How to Obtain Water in a Survival Situation (Part 2)

Aboveground Solar Still

solar still
Above-ground solar still

You can use stills (aboveground and belowground) 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.

To make the still–

  • Fill the bag with air by turning the opening into the breeze or by “scooping” air into the bag.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • NB: Do not use poisonous vegetation. It will provide poisonous liquid.

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.

Source: FM 21-76    US  ARMY  SURVIVAL  MANUAL

Other Methods You Can Use To Find Water

Dew collection

In barren areas where there are no trees, it may be possible to collect sufficient moisture from the grass in the form of dew, to preserve life. One of the easiest ways of dew collection is to tie rags or tufts of fine grass round the ankles and walk through the herbage before the sun has risen, squeezing the moisture collected by the tufts or rags into a container. Many early explorers saved their lives by this simple expedient.

Pig Face (Mesembryanthemum) [now called Carpobrotus] and Ice Plant (Parakylia) and Pig Weed contain large proportions of drinkable moisture.

Water on the sea coast

Finding Water on the Sea Coast - Wilderness Survival

Fresh water can always be found along the sea coast by digging behind the wind-blown sandhills which back most ocean beaches. These sandhills trap rain water, and it floats on top of the heavier salt water which filters in from the ocean. Sandhill wells must be only deep enough to uncover the top inch or two [2.5 or 5 cm] of water. If dug deeper, salt water will be encountered and the water from the well may be brackish and undrinkable. It will be noticed, too, that the water in these wells rises and falls slightly with the tides.

These sand wells are a completely reliable source of water all over the world. When digging it is necessary to revet the sides with brushwood, otherwise the sand will fall into the well.

Finding Water Under Coastal Cliffs - Wilderness Survival

On coastal areas where cliffs fall into a sea a careful search along the lower edges of the cliff will generally disclose soaks or small springs. These in general follow a fault in the rock formation and frequently are evident by a lush growth of ferns and mosses.

Moisture from fish flesh

How  to Find Water - Finding Water From Fish - Wilderness Survival

Another source of liquid sufficient to sustain life at sea, when fresh water has ceased to be available, is from the flesh of fish. The fish are diced, and the small portions of flesh placed in a piece of cotton cloth and the moisture wrung out. This moisture from sea fish is not in itself excessively salty, and can sustain life for a long period.

Condensing salt water

It is possible to condense sea water without equipment and obtain sufficient fresh water for drinking purposes.

Finding Water - Wilderness Survival - Condensing Salt Water

A coolamon is made, or alternatively a hole is scraped in the ground and lined, and the salt water is put into this hole. A fire is built, and stones are put in the fire to heat. These when hot are put in the salt water, which soon boils, and the water vapour is soaked up by a towel or thick mat of cloth. In time, this will literally become saturated, and may be wrung out, yielding a fair quantity of fresh drinkable water. Once the cloth is damp and cool, the collection of water vapour is fairly rapid.

Source: Survival, Tracking & Awareness

water from baobab

One of the southern-most Baobabs in Africa (Timbavati Private Nature Reserve)

find water in the wilds

Rain water in rock hollow (this one had a small Rock Python submerged in ambush)

There are numerous other ways of finding water in the wilds; a good resource is the US Army Survival Manual (FM 21-76) which can be bought or downloaded free off many websites.  Water procurement in an African survival context is a huge subject but the above-mentioned tips and those in Part1 can be applied worldwide. Baobab trees (Adansonia digitata) often have deep fissures that collect rain water; a fact well-known by indigenous peoples such as the San.  Rocky outcrops should also be inspected for hollows of stored water, especially after recent rains.  Fog/mist harvesting is practiced by some creatures; we can also harvest water from fog by using plastic sheeting. Many animals are a good indicators of surface water or they can be followed to a water source (although certain species do not drink daily or don’t drink at all).  Some South African birds such as the Double-banded Sandgrouse are excellent guides to water.  They fly a straight bearing to surface water every evening.  Should you hear the strident call of the Red-faced Cisticola (a fairly common bird in the Mpumalanga Lowveld), then you are very near to water as these birds live in and around dams, rivers, wetlands and other permanent sources of water.  For many, water is available at the turn of a tap.  When water shortages and supply cuts happen, only then do we realize how important it is to us!  Water Rhapsody’s water-saving systems can ensure that even in times of water scarcity, you will have access to enough water to meet your needs.  Your level of water self-sufficiency will depend on how much water storage capacity you have, i.e. the number and/or size of the water tanks we install.  Our rainwater harvesting systems and greywater recycling systems are designed to save water without inconvenience or much change to your lifestyle.

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