8 Ways of Finding Water in the Wild

In a survival situation, you must prioritize what needs to happen first in order for you to survive. This is something that can be difficult for people to process. Folks who are not prepared and informed about what issues are most life-threatening will make poor decisions. A poor decision in a survival situation can cost you your life.

One of the biggest problems is relying on what you think is most important and ignoring the facts of life. Life requires water. It is that simple. Every living being needs water to survive. Humans are particularly sensitive in this area. The human body can only go three days without water. Some bodies may be able to push that number to four and others will only be able to go two days.

The problem is, many people assume it is food that they need to survive. They will focus their time and energy on finding food rather than water. That is a costly mistake. A human can go weeks without eating, but days without drinking.

Your top priority after finding shelter is to find water. Water isn’t always obvious and easily accessed. It isn’t going to be readily available in vast quantities. Every drop counts and you won’t want to pass up even the smallest amount. Sometimes, you have to really look hard to find it.

There are some key indicators that you are near water and some signs for you to be aware of that will help lead you to water

Use Your Senses

It may seem like common sense, but you need to stop and “smell the roses” or in this case, smell the water. Stop walking, stop talking and simply stand in an area and breathe deep. Inhale and filter out the smells. Do you smell rotting foliage or mildew? Listen for sounds of trickling water. It could be a very faint gurgling noise.

Look around you. Look for patches of green, mossy areas or actual water. Green means water!

Animal Tracks


Animals are gifted with an instinct that leads them to water. You could save yourself a lot of time and trouble by just following them. Look at the ground and look for animal tracks. Raccoon, deer and webbed footprints indicate water is nearby. You will need to learn how to identify these tracks and how to find them. It takes a keen eye and knowledge about where to start looking for the tracks.


Look up to the sky and look for birds. Birds will fly to and from a water source. If you see seagulls, well, you know you have just scored. The birds may fly in the typical V-shape or you may only see a few fluttering about. Spend a few minutes watching their movement and then set out in the direction they seem to be hovering about.


Bees can also lead you to water. They will fly in a straight line back and forth from their nest to a water/food source. The line may not be totally obvious to you, but following their course will lead you to water. It may only be a small puddle or tucked away inside a hollow stump, but they will show you where the water is if you pay attention.


Certain trees are indicators of water. Trees like birch, maple and cottonwood are allwater-loving varieties. They can only grow with a healthy supply of water. Willow trees are also indicative of water. It is a good idea to get to a high vantage point so you can scan the terrain. Cottonwood trees are massive and easy to spot.

A stand of birch trees will be easy to see because of the white bark. Willows have a very unique, droopy look that many people can quickly recognize. If you see one of these trees, you will want to head to the area. The water may not be visible like a stream or river, but it must be near the surface. This is one of the only times it is a good idea to dig. Digging expends a lot of calories and energy and will make you sweat, which can dehydrate you quicker. Only dig if you are sure there is water to find below the surface.



Most people know what these look like. They are very distinctive and tend to grow in clusters, making them easy to spot from a distance. Cattails love swamps. You can make swamp water safe to drink. If you find cattails consider it one of the luckiest things to happen to you. Dining on cattails and drinking the water they grow in and near will make for a very good day in a survival situation.

Dry Creek Beds

The water may not be visible in a dry river or creek bed, but there is still a good chance you can find a little water. Look around the edges of the bed. Turn over rocks that may be hiding small pools of water. Your best bet will be in the most shaded areas of the bed. You can dig a few inches down to see if you can find water.

Snow and Ice

This may seem obvious, but when you are in a bit of a panic, you may not immediately think to melt down the snow or ice. NEVER eat snow or suck on ice. If snow and ice are present, it means it is cold out. You cannot afford to let your body temperature drop.

Melt down the snow and ice and then purify it before drinking. Carrying it in a bottle inside your pack or even holding it under your armpit will quickly melt the snow. Depending on the water content in the snow, you may only get a few sips from a filled water bottle.

It is important to point out that any water you collect from the wild is likely contaminated. You may not be able to see the most serious contaminants like giardia. Water that isn’t purified or at the very least filtered can make you incredibly sick.

It only takes a sip or two of contaminated water to cause serious intestinal upset. Always be safe rather than sorry and  purify any water you collect, no matter how small the amount.

Dave Steen

About The Author: Dave is a 58 year old survivalist; father of three; with over 40 years of survival experience. He started young, learning survival the hard way, in the school of hard knocks. Now, after years of study, he's gray-haired and slightly overweight. That hasn't dimmed his interest in survival though. If anything, Dave has a greater commitment to survival than ever, so that he can protect his family. Click Here To Read More About Dave

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