3 Reliable Ways to Find Water in the Wilderness for Survival

Why is water such an important resource for your survival?

Let’s take a typical scenario. Say you go for a walk into the wilderness without any preparation. After taking a wrong turn you’re totally lost, with only one bottle of water, and little food.

Each day, your body needs around 2 liters of water just to maintain your vital bodily functions. From circulating blood, to food digestion and regulating your body temperature.


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        The 3 Best Ways to Find Water in the Wild
        The 5 Dangers of Drinking Dirty Water
        Best Ways to Purify Water

Just one day after your water runs out, you’ll start struggling to perform the basic mental and physical tasks in order to survive. Forty eight hours later, it’s crunch time. After around three days in total without water, your body will shut down (permanently).

So as you can see, food and shelter won’t be your first priorities (unless you’re in freezing cold weather). And carrying a 3 day supply of water (one gallon of water per day per person) is not always practical.

But what can you do when you’re thirsty and lost, way out in the wilderness?

Well, with some basic knowledge, you can easily find and purify water.

Survival Rule of Threes: Air, Shelter, Water, Food..
The Rule of Threes helps you preparing for the worst case, either before or during a survival scenario.

In a nutshell, this rule means you can live:

    • 3 minutes without air.
    • 3 hours without shelter.
    • 3 days without water.
    • 3 weeks without food.

The Rule of Threes isn’t something that’s set in stone. But, it’s certainly a great starting point for anyone who needs to stop and focus on how to survive. No doubt, people have survived more than 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, etc.  The point here is to prioritize based on the size of the threat.

If you’re lost in the wilderness and the weather suddenly turns freezing cold, you could be facing hypothermia. It may be days before you can get back home. By using the Rule of Threes, you can reduce any risks.

For example, first build a shelter to protect yourself from the elements. Then, build a fire to keep yourself warm. Next, find a source of clean water. Or find a way to purify the water you have. Then start searching for food.

The 3 Best Ways to Find Water in the Wild

Over 75% of your body consists of fluids. Your body loses fluid due to: stress, cold or hot conditions and exercise. To function effectively, you must replace the fluid your body loses.

In a survival situation, water should be one of your most important priorities. In hot or tropical regions you won’t live long without it. Your body needs 2 liters of water every day in order to maintain function normally (even in cold regions). So, one of your first objectives should always be to obtain an adequate supply of drinking water.

1. Early Morning Dew

If you don’t have the ability to make fire, to boil water and can’t filter it either, try to gather some of that morning dew.  Tie your bandana, shemagh or another piece of fabric around your lower ankles and walk through the dewy vegetation, stopping to wring your wet fabric into your mouth or water gathering container.


Gathering rainwater is also a great source of fresh and pure water but as it may not be in the forecast, it should not be fully relied on. If it does start raining, use your raincoat, poncho, tarp, tent, buckets, anything you can find to direct this water into a container of some sort. If no container is available, open up and drink your fill!

2. Plants & Trees

Trees can be used as a navigational tool to lead us to water. There are certain species of trees, that prefer to grow closer to water than others. These trees will serve as our beacon to nearby water.

North American trees: Cottonwoodwillowsycamoreriver birchsilver maple (river maple), cypress, Carolina Ash or Green Ash trees like to grow in wet areas. If you see these trees in your area, you know there is water nearby. Cypress and sycamore trees have very unique traits which make them very easy to spot.

The American sycamore is a massive tree and can attain the largest trunk diameter of any of the Eastern U.S. hardwoods.

When you add to this the mottled, camouflage appearing bark and the sometimes white, naked upper trunks, this makes them hard to miss. They really stand apart from the rest, which is important when you are looking for water. They are like massive lighthouses, signalling to you, that water is close.

A good tree identification field guide can be instrumental to helping you identify these tress, that almost always grow near water.

Fleshy plants, trees and other vegetation are plentiful in hot regions that contain water inside themselves.  

