Water Procurement in the Wilderness

Water Procurement in the Wilderness

Water is one of the top components to successful survival in the wilderness or in any environment.  Good clean drinking water is much easier to find in the wilderness than in the desert or an urban setting.  Finding water is only the first part of the equation, making sure that it is healthy to drink is the second.  In most cases, water is the one thing that most people lack in a survival situation.  This is because it is not easily carried in large quantities for hiking, backpacking, or hunting.  Most people only carry a small amount due to the weight of the water and bulk of the containers.  Proper hydration is vital to every part of survival.

Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you take in and drastically reduces your odds of surviving more than a couple of days.  In an extremely hot environment, the odds are even less.  Water should be at the top of your list when evaluating your situation.  A person can last for weeks without eating but only days without water.

"Always treat questionable water before drinking!"

In most cases in the wilderness, water should not be too hard to find in the form of a river, creek, or spring.  In the places that I frequent, I could walk a mile in any direction and find one or the other.  There is however the matter of being able to drink it directly from the source without processing it first.  Waterborne micro-organisms can live just about anywhere and can not be visually detected making them a real concern when drinking directly from a water source.  This can easily make a bad situation even worse!

If you are unfortunate enough not to have a water source near you, there are a few methods of collecting water that are easy under the right conditions.  These methods will not produce much water but could be enough to keep you alive until you can find a better water source.
Solar Still (ground):  A solar still can be made easily using a Garbage bag or clear sheet of plastic that should also be on your Wilderness Survival Checklist.  Locate an area out in the open that will get direct sunlight for the entire day. Dig a hole approximately 2 feet deep and as wide as your plastic bag/sheet.  Put a container to catch the water in the center of your hole. Add some moisture-containing vegetation inside the hole. Cover the entire hole using your plastic bag/sheet.  

Completely seal the edges with dirt and rocks so that no moisture can escape.  Now, place a rock in the center of your plastic bag/sheet, this should be directly above the container inside the hole. As the temperature rises in the hole, the ground will release moisture that will bead up on the inside of the plastic and roll down to the center of your plastic, and drip off into the container.

Solar Still (Tree):  A similar method can be utilized by wrapping a plastic bag/sheet around a lush tree branch with leaves or needles to collect the moisture the same way.  Find a tree or bush in the direct sunlight that has a large group of leave or needles in a small area.  Wrap your plastic bag/sheet around them and tie the end tight so that the moisture cannot escape.  Be sure to leave a reservoir at the bottom of the bag for where the moisture can collect.  The sun will heat the bag and the leaves will release moisture that will collect on the inside of the bag and drip down to the reservoir.  As soon as you have collected a fair amount of water in the bag, shake it so that any residual water drops to the reservoir and carefully remove the bag.
Rain Water:  Rain is always a good source of drinking water if you are able to catch it.  Storing the collected rain for later consumption is also important if you have some form of a container.  The idea is to funnel the rain from any collection surface.  A collection surface may any natural surface such as flat rocks, tree bark, or tree leaves.  You can also use a man-made surface such as a rain poncho, tent, some clothing, or anything that can absorb or deflect water.  Water collected from sources such as rain or a solar still should be fine to drink directly as long as your container is clean and your collection materials are sanitary.  Other questionable water sources can be purified in a variety of ways:
WPT (Water Purification Tablets):  This should be one of the items on your Wilderness Survival Preparation Checklist and is readily available at most grocery stores and Sporting Goods outlets.  They work very well to purify even the nastiest water.  They don't however make it taste or appear any better.  This is the preferred treatment method but if you are lost for a long period of time, there is a good chance that you will run out of them. 

Boiling:  Most germs die quickly at high temperatures. If no other method of water disinfection is available you can boil it over an open fire.  Water that has been boiled for one minute or more is safe to drink after it has cooled.  You will however need a container to boil it in.  Without a container to boil water, this option probably won't do you any good.  With a little patience and determination, water can be boiled in a plastic water bottle. Be careful not to put it directly in your fire or so close that it burns a hole.  Turn it frequently to avoid getting the bottle too hot.
Solar Radiation: In an emergency situation, water can be disinfected with sunlight. Water in a clear plastic bottle, preferably lying on a reflective surface (such as aluminum foil), will be safe to drink after a minimum of 6 hours in bright sunlight. This technique does not work on cloudy water and due to the amount of time is a poor solution.

Ground Filteration:  If you find a creek or spring but the water is questionable, you can use the earth to filter the water for you by digging a one-foot deep hole roughly 5 feet beside the source and waiting for the water to filter through the ground and fill up your well.  If it does not fill up within 30 minutes or so, you can dig the hole deeper or dig another hole closer to the source.  This should filter out most of the bad elements however is not a fail-safe method.  You can combine this process combined with boiling or some other method to be extra safe.

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