desert vegetation, however. Even if you don’t see large cactus spines, many varieties of desert plants harbor glochids which are tiny irritating hairs that can contaminate your water.
You can also devise a simple dew collection device with a tin can and tarp. The concept is simple: you just need to create as much cool surface area as possible for dew to condense. Be sure to collect the moisture before the ambient temperature rises as any surface dew will evaporate quickly. Dew collection is an easy way to obtain supplemental water in any survival situation. And because it is water that is suspended in the air around you, it is essentially air-distilled pure water. The one disadvantage to dew collection as a means of water procurement is that the technique is only plausible in the early hours of morning. That shouldn’t be too much of a problem however, as someone trying to stay mobile should be up early to be able to cover as much ground as possible before the heat of the day.
3. Wildlife-Based Water Indicators
Many insects and animals can be used as good indicators of local water. While animals in general may be evidence of a nearby water source, they do not guarantee the presence of water. Certain reptiles and carnivorous animals can go long distances and periods without a water source and are not good indicators. The trick to using this method is to know what types of animals to watch, and to watch their behavior closely.
1. Bees: Bees are usually found within 3 to 5 miles of a water source. A high concentration of bees can be a pretty good indicator of water. While they cannot alone be used to determine the location of drinkable water, they do provide a good indication that water is nearby.
- 2. Ants: Ants can be a good indicator of water especially if they are found running up the side of a tree or into shaded areas. If you find a trail of ants running into a crevice in a tree, there’s a good chance that water has pooled there or that dew has been caught and hasn’t evaporated.
An easy way to check is to gently dip a dry stick into the crevice and check to see if there is moisture present. You can capture this water by stuffing a piece of absorbent cloth into the hole, and wring out the moisture into your hydration source. While this may be a nice collection of potable water, it should still be purified and filtered prior to consumption.
3. Birds: The best avian indicators of water are finches, sparrows, and doves (pigeons). These birds typically live near sources of fresh water and travel to them either before or after they roost. If you spot a colony of finches or sparrows, probe the area and you are sure to find some source of exposed fresh water.
Similarly, doves can aid you in finding water as well. Doves flying low and fast are usually a sign that they are moving to their watering hole. Observe these birds carefully as they may lead you to a source of water late in the day. Typically, after doves have had their fill of water, they will stay near that source and will not be seen flying long distances as they are full of water and sustained flight becomes burdensome. Watching animals and their behavior is a key tool in tuning one’s senses to the natural patterns and locations of essential life assets.
- 4. Mason Bees and Mud Daubers: Both of these types of insects are good indicators that there is moisture nearby. These insects use mud to construct their nests. Wherever one finds these nests, there is or was a source of water nearby. Sometimes it’s as easy as following one of these insects to their source of mud. Once the source of moisture is located, you can usually dig on or around the area of wet earth and find moisture seeping forth.
While both of these types of insects can help you locate water, they will most likely not lead you to a source of clean, readily drinkable water. In this case, you can collect the water with either your absorbent cloth or if you can dig deep enough, create a seep pool. You can obtain the water and allow the sediment to settle before filtration and/or purification.
Even if the nests seem old and abandoned it doesn’t mean that there is no source of water nearby. Search for patches of cracked earth or very obvious areas of green vegetation. Many times pools that are available after rains dry over but still retain obtainable water underneath. Don’t give up. If you find a spot that shows signs of prior water dig down. You may be rewarded with enough moisture to keep you alive.
- 5. Land Markers and Digging for Water
There are many land features that can lead you to water. Game trails that converge while dropping in elevation are good directional indicators of a watering hole. Heading up or down dry creek beds (depending on the type of terrain you are in) can usually yield either pools trapped in shade or the actual source of water itself. Even stream or creek beds that seem dry may provide water if you search near them. Even if there is no surface water there are usually always good sources of water a few feet or even just a few inches under creek beds. Some tribes in Africa, such as the Maasai, hide shovels at strategic locations near old stream beds so their fellow tribesman can dig in those spots for the life giving water underneath.
When you do locate water and it’s obviously contaminated, or if there isn’t any water present but just filthy, game-trampled damp earth or mud, what do you do? Dig, but farther away. The general rule of thumb is that 9 feet will provide enough natural sedimentary filtration to keep many harmful contaminates from your self-dug water hole. However, you must dig the hole below the waterline of the originating source of water. There are stories, however apocryphal, regarding Robert Baden-Powell (the founder of the Boy Scouts) in his time during the Boers war, of digging 9 feet away from poisoned water holes to obtain clean drinking water. While the 9 foot rule does help to filter out much of the contamination in water, any water obtained this way should still be filtered and purified prior to consumption.
Finding water may seem like a daunting task but nothing could be more crucial to continued survival. The ability to find water from one’s surroundings has saved many from dehydration and death. This article covered some of the basic methods in finding and obtaining water but there are many more techniques available. The most important aspect of any survival method is putting it into practical application. Go out and try some of these methods for yourself. Learn more, gain experience and teach others. The more self-sufficient others around you are, the less danger they will be in a SHTF/WROL situation in which others may try to plunder from you.
Additionally skills such as these require no added weight in your pack and knowledge will always trump gear. A hydration source can fail. You can lose or have your gear and provisions taken from you. Knowledge to be self-sufficient can never be stolen from you and will offer you the confidence you require to fearlessly drive forward.
These techniques may cover finding water, but a critical question to ask at this point would be: “How do I make this water safe to drink or use?” While methods like dew collection provide clean and easy drink, a large sustainable source of water will likely need purification before use. In the next article, we will cover various methods of filtration and purification of water found in the wild. ‘Til then, stay hydrated, stay motivated, and keep adding to your skills to survive. You may need them.