Selecting Wilderness Water To Drink

You need water to live. Other than Oxygen, your body needs water more than anything.

Many outdorsmen find themselves in a place where they need water. You could be on a long hunt and your canteen gets a hole, or gets lost. As is often the case with me, you may have underestimated the amount of water you need and run out. You could be on a multi-day, back country hunt and cannot carry all the water you need. You may even be lost in the wilderness without water. Whatever the case, if you frequent the outdoors you will eventually find yourself in a position of needing water.

When you need water, where do you look? Finding water is usually not hard, unless you are in a desert environment. Finding usable water is very hard, no matter the environment. All water out in nature is potentially contaminated and needs to be treated before consuming. The first step in purifying your water is starting with the purest water available.

Look for something like this

I was watching a “Man VS Wild” TV show a few months ago. The host was in Africa “surviving”. He picked up an elephant turd and squeezed water from it into his mouth. This was the worst example of finding clean water in the wild I had ever seen. I have not watched the show since.

Here are some things to look for:

High streams – When searching for water look up! The higher the elevation, the less chance the water has had to contact a contaminate. Mountain streams are typically cleaner than valley streams.

Deep Clear Pools – Many contaminates are heavy and will sink. Shallow, turbulent water will stir up the contaminates. Look for a deep clear pool and get water from the top of it. The water should be flowing, just flowing slowly. Avoid stagnate pools.

Recent Rain – If it has recently rained look for collections of water on big leaves of non-poisonous plants. You would be amazed at how much you can gather! Fresh puddles on the ground are better than existing ground water, but are not ideal.

White snow – Snow is relatively safe to eat and drink. Just be sure it is bright white and not pink (bacteria) or yellow (pee pee).

Ice – Ice is a big step down in cleanliness from snow. A lot of contaminates can survive in ice. It is better than a stagnate pond, but still not great.

Avoid areas that people and animals frequent – Is there a camp site or trail up stream? Is it a watering hole with lots of animal sign? If so, you had best avoid the water. People and animals carry disease and tend to poop in water.

It’s pooping in the water!
 Avoid areas down stream of pollutants – Is there a factory, town, or highway upstream? Don’t drink the water. Is there visible trash on the stream bank or shoreline? Don’t drink it!

Avoid pools that do not have vegetation growing around them – If the plants don’t want the water you can be sure you don’t want it!

Avoid water with dead things in or around it – Half of a dead deer sticking out of the water? Floating fish? Don’t even think about drinking it.

Six feet away: a stream.

Avoid water that is not clear – Yes, muddy water can be safe to drink, but how do you know there is not a dead raccoon just under the surface? Clear water is also a sign that there is low turbidity, meaning the yucky stuff is not all mixed up in it.

Once you find a source of “cleaner” water, you still need to purify it. There are many, many ways to do this. In upcoming posts we will explore some of those ways.

It should be noted that if you are truly dying of thirst, haven’t had water in a day or two, any water is better than no water. Most of the contaminates in water do not make you sick for a few days. You will most likely find help before you get sick. Getting sick is better than dying of thirst.

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