There are few things more crucial in the wilderness than water. Getting enough water is essential if you want to avoid dehydration, which could lead to a true medical emergency like heat stroke.
But what happens if you run out of water on a hike and can’t find any more? What will you do?
If you ever find yourself stranded in the mountains, you’ll need to know where to look to get the water you need to survive. To help you out, here are 7 clever ways to find water in the wilderness.
NOTE: Drinking untreated water in the wilderness can cause serious waterborne illnesses. Whenever possible, treat your water by boiling it or by using filters, chemicals, or UV light. Any water you drink in the wilderness is consumed at your own risk and discretion.
1. Filter Water From Small Streams On the Trail
The filter method involves creating a makeshift filter so you can collect water from small trickles of water on the trail.
While this method isn’t going to protect you from a wide range of water-borne pathogens like a proper water filter or treatment system would, it can remove large dirt and debris. In a survival situation where boiling water isn’t an option, a makeshift filter is likely going to be your best bet.
To create a filter, use a bandana or a T-shirt. Ideally, the bandana, T-shirt, or whatever else you use as a filter would be clean. However, you have to make do with what you have in your pack.
So, find the cleanest bit of cloth that you have and pull it tightly over the opening of your water bottle. Dip the water bottle into the river, stream, lake, or whatever water source you might have and wait for the bottle to fill with water. The tightly-stretched bandana or T-shirt should stop larger bits of debris from making it into your water bottle.
2. Look for Low-Lying Terrain
If there is water near your location, you’ll probably find it in low-lying terrain, like a gully or depression in the landscape. Since water always flows downhill (thanks, gravity!), your best bet for finding it in an emergency is to look for some sort of concave-shaped terrain.
If you’re comfortable reading a detailed topographic map (a map is one of the hiking 10 essentials, so you should always have one!), you should be able to find potential water sources just by studying the terrain.
Actually finding these water sources might mean quite a bit of walking, though, so be sure to assess all of your options before you take off down the trail. Note that you may need to walk downhill for a sizable distance off of a high point, like a mesa or summit, to find water using this method.
3. Collect Dew on Leaves and Grass
If you find yourself in an area that gets heavy dew each morning, you can use this meteorological phenomenon to your advantage.
Arguably the best way to collect dew is to take a clean T-shirt or bandana and tie it around your ankle. Then, walk through the wet grass until the cloth is soaked with water.
When this happens, wring out the bandana or T-shirt into a water bottle. Then, repeat the process until you’ve collected as much water as you need.
For some top tips on collecting dew for drinking water, check out this instructional video from the folks at Military.com:
4. Capture Rainwater
When rain is in the forecast, you have a sure-fire way to collect water in an emergency situation.
To use the rainwater collection system, you’ll need a fairly large container with a wide opening. Wide-mouthed Nalgene water bottles can work, but they’re not ideal if you need to collect a lot of water.
Alternatively, consider using a kitchen pot, which has a wide enough opening to collect large amounts of water.
If this isn’t possible, consider lining the inside of a baseball hat with a plastic bag. When the plastic bag is propped open by the baseball hat, it should be wide enough to collect the rain as it falls. Then, you can carefully transfer the water into your water bottle before consuming it.
5. Make a Solar Still
A solar still uses the sun’s heat to collect water that might otherwise be left to evaporate.
To create a solar still, dig a hole that is 3 feet wide and 1 foot deep. Place a container at the bottom of the hole, then cover the container and hole with a plastic sheet or a tarp.
Put a small rock in the center of the plastic sheet to create an area for condensation to form. Then make a small cut at the edge of the plastic above your container so that condensation can run down into it.
After a long period of hot weather, you should find that a decent amount of water has collected inside the container under your plastic sheet for you to drink.
If you want to learn more about this method, check out this video on making a solar still in the desert:
6. Eat Fruits & Berries
Fruits and other berries that you might find on the trail are always fun to eat. However, they also provide a surprising amount of water that you can use to survive an emergency situation.
The simplest choice here would be to find, collect, and eat any fruits and berries that might be in your area. (NOTE: Only eat things that you know 100% are not toxic.)
However, if you want the satisfaction of drinking a water-like liquid, you can also mash up any fruits and berries you find into a juice. Think of this like your morning smoothie with an extra kick of Vitamin C in the wilderness.
7. Melt Snow or Ice
If you happen to be camping or hiking in a snowy environment, your best option is to try to melt some snow or ice for drinking water.
To do so, start by collecting the cleanest-looking snow you can find into a cooking pot. If you have a little bit of water left, pour that into the pot. This will help prevent the snow from burning during the melting process. Trust us—you don’t want to taste burnt snow.
Then, place the pot on your stove and wait for all the snow or ice to melt before consuming. Note that this process does take a lot of fuel. So, if you can melt the snow in the sun, instead, that might be the better option.
How to Find Water in the Wilderness
It can be challenging to find water in the wilderness. But, when used properly, these 7 methods can help you stay hydrated until you’re able to get back home.
Of course, finding ways to avoid running out of water in the mountains is better than getting yourself into an emergency low-water situation. However, the important thing is that you now know how to find water in the wilderness when there’s no drinking water in sight. Happy trails!