Finding and Collecting Water

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Water will always follow the path of least resistance so common sense should tell you that a good place to look for water would be low points in the landscape such as valley floors and gullies. When in any type of hilly terrain, these places are ideal places to look.

It is nearly always best to head down hill, when in the mountains, as you are likely to come to a stream which will run into a river which will, in turn, lead you to a road and/or civilization.

If there is no river, stream or pool of water on the valley or gully floor, look for places where clumps of green vegetation or trees are growing and dig there. You are likely to find water, or at least moisture, below the surface. Once you dig into the moist ground, leave the hole to rest for a few minutes which will allow the water to pool in the bottom for collection and drinking.

Water can also be found in dried riverbeds by digging on the outside bend. Chances of finding water in this situation are increased if there outside edge of the bend is protected by overhanging rock or log, or the area in which you dig is sandy; or has some form of green vegetation growing along the sides.

You should only need to dig about 50 – 70 cm (2ft) max. Any deeper and you run the risk of wasting precious body fluid through exertion. Survival is also about knowing when to cut your losses and continue you search elsewhere.

illustration of a dry riverbed

In coastal areas, digging about 100 mt (330ft) back from the high tide line will produce drinkable water. It will still be a bit salty but drinkable. The best results will come from sandy areas such as dunes.

Water seeping from rock walls (a seep) can easily be collected and can provide a reasonable amount of drinking water; ferns or vegetation growing out of a rock-face will often indicate a seep. The survivor can be almost certain to find a seep inside a cave or lava tunnel.

Collecting Water from a Seep

It is possible to sip the water straight from the rock, depending on how fast water is being released. Often there will only be a light seeping of water so you can also lay a piece if fabric or clothing over the seep until it is saturated and then wring the water out of it, either into a container or straight into your mouth.

Another method is to use a wick to divert the water into a container. To do this, place a container (cup, old discarded plastic bottle or even a broad soft leaf folded at the edges and pinned with twigs to form a container) securely near the seep (a man made container such as a discarded bottle could be hung from a string) lay a piece of string, cord, strip of fabric or shoelace across the rock where the water is seeping in such a way that it gets wet (this is the WICK). If the rock is vertical, secure the wick so that it does not fall off then put the hanging end in the bottle/container and leave it for a few hours. Before long, the wick will absorb the water to the point of saturation and the water will start to trickle nicely into the container. This method can be very effective and having a few of these set up can yield quite a good amount of water.

Natural Springs

Springs occur where a flow of underground water breaks (or springs) through the grounds surface.
A spring can yield several hundred liters of water per day, even during a heavy drought, and can be a lifesaving find for the survivor.

Areas where granite rock bands or shelves break through the surface of the ground, and rocky cliffs should be searched for the presence of a spring. Look for the direction that the bands of rock are layered. Any spring water will actively move underground along the lines determined by the rock bands. This will give you some idea of where to look. A spring could look like a flow of water coming from a point in the rock or ground, or it could just look like a boggy patch of ground. In cliffs, it is worth investigating any areas where there is an excess of green vegetation growing.

Collecting Dew

At night or early morning, dew drops usually cover smooth surfaces such as leaves, grass, tree bark & and man made waste such as glass, tin/ iron and plastic. This can be an excellent supplementary source when collected. You can either soak this up with fabric or clothing or, if you are confident that it is safe, lick it directly from the source. Be careful though not to cut your tongue and some leaves are irritants and can cause your mouth to swell.

collecting dew by wrapping clothing around the legs and walking through dew soaked grassA reasonable amount of water can easily be collected by tying clean clothes around your legs and walking through long, dew soaked, grass at night or in the early morning. The liquid can then be wrung out into the mouth or a container.

dew trapDew traps can be created by digging a hole in the ground about shin deep and placing a sheet of plastic, tarpaulin, leather or vinyl from a car seat or large leaf over the hole so that it sits in the hole and makes a depression. you will probably need to weigh down the edges with logs or stones. Leave it overnight and you will often find a pool of water in the morning.

Collecting Rain Water

When water is in short supply it is important not to overlook the small sources. Lots of little bits add up to a lot and these small water sources can greatly improve your chances of survival. Look for:

  • Hollows in the fork of a tree, rock or ground where rainwater or dew may have pooled
  • Trees, ferns and palms where broad leaves join the trunk as rain water or dew will often collect there
  • Leaves which are shaped such that they hold small reservoirs of water

Rain traps are essentially the same as the dew trap however and can be used to catch and pool rain rather than dew, however when it is raining, any large smooth surface should be exploited (Tarpaulins, Plastic, Bamboo roofing, Large leaves etc) should all be fashioned in a way that they catch and channel rain from a wide area into the rain trap. Large sea shells, bamboo halves, sliced lengthwise also make good rain traps.

All rain water, no matter where you are in the world, is good to drink, as is.

If you are injured and cannot move, wrap a piece of fabric, like a strip torn from the bottom of a t-shirt, around the base of a tree and insert the loose end into the opening of a bottle or cup. The fabric will draw in moisture released by the tree and, once saturated, start dripping into the bottle/cup.

Watching for signs of water

There is a lot to be learned from watching animals as they go about their daily business I’m their environment. If you know what to look out for, you can pick up on tell-tail signs which will lead you to water, give you early warning if wild fire is near, help you to find salt and many more useful things.

  • Birds flying low and fast are usually heading toward a water source.
  • Birds flying from water are usually full and will often fly from branch to branch; fluttering and zig-zaging.

Honeybees nesting in the wild choose nest sites close to water supplies. Honeybees cannot survive without water as they use water to cool the hive, maintaining a temperature of around 35dec (C) or 95(F) preventing the wax from melting, water is mixed with pollen and honey to feed the young and to dilute their own food supply when the sugar levels are in excess of 50%. In hot climates, bees will require up to 2lt (2.1qts) per day. Bees will build their hive within 500mtrs of a sustainable watersource which could prove to be valuable to the thirsty survivor.

Honey is also a valuable survivor food which is rich in vitamins and a great energy source. Honey can be smeared over cuts providing protection from dirt and germs and properties which will hasten the healing process.

Tracks and Trails
  • When you find converging game trails, following them, in the direction of the arrow that they make where they meet, will lead to water.
Man Made Objects

In the desert you should always look underneath any man made objects you may come across such as a sheet of iron or the like, it may have been placed there on purpose to cover the entrance of a well or bore. This is common practice amongst locals in arid places.

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