Imagine, your mind a complete fog, your body unable to lift itself due to extreme dizziness, and nausea and cramping so bad you can barely move. This is what happens to your body after only three days without water – it’s called dehydration. While symptoms and severity can vary, the chances of survival after three days without water are slim.
In civilized society, droughts are thought of more as an inconvenience than a threat; however, in a disaster scenario, the threat of a drought – especially in times of extreme heat – becomes much more real when clean drinking water is a scarce resource.
No matter how thorough your prepping, there is a limit to the amount of water you are able to store. In a long-term survival situation, sooner or later, you’ll need to find a natural water source suitable for drinking. The good news is, even in the driest of times, there are always ways of harvesting water both above and below the ground.
In this article, we’re going to take you through the various methods you can use to harvest water in the wild, teach you to identify and find signs of water, and show you ways to purify harvested water so it’s suitable for drinking.
3 Key Methods for Harvesting Water
A great way to extract water straight from the ground is by using a solar still. To build one, you will need the following:
- Collection bucket (this can be any type of wide-brimmed container to collect the water; basically, anything water-tight. In a pinch, even a plastic bag will work, as long as it can be secured so it will not tip and spill the water)
- Large sheet of plastic
- Long straw (optional)
Once you’ve collected your items, choose a sunny spot and dig a wide hole; at the base of the hole, dig a fitted spot large enough for your collection bucket to rest in. If there is any leafy, green vegetation around, place it in the hole around the opening of the bucket; this will enhance your water collection rate by drawing moisture from the plants as well as the air.
Next, lay the sheet of plastic over the top of the hole and use your rocks to secure it firmly in place. Place a small stone in the center of the plastic to create a low-joint point, just above the top of the bucket to allow condensation to collect and drip into the bucket. Even in the desert, a solar still can collect up to a quart of water per day. To access the water without disturbing your still, use a long straw or piece of tubing.
Although water falling from the sky may seem like a lottery win to someone suffering from dehydration, be aware that rainwater is not technically safe for drinking due to pollutants in the air (such as arsenic) that make their way into the rainwater. There are ways to purify this polluted water to make it safe for drinking; several strategies are discussed later in this article.
If you are in the wilderness, collecting rainwater is as simple as setting up as many containers as you can. Be sure to place your containers in unobscured locations in order to obtain rainwater directly from the sky, and not water that has dripped off plants.
Harvesting rainwater from your home is accomplished by setting up rain barrels below your roof gutters to catch the runoff. However, be aware that in addition to pollutants, water from roofs will also typically have bugs and bird feces and not be particularly suitable for consumption.
There are some barrels available with built-in filtration systems that will remove solid waste; allowing the rain to rinse the roof for about 10 minutes before connecting your barrel will also help decrease the amount of debris and contamination.
If there are green plants, there is water to be harvested. There are several ways to extract water from plants, just be sure to choose the non-poisonous ones!
Plants take up water in the process of photosynthesis and during transpiration, water is one of the by-products released into the air. To capture this water, place a clear plastic bag over the end of a leafy branch and secure it with a cord. Within a few hours, several ounces of water will be available.
Before consuming water from natural sources, we recommend purifying it for safety. For a great visual demonstration on setting up a transpiration bag, take a look at this YouTube video:
Directly Off the Leaves
Plants have many adaptations for surviving a drought. In desperate times, plants that have leaves with a natural cup shape can be a source of water. The leaves specifically grow in that shape to funnel rainwater towards the trunk and act like a natural scoop. Look for plants with leaves growing directly from the base of the stem or trees that have clusters of leaves growing out of the trunk. The Traveler’s Tree can hold several pints of water this way.
Tapping Into the Trunk
In a tree trunk, xylem transport water from the roots to the leaves in a vertical fashion; this water can be collected similar to how sap is collected from maple trees. To do this, you will need a strong, tubular stick about the diameter of your thumb (alternatively, a hollowed out length of bamboo works as well) or a drip stick; a means of cutting a notch and hammering in the drip stick; and a collection reservoir.
