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Water is available from lakes, ponds, streams, springs or snow banks, but all these sources must be considered suspect, and the collecting of drinking water can pose a problem. Keeping oneself hydrated can be a challenge at any time of year. In a survival situation (except in a desert) a person needs about three quarts of water per day in order to metabolize our own body’s energy reserves and to carry away the waste. Your body will not demand this much water, so measure your daily intake to make sure that you get a minimum of three quarts each day. 

Water can be gathered in lots of ways and places; it can even be squeezed out of damp moss! The benefits of water can be outweighed if it contains one or more disease causing organisms. For example, Giardia lamblia is a surface-water born intestinal parasite. It produces a disease called Giardiasis and is now found throughout the U.S. Do not drink raw (untreated) water anywhere in the back country. On short trips, take your own water supply with you. For longer trips, be prepared to purify your drinking water.

The most common method of drinking water purification is by boiling. Start counting boiling time only once you have a rolling boil. Start with five minutes at sea level; add one more minute for every 1,000 feet of altitude, then add a couple more minutes to be safe, because you probably don’t know where the heck you are anyway. 

Another thing to remember:​​ warm up water when in a cold environment. Drinking three quarts of ice cold water could lower your body’s core temperature and put you in hypothermia.

Water Purification Tablets 

When you follow the directions on the bottle carefully, tablets will eliminate most water​borne diseases. Check the label to determine what disease organisms your tablets act against. Chlorine bleach an​​​d 2 percent tincture of iodine is also effective. Use 10 drops of either in one quart of water. All three methods of water purification require a minimum of 30 minutes contact time. Do not cut the time short. If your water is very cold or cloudy, give additional time.

Solar Still

A drawing of a 'solar still' for collecting water.

If you are low or out of water in a semi-arid region, you may wish to construct a solar still. This takes some specialized equipment, so it is only for the well prepared. A solar still consists of a bowl-shaped hole in the ground about 3 feet in diameter and 18 inches deep. To construct one:

  • ​​Place a one-quart, squat, plastic container in the bottom of the hole. 

  • Secure a 4- to 5-foot section of surgical tubing to the bottom of the water collection container with a piece of duct tape.

  • Cover the hole with a sheet of clear plastic, 6 ft. X 6 ft., 3 mil in thickness. 

  • The drinking tube should extend to the outside, under the plastic. 

  • Place a 4-inch square of duct tape in the center of the plastic, and use it to support a small rock placed in the center. This should cause the plastic to form a cone shape. 

Water condenses on the underside of the plastic sheet, runs down and drips into the container. The tubing allows you to sip collected water without dismantling the still. Placing vegetat​ion into the hole during construction will increase water output. One solar still might give you one to three quarts of water per 24-hour period. This is not enough to keep you alive, so build three or four stills. Remember, soils in many semiarid areas are baked hard by the sun. If you waste more body water and energy digging through the ground than you are going to get out of it, you are diminishing returns.