Green bamboo thickets: Bend the bamboo stalk over and tie the top end down; cut off the top part and leave overnight so water drips freely.

Banana or plantain trees: Cut down the tree, so only a 0.30 meter stump remains; scoop out a bowl-shaped hollow from the center of the stump, which will start to fill with water from the roots. After the first 3 fillings (which will be bitter), the subsequent fillings will be much more palatable.

Tropical vines: Make a notch high in the vine. Cut the vine off close to the ground. Collect the dripping water in a container.


Pulpy Plants: Cut off part of the plant. Smash the pulp so the liquid runs out and collect it in a container.

Air Plants: In the tropics, some large tree’s branches support air plants; these can hold a large amount of rainwater in their thickly growing leaves.

Plant Roots: Dig the roots out. Cut into short pieces  and smash the pulp up. Collect the liquid in a container.

Fleshy leaves, stems, or stalks (like bamboo): Cut or notch the stalks at the base of a joint to drain out the liquid.

Coconut trees: Harvest green unripe coconuts. The milk is a good source of water. But avoid mature coconuts.

Palms trees: Water is present in palms like the buri, coconut, rattan and sugar. Scratch one of the lower down fronds, pulling it down to make it “bleed”.

Traveler’s tree: Found in Madagascar, this tree has a cuplike sheath at the base of its leaves in which water collects.

Umbrella tree: Water can be found in the roots and leaf bases of this tree from western tropical Africa.

Baobab tree: Found in northern Australia and Africa, in the wet season, you can find water in its bottle-shaped trunk.

3. Desert Wells and Depressions

Look for: areas of green vegetation, damp surface sand, the first dip behind the first sand dune of a dry lake, rocky outcrops, foot of cliffs, valleys and low areas. Dig holes that are deep enough to allow water to seep in.

Look for: rocky areas. Occasional rainfall may collect holes in rocks or pools


All desert trails lead to water. Tell-tale indicators of trails are any signs of recent camps (campfire ashes), trampled terrain or animal droppings. Animals always know where water is, so be on the lookout for animal tracks. Head in the direction that trails converge.

These tracks may lead you to fresh water. Watch for Green vegetation, where other vegetation may appear dry and brown, and clouds of insects as they may also indicate that water is near.  Although it can be difficult, finding water in a desert environment is possible when equipped with the right knowledge and skills.

At dawn and dusk, some birds fly to drink from water holes. Check out for flocks of circling birds, bird tracks or chirping as signs of nearby water.

A few precautions:-

    • Plant sap should be drunk in under 24 hours, because after this period, fermentation starts and it gets too dangerous to drink.
    • Ensure that you don’t collect water from any poisonous plants.
    • Water you collect using the above methods should always be purified before drinking it.
    • Do not use fluids you think you can use to replace water: urine contains around 2% salt and has toxic body waste; blood is classed as a food and requires extra body fluids in order to digest it, and it may also carry diseases; to purify sea water it also needs body fluids, which will then reduce your body’s own supply of water, as well as being 4% salt; alcohol dehydrates the body.

Finding water is just the first step. You still need to make sure it’s safe to drink. Read on to find out why…

The 5 Dangers of Drinking Dirty Water

In general, it’s considered safe to drink any rainwater that’s been collected using a clean vessel (e.g. tins, cans, bottles).


But, lakes, streams or springs, and particularly around built up areas or in tropical regions, can be sources of contaminated water, so should always be purified.

Contaminated or dirty water (containing e.g. toxic chemicals, diseases or organisms) is simply not fit for human consumption.

Some of the risks you should avoid include:

– drinking water that has not been filtered and purified

– eating vegetation that has been grown using infected water, or;

– eating fish caught in polluted waters.

There are a number of diseases or organisms that you could be susceptible to by drinking contaminated water, for example:

1. Typhoid Fever. Commonly found in Asia, Africa and South America. Symptoms include high temperature, headaches, loss of appetite and stomach ache. Without prompt treatment, may lead to fatal complications.

