Finding water for survival

dew drop on leafWe have looked at the Protection and Location of PLWF. By finding Protection from the elements and using Location to help your rescuers find you, lets now look at Water, or more specifically finding water for survival. Generally water is not going to be a real consideration until you have been isolated for 24 hrs or more. Most people, especially in first world countries are in the habit of drinking more than enough water on a daily basis. This means that you will start off in credit, rather than in a deficit which can only be a good thing.

Why is water so important?

The human body cannot function for long without water, almost every cellular process in the body needs water. Around 3 days is the rough time scale before bad things happen. This is normally organ damage, followed shortly by organ failure and a painful death. To prevent this, evolution (other creation theories are available) provided you with an accurate hydration indicator called thirst.

Thirst is rubbish at judging hydration, right?

Now I know what you may have heard, “thirst is a poor indicator of hydration levels”. Please stop and think about this for a second. 50% of the worlds population today and 100% of the worlds population around 200 years ago did not have clean water piped into their house. People had to get into nature to find water sources when they were thirsty, not to ensure they had their “2 litres minimum per day”.

Evolution is pretty cool, those species that were rubbish at judging hydration levels died out pretty quickly as they didn’t find enough water for survival based purely on their instincts. For millions of years humans, as well as tons of other animals, have managed to balance their water levels just fine. How they managed without buying expensive mineral water for their “2 litres a day” is beyond me… First World problems, eh! 🙂

Water graphicSo when considering finding water for survival and thinking about how it affects you, the motto you must adhere to is ‘ration sweat, not water’. There is a very sound logic to this, again found through hard won lessons by the military and civilians alike.

But I only have limited water, I must ration it.

When you work through your priorities of survival and have addressed Protection and Location, STOP! Take 5 minutes to think about water procurement. Depending on your environment it may actually be better to wait and do nothing for 12 hours. This seems counter productive and against what I have said about taking an active part in survival.
So let me give you a scenario.

The temperature is around 100 degrees, its 1030 hrs with no clouds to be seen and you are in shorts and t-shirt. You have constructed a basic shelter to give you some shade and your location aids are set up and ready. You know there is a river just 5 miles away where you would have no problem finding water for survival. You are relatively fit and could probably run there in 30 minutes normally. What do you do? You have 2 options, so lets look at each in turn.

Option 1 – Go get water straight away

You set off the 5 miles to the river, the humidity is 35% with a breeze of around 3 mph. you are exposed to the sun and the high air temperature for the full journey. You decide to walk in order to minimise sweating. The 60 minutes you expected it to take has actually taken you around 90 minutes due to the amount of sweating you were doing and the initial pace just being too difficult. You arrive with sunburn on your head, arms and legs, wet all over with sweat and suffering from a very dry mouth and a pounding headache. You have the first stages of heat stroke.

Water in desert

Option 2 – You wait until it is dark

The sun has went down and the temperature has dropped to a pleasant 75 degrees, humidity 15% and a breeze of 3 mph. You set off to the river at a walking pace, it takes you 75 minutes and you arrive feeling a little flushed with small sweat patches under your arms. You are not even close to heat stroke.

Hopefully this demonstrates the point that it is better to ration your sweat (via exertion) rather than your water. Finding water for survival is all about working smart, not hard. If in doubt, look at what the local wildlife are doing, you do not see a great deal of movement in 100 degree heat. So don’t be dumber than an insect, stay in shade and stay still.

This still holds true in any climate but isn’t normally as critical. It is possible to end up with Hyperthermia (dangerously hot) in the Arctic as well as Death Valley!

So how do I actually find water then?

Well, it depends. I know that sounds like a politicians answer but it really does; at the North Pole water is non-existent but you can melt snow. In the desert it is pretty much non-existent and there is no snow. In the rain forest it is abundant and normally delivered to you every day around lunchtime 🙂

Great, I am going to die in the desert!

Camel desert roadIf you don’t ration sweat, then very quickly you will die. There are methods that can be used to extract what little water there is for you to drink. Methods vary depending on the local landscape and what plants and animals are present, suffice it to say you can survive in the desert with very little kit. The key in a hot environment is to literally not move during the day if possible and move at night. I will look at the considerations and techniques for different climates in later posts.

Do’s and dont’s to finding water for survival?


