You are in the wilderness and you need water – finding water is critical.  You can only live three days without it.  What do you do?  Almost any environment has water present to some degree.  You just have to know where to look.

How to look for water

The obvious source of water should be searched for firstFirst, look for surface water – ponds, lakes, streams.  Look for valleys or other low areas or patches of green where well-watered vegetation has grown.  Look for animal tracks or watch for wildlife, particularly birds, and note where they travel in the morning and evening.  Water often accumulates at the bottom of rocky crevices or rocky cliffs.  Swarming insects often hover near or over water. Watch for muddy or moist soil which can indicate water is nearby.  And don’t forget to listen for the sound of flowing water – it can often be heard far sooner than it can be seen.

A note about water purification

Note that any water found must be purified.  Even glacier ice contains many dangerous bacteria (always melt ice rather than eating it – eating ice or snow lowers your body temperature which accelerates dehydration).  If you are near a beach, dig a hole near the water and allow water to seep in through the sand.

Unusual clues that may point to water sources

Water due on plantsBees or ants going into a hole in a tree may indicate a water-filled hole. Place plastic tubing into the hole and siphon the water. You can also stuff cloth into the hole to absorb the water and then wring it from the cloth into a container.

Water sometimes gathers in tree crotches or rock crevices. Use plastic tubing to siphon the water or scoop it out with an improvised tool. In arid areas, bird droppings around a crack in the rocks may indicate water in or near the crack.

Unusual means to collect water

Heavy dew can provide water. Tie absorbent cloth or tufts of fine grass around your ankles and walk through dew-covered grass before sunrise. As the cloth or grass tufts absorb the dew, wring the water into a container. Repeat the process until you have enough water or until the dew is gone. Australian natives sometimes mop up as much as 1 liter an hour this way.

Collecting water from plants

You can drain water from bamboo plantsGreen bamboo is an excellent source of fresh water. Water from green bamboo is clear and odorless. Bend a bamboo stalk towards the ground and tie it off so it stays in place.  Place a container under the end.  Cut the top off the bamboo stalk and allow the water to drip freely during the night. Old, cracked bamboo may also contain water.  The water should still be purified before drinking.

Banana trees, sugar cane, and plantain trees are also good sources of water.  Cut down the tree leaving about a 12 inch stump.  Using a hard tool, scoop out the center of the trunk to form a hollow bowl.  Water will begin to seep into the hollowed-out cavity.  When the cavity fills, scoop the water into a container.  The first few fillings of water will taste bitter but the taste will improve in succeeding fillings.  Once you’ve collected the water, place a cover over the stump to keep bugs and animals away.  The stump will provide water for about four days.

Some tropical vines can give you water. Cut a notch in the vine as high as you can reach, then cut the vine off close to the ground. Catch the dripping water in a container or in your mouth.  Try to identify the species of vine.  Poisonous vines will leech toxic water.

The milk from young, green (unripe) coconuts is a good source of water. However, the milk from mature, brown, coconuts contains an oil that acts as a laxative. Drink in moderation only. CAUTION – Do not drink the liquid if it is sticky, milky, or bitter tasting.

You can get water from plants with moist pulpy centers. Cut off a section of the plant and squeeze or smash the pulp so that the moisture runs out. Catch the liquid in a container. Cactus from the hedgehog plant family are excellent sources of water.  Cut off the top of the cactus, skin the sides, and squeeze the pulp in a bandanna to extract water.

Plant roots may provide water. Dig or pry the roots out of the ground, cut them into short pieces, and smash the pulp so that the moisture runs out. Catch the liquid in a container.

Fleshy leaves, stems, or stalks, such as bamboo, contain water. Cut or notch the stalks at the base of a joint to drain out the liquid. You can also create a water still to collect moisture from plant leafage.


The following trees can also provide water:

  • Palms. The buri, coconut, sugar, rattan, and nips contain liquid. Bruise a lower frond and pull it down so the tree will “bleed” at the injury.
  • Traveler’s tree. Found in Madagascar, this tree has a cuplike sheath at the base of its leaves in which water collects.
  • Umbrella tree. The leaf bases and roots of this tree of western tropical Africa can provide water.
  • Baobab tree. This tree of the sandy plains of northern Australia and Africa collects water in its bottlelike trunk during the wet season. Frequently, you can find clear, fresh water in these trees after weeks of dry weather.
  • CAUTION – Do not keep the sap from plants longer than 24 hours. It begins fermenting, becoming dangerous as a water source.