Hydration Survival Tips

When you find yourself in a survival situation, it is often difficult to determine what your priorities should be. Let me make it simple – water is always a priority. While you can put off building a shelter until the weather turns, and you can miss a few meals with nothing more than discomfort, not having water for even a day will have instant negative effects. Not only will you face potential health consequences, the lack of water will quickly deplete your energy levels and mental focus, and make completing other tasks difficult.

Your body is a water-based machine and requires proper hydration to assist with blood circulation, temperature regulation, mental acuity, and a whole host of other vital functions. Assuming you have no life-threatening injuries, quickly finding water is a must, not a choice. But the real question is “where?” Oftentimes, people stranded in the outdoors will face dehydration when they are literally surrounded by drinkable water because they did not know where to look.

The good news is that most of nature also depends on water for the same reasons, and there are few places on Earth where water cannot be found. No, it may not be rushing by in a river or splashing onto the beach, but it is still there. You just need to know where to look.

Obvious Sources of Water

When you are trying to survive, you want to do two things: secure the necessary supplies, such as water, and conserve energy while doing so. This means that there is no reason to dig a solar still or collect rain or morning dew when a large water supply is nearby. Going with the obvious will allow for a plentiful supply with minimal work.

Utilize flowing water sources such as streams, creeks, rivers, and natural springs before standing water such as ponds or lakes, as it reduces the chances of bacterial contamination. While flowing water is generally safer, it is not 100% safe. Even when deep in the woods, natural bacteria can be present and dangerous. ALWAYS FILTER OR DECONTAMINATE WATER BEFORE DRINKING.

If water is not readily obvious try to find it nearby – look and listen. Look for birds or insects that may be swarming near water. Look for animal trails that may lead to water. Listen for the sounds of flowing water. Water flows downhill, so look near the base of terrain masses first.

Collect Water

As I stated before, nature depends on water, and this includes plants. You can collect a great deal of water from nature if you know where and when to look. With a little bit of preparation, in a few hours you can have a steady, if limited, supply close at hand. It may not be enough to survive comfortably, but it will allow survival until a better source can be secured.

Many plants are an excellent source of not only nutrition but also water. Select fruits and vegetables that have high fluid content whenever possible. When collecting water from plant sources, whether by consuming the fruit or collecting from leaves, avoid poisonous plants as you may inadvertently consume water that is contaminated by the plant.

And don’t overdo it. Many plants that are safe to eat or drink can still cause discomfort if consumed in large quantities. Go slow and give your body an opportunity to adjust before drinking until you are full. Also, don’t break open a plant or cactus to drink the water inside. It can be highly acidic and is often full of compounds meant to keep animals away – compounds that could make you sick.

You can, however, collect water from a plant by creating a simple water still. Tie plastic tightly around the leaves or branches that are exposed to the sun. As the sun heats the bag, it will cause the plant to produce additional water for its own survival, which will condense into the bag. You can also collect morning dew by wrapping clean, absorbent material around your feet and legs and walking through grassy areas. Wring out the cloth, and you have instant, clean water.

Dig a still and collect water from the Earth itself. Dig a small hole (2 ft x 2 ft will work for a single person), place a collection container in the middle, cover the hole with cloth or plastic that is weighted down by rocks or soil to keep it tight and in place. Put a small rock in the center of the cloth, above the collection container. As the sun beats on the plastic, moisture will be drawn from the soil and collect on the tarp, where it will run down and into the collection container.

In the winter, you can melt snow or ice, but be careful when drinking it. This water will likely contain bacteria, just like the flowing water above, and needs to be boiled beforehand. Also, water that’s been frozen lacks certain nutrients normally found in water, so don’t rely on it for a long period of time.

Always Safety First

Finding a steady, plentiful supply of water does you no good if drinking that water results in diarrhea or other health problems that will, in turn, lead to further dehydration, illness, or even death. Keep in mind that just because the water looks clean does not mean it does not host to a wide range of bacteria, viruses, or even chemicals. You rarely want to pass by a potential source of water, but you also need to make sure it is as safe as possible to consume.

  • Boiling water is widely considered the most reliable means of cleansing water of natural contaminants, but it will not remove chemicals or heavy metals
  • Filters, whether commercially produced or made from natural materials, will help remove solids and some chemicals
  • Although water which appears dirty may be safe to drink, water that has an odor is almost certainly contaminated
  • Do not drink salt water. The salt is likely to increase your thirst and is often present in levels above what your body can address


As I stated in beginning, water is a priority and is often available in drinkable quantities. Remember to look at all possible sources, collect from the easiest places first, and always filter or sterilize the water before consuming.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell

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