Survival Guide: Find water

Water is everything. Staying hydrated should always be your first priority; this is true whether you're stranded in the middle of the wilderness or standing in line at the grocery store.

In favorable conditions, a human can live without water for three to five days. In fact, that time frame is the reason I chose to stagger the publishing of these survival guides by four days.

You should drink about two liters of water per day (2 L ≈ .5 gal) under normal circumstances. In more strenuous situations, you should intake four to six liters per day; "strenuous" describes anything outside tolerable temperatures (21°C ≈ 70°F) or stress levels (physical or mental). Basically, drink 2 liters when you're feeling average; more if you're not feeling average.

Situations threatening our survival are among the most stressful situations we can face. Those would generally be the very same situations in which finding water to consume would be challenging at best. In this article I will present a variety of means you can attempt when trying to locate water in the wilderness.

- Water flows down. Find streams and rivers in valleys and flood plains.
- Collect flowing water, as opposed to stagnant water. Not too fast, though, as that stirs up sediment.
- Look for reeds, like cattails, which grow in marshy conditions.
- Watch for birds at dawn and dusk. They tend to hunt around bodies of water during those times.
- Collect undisturbed ice and snow from your surroundings.
- Snow-melt and glaciers are common sources of water flow. Follow upstream to look for these sources.
- Avoid consuming water while it is still frozen.
- Trees with thick roots tend to grow near good sources of groundwater. (e.g. willows, cottonwoods, and many other deciduous trees).
- Moisture is easier to find at the base of cliffs or beneath rocks.
- Once you find damp soil, dig into it with a stick or rock. Dig deep to where water begins to fill the hole. (The surrounding soil acts as a basic filter.)
- There may be underground water next to stagnant pools. Avoid the pool itself, using "filtered" water around it. (See "filtration" below.)
- Gather water using the "distillation" process below.
- Collect moisture from the air and foliage with (or wearing) absorbent cloth like cotton.
- Use leaves and water resistant materials to funnel rainwater into a centralized location.

Once you think you've gathered enough water, you can attempt to purify it using the methods below. It's important that you purify the water before consumption.

STEP 1: Enclose (but don't seal) your water within a container.
STEP 2: Heat the water to a "rolling boil". (Meaning, big wavy air bubbles.)
STEP 3: Allow the water to boil for a minimum of 5 minutes, 10 minutes is safer.
STEP 4: Let the water cool and condense in the container.
There are many chemical treatments available for purchase (such as iodine). If you have no other options, you can even use a very tiny dose of bleach as a chemical treatment. In my opinion, no chemical treatment (aka poison) should be consumed regularly.

STEP 1: Carefully drop a single dose of the chemical into your water container.
STEP 2: Tightly seal your container.
STEP 3: Shake well.
STEP 4: Wait at least 20 minutes.
STEP 5: Carefully unseal your container; avoid dropping any foreign material (or untreated water) into it.
If you don't have access to consumer available filters, you may have to make your own using the method below. Filtration is an essential step in the treatment of water and, therefore, I encourage you to use all or some of these steps no matter how you gathered your water.

STEP 1: Layer cloth, sand, and pebbles over (or between two) container(s).
STEP 2: Pour the water repeatedly through the layers until it runs clear.
STEP 1: Dig a hole that is about 25 cm (10 in) deep. It needs to be as wide as your collection container. (The hole should fit two containers, if distilling already collected water.)
STEP 2: Place your empty container in the hole right-side-up. (If distilling collected water, also place the container containing the water in the hole right-side-up alongside the other.)
STEP 3: Open the container(s).
STEP 4: Cover the hole with thin flexible plastic, like plastic wrap or a bit of trash bag.
STEP 5: Seal the edges around the hole by weighing down the plastic.
STEP 6: Make a small puncture in the plastic above the empty container.
STEP 7: Place a small rock nearly atop the hole, making the plastic stretch into a funnel shape.
STEP 8: The sun will evaporate the water. It will then condense on the plastic and run down the funnel and into the collection container. (This process can take hours.)

My personal purification preference is to combine the methods above when necessary and possible:

Sometimes, even after purification, the water may not be as clear as you are accustomed. This is due to the sediments in the water (aka "hard water"). Your body will be most accustomed to consuming the water in your primary region, so you may notice some discomfort as any remaining bacteria or sediment in the water may not be what your body normally processes.

Remember, staying hydrated should always be your first priority!
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