How to Find Water in the Wilderness: A Survival Guide | Build a Stash

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Key Takeaways

  • In the wilderness, find water by collecting rain, melting snow, or condensing plant moisture.
  • Recognize your environment, distinguishing freshwater areas from saltwater, to optimize water collection.
  • Before drinking, always purify the water, either by boiling or using purification tablets.

Whether you are on a camping trip or stuck in an emergency situation, knowing how to find water in the wilderness is a useful skill that could save your life.

In the wilderness, you can find water by collecting rainwater, melting existing snow or ice, collecting condensation from plants, or digging for water in green areas. Be sure to know the difference between saltwater and freshwater. Purifying the water before drinking is recommended.

In this article, we've compiled a few essential tips and techniques to help you locate and collect safe drinking water from various sources in the wild. These methods are tested and work in just about every situation in the wilderness. So take note and be better prepared next time you might face this situation.

Table of contents


How to Find Water in the Wilderness

Finding water in the wilderness can be a matter of life and death. Whether you're an outdoor enthusiast, a survivalist, or simply exploring the great unknown, knowing the tricks to find drinkable water could save your life in a pinch.

There are several methods to collect water in the wilderness, even when freshwater sources are scarce. For instance, you can use a plastic bag or sheet to collect condensation from leafy green tree branches, create a solar still, or collect rainwater.

However, purifying water by boiling, using purification tablets, or filtering through a cloth before drinking is crucial, as these methods help eliminate potentially harmful bacteria. With that in mind, let’s review some methods you can use to find and collect safe drinking water.

Collect Rainwater

One of the easiest ways to collect water is by harvesting rainwater. Simply place a clean container or a plastic sheet in the open during rainfall.

As the rain falls, it will slowly fill your vessel, providing you with fresh water to drink. This is a reliable method, but waiting for rain is the only downside. It will not be a suitable solution during dry weather conditions.

Melt Snow or Ice

In colder environments, snow and ice can be vital sources of freshwater. Before consuming it, we must melt the ice or snow first.

Eating snow directly can lower our body temperature and increase our risk of hypothermia. Remember only to melt older sea ice or snow that appears clean and free of impurities.

Condensation From Plants

Condensation can be a valuable source of drinking water. Tie a plastic bag around a leafy green tree branch to collect water droplets from transpiration.

Leave the bag in place for a few hours, ideally in the early morning or during the day. Once you have collected enough water droplets, carefully collect the precious liquid by removing the bag.

Look For Green Areas

Keep an eye out for green vegetation. In arid regions, greenery often indicates the presence of water near the surface or underground.

Spotting animal tracks can lead us to drinking water sources as animals gravitate towards water. Swarms of insects and the presence of water birds can also signify that water is nearby.

Digging for Water

In certain cases, when we're trying to find water in the wilderness, we might need to dig for it. Common areas to dig include dry stream beds, low points surrounded by vegetation, and the base of cliffs.

Start by digging a hole around 1-2 feet deep. If moisture appears in the soil, continue digging until water starts to pool in the hole. It's best to filter or purify this collected water before drinking. In rare cases, you only will need to dig a few inches.

Understanding Your Environment

You need to have a strong understanding of the wilderness environment to find water. This is critical to your success and safety.

Identifying Different Climates

When learning how to find water in the wilderness, it's crucial to understand the climate. Some areas have abundant freshwater sources, while others may only offer salt water.

Recognizing different climates helps us focus on the environment's most relevant water collection methods.

Fresh Water Sources

In regions with plentiful freshwater sources, we can follow animal tracks to find water or search for grain-eating birds, indicating water's presence nearby. Here, we can also collect rainwater or extract water from green vegetation.

Rivers, lakes, and streams can all provide drinking water. Just remember to boil the water or use purification tablets to eliminate harmful bacteria before drinking.

Salt Water Environments

In contrast to freshwater environments, finding drinkable water in saltwater environments can be quite challenging.

If we're near the coast, we could try harvesting sea ice or melting older sea ice to reduce the salt content in the water. Another method is to create a solar still to collect safe drinking water by distilling seawater.

How To Recognize Water Sources In Nature

Recognizing water sources in nature is essential for wilderness survival. While some sources are easy to spot, like rivers and lakes, others can be hidden or require certain techniques to unveil them.

Dry River Beds and Stream Beds

In arid areas or during dry seasons, bodies of water can vanish, leaving behind dry river beds and stream beds. Digging a few feet deep in these areas can potentially reveal a hidden water supply beneath the surface.

We can also look for green vegetation or tree limbs with a low point, as these plants often indicate the presence of water below the surface.

Collection Techniques

In challenging environments, we have to get creative in collecting water. Plastic bags or sheets can be used to cover leafy green tree branches, trapping condensation that can be funneled into a drinking container.

Alternatively, we can create a solar still using a plastic sheet and container to collect water droplets through condensation. These are also solid alternatives if you do not have a water bottle handy.

How To Store Collected Water

Here is how you can store the water you collected safely to remain drinkable for longer.

Using Natural Containers

When in the wilderness, we can use natural containers to store water. These containers include large leaves, hollowed-out logs, and freshwater shells. The water bottle in our backpack can come in handy as well.

We just need to ensure the natural containers are clean so the water remains safe for drinking. If unsure, we can always boil the water to make it safe and reduce the risk of consuming dangerous bacteria. Boiling water is much safer to drink.

Our search for water in the wilderness might lead us to use green vegetation, such as a leafy green tree branch, as a rudimentary container. When using vegetation as a container, it's important to select leaves or branches without sap or toxins to contaminate the water.

Making a DIY Container

If we don't have a water bottle or can't find a suitable natural container, we can create makeshift containers to store collected water.

One option is to use a plastic bag or plastic sheeting to create a container. Before using this method, ensure the plastic is clean and free of any leaks.

  • Fill the plastic bag with water and tie a knot at the top to avoid spills.
  • Secure the water-filled bag in a stable position between rocks or branches to prevent it from falling or spilling.
  • To drink from a bag, carefully poke a hole near the bottom of the bag, insert a drinking tube, and reseal the hole to prevent leakage.

Another DIY container option when collecting water in the wild is to use a large leaf or tree bark as a makeshift bowl. We can gather water droplets from the morning dew or collect rainwater in this incomplete container.

Ensure the leaf or bark does not have harmful insects, sap, or contaminants that could make the water unsafe for drinking. This helps for condensing salt water or to try and melt ice too.

Purifying Your Water For Drinking

When finding water in the wilderness, it's essential to ensure the water is safe to drink. There are a few ways to purify water, protecting you from harmful bacteria.

Boiling Water

Boiling water is one of the most effective methods of purifying water in the wild. To do this, simply bring the water to a rolling boil for at least one minute. This process will kill the most dangerous bacteria, making it safe to drink.

After boiling, allow the water to cool before drinking. Keep in mind this method requires a heat source and a container to hold the water, so be prepared with the necessary equipment when venturing into the wilderness.

Using Water Purification Tablets

Water purification tablets are another method for purifying water in a wilderness survival situation. These tablets contain chemicals, such as iodine or chlorine, that effectively kill bacteria and other harmful microorganisms in freshwater.

To use these tablets, follow the instructions on the package. Generally, you'll need to dissolve a specified number of tablets in your water bottle and then wait a certain amount of time for the water to purify.

Water purification tablets are a lightweight option for outdoor adventurers, and they can come in handy when boiling water isn't possible. However, the taste of the treated water may differ due to the chemicals used in the purification process.