Water is one of your most urgent needs in a survival situation. You can’ t live
long without it, especially in hot areas where you lose water rapidly through
perspiration. Even in cold areas, you need a minimum of 2 liters of water each
day to maintain efficiency.
More than three-fourths of your body is composed of fluids. Your body loses
fluid as a result of heat, cold, stress, and exertion. To function effectively, you
must replace the fluid your body loses. So, one of your first goals is to obtain
an adequate supply of water.
Almost any environment has water present to some degree. Figure 6-1 lists possible
sources of water in various environments. It also provides information on how to make the
Note: If you do not have a canteen, a cup, a can, or other type of container,
improvise one from plastic or water-resistant cloth. Shape the plastic or cloth
into a bowl by pleating it. Use pins or other suitable items–even your hands–
to hold the pleats.
If you do not have a reliable source to replenish your water supply, stay alert for ways in
which your environment can help you.
Do not substitute the fluids listed in Figure 6-2 for water.
Heavy dew can provide water. Tie rags or tufts of fine grass around your ankles and walk
through dew-covered grass before sunrise. As the rags or grass tufts absorb the dew, wring
the water into a container. Repeat the process until you have a supply of water or until the
dew is gone. Australian natives sometimes mop up as much as a liter an hour this way.
Bees or ants going into a hole in a tree may point to a water-filled hole. Siphon the water
with plastic tubing or scoop it up with an improvised dipper. You can also stuff cloth in the
hole to absorb the water and then wring it from the cloth.
Water sometimes gathers in tree crotches or rock crevices. Use the above procedures to
get the water. In arid areas, bird droppings around a crack in the rocks may indicate water
in or near the crack.
Green bamboo thickets are an excellent source of fresh water. Water from green bamboo is
clear and odorless. To get the water, bend a green bamboo stalk, tie it down, and cut off
the top (Figure 6-3). The water will drip freely during the night. Old, cracked bamboo may
Purify the water before drinking it.
Wherever you find banana or plantain trees, you can get water. Cut down the tree, leaving
about a 30-centimeter stump, and scoop out the center of the stump so that the hollow is
bowl-shaped. Water from the roots will immediately start to fill the hollow. The first three
fillings of water will be bitter, but succeeding fillings will be palatable. The stump (Figure 6-
4) will supply water for up to four days. Be sure to cover it to keep out insects.
Some tropical vines can give you water. Cut a notch in the vine as high as you can reach,
then cut the vine off close to the ground. Catch the dropping liquid in a container or in your
mouth (Figure 6-5)
Do not drink the liquid if it is sticky, milky, or bitter tasting.
The milk from green (unripe) coconuts is a good thirst quencher. However, the milk from
mature coconuts contains an oil that acts as a laxative. Drink in moderation only.
In the American tropics you may find large trees whose branches support air plants. These
air plants may hold a considerable amount of rainwater in their overlapping, thickly growing
leaves. Strain the water through a cloth to remove insects and debris.
You can get water from plants with moist pulpy centers. Cut off a section of the plant and
squeeze or smash the pulp so that the moisture runs out. Catch the liquid in a container.
Plant roots may provide water. Dig or pry the roots out of the ground, cut them into short
pieces, and smash the pulp so that the moisture runs out. Catch the liquid in a container.
Fleshy leaves, stems, or stalks, such as bamboo, contain water. Cut or notch the stalks at
the base of a joint to drain out the liquid.
The following trees can also provide water:
• Palms. Palms, such as the buri, coconut, sugar, rattan, and nips, contain liquid.
Bruise a lower frond and pull it down so the tree will “bleed” at the injury.
• Traveler’s tree. Found in Madagascar, this tree has a cuplike sheath at the base of its
leaves in which water collects.
• Umbrella tree. The leaf bases and roots of this tree of western tropical Africa can
• Baobab tree. This tree of the sandy plains of northern Australia and Africa collects
water in its bottlelike trunk during the wet season. Frequently, you can find clear,
fresh water in these trees after weeks of dry weather.
Do not keep the sap from plants longer than 24 hours. It begins fermenting, becoming
dangerous as a water source.
You can use stills in various areas of the world. They draw moisture from the ground and
from plant material. You need certain materials to build a still, and you need time to let it
collect the water. It takes about 24 hours to get 0.5 to 1 liter of water.
To make the aboveground still, you need a sunny slope on which to place the still, a clear
plastic bag, green leafy vegetation, and a small rock (Figure 6-6).
To make the still–
• Fill the bag with air by turning the opening into the breeze or by “scooping” air into
• Fill the plastic bag half to three-fourths full of green leafy vegetation. Be sure to
remove all hard sticks or sharp spines that might puncture the bag.
Do not use poisonous vegetation. It will provide poisonous liquid.
