Survival Series 1: Water and You

Hector Santana
7 min readMay 20, 2022


#1: Securing Water in the Field

Understanding Water Sourcing is an important part of being able to survive in the wild.

Water is the most important implement in a survival situation. Water is life and without it, you can only survive two to three days. In fact, Men and women need between 2.7 to 3.7 liters of water per day to survive. Because of this survival instructors often teach that securing water should be a top priority. But what must one know in order to successfully procure water?

The most obvious place to find water is in the lakes, ponds, and rivers in plain sight. Remember, this water is contaminated because of animal waste, pesticides, and pollution in the more urban areas. Yes, you can filter that water, but the method of filtration will determine its purity. The active ingredient in most filters is charcoal and through adsorption, it is capable of removing volatile organic compounds, herbicides, pesticides, chlorine, and sediment. Adsorption is the adhesion of atoms, ions, or molecules from a gas, liquid, or dissolved solid to a surface. In this case, the bacteria are adsorbed and cling to the filter’s inner filtration chamber rendering the water potable. On the other hand, water purifiers filter the water and sterilize it simultaneously. Purifiers neutralize viruses with a chemical reaction, unlike standard filters. Because there are more filtration chambers than the standard filter it is generally larger and heavier. Can you get one that does both? Yes, you can, but they are much more expensive than a standard filter. While it is unlikely that you will find viruses in the water in remote areas of the United States versus other countries where sewage is more of a problem. It is good to know you can buy a purification filter that neutralizes viruses as well as these filters can.

This water may look clean but to stay safe always filter your water when hiking/camping.

Most water filters have a cartridge that must be changed periodically, depending on usage. There are two types, ceramic and synthetic cartridges. Both offer excellent filtration, however, the quality of a filter depends on how many microns it can filter. Many filters use a 0.2-micron standard of filtration which is very small and is capable of filtering even the smallest material. Perhaps one of the best is the Ketadyn Series of filters. The Ketadyn Hiker Pro is one of the best filters you can buy for the price. At $80 it is hard to beat. It is a pump filter that filters a quart of water per minute. The only downside is that the replacement filters are pricier than other brands. After 1,150 liters (300 gallons) of filtration, you must change the filter cartridge at a cost of about $55. When compared to other filters like the MSR MiniWorks, the cost of a new filter cartridge is $45 for a cartridge that filters 2000 liters. But even with this drawback, the Ketadyn is one of the top backpacking water filters on the market. The MSR Guardian is a Filter and purifier in one (Hybrid) and is one of the best on the market. While it is pricey (300+) it offers maximum protection against VOC’s, Pesticides, herbicides, and yes, viruses.

A good rule of thumb is to assume that all water sources are compromised and require filtration. If you do not have a commercial water filter you must resort to making an improvised filter with common items found in the wild. This homemade filter works on the same concept as commercially sold water filters. You can make a water filter using a t-shirt, plastic bottle, or a pant sleeve. We begin by cutting the back of the bottle off so we can pour in the materials needed for the water filter. You then add fabric, pebbles, rock, sand, and charcoal from your campfire. The charcoal is the active ingredient and should be placed on top and in the middle of the filter to ensure that it makes contact with the water. Be generous with the charcoal as it is the most important ingredient in the filter. Sand will filter out fine particles in the water and should be used generously as well.

Making an improvised Water Filter may be your only option

Groundwater is often found deep beneath your feet in underground aquicludes or rivers flowing through the ground. Look for valleys in the terrain, particularly where sand is present then dig down to find a vein of water. Of course, without a reference such as sand, you may need a tool to help you find groundwater. One tool is water dowsing or the practice of using a forked stick, rod, or pendulum to locate water. While this process takes practice, it is a good idea to learn this method as it relies on things you can easily find in the woods, like a simple forked branch. Other methods of finding water include finding plants that can only survive with a water source. These plants known as phreatophytes are commonly found in mulberry trees, salt cedar trees, willow, or cottonwood. The presence of these species of plants indicates water in the area and would be a good place to dig for groundwater.

In wilderness areas rainwater is a safe way to collect drinking water. The most efficient way to do so is to employ a poncho spread out and tied to four posts. The poncho should be tied in place to divert water to a collection bin, cup, or container. Rainwater near urban areas should be filtered to achieve maximum cleanliness. There are other methods to collect rainwater and you should practice your method to hone your ability to collect it. Desalination of salt water seems like a complex process but with a little practice, you too can master this method of converting saltwater. Of course, you will need specific items to be able to process salt water into drinkable water. Desalination will not remove all contaminants from the salt water, but it will provide you with water you can filter and ultimately drink to save lives. Desalination is a method of purifying salt water by boiling it into a cooled copper tube achieving steam condensation that converts the salt water to potable water. There are several good videos on improvised desalination kits on youtube. Study these videos and experiment with these techniques to be prepared should the need arise. See the below noted video from NightHawkinLight on youtube for a way to make your own desalination system.

Solar stills also known as an underground still, is a slow but effective way to provide water where you have limited resources. The technique uses the sun and earth’s heat to produce water by condensation. It is slow and requires many hours of collection but in a life-or-death situation, it may be your only option. Plant transpiration is another method very similar to a solar still in that it relies on the use of a plastic bag. You can place a plastic bag around a green shrub or branch. Place a rock in the bag to weigh it down and to guide the water to the bottom of the bag. During the day the plant transpires and produces moisture (condensation) inside the bag. This method is also very slow and requires many hours of collection in order to have enough water for drinking. Both methods should be started early in the morning to achieve the best results.

Water collected at over 10,000 feet or above the alpine zone of a mountain is generally good for drinking since there are few animals or pollution sources in the area. But I would still recommend filtering this water if you have a filter in your kit. And yes, in case you're wondering water does boil quicker at higher altitudes. At this height water can be found as runoff from snow in springs, streams or dripping from rock walls. Snow is also good for drinking but should be melted in a cup and not in your mouth. Melting snow in your mouth can lower your body temperature and cause hypothermia, a dangerous condition that can be fatal. Oh yes, I would be remiss if I did not mention that water can also be collected from coconuts on deserted islands and the barrel cactus in the desert. While there are other places to find water albeit a lot harder to collect. The ones detailed here are a basis on which to start your training in water collection methods. Always remember, clear water does not mean clean water. Assume that all water collected from rivers, streams and springs at sea level is contaminated. Research water procurement and filtration methods and learn the techniques. In a survival situation you will not regret the time invested in learning these important skills. Happy Trails…



Hector Santana

*Top Writer-Camping and Survival. I love to write about the great outdoors, survival and foreign policy. An avid outdoorsman and survival instructor.