Practical Skills: Water in the Wilderness

Another workshop that I attended at the Maps Meet was on a subject that I enjoy thoroughly. Taught by Hue, an instructor at Earth Connection school in Virginia, this class was an overview of survival situations in relation to your water supply.

What happens when the only water you have is dirty? Do you drink it and possibly get sick? Do you choose not to drink it and possibly die of dehydration? How do you find water in the wilderness anyway, and how do you make sure it is safe to drink? This class went over those questions and more.

You can generally tell you are near a water supply by looking at your surroundings. Look for green vegetation, watch the insects, bees in particular as they cannot stray too far from a water source, and watch the other animals as well to see where they go to drink. You might not particularly like the idea of drinking water that may have a green tint to it, but in a survival situation you either drink or become dehydrated quickly.

There are a few ways to find drinkable water right away. Look for leaves and rocks that are natural rain catchers. Some plant stems are filled enough with water that they will keep you alive. Thistle stems, in particular, fall under this category. Also, you may lay a hanker-chief, or another cloth, on the grass at night to collect the dew from the ground. In morning squeeze the water from the hanker-chief and drink up! If you happen to be in a situation where the only water around is ocean water, sip it. At least it will help to keep you alive for a few more days than you otherwise would without water.

There are several ways of cleansing your water supply. One of the best ways is through a rolling boil. Now, it is possible that you might not have a stove with you and a campfire will not be able to maintain a constant boil. The solution is rock boiling. The list of things that you need is simple. Rocks, a fire, a pot or container of the water you wish to purify, and unless you like sticking your hand in fires, anything that can pick up a rock while it is in a fire. This could be a conveniently shaped stick, a spatula, a spoon, or any number of other things. Place 3-4 rocks in the fire and leave them until they become red hot. Once they are red hot, remove them from the fire and place in your water. The water will begin to boil, and as it boils, place more rocks into the fire. Same as you did before, wait until they are red hot and then place in your water. Continue this process for approximately 15-20 minutes. The rolling boil method will help to get rid of most of the things you do not wish to find in your water.

You can also make a filter for your water. Use your pant leg (when you are not wearing your pants) or a bucket, does not matter either way. If you are using the pant leg, tie a knot at the bottom and tie the top to a tree branch. If you are using a bucket, tie that up on a tree branch. For both methods, be sure you have a container of some sort underneath to catch your water. In the bucket, poke holes at the bottom and place a cloth over top of the holes. It is not necessary to poke holes in the pant leg, as it is fabric and the water will seap through either way. Your first layer of the filter should be 4-5 inches of sand or dirt followed by 1-2 inches of dry grass on top of that. Hopefully you have a fire, because after that you’ll need about 5 inches of charcoal from your fire followed by another inch of grass. At the top of your filter you’ll need 4 inches of pebbles. Pour your water through the top, and clean water will be collected underneath in your container.

If you pour water back and forth between two buckets, you will aerate it, which will reduce substances you may not want in your water, as well as removing inorganic substances. Do this for 3-5 minutes. Then let the water sit for about 2 hours. Any sediment will sink to the bottom. Pour the good water into a clean container.

If you wish to be as sure as you can be that your water will be clean, start with the aeration process with the buckets and then filter the water through the pant leg or the bucket. Follow both of these up with the rock boiling method, and you can be sure that your water is clean.

Water is simply the most important thing for you in a survival situation. In a mild climate of the average temperature being 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you will be able to survive on one gallon water for 14 days. In an extreme climate of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, that falls to 5 days of survival. If it happens that your gallon of water is tainted and causes stomach ailments, that survival time falls to only 2 days. You must be sure to keep hydrated!

Do not forget that your body is extremely adaptable. If you have clean water with you, each time you drink, add a sip or two of the local water. Your body will adapt to the water in as little as a week!

– Miranda Vivian



  1. Jeff Truman said,

    January 9, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    Some very interesting ideas. Thanks for posting them.

  2. Aftermath said,

    January 10, 2007 at 9:50 am

    No problem. Thanks for commenting! Sorry for the delay in your comment showing up, it got caught in our filter. Ironic…really.

    – Miranda Vivian

  3. July 18, 2007 at 1:53 pm

    […] Second: Water! You need water to survive. If you are unsure of where the water is, watch the insects. They can’t stray far from a water source. They’ll lead you right to it. Of course, you’ll also want to know how to make your water drinkable. (Water in the Wilderness) […]

  4. November 7, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    […] Second is water. You cannot survive without it. You’ll want to stay near it. Be prepared for others staying near it as well. Learn how to find it and purify it. […]

    • Dhiva Vivek said,

      April 25, 2012 at 11:54 pm

      I am kinda a beginner in survival techniques and what-not. I do not know whow to make a fire. I know how to prepare for it, but not exactly how to light it. Especially without a match or lighter. You know, if you do not have an igniter of some sort on you at the moment.

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