• Place a small rock or similar item in the bag.
• Close the bag and tie the mouth securely as close to the end of the bag as possible
to keep the maximum amount of air space. If you have a piece of tubing, a small
straw, or a hollow reed, insert one end in the mouth of the bag before you tie it
securely. Then tie off or plug the tubing so that air will not escape. This tubing will
allow you to drain out condensed water without untying the bag.
• Place the bag, mouth downhill, on a slope in full sunlight. Position the mouth of the
bag slightly higher than the low point in the bag.
• Settle the bag in place so that the rock works itself into the low point in the bag.
To get the condensed water from the still, loosen the tie around the bag’s mouth and tip the
bag so that the water collected around the rock will drain out. Then retie the mouth
securely and reposition the still to allow further condensation.
Change the vegetation in the bag after extracting most of the water from it. This will ensure
maximum output of water.
To make a belowground still, you need a digging tool, a container, a clear plastic sheet, a
drinking tube, and a rock (Figure 6-7).
Select a site where you believe the soil will contain moisture (such as a dry stream bed or a
low spot where rainwater has collected). The soil at this site should be easy to dig, and
sunlight must hit the site most of the day.
To construct the still–
• Dig a bowl-shaped hole about 1 meter across and 60 centimeters deep.
• Dig a sump in the center of the hole. The sump’s depth and perimeter will depend on
the size of the container that you have to place in it. The bottom of the sump should
allow the container to stand upright.
• Anchor the tubing to the container’s bottom by forming a loose overhand knot in the
• Place the container upright in the sump.
• Extend the un-anchored end of the tubing up, over, and beyond the lip of the hole.
• Place the plastic sheet over the hole, covering its edges with soil to hold it in place.
• Place a rock in the center of the plastic sheet.
• Lower the plastic sheet into the hole until it is about 40 centimeters below ground
level. It now forms an inverted cone with the rock at its apex. Make sure that the
cone’s apex is directly over your container. Also make sure the plastic cone does not
touch the sides of the hole because the earth will absorb the condensed water.
• Put more soil on the edges of the plastic to hold it securely in place and to prevent
the loss of moisture.
• Plug the tube when not in use so that the moisture will not evaporate.
You can drink water without disturbing the still by using the tube as a straw.
You may want to use plants in the hole as a moisture source. If so, dig out additional soil
from the sides of the hole to form a slope on which to place the plants. Then proceed as
If polluted water is your only moisture source, dig a small trough outside the hole about 25
centimeters from the still’s lip (Figure 6-8). Dig the trough about 25 centimeters deep and 8
centimeters wide. Pour the polluted water in the trough. Be sure you do not spill any
polluted water around the rim of the hole where the plastic sheet touches the soil. The
trough holds the polluted water and the soil filters it as the still draws it. The water then
condenses on the plastic and drains into the container. This process works extremely well
when your only water source is salt water.
You will need at least three stills to meet your individual daily water intake needs.
Rainwater collected in clean containers or in plants is usually safe for drinking. However,
purify water from lakes, ponds, swamps, springs, or streams, especially the water near
human settlements or in the tropics.
When possible, purify all water you got from vegetation or from the ground by using iodine
or chlorine, or by boiling.
Purify water by–
• Using water purification tablets. (Follow the directions provided.)
• Placing 5 drops of 2 percent tincture of iodine in a canteen full of clear water. If the
canteen is full of cloudy or cold water, use 10 drops. (Let the canteen of water stand
for 30 minutes before drinking.)
• Boiling water for 1 minute at sea level, adding 1 minute for each additional 300
meters above sea level, or boil for 10 minutes no matter where you are.
By drinking nonpotable water you may contract diseases or swallow organisms that can
harm you. Examples of such diseases or organisms are–
• Dysentery. Severe, prolonged diarrhea with bloody stools, fever, and weakness.
• Cholera and typhoid. You may be susceptible to these diseases regardless of
• Flukes. Stagnant, polluted water–especially in tropical areas–often contains blood
flukes. If you swallow flukes, they will bore into the bloodstream, live as parasites,
and cause disease.
• Leeches. If you swallow a leech, it can hook onto the throat passage or inside the
nose. It will suck blood, create a wound, and move to another area. Each bleeding
wound may become infected.
WATER FILTRATION DEVICES
If the water you find is also muddy, stagnant, and foul smelling, you can clear the water–
• By placing it in a container and letting it stand for 12 hours.
• By pouring it through a filtering system.
Note: These procedures only clear the water and make it more palatable. You
will have to purify it.
To make a filtering system, place several centimeters or layers of filtering material such as
sand, crushed rock, charcoal, or cloth in bamboo, a hollow log, or an article of clothing
Remove the odor from water by adding charcoal from your fire. Let the water stand for 45
minutes before drinking it.