How to Find Water in the Wild

Getting lost or stranded can happen to anyone. You could get stranded while you’re hunting, camping, going for a drive or any other number of situations.

Being able to find water in those situations can be the difference between life and death. If you’re resourceful and know where to look, you can find water in almost any environment on Earth.

The Importance of Water
Your body needs at least 2 quarts of water a day. It’s recommended that you have about 1 gallon per person per day in your emergency supply. However, if you run out or get stranded somewhere, you’ll need to know where to find it.

- Stay prepared with emergency water containers for your home -

Your body uses water to help circulate blood, process food and assist in other internal processes. Typically, the body can survive for about three days without water but it’s not recommended that you go without water for more than one day.

Without water, your body will begin to suffer from dehydration. With intense dehydration, your body will begin to shut down - your muscles won’t get oxygen, your blood cells begin to shrink, etc.

water-1134143_1920Locating Water
Look & Listen. The most obvious source of water would be a nearby stream, river or lake. While you’re walking, try to stop and listen for sounds of water. You might also notice a lot of greenery around water. Look for vegetation.

Animals. You can also use animals to guide you to water. The animals will know where the water is, so be sure to look for animal tracks or insects. Usually, the insects will congregate around water sources. Birds can point you in the direction of water too. They typically fly towards water during the morning and evening.

Rainwater. Rainwater is typically safe to drink. There are a few rare occasions when the water is contaminated but that is usually not the case. If it begins to rain, use containers to catch the water or a poncho to collect it. If the rainwater tastes different, it usually means that it’s absent of minerals that are found in groundwater or streams.

Digging. If you find a muddy spot but can’t seem to locate a body of water, simply dig a hole. You’ll be surprised that in a few minutes, water will begin to collect in the hole. If the water is dirty, use a water filter or cloth to try and clean up the water as much as possible.

Snow & Ice. Melt snow and ice before drinking it. Eating frozen water will reduce your body temperature and can lead to dehydration. Try and purify the water after melting it.

Vegetation. Depending on where you are, there might be a lot of vegetation that can supply you with water. Things like fruits, coconuts, cacti, and other plants can contain drinking water. Also, don’t forget that in the mornings dew will collect on vegetation.

Collecting Water
Now that you’ve located the water, there are a few ways to collect it.

Belowground still. In order to create a belowground still find a moist area that gets sunlight for most of the day. Usually, the hole should have some type of green foliage in it. Once you have your hole, place a container at the bottom. Place a transparent plastic sheet over the hole. Add dirt or rocks to the edges of the sheet and place a medium size rock in the middle of the sheet to weight it down. The sun will create an effect that allows water to collect on the sheet and drop into the container. You can also install a drinking tube if you would like.

Beach well. If you’re near an ocean or lake, you can create a well that will collect water. Simply dig a 3-foot hole in the depression behind the first sand dune. Typically the well will be located about 100 feet from the waterline. Place rocks in the bottom and line the sides with wood. This will allow the well to fill without collapsing or kicking up too much sand. In a few hours, the well will fill up with filtered water. If the water tastes salty, then you should move farther away from the water line.

Jungle Water Collection

What techniques do you know?
It’s important to know how to find water in an emergency. You can also save yourself some time and have an emergency supply of water ready for such occasions.

We want to know what you’ve done to prepare. What techniques do you know of that will help you have water in an emergency? Comment below!

23 thoughts on “How to Find Water in the Wild”

  • Dan

    I would recommend using google maps and print out your location. You might be suprised on lakes, ponds and streams located in your area you never knew existed. This is especially true in the South East US.

  • sandy

    I live in San Diego ca. I'm about 1/2 mile from the bay/ocean & 11 ft above sea level and often wondered if I dug down to the water line would the water be fresh or salty? The dirt is clay, does that filter the water? What do you think?

    • The Ready Store

      Hey Sandy, thanks for the question. It can really depend. In a beach well, like we talk about in the article, the sand isn't filtering the water - as far as I can tell. Rather, the sand is forming a dense barrier between the ocean water and the fresh land water. At 1/2 mile inland, it's a different story. It depends on whether there are other sources of groundwater nearby. It could be that water is coming from a local well or riverbed. I wouldn't imagine that the water would be salty from the ocean but if there is a local source of salt water, that might be the case.

  • OregonAnnie

    Thanks for all the great tips. I really enjoy input from both you and all your customers. It's amazing how ingenious some people are with coming up with new ideas. Thanks for allowing us the format to share these ideas.

