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Finding Water When Backpacking


You can only carry so much water when you are out for days. In fact, if you are out for more than a few days there is really no way to carry all that you will need. So where do you resupply? The obvious places are streams and lakes and ponds, but what if these are not available where you are.

This is not just an issue in deserts. In fact, it is sometimes more difficult to find water when you are in arctic tundra or high mountain meadows in winter than when you are in an Arizona canyon. So let's look at some of the ways you can find the water you need to stay out there and stay hydrated.

To start with, use your maps. If you have a basic topographical map of the area you can at see any streams or water sources that are large enough to be noted on it. Otherwise you can at least see which way you need to go to head to lower ground, where you are more likely to find water. (This is true in most areas, but if there are high mountains adjacent to desert ares you might have more luck heading up.)

This video demonstrates what you can do if you are in a mountain environment with snow but no standing water. It was filmed in Colorado in late summer...

Low areas--even if you have to go high and then look for them--are the best prospects. If you see that water sometimes flows or collects in an area, look closer. Stream beds that are dry, for example, often have pools of water in deep spots near turns. Some streams flow in and out of the ground as well, so you can follow them and suddenly see water running.

Dew is another source of drinking water, but one best reserved for emergencies. It is difficult to collect, but you can sometimes get some water in your pan or cup by running the edge along a dewy stretch of grass. Another technique is to run a clean piece of clothing (like a sock that you haven't yet worn) along dew-covered grass and repeatedly wring it out in to a container.

The video above shows you how to use snow for drinking water when it isn't too cold. If you have to melt it in a pan using firewood or your stove, try to collect ice, which will yield a lot more water than snow.

If you really have no other source of water, try making a solar still and then finding anything that can contribute to the moisture level in it. Our wilderness survival guide has a page on how to make and use a solar still.

You should plan well to avoid any emergency situations. Call ahead if you are going to be backpacking in a park or other regulated area, to see which streams are flowing at the time time you'll be there.

When you do find any water source, and especially if you are in an area where future resupply is questionable, drink as much as you can and leave with every water container you have full.


The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Finding Water Backpacking