Updated July 2018 – Do you know how to find water in the wilderness? Knowing how to find water is crucial if you become lost in the wilderness for an extended period. It should be your top priority to always be on the lookout for new and existing sources of water. In this article, I will be talking about the top 15 ways to find and collect water in the wild.
Always remember the rule of three of survival. Three days without water versus three weeks without food. That’s the length of time a person would survive without either food or water. Does it not make you realize how much more critical finding water is versus finding food? It should put things into perspective and give you the answer as to what should b your top priority if lost in the wilderness.
It certainly makes your survival much easier if you’re close to a lake, river or stream. Otherwise, you will have to think a bit outside the box on how to collect sufficient amounts of water to ensure your survival.
1 – Jars and Cloth Water Collection Method
Let’s begin by imagining that you have a source of water, but it’s dirty and full of sediments. An easy way to collect the water is by having two jars or cups and some towels or cloth. You can even tear a small piece from your t-shirt. Place the jar of dirty water on an elevated platform, like a rock or tree stump. Place the second jar on the ground, so it’s at a lower elevation.
Roll your cloth or towel so you can have two ends, one end in the full jar and the other end in the empty one. The water will slowly soak the cloth and start dripping in the empty jar. The sediments will stay in the fabric and the water coming out will be clear.
This method will take a bit of time to process, so in the meantime, go on and find other sources of water while gravity does its work. You will then have to boil the clear water to purify it and make it safe to drink.
You might argue that this is more of a water purification than a collection method, and in some ways, you would be right, but it is also a way to be able to collect dirty water from a puddle.
2 – Rain Water Under Rocks Method
One thing you should always keep in mind when you’re trying to find water in the wild is wherever there are contour lines on the earth; there’s most likely water down the path.
Look for rocks large enough to contain moisture underneath but small enough that you can quickly move. If the water contour lines lead to rocks after higher, it will mean there should be enough water underneath the rock to have a drink.
Move the rock out of the way and dig a hole in the wet dirt. After digging a few inches, you should see a small pool of water begin to form. You can use a bandana to collect the water by laying it into the hole and have it absorb the water. Do this if there’s not enough water to be able to obtain it with a bottle.
Squeeze out the water from the bandana into a container. Don’t forget to purify the water by separating the sediments and boiling it before drinking.
The video undoubtedly from Discovery shows an example of finding and collecting water under rocks and also contains other beneficial information for finding water in the wilderness
3 – Two Bottles and PVC Pipe Solar Distiller DIY Method
This method allows you to collect a more significant amount of water versus the solar water distiller we will show below. By filling the empty bottle on the top, as much as your PVC pipe is long.
The PVC pipe is needed to give a path for the condensation to move up to the empty bottle and at the same time, block the path of the water that is going back down to the bottom bottle. After a full day in the sun, you should have almost an entire bottle of purified water to enjoy.
I know some of you will say that its bad for one’s health to drink liquid out of a plastic bottle left in the sun. Let me ask you a question, would you rather die of dehydration, or drink water laced with a hint of BPA? The choice is ultimately yours, but it should be an easy one to make.
4 – Dew on Leaves for Collecting Water
You’ve probably heard of collecting the morning dew that settles on leaves from plants and trees right? We can do this by just wrapping a towel or t-shirt around our legs and walking around in the woods or fields where the grass is tall enough. You can also throw a cloth on the tree leaves, so you’re absorbing the water that has settled overnight.
Your cloth will eventually be wet enough that you can squeeze some of the water out into your canteen. You can also place some parts of your damp cloth in your mouth and suck as much water out as you can.
Doing this should give you enough water to keep moving until you find a more sustainable water source. This method can be done each morning and could be the answer to keeping you alive.
5 – Dew Collection From Plants Using Bags!
Here is another way to extract water from plant life. All you need is a plastic bag, some tape or rope, and you can use a flexible tree branch or a clean leafy plant or shrub.
Plants breathe, but they also respire moisture in the process of bringing nutrients to their leaves and stems. We’re going to try to capture that moisture by wrapping our plastic bag around the leaves on the end of a tree branch and then tie it shut. Make sure to seal the bag tightly. You don’t want to have any of the moisture you’ve collected to begin evaporating into the air!
The only remaining ingredient you need is sunshine. After exposing the bag in the sun all day, you should have enough water for at least a couple of mouthfuls. This doesn’t seem like a lot, but if you have more than one plastic bag, you could have enough water to keep you going until you find a better source of water.
6 – Tree Tapping Water Collection Method
The tree tapping method only requires a knife or Axe, a canteen and a rope, oh and of course a tree! This method will not work all year round and will work best towards the end of Winter and early Spring. This is the time of the year when the sap in Maple and Birch trees is running high.
The tree will also filter the water for you as it drips into your cup. This is the closest you can come to natures vitamin water. We call this vitamin water because of the nutrients, vitamins and especially sugar that comes from the inside of the trees. On most occasions, this water has a great taste to it, especially if it’s from a maple tree.
The only downside to this method is that the water is only good for a little over 24 hours due to the fermentation of the sugar that’s in the water. So remember that.