  • DON’T drink sea water
  • DON’T drink urine
  • DON’T drink blood
  • DON’T drink dirty water
  • DON’T eat if water loss is greater than water supply
  • DO filter water to remove particles
  • DO Boil water
  • DO sterilise water if you cant boil it
  • DO store water if possible

Sea water is around 3.5% salt, blood, 1.7% salt (this is a rough guide as they contain are different salts). If you drink high concentrations of salt water then water will always move from a high water concentration to a low water concentration (remember high school biology) That means water will be forced out of your cells to compensate for the (relatively) low concentration of water in your blood = Bad!

dont drink sea water
Urine and most blood is exactly the same as sea water only with smaller concentrations of salt, there are ways to extract water from blood, urine and sea water which I will look at in future posts. Dirty water should never be consumed as it will make you ill. Diarrhea and vomitting are not great methods of keeping water inside, again = Bad!

Food is something that we are all used to eating on a daily basis and having in abundance. The problem with food is that it requires water to allow digestion. If water is scarce then food will make a dire situation worse. The easy solution is don’t eat. You can read more about food’s role in survival in my other posts.

The ‘Do’s’ should all make sense as nobody wants to drink grit and bugs in their water, although if you have properly sterilised and boiled the water it is unlikely to be a health issue. There are plenty of methods of sterilising water that can be employed which I will cover at a later date. These can vary from chemicals to special filters and straws right through to making your own natural filtration systems.

So there you have it you should now know why finding water for survival is important, as usual I will leave you with the key points

Key points to take away

  • Ration sweat, not water!
  • DON’T drink sea water, urine or blood
  • DON’T drink dirty water
  • DON’T eat if water use is greater than the supply available
  • ALWAYS boil or at least sterilise water.

Before you go please check out my other great articles.

If you have liked what you have just read then please share far and wide and comment below to let me know what you think or if you have any questions on finding water for survival.

Thanks for reading


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  • Excellent material. Very good to know since I live in the desert. Thank you for sharing your information. I have the Life straws, the bagged water which I can’t for the life of me remember the name of it is now, and don’t laugh but to help with bacteria in the water Lemon Essential Oil is in my bug out bag (along with 10 other oils). Please do not use just any Essential oil, some would be toxic to drink. It also cleanse the toxins in the body and Liver.
    I really enjoy reading your website. Do you mind if I share your link?

    • It sounds like you are all over this survival stuff! You can never be too prepared is what I always say. Feel free to share my link far and wide as I truly believe that the basic survival message is worth shouting about. The more the merrier 🙂

  • So great survival tips. I didn’t know that urine and blood were the same as sea water – tough to think about. Anyway thanks for sharing. we all could use some great tips here.

    • Thanks Mimi-CU, to be honest not a lot of people know about blood and urine. There is a lot of ‘facts’ out there that will at best make you pretty uncomfortable and at worst kill you. This is part of the reason I started this site as I was fed up with so much misinformation.

  • John

    Great information on finding the correct water for survival. I do like to hike and spend a lot of time in the outdoors. The dirty water is the fastest way to get sick and die in the outdoors. Having the proper amount of drinking water for any troubles that come up is the proper way to handle survival.

    • Dave

      Thanks John, it is good to know at least someone in cyberspace knows the importance of drinking clean water. It never ceases to amaze me at the crazy information that is out there.

  • Dan Maxwell, Jr

    Excellent post, Dave. For a person with very little knowledge when it comes to survival skills, it was quite informative. I’m not sure I’d have thought of the rationing sweat idea on my own.

    You mentioned boiling or sterilizing sea water. I once watched I think it was Bear Grills on Discovery channel where he boiled sea water to capture the steam.. is that the same technique you’re referring to, or are there alternatives?

    • Dave


      Please do not get me started on ‘survival exeprt’ Bear Grylls, lol. The man drive me insane with some of his antics… However, and it kills me to say this, he is indeed correct in this instance.

      I am sure most people did distillation experiments at school, well that is exactly what you do. You boil the water, catch the steam and then when steam cools into water it is safe to drink. Does that make sense?

      there are a few alternatives that you can use but most work on a similar principle. If you keep an eye on my website over the next few weeks and months I will be completing posts that will cover some of these techniques.

      Are you a Bear Grylls fan?

      • Dan

        Thanks man.. it does make sense.

        I wouldn’t say I’m a Bear Grylls fan per se. I guess I happened to be watching that day.
        I’m more of a Monster garage kinda guy..

