Do’s and Don’ts of Finding Potable Water

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Without water, you will only be able to survive about 3 days. I’ve covered how to purify/filter water here, but what if you can’t even find a potential water source? You’re not always going to be able to find a river or lake with unlimited amounts of water. Worse yet – you could be in the middle of the ocean surrounded by water that will kill you if you drink too much of it. Here are a few tricks you can use to score your next drink.

Dig. Depending on what part of the world you’re in, you will usually be able to dig deep enough to find water – it’s just a matter of how far. Look for dried creek beds and dig on the outside of the bends. When the creek was flowing, the water would have been flowing deeper and faster on the outside of bends; therefore, making them the last places to dry up and most likely to have water in the soil. Another indicator to keep an eye out for is darker soil or sand – darkness = wetness. If you don’t see water starting to trickle into the hole after a foot or two, move on to another likely spot. You can also dig several feet away from a stagnant pool and allow the sand/soil to filter out a good bit of the nastiness from that pool. You will still want to purify any water you acquire from digging if possible.

Collect dew. It may not seem like a lot when you first think about it, but dew can save your life. Either leave out a tarp or some cloth overnight to catch the dew or wake up before the sun comes up and collect it with some cloth (a t-shirt, socks, bandanna, etc). You could also tie a couple strips of cloth to your ankles and gather dew while simply walking. Wring the cloth straight into your mouth or your water container.

Catch rain. This is kind of a no-brainer, but you have to be creative with it. Put a gutter on your shelter leading to your water container. Use your boots. Anything that can be used to hold water should be used. Funnels should also be used whenever you can – the more surface area available to catch water means more water for you to drink. You can use leaves, tarps, t-shirts, etc. The downside is of course that you can’t control the weather – catching rain will not always be a reliable source of water. Perhaps the best advantage to catching rain water is that you won’t have to purify it at all.

lifestrawPuddles/depressions. Rocks, the Y’s formed where tree trunks branch out, low spots on the ground, and even footprints can be places where water will collect. Unfortunately, this is also a likely place for bacteria to collect as well. Depending on the size of the pool, you can either scoop it out or use a rag of some sort to soak it up and wring it into a pot so you can boil it. An even better option is to use a LifeStraw so you can drink straight from the puddle and save yourself some time and effort.

Distillation. Distillation is basically the process of making potable water out of non-potable water and/or other liquids. A heat source is needed to raise the liquid to its boiling point, and as the steam rises, it condenses onto the top portion of your still and drains this pure water to a separate container that you can drink from directly. Distillation is one of the only ways to make potable water out of sea water (you can’t just boil it), so a great addition to any B.O.B. is a solar still. You can also make a fire-powered still with a pot, lid, a pipe/hose going into the top of the pot through a hole in the lid, and a container at the end of that pipe to catch the condensed water. Fill up the pot, set up your lid, pipe/hose, and other container, and then get a fire going and let it do the work for you.

Plants. A lot of plants that you might encounter can give you water. Vines are a great resource if you can find some, and there two easy ways to get the water out. You can cut off a complete section of vine and let it drain directly into your mouth or a container. The more water in the sectin of vine you cut off, the faster the flow will be. If you have the time, another option is cutting a vine at the bottom and then cutting a notch as high up as you can reach on the vine. This notch will prevent the water going back up the vine and will instead drain into your container at the bottom of the vine. Coconuts are a lifesaver in a tropical survival situation. Be careful though – too much of their liquid will give you diarrhea and in turn dehydrate you. Cacti, other fruits, and squeezing moss also are places to find your next drink. If any of the liquid you get from a plant is milky or sap-like – DO NOT EAT OR DRINK FROM IT! Milky liquid/sap usually indicates poisonous plants. If you can’t positively identify any plants around you and are desperate for water, try this edibility test to determine if the plant you found is most likely safe to consume.

Urban Resources. Toilet tank water, hot water heaters, canned goods, etc. are all places that will have water if you find yourself roaming an abandoned neighborhood. Always keep your eyes peeled for potential water sources when in this kind of environment.

Here are some of my major “don’ts” of trying to keep hydrated.


Car Fluids. Some older batteries have distilled water in them, and some radiators use will have water in them instead of antifreeze. Some sources say that you can distill these liquids to get drinking water because any trace amounts of acids or anti-freeze have a higher boiling point than water; therefore, only giving you pure water at the end of your distillation process. If they’re wrong or you make one mistake in this process; however, you will most certainly die from drinking those poisons. Personally, I’m not going to take that risk and keep looking for a different water source.

Urine. Your body produces urine for a reason – it’s getting rid of the things your body can’t use. Do not drink your urine! You can, however, safely distill urine.

Alcohol. If you’re like me and have had a 6 pack or two in the course of a night, you know that alcohol is a diuretic (it makes you pee). Alcohol will dehydrate your body rather quickly (hence hangovers). In a life or death survival situation, it’s already a bad idea to drink alcohol because of how it affects your reaction time, decision making, etc., so the dehydration effect is just another reason not to crack open that beer.

Blood. Since animals are made of a lot of water, you might think that you could drink their blood to re-hydrate yourself. Drinking blood is basically the same thing as eating raw meat – you run the risk of getting parasites and will most likely start vomiting and having diarrhea furthering your dehydration.

What are some of your other Do’s and Don’ts of finding water?

photo credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis via photopin cc

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