The first step is to carve a 2-inch circular hole in the tree with your knife. You want this hole to be approximately a quarter of an inch deep and V shape, with the point facing downward.
Next, you would need to find a six-inch long twig and carve a point on each end with your knife. Jam the twig on a steep upward angle in the exposed part of the tree deep enough that it doesn’t fall. Take your canteen and tie it to the tree with your rope. Make sure its positioned directly under the point of your twig, so the water drips inside your canteen. If you don’t have a rope with you, then you can improvise by using a long soft tree branch as a rope. No need to boil this water before drinking.
7 – Hole In the Ground Solar Still
Here is how you can make another type of DIY Solar Still with only a sheet of plastic and a small container.
Find a spot of ground where it receives sun for most of the day. Dig a hole approximately 1 – 2 feet deep and at least 2 feet in diameter. Place your container at the bottom and in the middle of your hole. Place some green vegetations like leaves or grass along the side wall of your hole to create moisture.
Make sure that your green vegetation is none toxic, as the moisture it produces will be poisonous and go in your water. Place the tarp over the hole (see photos) and place dirt or rocks over the entire edge of the tarp. This method is to make sure minimal air leaks inside or outside your water hole. Place a small stone in the middle of the tarp right over your container. Leave it for a full day in the sun.
After being in the heat of the sun all day, you will notice the tarp becoming wet with condensation. This condensation will start dripping directly into your container. Make sure you boil your water collected before consumption as you never know what type of toxins could be in it.
This video from All 4 Adventure will show you exactly how to build a solar still in the ground.
8 – Rain Water Tarp Collector / Poncho or Space Blanket
One of the easiest ways to find water in the wilderness is of course when it’s raining. That is if you’re lucky enough that it is going to rain when you are lost in the wild. I would recommend you always carry a tarp of some sort in your backpack or bug out bag. A poncho or even space/emergency blanket would work great for this water collecting method.
Here are two ways to collect water using either a poncho or a space blanket.
The first method would be to attach each of the four corners of the tarp to four tree branches in a floating square type way. Place a rock on the very edge of one of the sides of the tarp so the water collecting on the tarp would roll down the slant created by the rock. Place a cup on the ground directly under the rock’s location, so the water drips into the container.
The second method is the same as the first one, but the only difference would be to poke a hole in the middle of the tarp. Place your cup directly under the hole letting the water collected by the tarp to drip in the container. This method would force you to ruin whatever you’re using to stones the water potentially.
My choice would be to use a rock instead of piercing a hole in my poncho or blanket, but the decision is ultimately yours. Watch the video below from black scout survival as he demonstrates how to collect water in the wilderness using a poncho correctly.
Here is a video from Balck Scout Survival demonstrating how to collect water using a poncho.
9 – If You Want to Find Water, Dig a Well!
Yup, It can sometimes be that simple. All you need to do is dig a well if your in an area that is devoid of streams, lakes, and rivers.
The first thing you need to do is to look for mud or damp soil in a dry riverbed because there might be some groundwater underneath close to the surface. Proceed by digging a hole at least twelve inches deep and twelve inches wide.
If there is groundwater that is located near the surface, the hole should slowly begin to fill up with water. You can even try this method if you’re stuck in the desert by digging a hole in between dunes near vegetation.
Now you should place some rocks at the bottom of the hole so the sediments in the water can settle underneath the rocks, so you’re not stirring those sediments everytime you try having a drink. Line the sides of the hole with wood to prevent the sides from caving in, but you can also use bigger or flat rocks for this if there is no wood nearby.
Do not forget to purify the water before drinking. Just because the water comes from a well doesn’t mean it’s without any harmful bacteria. Check out this excellent video from BrainStuff on how to Dig a small well to collect water.
10 – Collecting Soil Moisture
An easy yet easily forgotten way to find water would be to locate wet or damp soil. Grab a piece of cloth like a bandana or a thin shirt and lay it flat on the ground and take a few handfull of wet dirt and place it on the shirt.
Wrap the dirt into a ball using the shirt and squeeze the water out of the dirt into a cup. You might only gather a few drops per squeeze but the deeper you dig, the more water there should be in the soil. You will have to do this a few times to have enough for a mouthful of water, but it will be well worth it in the end. Again, purify the water before drinking.
11 – Snow and Ice
If you’re like me, you live in a part of the world where you would get significant amounts of snow during the winter months. If this is the case and you’re lost in the wilderness in the winter without water, you might be in luck!
Of course, you should never eat the snow if you do not have access to any sources of heat; because it will just make you burn more calories trying to keep your body warm. Pack some snow and ice in a bag and keep it by your side. Have it close enough to your body, so it begins to slowly melt but far enough, so it doesn’t make your core body temperature drop.
Melt and boil the water for at least ten minutes if you have access to fire for proper purification. Here is a video from Big Family Homestead bellow showing us how to find water in the winter.
12 – 5 Primitive Ways to Find Water In a Tropical Wilderness
Now that we’ve covered a cold climate with snow and ice we can now turn our attention to a more tropical area of the world. Most of the forest in North America does not resemble the beautiful tropical forest in the video below, but you never know when you might lose yourself in one of these forests. And of course, my audience is not exclusive to North America, so these methods of finding water are for you!
