Survival Skills: How to Find Water

grapevine

Water is a critical element in any survival situation. The human body cannot last more than a few days without it, especially under the stress and workload of an emergency setting. Fortunately there are many different ways to collect safe drinking water from the landscape. Check out these five options for water gathering in the spring season.

Cut a Grape Vine: Grape vines (the genus Vitis) can yield water throughout the spring season in North America. Use a good woody-plants field guide to make certain that you're dealing with a grape species. Small vines about a half-inch in diameter (like the one in the photo), cut a few feet above ground, will drip water for some time. Larger vines in which a notch has been cut will gush water. Again, be sure to use a trusty identification guide. There are some toxic vines out there that produce sap that would not be good to drink.

Catch the Rain: Rain is our most efficient source of water, and will be as clean as the air it formed in and the surfaces it has touched. It requires no further purification if you catch it in a clean container because it is fresh, distilled water. Rainwater that is caught in a questionable container, like a dirty pot or a hole in a rock, should be disinfected somehow before consumption. Boil it for at least 5 minutes (more than 10 minutes is unnecessary) or treat it with disinfecting tablets or drops, just to be safe.

Find a Spring: Springs and their slower moving cousins, seeps, are more common than you might think. After all, how do you think small waterways keep getting larger as they go along? Look for the head waters of streams, and look for places where water flows out of holes in the sediment. You can also stir up mud and look for places where clear water moves into the muddy water. What you don't want to do is drink raw water out of a stream like the TV survival gurus demonstrate. Consuming water from waterways without first disinfecting it is a fast track to water-borne illness. Ingest the wrong bug, and even the healthiest among us can die a painful and embarrassing death in a matter of weeks.

Listen to Animals: Animals can give you an audible clue to hidden sources of water. Listen for the croak of frogs and the call of water-loving birds. These creatures can steer you in the right direction to local water sources.

Look for Vegetation: In a dry climate, a ribbon of green in the distance could mean water. There are no guarantees, as it might be a creek bed gone dry, but it's still worth investigating. If the land is open, look for water-favoring trees like willows and sycamores in the distance to guide your path. Cattails, sedges, cordgrass, and reeds are a good sign of water as well, though they tends to indicate swampy conditions—not the best place to procure water, but it'll do in a pin.