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Outdoor Survival - Water

Hopefully the time will never arise when you find yourself short of water. Sometimes though, when you are on a long backpacking trip and wild camping, it can be difficult to find sources of water. Always check your map for water sources while planning your entire route and overnight stops. Be aware of where your last water source is going to be, before you stop for the night and then fill your water container to the brim. It would be a disaster to arrive at your planned camping stop to see no water around, only to wish you had filled up two miles further back!

Always take some means of purifying your water; the water might look clean but you never know what is happening further up stream. Sometimes there is nothing to be found apart from a few stagnant pools, especially in peaty areas. However, after being purified even this is quite safe to drink, even though the colour isn't very appetising with its tan brown tinge.

Walking near sandy coasts for any length of time is another difficult area to find water, so you will probably need to go inland to find a decent source. Be very careful around farming areas, as the water here can be polluted.


The following are some tips for finding water in emergencies. Some will be more successful than others and not all will apply in Scotland!:

  • In dry scrubland, look for greener thicker vegetation, or a line of trees that may indicate a water source.
  • In a dry riverbed dig down until you feel moisture then wait for water to fill the hole.
  • By the sea, dig a hole just above the tide line about 20 inches (50cm) deep. Salt water is heavier than fresh water so the fresh water will be on the top. The water will still taste salty but the sand filters some out.
  • To melt snow, pack it tightly together as loose snow takes longer to melt. Ice melts the fastest.
  • Milky coloured water from a glacier contains fine sharp grit and irritates the stomach so it should be avoided.
  • Drag a clean cloth through dew-covered grass then wring it out into a container. Cold, clear nights produce a lot of dew.
  • Water from condensation: In a low lying sunny place dig a circular hole about 20 inches (50cm) deep and 3 feet (1m) across. Put a container at the bottom and place a plastic sheet over the top of the hole (your survival bag would be useful for this). Anchor it down firmly at the edges and weigh down the centre with a heavy stone. This will allow water to trickle into the container. Green leafy plants in the hole will improve condensation. Also salt water, as the salt is left in the ground. Leave the plastic sheet untouched to keep the moisture in. If condensation slows down, start again in a different place.
  • Cut a V-shaped groove in to the trunk of a birch tree and put a splinter of wood in the bottom of the V. This allows the liquid to run downwards.


Emergency Purifying

To remove mud particles, filter through clean cloth or moss. This does not kill bacteria; so boil the collected water for at least three minutes afterwards.


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