How to Find Water in the Wilderness

What’s the point of being a wilderness survivor if you can’t find water? This guide will teach how to find and purify water in the wild.

The “how to find water in the mountains” is a question that many people ask. There are many ways to find water in the wilderness, and this article will help you find it.

A man is finding water in the wild illustration.

Water is by far the most vital resource in any survival situation. Unless you’re in cold circumstances, you can easily spend a day without food and don’t require shelter straight immediately. While it is possible to survive without water for 24 hours, it depletes both physical and mental power, making it more difficult to complete the activities required to make it to the other side. And if you don’t drink enough water for three days, your body will shut down and you’ll be out of commission.

Your body will be able to circulate blood, digest food, regulate body temperature (preventing hypo- and hyperthermia), think clearly, and carry out a variety of other internal functions with roughly two liters each day.

It’s clear how important water is to your survival. Water can be discovered reasonably easily in practically every place on the world with only a little know-how. In today’s post, we’ll go through numerous strategies for obtaining water that may be used in temperate and other climates, as well as approaches that are better suited to tropical, frigid, and desert environments.

Before you begin, keep in mind that you should always filter.

Any survival expert will tell you that water should always be filtered or cleaned before drinking, regardless of where it comes from in the environment – streams, lakes, condensation on plants, etc. In many circumstances, however, this is not feasible since you may not have the necessary goods on hand. Just be aware that any water you drink without first filtering it might contain hazardous germs, putting you at risk. If it’s a life or death situation, you’ll almost certainly accept the risk. Some water collecting techniques are safer to drink directly than others; we’ll go through which ones are below.

Tips & Techniques for Finding Water in the Wild

The following suggestions are particularly useful in temperate and tropical regions, although many of them may be applied to other climates as well.

Streams, Rivers, and Lakes are the obvious places to start.

In the wild, they are the most evident sources of water. The ideal choice is clear, flowing water, since the movement prevents germs from growing. This indicates that you should seek for tiny streams first. Although rivers are good, bigger ones can contain a lot of pollutants from upstream. Lakes and ponds are OK, but they’re stagnant, which means germs have a better chance.

So, where do you start looking for these bodies of water? To begin, utilize your senses. Even if it’s a long way away, you may be able to hear rushing water if you stand completely still and listen closely.

A man watching direction of bird flight in forest illustration.

After that, you’ll use your eyes to look for animal trails that may lead to water. Swarms of insects, although bothersome, are another evidence of nearby water. Following the flight route of birds, particularly in the mornings and nights, may guide you to your much-needed H2O. In the desert, it’s particularly crucial to keep an eye on animal behavior. Animal footprints on the sand will be simpler to notice, and they’ll nearly always lead to water. In arid environments, birds will flock to water in particular.


Also, take a look around the area you’re in. Water flows downward, so look for valleys, ditches, gullies, and other similar features. When you get to low terrain, you’ll almost always run across water.

Rainwater Collecting

Rainwater collection and consumption is one of the healthiest methods to stay hydrated without risking bacterial illness. This is particularly true in remote, rural locations (in urban centers, the rain first travels through pollution, emissions, etc.).

Rainwater collection may be accomplished in two ways. The first is to make use of any and all containers you have. The second option is to tie the corners of a poncho or tarp over trees a few feet from the ground, make a depression with a small rock in the middle, and let the water to pool.

A tarp water is collecting into container in forest illustration.

By tying the poncho or tarp to funnel into your bottle, pot, or whatever you have (as long as it doesn’t overflow and waste water! ), you may combine these strategies and make your containers more efficient.

Collect a lot of dew in the morning

Want to gather up to a liter of water every hour? Take a pre-sunrise stroll through tall grass, meadows, etc. with some absorbent clothes/cloths or tufts of fine grass tied around your ankles. When the cloths are soaked, wring off the water and repeat. Make sure you’re not gathering dew from dangerous plants, however.


Water is abundant in fruits, vegetables, cactus, fleshy/pulpy plants, and even roots. To gather the liquid from any of them, just collect the plants, put them in a container, and break them into a pulp with a rock. It won’t be much, but in a time of need, every little bit counts.

This strategy is very useful in tropical areas with plenty of fruits and flora. Coconuts are a great way to stay hydrated. However, unripe, green coconuts are preferable since the milk of mature coconuts works as a laxative, further dehydrating you.

Plant Transpiration should be collected.

A water is collecting from plant transpiration in jar illustration.

Taking use of plant transpiration is another simple way to gather water. Moisture is transferred from a plant’s roots to the underside of its leaves by this mechanism. It vaporizes into the sky from there, but you’re going to capture the water before that happens.

Tie a sack (or whatever you can make into a bag; the bigger the better) around a leafy green tree limb or shrub first thing in the morning. Put a pebble in the bag to weigh it down a little and provide a location for the water to gather. The plant transpires and creates moisture throughout the day. It gathers in the bottom of your bag instead of vaporizing into the sky. Do not attempt this with a toxic plant.

Rock crevices/tree crotches

This, like fruits/vegetation, is a source that won’t give a lot of water, but it’s something to have when you’re in a need – especially if you’re trapped in the desert. Small water-collecting areas may be found in the crotches of tree branches or the crevices of rocks. Bird droppings around a rock crack in a dry environment may suggest the existence of water within, even if it isn’t visible. Stick a piece of fabric or a towel in the crotches or cracks to soak up any moisture and then wring it out. If possible, repeat the process and return after a rain to replenish your supply.


Make a Still in the Ground

The soil water is collecting underground illustration.

FM 21-76, Army Survival Manual

The advantage of building a still is that it offers a consistent, considerable supply of water (in comparison to other sources), and you know about how much you’ll be receiving, which makes it easier to plan and ration.

