You can go no more than three days without drinking water, but the negative effects of dehydration are quickly felt. Losing just 2% of the water in your body – 0.26 gals (1 liter) for someone weighing 180 lbs (81 kg) – will result in a 20-30% loss of efficiency, while losing 5% of the water will cause unpleasant symptoms such as increased heart rate, apathy, muscle weakness, and nausea. Therefore, when planning each hike, you need to know how much water you need to bring and where to refill it to avoid such problems. You will learn more about Where to Find Drinking Water When Camping by the LCN Outdoors article.
But if you find yourself in a quandary, where can you find water in nature?
Flowing Water – Rivers, Streams, And Springs
Naturally flowing rivers and streams are some of the best water sources in the world. Because of its constant flow, it has much less pollution and microorganisms than a standing pond or puddle. In the mountains and foothills, it is relatively easy to find where a stream or river might be, simply by exploring the folds of the terrain or going to the lowest point of a valley. In the lowlands, water sources can often be noted in terms of lush vegetation, tall trees, etc.
Despite the stereotype of the crystal purity of mountain streams, it is best to follow certain rules and purify the water before drinking. Who knows if there are pastures upstream, or if dead animals have entered the water. The ideal solution is to use a camping water filter. If you have the time, you can treat the water in the easiest way possible: boil it.
Standing Water – Ponds, Ditches, Puddles
Standing water sources are usually abundant. However, it is not suitable for immediate consumption and great care should be taken when preparing this water for drinking. Standing water is a cocktail of turbidity, bacteria, and other microorganisms and should never be consumed. If this water is full of solids and dirt, it is best to filter it first through a handkerchief, after which you can filter it more thoroughly through a camp filter, or boil it.
However, even if you use a filter to turn brown-green pond water into a clear, bacteria-free liquid, you may not be able to get rid of the musty taste. One exception is filters that contain activated carbon blocks. For example, direct drinkers on the market have this block. This block neutralizes the odor of the water, although not always perfectly.
If you do not have a camp filter or cannot boil, you must disinfect the water with chemicals such as cleaning tablets. The ideal way to purify water is to combine filtration with disinfection: by boiling, using chemicals, or using a portable UV filter.
Underground Resources – Springs
It is not a matter of digging a deep well with your bare hands, but water can be taken from underground to meet the needs of the group if necessary. Look carefully at the terrain to see if there are any wetlands or folds in terrain nearby. All that remains to be done is to dig a small hole in the ground – up to 40 inches (1 meter) – and wait for the water to appear. You can then gently collect the water with a cup or a clean cloth and continue cleaning. It is easier to collect water in a wide-mouth bottle for filtration.
Rainwater is actually ideal for drinking and is 100% bacteria pure. Its downside is that it is demineralized and has a slightly higher pH. Collecting rainwater is fairly easy, and a properly stretched tent can fill all your containers in half an hour. As a last resort, you can spread out a few items on a clean surface – towels, spare clothes – and squeeze the absorbed water into the container. Be careful when collecting water from the roof, as its quality will depend directly on the roofing material.
Snow And Ice
We are talking about melting drinking water from ice and snow. Yes, in this order of priority: first ice, then, at least, snow.
Almost all the energy costs of preparing ice for burning – searching, cutting, and shredding – are compensated by the time and precious fuel savings compared to snow. The thermal conductivity of snow, whose crystals are separated by a layer of air, is so small that even thick snow and ice yield no more than 7-15% water, which means that in order to get 0.26 gals (1 liter) of water, about 2.6-4 gals (1-15,000 cubic centimeters) of snow has to be melted. So, if you can’t get ice, try to use the densest snow possible – fir – and tamp it well in the kettle. Before starting the burner, moisten the snow in the pot with preheated water so that the walls of the pot do not overheat. This will also speed up the melting process a bit. Fill a cup with crushed ice and pour hot tea from a thermos. This way you will get extra water and the tea will not be too hot.
Sea ice can also be used to meltwater, but it must be desalted “old” ice, which can be identified by its distinctive blue color, smooth contours, and shine. The older the ice, the less salt it contains. Therefore, the upper part of a multi-year pack of ice that rises above the ice sheet is often almost completely fresh.
Do not try to eat the snow and ice, or try to meet them with your mouth. This will only lead to hypothermia and, paradoxically, to more dehydration. When inactive action, you can try stuffing ice cubes in a wide-necked bottle and using the heat released by your body to melt it between layers of clothing. This is not a figment of the author’s imagination, but the experience of indigenous peoples of the North. Norwegian scientist Kåre Rodahl described back in the 1950s how the Eskimos stuffed snow bags sewn from walrus entrails under their fur coats. The residual heat of the body was enough to produce more than 0.26 gals (1 liter) of water in four to five hours.
Obviously, clean ice and snow should be used for drinking superheat. Experienced hikers bring a special bag for collecting and storing snow/ice at camp during winter hikes.
Usually, an inconspicuous but very easy way to get almost any amount of clean drinking water. When to collect dew is obvious to everyone – of course in the early morning, at dawn. Dew water is distilled water that does not need to be purified.
In this case, there is simply no alternative to the soak and squeeze method. Again, a clean piece of canvas or sponge can help, and it can quickly collect water from the leaves of dense grass or bush. The dough itself is distilled water and can be consumed without purification.
We can also mention the condensation of the steam produced by boiling seawater, which may be the only way to consume it. However, desalination is a complex and energy-intensive process, so we will not go into it here.
Plants And Fruits
In many regions, especially in the tropics, sufficient quantities of potable water can be obtained from the pulp of plants and fruits. In the tropics, these include coconuts and citrus fruits, and in the mid-latitudes apples, pears, plums, and other fleshy fruits.
The sap of trees can also be used to quench thirst. For example, birch sap, which is easily extracted in the spring, is not only a source of pure liquid but also provides the body with nutrients, electrolytes, and vitamins.
Electrolytes And Water
When talking about the water balance in the body, it is important to mention the need to replenish electrolytes – minerals in our body, especially sodium and magnesium, which are electrically charged in aqueous solutions. In the course of life, especially during active sports, the body constantly loses electrolytes, which need to be replenished by food and water or by special means – mineral water, salt tablets, and isotonic solutions.
The consumption of so-called empty water without minerals paradoxically leads to greater dehydration by diluting and flushing more electrolytes from the body. The first symptoms of this condition will be reduced performance and muscle cramps. In nature, water usually contains minerals, sometimes in excess – seawater, mineral water, “young” sea ice.
However, “empty” water that is demineralized may also exist in nature. Among the sources described in the article, we can obtain empty water in the following sources
- Water produced from water vapor, i.e. rain and dew.
- Water melted from snow and ice, except for sea ice in polar regions.
- Water flowing directly from glaciers and snowfields in streams, i.e. water melted from snow and ice.
This water contains almost no electrolytes and can lead to dehydration problems after drinking it. This problem is particularly acute on winter hikes and high altitude climbs to base camps; in such cases, additional sources of electrolytes should be planned.
However, additional electrolyte levels should be supplemented even in hot climates or highly exerted conditions. For example, many ultramarathoners take salt capsules, approximately one per hour, during the race. For the same purpose, organizers of such races prepare salted pickles and nuts at the feeding points.