  • Ben

    Look for pugmarks of animals, they'll lead you to the nearest water hole.

  • Nancy

    What's a pugmark?

  • Nancy

    A little off the subject - but how did my question get answered (according to the posted times) before I even asked it?

  • Jack Hommel

    In our beautiful desert southwest, try to engage in some patience and sharp eyed observation. Sit still on a tall rock or hillock and just watch carefully the birds and small animals. Once they get used to your presence, they'll assume their regular patterns and, since they can't live without water either,they will begin to show you the way to springs or seeps. Also look at the bottoms of canyons or ravines for green spots indicating moisture. If you happen to be in ranching country, look for ranchers' windmills & stock tanks, you might be surprised just how near water really is. You can easily make a solar still with a 4 foot square piece of clear plastic and a can or cup to catch the condensation.
    The desert is a harsh mistress, but work with her & not against her and you'll be rewarded.

  • NameReid

    It might be wise to get topo maps of your area and study them for where wells and Springs are marked on them . Then scout out those locations in advance to see if water features are still there and up to date. That way in an emergency you'll know where to look first

  • Pablo

    If you travel in the dessert or during seasons with no rain so no water can be found on the surface, make sure you have few plastic bags, the crispy ones, and when you see a tree with green blades, tie the bags around the foliage and the tree perspiration will drop water inside the bags. Same trick as a hole in the ground and foil.

  • Ken Waldron

    Excellent article, particularly if you are out with dogs and horses, get lost or whatever.

  • LT

    If you see Bees or bear them your close. Bees are never far from a water source

  • mike mcdaniel
    mike mcdaniel July 15, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    in the southeast at dark thirty listen for the sound coming from the edge of water. MR. Bullfrog! OH YEA THERE LEGGS ARE DELISH !

  • Don

    Having lived in the mountains of Donner Summit (yes, where they ate the dead people) I would also say that any water found in the wild should be boiled unless you do not mind the well known Beaver Fever. Those who have had it, will never forget it. And they are right about do not eat the snow, melt it first.

  • Herb Gardner

    A trick for clearing out muddy water before boiling: Mash up a couple prickly pear pads and place in bottom of bucket/container. Place muddy water in and watch it clear...takes about 1 hour/gal. The mashed up pads attract the sediments...when ready siphon or carefully pour off the clean water into your pan and boil.

  • Ben from Texas

    Talk to some old timers in your area ask them if they know where there are some ''seeps or springs that might flow out of the ground year round..They usually are in a gully with trees all along them..I've found 3 around me that flow year round..Fresh clean underground water pushed to the surface because the water table comes close to the surface and the water will flow toward the surface because a rock or rock formation guides the water out of the ground..

  • Bob

    RE: Salty water.
    I have read that root produce (potatoes, turnips) will absorb salt from water in a food preparation scenario...Any body tried this method with stored water. I am trying it now, and would like to compare my methodes with others.

  • Gayle

    whst is a prickly pear pad? also, what exactly do you mean by a crispy bag?

  • TomT

    Gayle, a prickly pear is a type of cactus. It has oval-shaped "leaves" with little "spots" of spines. And, yes, the spines will tick you and stay stuck. The good news is that it's one of those plants that can survive just about anywhere and even thrive with just a little bit of tolerable weather. I've lived in countless places across the country in the last 40 years, from New Mexico to Chicago. Whenever I move, I take a bit of my old original New Mexico prickly pear with me in a small dishpan and it is still going strong. This bit of info about desalination was news to me, though.

  • Gayle

    Thanks for the prickly.pear description. What about the "crispy" bag? Is this just a plastic bag like a grocery bag. Also when I was a kid I saw a tv show/movie "long tome ago", where a couple of characters were lost without water. One of them said that if you take a sm, smooth rock
    /pebble in your mouth and suck on it-it will help you produce moisture so your mouth will not be dry. Anyone know about this? Does it work?

  • kirk

    Vegetation. Depending on where you are, there might be a lot of vegetation that can supply you with water. Things like fruits, coconuts, cacti, and other plants can contain drinking water.
    Most cacti do not contain drinkable water, even the vaunted Barrel cactus only has about 3 varieties that can be used for water, and the others will do more harm than good.
    Prickly pears do have some benefits if you burn the needles off first but that is mainly more for food than water.

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