There are two types of sills: aboveground and subterranean. The underground is better since it gathers more water, but the aboveground variation might be beneficial if you’re short on energy and can’t dig a huge hole. Instructions for doing so may be found here (page 58).

Instructions for your subterranean still are as follows:


  • a container for (the largest you have)
  • Plastic sheeting that is clear
  • Tool for digging
  • Rocks
  • Something to serve as a drinking tube/straw (CamelBak straw, bamboo/other plant) is optional.


  1. Locate a location that receives the majority of the day’s sunshine.
  2. 3′ broad by 2′ deep bowl-shaped pit Within it, dig a second shallow hole for the container.
  3. Attach the drinking tube to the bottom of the container if desired. This step may be skipped if you don’t have one.
  4. Run the tube up out of the hole and into the container.
  5. Cover the hole with plastic and secure it with pebbles and dirt.
  6. Place a tiny rock in the middle of the sheet so that it hangs over the container and makes an inverted cone.
  7. Drink directly from the tube if you have one. Otherwise, retrieve the container from the bottom and replace it after the water has been stored elsewhere.

At that depth, there’s nearly always liquid in the earth. Condensation will form as a result of this reaction with the sun’s heat, which will gather on the plastic. Condensation is forced down into your container by the inverted cone. You may anticipate a crowd. To account for a complete day’s supply, you’d need more than one (or another source).

Tips for a Cold/Snowy Environment

Melt the ice and snow

Snow and ice are prevalent far into the summer months, and occasionally all year, especially in the highlands. Look to icebergs for fresh water and “ancient ice” that has gone through rains and thaws if you’re near or on the ocean in a polar location. Freshwater ice has a blue tint and crystalline structure, and it splinters readily with a knife, unlike salty ice, which is opaque and gray.

If you’re on a boat and are surrounded by salt water, collect some of it in a container and freeze it. The fresh water will freeze first, with the salt accumulating in the center as slush. Take out the ice and toss out the slush.

Snow and ice are good sources of water, but they must first be melted and cleansed. When you eat pure snow/ice, your body temperature drops, dehydrating you since your metabolic rate has to speed up to keep you warm.

To melt snow/ice and have it taste pleasant, just combine it with whatever other water you have on hand, even tiny quantities, and swish it about until the snow melts. If you’re going to heat it, mix it with some other water first; heating snow/ice straight might burn it and result in a foul-tasting drink.


Tips for the Desert

Finding and gathering water is likely to happen inside your 3-day window in temperate, tropical, and frozen/icy climates. Collecting, storing, and purifying it will be your major priority. Finding a water source in a desert area, on the other hand, might be quite challenging. Here are a few suggestions tailored to dry environments:

Dig Wells

Begin digging. Dig a huge hole a few feet deep wherever you perceive moisture on the ground or green foliage, and water will most likely seep in. The same is true at the base of cliffs, in dry river beds, beneath the first sand dune of dry desert lakes, and in valleys and low places. You may not be successful, but you could be close. This water will be dirty, so it will need further filtering/purification, but you will have a supply of water. 

Collecting Metal Condensation

Condensation on metal surfaces may be caused by extreme temperature differences between night and day. Collect moisture using absorbent fabric before the sun rises and vaporizes it. This also implies that you should keep your metal things out in the open instead of storing them in your pack.

Beach Suggestions

Create a Beach Well

You can still get fresh water if you’re stuck on land near a body of saltwater by building a well on the beach. Dig a 3-5′ hole behind the first sand dune, around 100 feet from the beach. The bottom is lined with pebbles, while the sides are lined with wood (driftwood, most likely). This prevents the well from collapsing or accumulating too much sand in the water. You’ll have a well full of fresh water in a few hours, thanks to a mix of rainfall gathered from the dunes and sand-filtered ocean water. You just move a bit farther away from the coast if it tastes salty.

Allow the water to soak in, then heat some extra rocks and place them in the water as a variety. This will produce steam, which may be collected by covering the well with an absorbent towel. Repeat with a wrung-out cloth. This method assures that your water is free of salt and other impurities, but it will result in lower yields.

Substitutes for Water Should Be Avoided

You could be tempted to use non-water liquids as a replacement for water in a dire survival situation. These should be avoided in all except the most extreme of circumstances. Non-water replacements, in general, wreak havoc on your health and vitality. These replacements, as well as their potentially dangerous properties, are listed below:

  • Alcohol. Dehydration impairs judgment.
  • Urine. It’s around 2% salt and contains hazardous bodily waste.
  • Blood. It is possible that sickness will be transmitted. It also contains a lot of salt.
  • Sea Ice/Seawater There is 4% salt in this product. It takes more water to flush the garbage from saltwater from your body than you obtain from it. Simply depletes your body’s supply of H2O.

If you’re a fan of Bear Grylls, you’re probably aware that he famously drank his own pee in the Sahara Desert. Is this a safe thing to do, or was it just for fun? Drinking your pee may keep you alive for another day or two if you’re at your wit’s end. It’s 95 percent water, but the remaining 5% is made up of waste materials that, if consumed for more than a brief amount of time, may lead to renal failure. This strategy, of course, becomes considerably more harmful as you grow more dehydrated.


Before you resort to drinking your own urine, be sure you’ve exhausted all of the other options. There’s a strong possibility you’ll be able to discover real H2O with a little work, education, and resourcefulness.

Check out our podcast with Tristan Gooley for much great advice on honing your natural instincts: 




Finding water in the wilderness can be difficult. If you find yourself on an island, it may seem impossible to find drinkable water. Reference: how to get drinkable water on an island.

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