How to Find Water and Collect It in the Wild

Every living organism needs water for survival. This tasteless and odorless compound may be simple, but without it, life would not exist. The human body, for example, is made of as much as 60% water. Take this away, and many of your bodily functions would go haywire.

An average person can only last 3 days without water at the very maximum. You’d be very lucky if severe dehydration doesn’t catch up with you at that point. Once it does, your body can suffer from organ failure, and eventually, shock. Whether you’re in a survival situation or simply enjoying the outdoors, it is always important to have an adequate supply of water.

And in case you run out of H2O, you should also know how to find water sources out in the wild. Here are a few ways how to do just that:

How to Find Water? Look for Indications!

a natural body of water surrounded by huge stones

Be on the lookout for signs that lead to water. In the wild, rivers, and streams are the quickest ways to quench your thirst, so listen for their rushing or gurgling sounds. You should be able to hear a running body of water, even from far away.

Stand on high ground so you can have a better vantage point of the ground below. Water always flows down, so look for gullies, crevices, or any natural formation that indicates water flow.

Animals and insects also tend to converge around watering holes, so watch out for animal tracks or the flight path of birds. Some plants like lilies and cattails thrive near water, so seeing them should be a good sign. Also, observe the soil: is it dry and crumbly, or is it somehow moist and muddy?

All of these are general signs that point toward water. Here are more specific ways to find and gather water for survival in the wild:

Rivers and Streams

knowing how to find water in the wild is an essential survival skill

As we mentioned earlier, flowing water in rivers and streams is your best and fastest source of hydration in the wild. As a rule of thumb, avoid murky, stagnant water. Clear, running water is always your best bet.

Big rivers are usually prone to lots of pollution from agriculture, mining, or trash so stay away from these. You’d want water to come from upstream and as near to the source as possible so opt for small streams or springs. This way, you can make sure that it’s free from most contaminants. However, never drink directly from the source without filtering or purifying it first.


Rainwater is obviously dependent on the climate and weather in your area. If you’re in an arid desert, chances of getting rainwater for drinking are quite slim, but you’re in luck if you’re in a temperate or tropical climate.

Unlike rainwater that falls in urban areas, rain in the backcountry is often safe for drinking and isn’t contaminated with noxious gases or chemicals. Observe the weather. If rain is on the horizon, prepare your containers to gather water. You don’t have to have huge basins or tanks to catch rainwater. In a survival situation, a tarp tied to a tree would do just fine.

Plant Transpiration

Plants are a great source of water for survival in the wild. When they photosynthesize, plants release moisture through their leaves in a process called transpiration. You can trap this moisture using some clear plastic and a bit of cordage and use it for drinking.

First, select a non-poisonous tree with nice, leafy branches. Make sure that the tree receives a lot of sunlight, and that the branches are relatively free from bugs or animal droppings. Next, wrap those branches in clear, sturdy plastic. Secure the plastic tightly around the branches so as not to let any moisture out.

Repeat the process on as many trees as you can find. After a day of being exposed to the sun, you should be able to collect some drinking water from plant transpiration.

Morning Dew

Another way you can gather water is through morning dew. You can collect dew from plants by simply wiping some up with an absorbent material, like a cotton shirt. You can also lay some absorbent material on a bed of grass or on a bush overnight and wring them out early the next morning. Collect dew as early as you can, ideally before the sun evaporates all that moisture.

Much like plant transpiration, see to it that you’re gathering dew from non-poisonous plants and that they’re free from contaminants like fecal matter and pesticides.

Water from Trees

you can gather water from trees

Aside from plant transpiration, trees also have water and sap in their trunks that you can collect with a spile. This process, however, only works with select tree species like maple or birch and it takes a bit of work. If you don’t have a proper spile or when done incorrectly, tapping can permanently damage a tree.

You can check tree crotches as they naturally gather water. It may be a small amount, but it’s surely better than none.

Other tree species like the coconut provide water through their fruit. Crack a young coconut open and you’d find it full of nutritious coconut water. Other fruits that have high water content are berries and peaches. Again, it may not be much, but a little hydration and some nutrients from these fruits are way better than dying of thirst.

Snow or Ice

In very cold regions, snow and ice can be found all year round. If you somehow find yourself without water in such a place, look no further than the snow on the ground.

Here are some guidelines for using snow for hydration:

First, never, ever use yellow snow. This is obviously full of messed-up pollutants. Snow from unpolluted regions, on the other hand, is relatively safe to ingest. When you’re out camping in the winter, isolate the area where you harvest snow so as not to contaminate it.

Second, never ingest snow or ice without first melting it. Doing so would lead to fatally low core temperatures and internal cold injuries.

When harvesting snow, it’s always better to get rid of that top layer and start from the second layer of snow. Grab your pot and pack as much snow as you can. Avoid scraping too deep—you don’t want dirt in your drink. Put the pot over your campfire or stove and wait for it to melt.

Solar Stills

A solar still is an effective way to gather water through evaporation and condensation. To make a solar still, you have to dig a bowl-shaped hole in the ground, around 3 feet deep and 1.5 feet wide.

Put a water container at the center of the hole. Cover the hole with a clear sheet of plastic and secure the plastic with rocks and soil. Put a rock at the center of the plastic sheeting so it forms an inverted cone that points down to your water container.

After a few hours in the sun, heat from the ground should evaporate and condense. You should be able to gather water ready for drinking, about a liter total.

While effective, a lot of preppers have some reservations about actually making a still. Many find it counterproductive since constructing the entire thing takes a lot of energy. However, if you think constructing a still would be beneficial in your situation, do it early in the morning so you don’t sweat too much and lose more water in the process.

Final Thoughts

Water is essential for life. In a survival situation or even when out camping, you can never have too much of it. It’s important to keep hydrated at all times. In case your canteen runs dry, you should know how to find water to avoid dehydration.

Finding and collecting water for survival is an essential skill for preppers. Nature provides us with H2O in more ways than one; all you have to do is know how to gather water from those sources. Practice your water collection skills the next time you go hiking or camping and see which of these methods best fits you.

Any other tips on how to find water that we might have missed? Let us know in the comments below!

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