        But I must say you’ve peaked my interest when it comes to survivalism

        • Well I am always happy to be helping someone especially when it comes to survival skills and knowledge. Dont let the curiosity lie, get involved and learn more.

          Have you ever lived in the wilds for a few nights ‘off the grid?’

  • Billy Hunter

    uughgh i can’t even imagin trying to drink my own blood. eughhe.. i am a queezy guy and just thinking about that makes it hard for me to even type but I will get through this. Whew! But I drink a lot of water. I wake up in the morning with a glass of water by my bed side. Everytime I walk into my kitchen I drink a glass of water. so I am a hydrated fella! It’s only 90 percent of you weight at all. haha.

    • Dave

      Its good that you drink lots of water as it will get you in credit should the worst happen and you find yourself in a survival situation.

      As an aside, if you were in a true survival situation you would surprisse yourself at what you are capable of. Your body is designed and wired for surviving, no matter what! 🙂

  • Theresa

    This is an issue I have never really thought much about, but we do camp a lot so it’s nice to know just in case we get stranded or something bad happens. My husband is nodding his head across the room as I read out loud to him because he’s a cub scout master and is familiar with this stuff. Great information. I am glad I stopped my schedule to read it.

    • Dave

      Thanks Theresa,

      Feedback is always great and helps me to keep the site on track and relevant. It is nice to hear your husband is familiar and by the sounds of it is educating the younger generation with some really great life skills, well done him.

      Please stop by again as there will be numerous other articles added over the coming weeks and months that may be of interest.

  • Keith

    Hello Sir!

    Excellent website!

    Your content is interesting and causes me to pause and reflect.

    One thing I’ve struggled with on my site is whether I need a place serving as a quick reference to terms. I didn’t honestly feel that lacking while perusing your site, but with your military background and the subject matter I’m quite certain I could learn a great deal from a glossary of terms from you. Perhaps that could be something to add after some critical mass of content is reached.

    I think this is a very compelling site, with potential for a wide-range of traffic over time.

    Keep up the good work, and best of luck!


  • LakanDula

    This is the second time I’ve been sent to your website. First I read the “food survival” article, and now I’m reading the water survlval. I never knew our bodies were that capable. As for drinking diarrhea and blood…didn’t know people even resorted to that, but if people ate people on those bad shipwrecks or plane accidents, then I guess people will do whatever it takes. Great article man!

    • Dave

      Thanks for the comment. You have hit the nail on the head though, when your life depends on it then you can do some pretty gnarly things to get through it and survive.

  • Very helpful. I am so eager to explore the rest of your information.
    Thank you so much!

    • My pleasure, please do have a look around as I have a lot of info that is worth a read. If you dont mind then please share my web address with others.


  • nperni

    Hi Dave,
    That was a very informative article. I never really thought about rationing my sweat over water consumed. That’s a great point though. I have heard that 3 days is about the limit you can go without water, while you can go without food between 10-14 days. Crazy. Nice job!

    • Dave

      You can survive a lot longer than 14 days without food if you are in good health. You could probably survive about twice as long if you didnt get ill.

  • Allen Adkins

    It sounds like you have all of the survival stuff! There is no such thing has never being too prepared that is what I always say, people laugh at me because I over pack but I am always prepared for whatever I think might happen. I truly believe that the basic survival message very important and needs to be passed on. Great information on finding the correct and safest water for survival. I do like to hike, kayak, fishing and spending a lot of time in the outdoors so its very important to be prepared for everything. Drinking dirty water is the fastest way to get sick and die in the outdoors. Having the proper amount of drinking water each person is based on someone’s survival or death. Great site keep up the wonderful information.

    • Dave

      Couldn’t agree more Allen, but I would say that! Joking aside, the newspapers always have stories of people who die or are seriously injured by being unprepared. I promise to keep up the good work and spread the message far and wide.


  • Koda

    3 days may seem like a considerable amount of time, but it’s really not when you think about it. In a survival emergency, three days will go by just like that!! You better be using your time VERY wisely and a source of water should be your priority first and foremost

    I think these are all great tips. I am a survival fan myself and am always up for learning about wilderness, survival skills etc.

    But back about the articles, It’s crazy how much we take water for granted. Nobody realizes how significant it is until they have none!!!

    Thanks for the post 🙂 Hope to read more on this site

    • Dave

      It’s my pleasure Koda, have a look at some of my other articles, I promise they are all worth a read.

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