Wilderness Survival - Water
(Adapted from the U.S. Army Survival Manual)
Water is one of your most urgent needs in a survival situation.
You can't live long without it, especially in hot areas where
you lose water rapidly through perspiration. Even in cold areas,
you need a minimum of 2 liters of water each day to maintain
More than three-fourths of your body is composed of fluids.
Your body loses fluid as a result of heat, cold, stress, and
exertion. To function effectively, you must replace the fluid
your body loses. So, one of your first goals is to obtain an
adequate supply of water.
Almost any environment has water present to some degree. Table
6-1 lists possible sources of water in various environments.
It also provides information on how to make the water potable.
Note: If you do not have a canteen, a cup, a can, or other
type of container, improvise one from plastic or water-resistant
cloth. Shape the plastic or cloth into a bowl by pleating it.
Use pins or other suitable items-even your hands-to hold the
If you do not have a reliable source to replenish your water
supply, stay alert for ways in which your environment can help
Heavy dew can provide water. Tie rags or tufts of fine grass
around your ankles and walk through dew-covered grass before
sunrise. As the rags or grass tufts absorb the dew, wring the
water into a container. Repeat the process until you have a supply
of water or until the dew is gone. Australian natives sometimes
mop up as much as a liter an hour this way.
Bees or ants going into a hole in a tree may point to a water-filled
hole. Siphon the water with plastic tubing or scoop it up with
an improvised dipper. You can also stuff cloth in the hole to
absorb the water and then wring it from the cloth.
Water sometimes gathers in tree crotches or rock crevices.
Use the above procedures to get the water. In arid areas, bird
droppings around a crack in the rocks may indicate water in or
near the crack.
You can use stills in various areas of the world. They draw
moisture from the ground and from plant material. You need certain
materials to build a still, and you need time to let it collect
the water. It takes about 24 hours to get 0.5 to 1 liter of water.
To make the above-ground still, you need a sunny slope on
which to place the still, a clear plastic bag, green leafy vegetation,
and a small rock.
To make the still -
Fill the bag with air by turning the opening into the breeze
or by "scooping" air into the bag.
Fill the plastic bag half to three-fourths full of green leafy
vegetation. Be sure to remove all hard sticks or sharp spines
that might puncture the bag.
CAUTION - Do not use poisonous vegetation. It will provide
Place a small rock or similar item in the bag.
Close the bag and tie the mouth securely as close to the end
of the bag as possible to keep the maximum amount of air space.
If you have a piece of tubing, a small straw, or a hollow reed,
insert one end in the mouth of the bag before you tie it securely.
Then tie off or plug the tubing so that air will not escape.
This tubing will allow you to drain out condensed water without
untying the bag.
Place the bag, mouth downhill, on a slope in full sunlight.
Position the mouth of the bag slightly higher than the low point
in the bag.
Settle the bag in place so that the rock works itself into
the low point in the bag.
To get the condensed water from the still, loosen the tie
around the bags mouth and tip the bag so that the water
collected around the rock will drain out. Then retie the mouth
securely and reposition the still to allow further condensation.
Change the vegetation in the bag after extracting most of
the water from it. This will ensure maximum output of water.
To make a below-ground still, you need a digging tool, a container,
a clear plastic sheet, a drinking tube, and a rock (Figure 6-7).
Select a site where you believe the soil will contain moisture
(such as a dry stream bed or a low spot where rainwater has collected).
The soil at this site should be easy to dig, and sunlight must
hit the site most of the day.
To construct the still -
Dig a bowl-shaped hole about 1 meter across and 60 centimeters
Dig a sump in the center of the hole. The sumps depth
and perimeter will depend on the size of the container that you
have to place in it. The bottom of the sump should allow the
container to stand upright.
Anchor the tubing to the containers bottom by forming
a loose overhand knot in the tubing.
Place the container upright in the sump.
Extend the unanchored end of the tubing up, over, and beyond
the lip of the hole.
Place the plastic sheet over the hole, covering its edges
with soil to hold it in place.
Place a rock in the center of the plastic sheet.
Lower the plastic sheet into the hole until it is about 40
centimeters below ground level. It now forms an inverted cone
with the rock at its apex. Make sure that the cones apex
is directly over your container. Also make sure the plastic cone
does not touch the sides of the hole because the earth will absorb
the condensed water.
Put more soil on the edges of the plastic to hold it securely
in place and to prevent the loss of moisture.
Plug the tube when not in use so that the moisture will not
You can drink water without disturbing the still by using
the tube as a straw.
You may want to use plants in the hole as a moisture source.
If so, dig out additional soil from the sides of the hole to
form a slope on which to place the plants. Then proceed as above.
If polluted water is your only moisture source, dig a small
trough outside the hole about 25 centimeters from the stills
lip. Dig the trough about 25 centimeters deep and 8 centimeters
wide. Pour the polluted water in the trough. Be sure you do not
spill any polluted water around the rim of the hole where the
plastic sheet touches the soil. The trough holds the polluted
water and the soil filters it as the still draws it. The water
then condenses on the plastic and drains into the container.
This process works extremely well when your only water source
is salt water.
You will need at least three stills to meet your individual
daily water intake needs.
Rainwater collected in clean containers or in plants is usually
safe for drinking. However, purify water from lakes, ponds, swamps,
springs, or streams, especially the water near human settlements
or in the tropics.
When possible, purify all water you got from vegetation or
from the ground by using iodine or chlorine, or by boiling.
Purify water by -
Using water purification tablets. (Follow the directions provided.)
Placing 5 drops of 2 percent tincture of iodine in a canteen
full of clear water. If the canteen is full of cloudy or cold
water, use 10 drops. (Let the canteen of water stand for 30 minutes
Boiling water for 1 minute at sea level, adding 1 minute for
each additional 300 meters above sea level, or boil for 10 minutes
no matter where you are.
By drinking non-potable water you may contract diseases or
swallow organisms that can harm you. Examples of such diseases
or organisms are -
Dysentery. Severe, prolonged diarrhea with bloody stools,
fever, and weakness.
Cholera and typhoid. You may be susceptible to these diseases
regardless of inoculations.
Flukes. Stagnant, polluted water-especially in tropical areas-often
contains blood flukes. If you swallow flukes, they will bore
into the bloodstream, live as parasites, and cause disease.
Leeches. If you swallow a leech, it can hook onto the throat
passage or inside the nose. It will suck blood, create a wound,
and move to another area. Each bleeding wound may become infected.
WATER FILTRATION DEVICES
If the water you find is also muddy, stagnant, and foul smelling,
you can clear the water -
By placing it in a container and letting it stand for 12 hours.
By pouring it through a filtering system.
Note: These procedures only clear the water and make it more
palatable. You will have to purify it.
To make a filtering system, place several centimeters or layers
of filtering material such as sand, crushed rock, charcoal, or
cloth in bamboo, a hollow log, or an article of clothing (Figure
Remove the odor from water by adding charcoal from your fire
(brush the ashes off). Let the water stand for 45 minutes before
Steve's Notes: In late winter until early spring,
you can break maple tree branches near the ends, and tie a plastic
bag around them to collect the dripping sap. Cut or break them
where they slope down, and are less than 1/4 inch thick. I've
collected more a quart of liquid in a day from one cut like this.
You'll also get about 40 or 50 calories per quart from the natural
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