These methods can help you find water in a survival situation
There are many different ways you can find drinking water in the wild. The methods below may sound simple but in reality they could be challenging. Knowing what to look for could safe your life however. Some of these methods are specific to certain vegetation and landscapes. Others can be applied throughout the world. Some may be less reliable and others straight forward. Don’t depend on just one method. I recommend you learn as many of these as possible.
Streams and rivers
As a general rule running water is safe to drink. In colder climates this is even more true. Usually it will be safe to drink water straight from rivers and streams in arctic and subarctic regions. Boiling is always recommended however. Be aware of nearby industries and agriculture. Industries can cause chemical pollution which cannot be removed by boiling and agriculture can cause nutrient pollution which is also not removed by boiling. Beavers can cause Giardiasis which is a parasite infection. It is destroyed by boiling the water however.
Be aware of wildlife when approaching rivers in the wild. Especially in tropic and subtropic regions. Water attracts animals and not only the ones on the ground. In many places predators like crocodiles, snakes, hippos and even deadly fish could be lurking under the surface.
In colder climates it is often safe to drink water straight from the lakes. It isn’t recommended that you drink water directly from a stagnant source without boiling it first however.
Be aware of your surroundings when drinking water from lakes in temperate climate. Many lakes are polluted by nearby industries, algae or nutrients from sewage or agriculture. This is true for most lakes here in Denmark for instance. In northern Sweden where they have less agriculture you can often drink water directly from the forest lakes however. If possible it is recommended that you boil water from stagnant water sources before drinking it. Be aware of blue-green algae which is a bacteria occurring naturally in stagnant water during hot weather. It’s toxins are not destroyed by boiling and it is lethal to dogs and potentially to humans as well. Boiling water will not render chemically and nutrientally polluted water drinkable.
Collecting rainwater may seem obvious but it is also an unreliable source of drinking water. If you’re under a tarp you can use it for collecting the water. You can also use a poncho, an emergency blanket or even a regular blanket for this. It doesn’t have to be a waterproof fabric in order to lead water into a container. Just point it downwards in a steeper angle. Make sure that whatever material you use for this doesn’t contaminate the water however.
In the tropics and subtropics the rain season varies a lot depending on where you are. In some places there is one wet and one dry season. In other places of the world there are two of each. In some areas there will be two months of rain and in others rain will come in bursts mainly during the night. The method for collecting the water will naturally differ accordingly. You may not need a tarp or a blanket to collect the water if it comes in large quantities since you can just fill your container directly. You may need to find or make storage for saving the water though.
Rain bursts in the tropics and subtropics are usually heavier than elsewhere. Rainfall is concentrated around certain months of the year. Depending on where you are the seasons will be different. In humid subtropical areas rain will fall during summer. In dry summer climate rain will come mostly during cooler months. Mountainous areas are an exception however. Weather here is often highly unpredictable.
Grass plains and marshes
You can collect dew by dragging a t-shirt, cloth or the like through the grass in the morning before the sun evaporizes it. Then wringe the water into a container before drinking it. You may also be able to dig out water from the ground. See the section about dry river beds for this please.
Cliffs and rocks
Look for vegetation growing in small cracks on the side of cliffs. After a rainfall this will most likely be where the water travels down the side of the mountain. Locate an area where the rain gathers in a puddle or make a bowl for it yourself. You can use a rope or a piece of cloth to guide the water into a container by leading it down along the side of the cliff from the puddle.
Dry river beds
Sometimes you can find water underground even if a river has dried out. Look for vegetation or moist on the surface. Even if none of those are present you may still be able to find water. Dig a hole into the ground and look for moist. Be ready to dig deep. Water could be right under the surface or deeper down depending on the frequency of flowing water and the sun. You should also allow water some time to gather in the bottom of the hole. This could take an hour or more.
Forests and trees
In the morning before the sun comes out if you have a plastic bag tie it around the branches of a tree. During the day the sun will transpire water from both dew on the branches and moist from the inside of the branches into the bottom of the plastic bag. If possible you should boil the water first. Be aware that the branches aren’t poisonous since the poison can pollute your water. Sometimes you can also find water inside trees. Rainwater often gathers in cavities of old trees, in depressions of trunk forks and branch attachments.
Depending on the season trees like Birch and Maple contain a drinkable sap which you can tap from the trunk of the tree by drilling into it. This also applies for many other trees like Sycamore and most trees with edible fruit. The season for Birch sap is early spring. Be aware that some trees contain a poisonous sap. Never eat or drink anything in nature that you are unable to identify with a 100% certainty.
Coconuts have edible fruit flesh and they are great for many things in a survival situation. Green coconuts contain a lot of water which is actually a kind of fruit juice rich in natural sugars, vitamin C, and minerals such as potassium. Coconut water is also rich in fibers. Be careful not to drink too much of it though since the high amounts of potassium can cause unconsciousness, uncontrolled diabetes, red blood cell destruction among other serious things. It also contains natural laxatives which can be helpful if you get constipation but it could also leave you dehydrated. So you shouldn’t drink too much of it. Probably not more than two cups a day.
Climbing a palm tree to get the green coconuts is not an easy task though. And it is certainly not risk free either. You don’t want to risk injuring yourself in a survival situation unless absolutely necessary.
Another way to get water is from palm leaves. And you don’t have to climb the trees to get it. What you want to do is to locate some young shoots that grow straight from the ground near the base of a tree. Find a flowering stalk, bend it downwards and cut off the tip. The leaves contain a sugary fluid that you can drink. The next day slice off another thin piece of the leaf and it will give you up to a liter of fluid a day. Be aware that this fluid also contains a laxative so take care that you don’t drink too much of that either.
Beaches and coastal areas
If you have a plastic bag or something similar at hand you can make a solar still. It can be used for turning saltwater or contaminated water into drinking water. You can also use it to evaporate dew and transpire water from vegetation. Please note that this is a prolonged process and the amount of water you may get from this is not necessarily enough to keep you hydrated. The solar still is made by digging a whole into the ground with saltwater or just wet sand in the bottom. You then place a container for collecting the drinking water in the middle of the hole. Then cover the hole with the piece of plastic and secure it around the edges with small rocks. After that you place a small rock on top of the plastic to weigh the middle of it down towards the container in the middle. This will make the evaporated clean water run back down into the container.
Do not drink sap from a cactus except for a few species. If critical you should drink only small amounts of sap from cacti since they contain toxic alkaloids. You can get moist from young pads of “prickly pear” (Opuntia) and fruit from most cacti are edible. Beware of tiny barbed spikes on them however. Look for green vegetation and dig holes into the ground to find water underground. See the section about dry river beds for this. Also look for water under rocks. In the early morning you may be able to collect dew from plants. Or if you are wearing technical underwear you could try using it as a makeshift fog collector. Air humidity in the desert varies a lot: From 25% in the Sahara to 98% in coastal regions like Peru. I haven’t seen this method tested but I saw this article and thought it might work if polypropylene captures water molecules: https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2011/03/07/the-fog-collectors-harvesting-water-from-thin-air/
Snow and ice
In a polar climate you will most likely be surrounded by snow and ice. First thing you should know in this situation is to never eat either of them without melting it first. Your body uses more energy melting it than you gain from the water. Furthermore you risk hypothermia and frost injuries. You can melt it by keeping it in a bag under your clothes. If you have a fire going you can boil it. If you don’t have a pot or a metal container to boil it in you can make a “Finnish Marshmallow”. Make a big snowball, put it on a stick and melt it by your fire. Let the water drip into whatever container you have at hand.