An average person can survive without water for all of about three days. Although terminal dehydration is a rare cause of death in survival scenarios, depriving your body of water can have serious and rapid effects such as dizziness and confusion. Knowing how to find and purify drinking water in the outdoors is a useful skill for any adventurer: here is our short guide.
Think like water
Regardless of the terrain you find yourself in, water always flows downhill toward gullies and crevasses. Clear, flowing water is the most desirable, but in a survival scenario, even a muddy puddle will do (just remember about filtration).
Following animal tracks and insects can help you choose the right direction. In case you come upon a dry creek bed or pond, do not despair. Dig a sufficiently deep hole and wait for it to fill up.
In the desert, a solar water can still be used to extract water even in the driest seasons (it also works at the beach). However, it can only account for a small percentage of your daily water needs, so it is not to be seen as a perfect solution.
Precipitation and trees
Precipitation can often be used as an emergency water source: rain, snow, sleet, ice, hail and dew. If rain seeps through a thick forest canopy or jungle, it will require purification. Otherwise, it is usually safe to drink unprocessed.
Trees can be another source of potable water, but only under certain conditions. Birch and maple trees are your best bet, but they will only provide abundant water in late fall and early spring. The good news is that sap and tree water are filled with micronutrients, vitamins and sugar, all very desirable in a survival situation. The bad news is that after a couple of days tree water begins to ferment, so it cannot be stored.
To extract water from a tree you will need a spile and this is how to make one - practicing this skill can facilitate a great day out in the wild with older kids.
The simplest but not always available method of purifying water is boiling. Seven to ten minutes of vigorous boiling kills most bacteria, viruses, protozoa and parasites that could be harmful or even deadly.
Top tip: boiling sea or brackish water (or even urine) is also a great way to deslinate it and end up with drinking water.
Other purification methods hinge on modern technology and preparation. Water purificaiton tablets or drops are the most popular and often used by hikers and campers. Ultraviolet purifiers and various types of filters are also commonly used, and you can read more about their pros and cons here.
It is extremely important to understand that the above guide is just a drop in the ocean of knowledge on how to find and purify drinking water in the outdoors. If you want to become an expert, there are plenty of excellent survival schools. Most importantly, be sure to plan all your adventures carefully so that potable water is always available and you can stay well hydrated.