How To Find Water in the Wilderness – What You NEED to Know

Whether you’re enjoying a weekend full of camping, hiking, and biking, or were forced out of your home due to an unforeseen emergency, you should educate yourself about how to find water in the wilderness. I don’t care who you are or where you’re from – this is IMPORTANT. Everyone should know how to find drinkable water, and I don’t mean out of the facet, grocery store, or refrigerator. I promise it’s not going to hurt to learn this information!

The Importance of Water

Water Bottles

I think most people know that you can’t go too long without having access to food and water. After all, those hunger pains you feel in your belly don’t just happen for no reason. Your body is telling you something and your normal response is to fill it with food and water. And BOOM, hunger pangs are gone! It’s a simple cycle really, but it is unbelievably important and sensitive to change.

You can survive a lot longer without food than you can without water. The length of time you can survive without water varies because of several conditions including your environment, sex, age, weight, food intake, activity level, and overall health. Although it does vary, many suggest that you shouldn’t go more than just a few days without water. A lack of water can immediately deplete your physical and mental strength.

Somewhere between 60% to 80% of your body is made of water. Clearly, you need to keep it replenished so it can keep you up and running. There are many studies out there arguing how much water you should drink each day, so there is no definitive answer. It’s different for every person because of several factors. Exercise level, sweat level, sex, weight, age, and many other things should play a role in your water intake. The rule of thumb I use is to divide your weight in half and that is the number of ounces you should drink per day. For example, if you’re 150 pounds, you should drink 75 ounces per day. There are many other suggestions out there, but that’s the one I use.

Filtered Water

One thing to note before we continue is that any water you drink should be purified. I should rephrase that. Any water that you drink, use to brush your teeth, wash your foods with, or clean cooking utensils with should be filtered. Disregard the rule that water is safe to drink if it’s clear and cold. That’s not the case. Although most of the microorganisms found in water are not harmful to humans, there are some that will make you extremely sick. The worst part is that you can’t tell if these harmful bacteria are living in your drinking water. That’s why it’s important to treat all unfiltered water as if it is dangerous.

Listen, I understand that having filtered water may not be possible in some circumstances, but I just had to warn you. Obviously, if it’s a life or death situation, I’m sure you’ll have no problem drinking the unfiltered water. After all, there’s no guarantee it’ll be unsafe for you, but you should just be aware of the risks ahead of time.

How to Find Water in the Wilderness

Every environment is different so keep in mind that all these strategies may not be applicable in every situation. But you never know when you’ll be in a situation where you need to find drinkable water, so I suggest you familiarize yourself with all of these tips just to be safe. These tips might just save your life one day!

Rivers, Streams, Lakes, and Ponds


How to Find Water in the Wilderness

Obviously rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds are going to be your best and easiest option for water. A lot of movement in water usually reduces the chance of bacteria being able to build up. Streams and rivers are constantly flowing, so you should look for these first. Lakes and ponds are very still giving them a greater chance of having bacteria build up.

You can locate these sources of water in the following ways:

  • Listen closely and you may be able to hear water nearby.
  • Look for animal tracks. They are often heading toward bodies of water.
  • Keep an eye out for insects. They usually gather near water.
  • Watch the flight path of birds (especially in the morning or night). They often flock to water in dry areas.
  • Head downhill. Water runs downward so try to find a low point.


Drink Rainwater

Drinking rainwater is a great way to stay hydrated and as long as it’s raining, it’s easy to collect. Each situation is different so it’s hard to say how YOU will be able to collect it, but here are a few tips:

  • Set out containers to collect raindrops.
  • Use materials you have (tarp, clothing, etc.) to collect it for you. Tie the corners up on tree branches to create a type of collection pit for the water to fall into. You could also dig a hole and drop the middle of the tarp into it while keeping the edges above the hole by using rocks or branches.


Plants are another water resource that you can take advantage of. Throughout the day, water is transported from the roots of plants to the leaves. Once it reaches the leaves, the water is absorbed into the air. As long as you catch it before it’s absorbed, you’ll have some drinking water.

In order to do this, you’ll want to tie a bag around a big leafy branch. Make sure it’s not a poisonous plant!!! (You can read about poisonous plants here.) Put a small rock or something with a bit of weight in the bag so the water will have a somewhere to collect. The best time to do this is in the early morning so the water can collect in the bag throughout the whole day. By the end of the day you’ll have collected some drinkable water.


Dew on Grass

In more temperate or tropical areas you’ll be able to use the morning dew to your advantage. Tie some kind of absorbent fabric or clothing around your ankles and walk through the dewy areas. You’ll be able to wring it out and repeat once a decent amount of water collects.

Dig Wells

If you come across a damp area or one with green vegetation, you should be able to collect some water by digging a well. If you dig a hole a few feet deep, you should eventually see some water begin to seep into the hole. After some time there should be a decent amount of water in the well, although it will be extremely muddy. At this point, you will definitely need to filter it in some way.

Water Substitutes

In an emergency situation you may be tempted to replace water with another type of liquid. You must know though that this is not a wise idea. Often times these alternatives will further dehydrate you. Avoid drinking these instead of freshwater:

  • urine
  • alcohol
  • blood
  • salt water

Alcohol will not only cloud your judgment but also dehydrate you quickly. Blood can transmit disease and contains a high level of salt. Salt water contains about 4% salt which will ultimately force your body to use more water than you can keep in order to get rid of the waste. And finally, urine contains harmful waste and about 2% salt. In the most extreme situations, you may be able to drink urine. However, the waste within it will likely lead to sickness, so it’s important that you do not use urine as a water substitute for very long.

Let’s Hope You Never Have to Search For Water


I think we have become accustomed to the convenience that the modern world offers us. Water flows right to our homes through our facets, shower heads, and hoses. We are extremely fortunate to have these amenities, but we should also prepare ourselves in case we are ever in a situation in which we can’t easily access water. If you study up on these methods and use a little creative thinking, I am certain that you will be able to collect yourself some drinkable water if the situation ever calls for it. I hope after reading this you have a better sense of how to find water in the wilderness, and I also hope that you’ll never need to know! But just in case, I’m glad you know.


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