Continuing our series on wilderness survival, no one ever plans to get lost or to be injured and stranded in the woods. Just as we don’t wear our seat belt because we “plan” to be in a crash, and we don’t have a fire extinguisher in our kitchen because we “plan” to have a fire. We don’t carry survival gear because we are expecting an emergency, we carry it because we realize that we live in an imperfect world and sometimes emergencies happen. We cannot sterilize the world, but we can indeed prepare ourselves to deal with unforeseen crises.
One of the biggest killers of people who get lost or stranded is dehydration. Humans need water. There is no getting around it. When your body starts to dehydrate it will not only affect you physically, but mentally. Your brain does not like to be short on water. Dehydration leads to a clouded and confused mind. You start making poor decisions, and your situation goes from bad to worse and then potentially to fatal.
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If you are lost in the woods of North America, finding water is doable. Rivers, streams, creeks, lakes, and ponds abound in the green forests. In rocky areas, you will often find shallow pools of water in depressions or “rock bowls”. Remember, water flows DOWNHILL, look for water at the bottom. Damp, muddy soil can be scooped into a T-shirt and wrung out. (Yes, it’s nasty, but so is dying of dehydration). Snow can be collected in a cloth sack/pouch and slowly melted into a container.
Dealing with Bacteria/Parasites
Fresh water, even sparkling streams, can contain bacteria and parasites. The benefit gained by drinking creek or pond water is soon outweighed by the dysentery (diarrhea) that comes afterward. Diarrhea speeds the dehydration process and you are now worse off than when you were just thirsty.
The most tried and true method for killing bacteria in drinking water is to boil it. The Center for Disease Control recommends that water be brought to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute (3 minutes for elevations over 6500 feet). This method is great if you have a clean metal container in which to boil the water and the ability to make a fire.
Camping and outdoor stores sell a variety of water purification straws and filters. These require no fire or boiling, but you will need to have them on you when you get lost in the woods. You are not likely to just have a purification filter on your person.
Water purification tablets weigh next to nothing and take up very little room in a survival kit. Back in my Marine Corps days, we went to the field with little brown bottles of iodine tablets for emergency water purification. Today, Aquatabs® are a popular type of water purification tablet.
In the event that no fire, filter, or purification tablets can be had, the safest bet is fresh rain water, snow, and the fast moving, fresh water. This can be a gamble, but it is better than dying from dehydration. Water is so critical to survival I would not even go for a short hike without a canteen or 16 oz. bottle of water on my person.
On a side note, most people don’t drink enough water to maintain healthy levels as a matter of course. People who constantly consume sugary soda, sweet tea, coffee, and alcohol, while neglecting basic water, will already be partially dehydrated when and if the survival situation begins.
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