I’ve covered how tapping a tree can be an excellent way of gathering water, but it will take some time to do if you’re tapping a maple tree. The video below from Survival Skills Primitive does an excellent job of demonstrating these five primitive ways to find water in the wilderness.
- Tapping a bamboo stem will give you a much higher quantity of water in a shorter amount of time versus what I would be used to with a maple tree. All you need to do is peel off the outer skin of the bamboo stem, and pierce a hole into it and you will quickly notice water begin to seep out. Place a cup underneath the hole to catch the water coming out of the bamboo, or better yet, stick a straw into the hole and drink up!
- The second primitive way to gather water in a tropical forest would be by chopping a small yet tall softwood tree. Using an ax, chop the tree down and then stand it back up on the bottom part of the tree trunk. Now lay the tree down in a way that nearby trees support it. The water that is in the tree can come down and leach out from the bottom directly into your cup. I have to admit, it’s a bit hard to explain something so simple but if you watch the video below you will know what I mean.
- The third primitive technique to find water in the tropics is by first locating a banana tree. Using whatever you have at your disposal, chop the banana tree down. You will notice that these types of trees are much softer than the trees we have in North America. After the tree is entirely off its stump, begin digging a hole in the middle of the stump about twelve inches deep. All you need for this is a seashell because a banana tree has an incredibly soft interior. Cover the hole with a large leaf and tie it down. After a few hours uncover the hole and you will find at least six inches of water waiting for you. I was pretty impressed when I saw that in the video.
- The fourth primitive method is by finding water within the tree vines. All you need to do is find the long vines coming down from the trees and cut them from the bottom. With the vine hanging in the air all you need is gravity to bring the water down the vine and into your cup!
- The final primitive way of finding water in the wilderness in the video below is a method we already covered, digging a small well by hand. I will not go into details about this method because I already talked about above, so there is no need to repeat myself. In the video, they go about it a bit differently from the method above. You might want to watch it to give you different example to find water in this manner.
13 – Where There Are Animals There Is Water
If you’re in the wilderness and hear all sorts of animals or different types of insects, you should know that there is water nearby. Animals will not make a spot in the wild their home if there is no water around.
Most animals and birds will drink water at dawn and dusk. It is an excellent indicator of water nearby If you see birds in the sky all flying in the same direction close to sunset.
It is also an excellent clue they are heading for water if they are all flying low and in a straight pattern because they would mainly be heading straight to the source. Follow that path, and you should eventually find water.
If you notice some birds flying from tree to tree, and often resting, that would be a good indicator that they have already had their drink of water. Birds of prey like Eagles and Falcons do not require water as often as grain-eating birds like pigeons.
You don’t necessarily need to see the animals to track them. Follow their tracks and that might bring you to water, but if the tracks are huge, I would recommend walking the opposite direction for obvious reasons.
14 – Honey Bees Will Help You Find Water
If you can hear the bussing from a beehive hanging from a tree branch in the forest that would undoubtedly be a good indicator that there is water within a three to a four-mile radius. Honey bees will always need water to produce honey, and they would never build a hive far from a water source.
The water source does not have to be a river, lake or stream; it only has to be a small amount of water so even small patches of water in ditches would be more than enough water for them. Pay close attention to your surroundings when you discover a beehive because there will more than likely be water nearby.
15 – Metal or Glass
Metal and glass will catch the morning dew quite efficiently. If you have either metal or glass around you, make sure to wipe off all the perspiration with a clean cloth before the sun can quickly vaporize it out of existence.
Most Important Things to Remember When Searching for An Alternative to Water
- Urine and Sea Water – If you’ve ever heard that you can drink your urine to keep you hydrated in emergency situations, well, don’t! Drinking urine may relieve the immediate thirst, but the sodium and other minerals would make you more dehydrated, in much the same way as drinking sea water. Even the U.S. military advises personnel against it in extreme survival situations. In a survival situation, you can use your urine as a source of water, by distilling it. The same techniques that we used to purify water from perspiration or sea water.
- Alcohol – Alcohol should be avoided when in a thirst related survival situation because it will cause you to dehydrate even more. The alcohol you drink will also cloud your judgment which will make your task of finding a fresh source of water that much more challenging.
- Blood – You might be fine If you only drink a couple of teaspoons of blood that is free from pathogens, But any more than that can be hazardous to your health and will be toxic. Blood is so rich in iron, and the human body will have difficulty excreting excess iron. While iron is necessary for most lifeforms, it can be toxic if ingested in high enough dosage. There is a condition called hemochromatosis that will cause a variety of diseases and problems. These problems include liver damage, the buildup of fluid in the lungs, low blood pressure, and nervous disorders and the case of this article, dehydration! Click Here to learn more about the science of drinking blood.
Now that we answered your questions as to how to find water in the wilderness, you’ll be better prepared to take on the wild! Click here for a complete water intake fact sheet directly from the CDC, so you know how much water to drink and to bring with you in the wilderness so you do not have to resort to the methods I listed in the article.