Sharpen the tube at one end and gently tap it into the trunk at a 70 degree angle – you do not need to drive it in more than a few inches – and set up a collection reservoir below to catch the dripping water. Your collection reservoir can be a plastic bag, large leaf, or, ideally, a bucket. Collection will take a while, but the water collected is safe to drink. For a great instructional video on the drip stick method, check out this YouTube video:
From the Roots
While the roots of plants do contain water, it is quite a laborious task to extract it. To harvest water from plant roots, start by cutting a large root and stripping the bark. Then, use rocks to mash the root into a pulp, this will produce droplets of water and the root pulp can be pressed into a collection container for consumption. If you happen to be bugging-out in Australia, blood woods, water trees, and desert oaks are known for a high yield of root water.
Bamboo plants serve as a great source for water as they store it in the cavities between their joints. When looking for bamboo plants, look for those that are most yellow as these typically have more water. Once you’ve found a piece of bamboo, tap and listen for a low thud, indicating it is not hollow, then locate a section with water, cut a notch just above the lower joint, and collect the water that runs out. While this water is safe to drink directly, we recommend purifying in order to protect against disease.
While vines can be a source of water, caution must be taken in choosing which to use as those with milky sap tend to be poisonous. If there is no milky substance in the vine you chose, proceed by cutting a deep notch in the top of the vine. Then, cut off the tip of the vine to allow water to flow and continue to work your way up the vine, cutting sections and collecting water until no more water flows. It’s important to notch the topmost part of the plant first, otherwise it will respond by drawing all the water in the vine back towards the base of the plant.
Surviving A Drought By Extracting Water From the Air
It is possible to extract water from the air, and World War: Water, a must-have survival resource, will teach you how. Click here to order your copy!
Searching for Water – 4 Key Signs You Must Look For
Even if the landscape you are looking out at seems barren and devoid of water, take a closer look for small trees, bushes, or clusters of tall grass. If this vegetation is growing in a line, there is likely to be an underground stream sustaining it. To confirm, dig a small hole at the base of a group of plants.
Following Insects and Birds
Following insects and birds can lead you directly to water. Bees in particular need fresh water to survive and will typically build their hive no more than a few miles from a fresh water supply; should you find a hive, immediately start looking for other signs of water.
Mosquitos, as pesky as they might be, are good to follow as they breed in pools of standing water. The mason fly can lead you to underground springs as it uses mud to build and therefore seeks out moist soil for this purpose.
Another reliable water indicator is wild pigeons; after feeding on grain all day, they seek out water at dusk. Pigeons that are flying low and swift are typically headed towards a watering hole, while flying from tree to tree is a sign they are returning from the water hole. The added weight of water in their stomach slows them down and causes them to use more caution to avoid predators. Carefully observing the activities of wildlife is key for finding signs of water.
Following Animal Tracks
Grazing animals need to drink in the morning and the evening to digest their diet of grass. If you come across a hoof print, look downhill to locate where their water source might be. You may be lucky enough to find more tracks to follow, but also look for snapped twigs, scat, scraped bark, and other signs of larger animals.
Often the path to the water hole is heavily trodden and clear of obstacles; the careful eye can pick up signs of wear on the ground indicating the trail.
The ground itself can serve as an excellent roadmap in locating water. Water obeys gravity, flowing downward, and therefore your best chance of finding water is to seek low ground. Walking parallel to a mountain gives you a good chance of finding an outlet of fresh water, or at least a dry stream bed.
While a dry stream bed itself is of no use to someone who’s parched, there may be water accessible beneath the surface. The ideal stream bed to investigate will have dark green vegetation along it, but any vegetation is still a good sign. Examine the stream bed for dark patches of earth or dampness, the outer side of a bend, or natural depressions in the dirt – these are ideal places to dig.
Underground water can be harvested by digging a seep – a hole two to three feet in diameter and at least one foot deep. After digging your seep, groundwater should slowly start to seep into the hole, and by lining the bottom with rocks, you will prevent much of the sediment from stirring up.
Fresh groundwater is considered safe to drink but we always recommend sterilization as it’s better to be safe than sorry; additionally, leaving your hole unattended may invite wildlife to share in your water supply so purification is a must.