2. Cholera. Infected people usually suffer from watery diarrhea, vomiting (which can cause dehydration) and if untreated, may be fatal.

3. Dysentery. Causes diarrhea with the passing of blood and/or mucus, severe cramps in your stomach vomiting and nausea. Highly infectious.

4. Blood Flukes. These worm-like parasites can enter your bloodstream and cause immense damage. Severe infestations can result in death.

5. Leeches. Predatory creatures, mostly found in or around freshwater in the tropics. Their bites are rarely harmful, falling off when they’re full of your blood. But they can carry dangerous viruses, bacteria or parasites (carried from their past blood sources)

So if you’ve had the good fortune to come upon a reliable source of drinkable water, you’ll still need to purify it.

Is Clear Water Safe?

There are many places in the wild with lots of streams. It may be tempting to drink directly from them, especially if the water is clear and appears clean.


Always remember that clean water is rare and hard to come by. Even if it appears clean, it most likely isn’t. Contaminated water can cause illnesses, upset stomach and diarrhea, which will only add to your dehydration.

To try and avoid bad water, walk upstream. Follow the stream until you find the head of the spring or the main source of the stream. This water will be the purest and best option, if you have no other choice.

To be 100% safe you need an easy way to purify your water to make it safe to drink.

Water Purification
If your water came from the land around you (including from plants), then it’s essential to purify it. Even though the water you collect appears crystal clear, it may not be what it seems. Many waterborne diseases and parasites flourish in contaminated water such as in lakes or streams. So always boil water that you collect.

Best Ways to Purify Water

Purification Tablets

These are tablets specifically designed for purification. Most survival kits will include some form of purifying tablets. The tablets typically contain chlorine or iodine, but some people are allergic to iodine, so you will need to check. Similar to boiling water, filter any debris using a cloth. To make dirty water safe, put two or more tablets into the bottle. Wait thirty minutes. Swill some of the treated water on to the neck and cap to clean them. You can improve the taste of the water by adding oxygen to it. Simply pour the treated water between the bottle and another container, several times.

Iodine Solution

In a container of clear water, place 5 drops of a 2% iodine tincture. 10 drops should be used for cold or cloudy water. Wait 30 mins. before you drink it.

Boiling The Water

There may be many different ways to collect water. But to have the very best chance of surviving, boiling water is a must.


Before boiling, use cloth (e.g. suitable clothing like a t-shirt) to filter out any large particles of debris or grit.

Next, find a container you can heat the water in. You could make do with something like tin or aluminium can or a large shell. You may also use a plastic bottle. Fully fill the bottle with water, secure it’s cap and place on red hot ashes. The lack of air in the bottle should keep it from melting. If you’re not able to fill it with water right to the top, just dangle it your fire using some vine.

Start a fire to heat the water. But before you boil it, filter out any debris by using some suitable clothing (like a shirt). Boil the water for 10 mins.

Instead of boiling (e.g. there’s no means to light a fire), bacteria can also be wiped out by putting a vessel of water in the hot sun.


Compact Purifiers and Filters

A wide range of water filtration and purification equipment can also be bought. These useful gadgets are also fully portable.

Filters only get rid of bacteria, their main active component being composed of fiberglass, carbon or ceramic. Purifiers (in addition to a filtration device) also use a layer of iodine to eradicate viruses. The basic operation of purifiers and filters are quite similar. The water is run from one end to the other, past several filters/treatments. Some work using gravity, some are hand-operated, some battery-operated, whilst others are actually within the water bottle itself.


Hopefully, these survival tips allow you to find safe drinking water in the wilderness.

On your next trip, remember to pack your survival kit with a little more than just the bare essentials. Think: a torch, matches, compass/GPS and blankets/clothes   (for cold climates).

Oh, and don’t forget some extra bottled water too!

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