by Anna Fletcher
When you’re backpacking, camping or – God forbid – when SHTF, and you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere with no supplies, the first thing you must do is find water. When you consider the “Rule of Threes” – you can survive 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food – you realize that finding water should always be a top priority.
To stay in good health, we need to drink a minimum of 64 ounces of water per day, or 2 full nalgenes. (Of course, particularly active people should drink more.) If you’re lost in the woods, then you’ve probably been exerting a lot of energy and may be at risk of being dehydrated. Dehydration can set it as soon as 6 hours of not having any water, and if you can’t find water after a full day, you could have some serious problems.
There’s not always going to be a waterfall or flowing river whose sounds will lead you to some decently clear water. Here are some tips to finding water almost anywhere you are:
- If you’re in a field, collect the dew from the grass. Run a piece of cloth through the grass as you walk and then squeeze out the water into a storage device.
- Keep an eye out for grazing animals. They usually head to a water hole around dawn and dusk, so following them can often lead you to water.
- If it starts raining, then you’re golden. Rainwater can usually be consumed without risk of disease or illness. Use any possible container you can get your hands on – even large leaves work well. If you’re lucky enough to have a poncho or some kind of plastic sheet with you, tie each corner to a tree a few feet off of the ground so that it collects the rainwater.
- Muddy areas may contain groundwater, which can hold you over for a short term. Dig a hole about one foot deep, one foot wide and wait for it to fill up with water. Even though it will be muddy, you can strain it through cloth to clean it up a bit.
- You can create a beach well if you’re on the beach. Start by digging a 3-5 foot hole in the dip behind the first sand dune. (You may have to move back to the second sand dune if the water comes out too salty.) Line the bottom of the well with rocks to stabilize the sand and the walls with wood to keep them from caving in. In just a few hours, you will have up to five gallons of filtered water. The well technique also works for any body of water, from swamps to lakes, though the well will be closer to the water.
- If you’re in the desert, dig up a dry creek or river bed.
- Flies and mosquito swarms tend to hang around within 400 feet of water; so even though they’re annoying as hell, they could point you in the right direction of water.
- If you’re not in dire straits and don’t need water as soon as possible, you can use the transpiration technique to collect water from a plant. In the morning time, take a clear plastic bag, stick a rock into it and tie it around a leafy green shrub or tree branch. The rock will weigh down the bag, creating a low point for water to collect. Over the course of the day, the plant will give off water vapor (i.e. transpiration) and collect at the low point in the bag. Pour the water into a container or poke a hold in the bag and drink right away.
Remember that water always runs downhill, so your best bet is low-lying areas and valleys. Stagnant water is more often than not unsuitable for drinking – even if you boil it.
And as always, the first thing you should do when you get water is purify it. If you’re stranded in the wilderness, you most likely won’t have a filter or tablets with you, so boil it. Always always err on the side of caution and boil any water that you find!