Essential Water Purification Techniques
If you’ve been able to harvest enough water to drink using your drought survival skills, there’s still the problem of purifying to ensure it’s safe to drink. The following are our suggestions for the best water purification techniques when surviving a drought:
To filter water, pour it through a bandanna to get rid of any sediment. You can layer charcoal, sand, and dried grass in a sock or another piece of fabric, then pour murky water through it and collect what seeps through in a container; you may need to repeat this a few times to achieve clear water. It’s important to remember that this water will have sediment removed, but not microscopic contaminants such as bacteria and viruses.
If you happen to come across a pool of water but have no means of purifying it, dig a hole deeper than the pool about one foot away from its edge; this will cause water to flow in. The initial water will be muddy and should be discarded, but eventually, after being drawn through the layers of sediment between the pool and your hole, the water will be filtered.
DIY Charcoal Straw Filter
To build a charcoal straw filter, first find a hollow reed or other tube. Then, stuff in some dry grass followed by a layer of crushed charcoal and top it off with more dried grass to hold the charcoal in place. Pack it firmly, but not so tight that air can’t be pulled through, and then, using it as a straw, draw water up through the filtering layers.
A Steripen uses UV light to sterilize water. Before treating, water should be filtered and clear. Once your water has been filtered, turn on the steripen and stir in your water until the indicator light turns green. The UV light targets the DNA of microorganisms, rendering them unable to reproduce and thus unable to infect you. A steripen is 99.9% effective at destroying pathogens.
When it comes to surviving a drought, a LifeStraw not only filters water, but also removes 95% of the bacteria as well. They are easy to use, very portable, and allow you to drink directly from the water source without having to pre-filter or sterilize. Each straw filters up to 1,000 liters of water.
To boil your water, first remove any sediment and bring your water to a rolling boil for one minute (three minutes at altitudes above 5,000 ft.); this will kill any pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Allow the water to cool and transfer any water for storage to a clean container that can be tightly sealed.
UV purification can be accomplished using clear plastic PET bottles or glass containers. First, filter your water to get rid of sediment, then fill the bottles and seal tightly using a lid or improvised material. Second, lay the bottles out in the sun for six hours (or two days if the weather is overcast) to allow the UV rays from the sun to kill any bacteria. The water can continue to be stored or consumed straight from the bottle.
Unscented Chlorine Bleach
Unscented chlorine bleach can be used to disinfect water using the following ratios:
Add the bleach to the water and allow to sit for 30 minutes. There will be a slight chlorine odor, and if there isn’t, repeat the dosage. Allowing the water to stand for a few hours in a clean container will reduce the taste and smell of chlorine.
Purification TabletsPurification tablets are similar to using chlorine but easier to carry with you; one tablet treats two quarts of water. To use, simply drop a tablet into your water and allow to sit for 30 minutes.
Perfecting Your Drought Survival Skills
Now that you know the basics of harvesting, finding, and purifying water to survive a drought, it’s time to take your knowledge to the next level. In order to be fully versed in drought survival skills, there are two resources you need to be familiar with. The first is The Bug Out Bag Guide’s Survival Skills article, which builds on the information in this article to provide a holistic guide to surviving in the wild.
The second, a resource no prudent prepper should be without, is World War: Water, a fascinating read that discusses the oncoming drought our world is facing and presents novel harvesting methods to ensure you don’t run out of water. Click here to get your very own copy!
The devastating effects of dehydration are something no one wants to be faced with; it is essential for your survival that you learn water-harvesting techniques to sustain yourself during a drought. Remember – the human body can only survive for three days without water, and what a grueling three days they are!
To build your water-harvesting knowledge, consider researching local plant life in your area to find out which types are likely to be the best sources for water. Also, remember to ensure your bug-out-bag is stocked with plenty of supplies that will allow you to purify any found water. While you may (literally) be so thirsty you could die, safety first; always protect yourself from illness and never consume water without first treating it.
Have you ever harvested for water in a drought? What was your experience like? Share your comments and stories with us in the Comments section below, thanks!