Finding Water in the Wilderness

A survival expert describes several techniques for finding water if and when you're lost in the wilderness.


| November/December 1981



072 finding water 2 solar still components

A sheet of plastic, a rock, some sort of collecting cup, and a plastic tube are the components of a solar still. Note also the digging stick.


TOM REED AND FRANK SHERWOOD

Many early native American people believed that water was the Earth Mother's blood. And the purpose of the sacred substance—in the minds of such individuals—was to give life to all the world's beings. Therefore, men and women were expected to be careful to avoid dirtying it in any way. Unfortunately, in these "modern" times, our feet have become far removed from the earth, and much of humankind has lost its respect for water. Hence, more and more pollutants are being dumped into our aquatic reserves. It's hard nowadays to find a stream, lake, or river—anywhere in this country—that hasn't been contaminated.

In today's world, then, a survivalist who needs water faces a twofold task: finding water and rendering it potable. In spite of having to take purification precautions, though, obtaining good water is—with practice—perhaps the easiest survival skill to master. Yet the simplicity of learning the needed techniques does not take away from their importance, and—although people have survived for days without drinking—I sincerely recommend that you not go more than 24 hours without water.

Always remember, however, not to take chances on questionable drinking sources. (Even streams in remote areas may be polluted if, say, a timber company has sprayed the forest to get rid of insects or broadleaved plants.) The possibilities of physical harm, dehydration, and the draining of vital energy resulting from contamination just aren't worth the risk. A group of students at my school learned this lesson well when one of their instructors drank some questionable water. Within four hours he was struck by severe gastrointestinal problems. In addition to having diarrhea and an upset stomach for four days, he became dehydrated, weak, and feverish, and his health didn't improve until he was treated by a doctor. If he had been in a real survival situation, that sickness could have meant his death.

In this article I'll cover four techniques for obtaining water in the wild, ranging from the one I recommend least heartily to my favorite method. If you practice and follow the courses of action described here—always working toward becoming part of the natural world—you'll never find yourself without this most precious resource. 

Natural Catches

Any landscape feature that holds or channels water is considered a natural catch. Finding such a source is usually the easiest way to obtain water. Yet by and large I don't recommend this technique to my survival students.

It's difficult, you see, to locate natural catches that haven't been tainted by chemical sprays. Furthermore, many of our waterways—even those in national parks—are also infected with carriers of amoebic dysentery, heartworm, salmonellosis, and hepatitis.





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