Finding water for survival
We 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! 🙂
So 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.
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!
If 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!
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.
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