Basic Survival Skills Everyone Should Know Part 1: Water
Survival. This falls cleanly into the category of things that once you need it it’s too late to learn it, so prepare yourself in advance by learning what you need to know now. Whether you get lost in the wilderness without supplies, get hit by a natural disaster, or end up in an emergency by any other cause, you will have limited time to fend for yourself before you risk becoming a statistic. In this upcoming series, we’ll be laying out the most vital survival skills you will need–in order of urgency–to get you through the first 24 hours, starting with #1: Water.
Of all the things that you need to stay alive, water is the most vital. Statistically, a person can survive three days without water, but that number is pretty arbitrary as it discludes just about every practical factor, like how much water your body uses specifically, your age, the climate that you’re in (good luck if you’re in a warm climate and sweating), your current condition (if you’re injured or sick the number goes way down again), and more. In extreme enough weather or conditions those three days will sometimes meltdown into a matter of hours. So whether you’re trapped indoors without power or stuck on the side of a mountain, water is your first priority. Here’s how to find it:
Below are various methods for finding water.
- Check the Weather: The easiest way to find water is if it’s being delivered to you, by means of rain or snow. This is also your best bet at clean, uncontaminated water, if you are able to collect it. The best way would be to place a waterproof tarp or cloth out over a divot in the earth (you can dig one if necessary) and allow the water to collect there naturally.
- Newton’s Law: If it isn’t raining or snowing, you’ll have to hunt down water on your own. Like everything else on earth, water is under the influence of gravity, which means if you’re on a hill, odds are the water is flowing down. Look for fissures or between hills to find water sources and even if you don’t see any right away, take the time to listen for it.
- Go For Green: If this fails, search around you for signs of life. Like humans, all living things need water and so will naturally congregate around it, whether they are animals or plants. Look for larger amounts of wildlife or thicker plant-life in a specific spot–odds are, they’ve found water first and you can tap into their source.
- Dig: If even that fails, find a spot of damp soil or even a dry riverbed and dig–this might reveal some groundwater. This can even work in the desert. It’s handy to have a tactical shovel on hand to prepare for this eventuality, but if you don’t have a shovel, use your hands, or rocks and sticks to dig–groundwater is sometimes just a few feet underground.
Beware of stagnant water–that is any water that isn’t flowing or is gathered in a pool without movement or agitation. Stagnant water will pick up bacteria and parasites that will kill you. The stronger flow of the water the less likely these are present since they love still water. Mosquitos carrying even more diseases–like malaria–breed in stagnant water as well. If you have any other option, do not drink stagnant water. Whether you’re at home or away, it’s a good idea to bring something with you that you can carry water in so you aren’t stuck in one spot. Hydration bladders are great for this.
In order of best to worst, here are the kinds of water to collect:
- Rain or snow: This is the best since the cycle of rain helps purify water. It’s important to note that this only remains the best option if you are collecting it directly from the sky into a receptacle and not after it hits the ground.
- Fast-moving water: The fast movement of the water prevent bacteria and parasites from finding a home
- Groundwater: this is fast-moving underground, so the same thing applies, though the chances of it getting contaminated while you extract it are higher, so it falls below fast-moving water on the list.
- Still/Stagnant Water: This is by far your worst option due to the odds of it being contaminated and should only be considered if there are absolutely no other options.
However, no matter where you get your water from, you can guarantee its safety (from a microbial standpoint) by boiling it, so always boil water if you can. Unless you’re carrying around a personal water filtration system–like purifying tablets or a lifestraw–it’s still possible that the water you want to drink has bacteria or parasites in it that will make your situation so much worse and destroy your chances of survival. Of course, to boil anything you need to build a fire, which we will address in part 2 of this series.
Being in an emergency is a situation no one wants, and many don’t ever want to predict, but it can happen to anyone and the only time you can prepare is in advance. In addition to learning the above skills, there are many ways you can prepare yourself so you aren’t left combing the nearby terrain for water in an emergency: Bring water with you. This applies both for at-home–storing a few liters of water in case of an emergency–as well as on the road and especially in the wilderness. Make sure you’re taking enough water with you to stay hydrated and make sure the container you’re storing it in is sturdy, durable, and efficient for carrying around. We highly recommend water bladders or reservoirs for this, since they are optimized for an active lifestyle and will keep your water safe for long amounts of time, while still being easy to carry and access. Source Tactical’s water bladders also come with Hydration packs for easy carry and are low maintenance (though we’ve written a maintenance how-to here for your convenience.)
Another thing to have on hand is a tactical backpack packed with the essentials. Above we’ve mentioned a few–like a tactical shovel and a waterproof tarp, that can exponentially increase your chances of survival in any emergency. By preparing yourself in advance, both with equipment and skills, you can ensure that no matter the emergency, you will stay alive long enough to get help.