Dehydration can be a killer whether on a simple day hike or an extended trip. It is largely accepted that you can live approximately three days without water but this can change rapidly depending on other circumstances. If it is hot, you can die without water in less than one day. If you are exerting a large amount of effort and sweating a lot, you will last even less than that. Even if it is cold and windy you may be losing more moisture than you think.
My first rule about water is – Always carry more water than you think you will need with you. Any time I head out for a hike even if I don’t intend to be gone for long I will take at least a litre. If I am going on a day hike I will take two and if it is hot, maybe even three. It may add a bit of weight to your pack but just think of that as extra weight training and glory in the added calories you will lose and it may just save your life or someone else’s (quite often I end up assisting others stave off their heat exhaustion by sharing my excess water).
The absolute basics about finding water where it may not be obvious are as follows:
- Vegetation cannot grow without a water source
- Vegetation cannot grow lush and green without a slightly larger water source
- Vegetation cannot grow tall without an even larger water source
What does this mean for you? Find a rise in the landscape – a small hill or mound will probably do, and then walk up it until you can get a good look at the land around you. If you see an area with tall dark green vegetation, it is a good bet that you will find water there.
If the water is not above ground and obvious once you have made your way to your nearest tallest greenest patch around, there are a few methods that can help you quench your thirst:
Digging For Water
If the vegetation patch you have discovered is in or near a dry creek bed, there is a good chance that there is water still in that creek bed, it is just underground. Look for damp mud or soil patches and dig there. Soon your hole should start to fill with muddy water. Allow the sediment to settle before drinking. You can also drain the water through your clothing if you are in desperate need.
If there are no moist patches, try digging on the outside of the bends of the river.
It is not unreasonable that you may need to dig for half a metre before water appears. If it hasn’t appeared by then, try a hole in another location.
If you have a plastic bag of any sort, then this method is a good way to collect drinking water.
In the early morning wrap your plastic bag around a bunch of leaves and place a small stone in the bottom of the bag. Tie the top of the bag tight around the branch and leave it over the course of the day. Make sure the branch that you choose will be in full sun during the day. Water will collect in the bottom of the bag. You may want to swap branches and leaf bundles as the day progresses ensuring a constant supply.
Before the sun rises, wrap an item of clothing around your legs and walk through an area of long grass. Wring out your clothes into your mouth and repeat.
Water always flows downhill so lower lying areas and valleys are a good place to look if there are not obvious areas of vegetation.
Insect swarms and popular bird flight paths may also be a good indicator of water.
It is crucial for you to remember that any time you drink water without purifying it you are risking becoming sick. If you have any way of purifying the water, do so before consuming.
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