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A Survival Guide To Finding Every Source Of Water

A Survival Guide To Finding Every Source Of Water

One of the key elements for survival is being able to find enough fresh drinking water to support your body.

One of the key elements for survival is being able to find enough fresh drinking water to support your body.

Your organs need a supply of water to function properly, and after just a day or two without any fluid intake you can begin to experience a deterioration of your system such as headaches and fatigue – impeding a prepper’s ability to survive.

In these times of peace, here in the UK we simply need to turn the tap on or go to the shop to buy fresh, clean bottled water to get a drink. In a survival situation where neither of those two options are available, how to find water will rely on your own knowledge of the local area.

If you are a prepper in an urban environment such as a large UK town, city or urban environment then this article will help you find multiple sources of water for survival.

If you are living in the countryside already or have had to bug out to the woods or other areas of wilderness then read on to discover how and where you can find sources of water to keep you hydrated.

We’ll discuss the many ways preppers can find water for survival if you are off grid and away from major population centres.


The UK is blessed to have over 1500 separate river systems, ranging from small countryside rivers and canals to large rivers hundreds of feet across.

Whether you live in England, Scotland or Wales, you’re thankfully never more than a few miles from the nearest river where you can collect water from. Preppers should always collect water from the fastest flowing part of a river, closest to a bend, because the slower moving areas are likely to have debris collected there.

If you have a water filter bottle you can simply fill it up and drink directly, or let it pass through a gravity filter first to rid it of any nasties that may be present. 


woman filling water bottle from a stream

There area thousands of small streams running across the UK, which often lead into larger rivers.

Streams can flow through farmland, forests, marshland and mountainous areas, and can be a small trickle with a defined path that is draining the surrounding land, or larger streams and brooks that have a consistent path.

The water in small streams is not often fast flowing and can contain quite a lot of contaminants from the plants, soil and animals in the area and possibly have a changed colour. 


With all of the attention paid to the Lake District’s main bodies of water and the lochs of Scotland, you may be surprised to know you can learn how to find water from one of over 40,000 small and large lakes in the UK.

Lakes usually have an inlet coming from higher ground and an outlet flowing towards another lake or down to the sea, so the water source is constantly being replenished.

Some lakes may contain blue green algae which needs to be filtered out with a specialised bottle or gravity bag as it can make you sick, but for the most part British lakes are a relatively clean source of water.

Reservoirs & Tarns

With 570 reservoirs and dams in the UK, many of them built in the 1800s to support a growing population, these are excellent sources of water for preppers in a survival situation.

Reservoirs and tarns hold an immense amount of water collected from the surrounding hillsides and provide a water supply to millions of people around the country.

Setting up camp near a reservoir will ensure you have a good water supply for many months, however be careful of strong currents. If you are alone, all you need is a LifeStraw in your bug out bag to keep you going for a few days or weeks. 


Not the best choice of finding water in a survival situation, ponds can often be stagnant with water that is not able to move around and flow freely in the same way as a lake can.

This causes insects and bacteria to flourish here as it is not being disturbed as it would be in a flowing river, so any water taken from a pond – be it in someone’s garden or in a natural marshy environment – needs to be cleansed properly, boiled and filtered before considering it a good drinking source.


Thankfully due to its geography, Britain receives on average 133 days of precipitation per year, or around 34 inches annually.

The western areas of Britain (the Lake District, Wales and West Scotland) receive the highest amounts of rainfall, over 3000mm each year, whereas the East coast, London and the Midlands have less than 600mm.

Rain can be caught in buckets, water butts or huge water tanks if you’re bugging in, or on a stretched out tarpaulin, but it should always be boiled first if you intend to use it for drinking.


drinking puddles of water on the ground

Nobody really wants to drink out of a puddle like an animal, but in a survival situation it may be the only option around.

We’ve all seen the images of some prepper guy drinking directly from a puddle with a LifeStraw. While this is more than possible and convenient, if you intend to drink puddle water collected without such a filter you need to put it through a proper filtration system first for obvious reasons, and then consider boiling it.

If you know it’s about to rain you can even dig your own shallow hole in the ground and line it with some plastic sheeting for a clean puddle. Just try not to let the surrounding wet ground splash into it. 

Rock Crevices

Many types of rock that are exposed to the elements will have weathered surfaced creating holes and areas where puddles can form. If you find a rocky outcrop just after rainfall you can guarantee that small pockets of water will have collected.

Due to moss and other vegetation growing on rocks, it’s best to collect the water with a cloth and wring it out into a bucket or filter drinking bottle before purifying and drinking. Watch out as wet rocks can also be quite slippery as you’re collecting water.


It is possible to tap some trees at certain times of the year such as in spring to extract water from them. A small hole should be drilled into the trunk, angled upwards, and the sap should run out into your container.

Maple, sycamore, walnut and silver birch trees are classic British trees which can be used for tapping and even boiled for syrup, but beware as some trees like cherry can contain poisonous sap.

Within just an hour or two a birch tree can drip slowly and give you a pint of sweet drinkable water. Learning how to find water this way is essential, and you should know how to identify these specific trees.

Tree Forks & Crotches

After a rainfall if you haven’t been able to collect much water, then there’s a good chance that larger trees will have forks and crotches that have filled up.

Eventually that water will drain away or evaporate, so use a cloth to absorb the water there in those nooks and crannies and squeeze it out into a bucket.

As it has had contact with the tree and potentially insects and bird poop already on the tree, it should be boiled or filtered multiple times before considered safe for drinking.                                                          


In the same way as tree forks and crotches, there are some plants that are shaped to hold water in pockets. Lily pads, certain types of yucca, and rhubarb plant leaves are large and can often have a waterproof layer on top that makes water collection easy.

Laying out many of these leaves just before a downpour will assist you in collecting water that can be then absorbed by a cloth. Shaking a plant or tree after rainfall with a tarpaulin underneath will also provide more water than you think. 

Leaf Transpiration

leaves giving water transpiration survival  Just like us, plants respire and breath all day long, and the process of transpiration means that in addition to giving off oxygen, plants and trees release water vapour.

To get a small amount of water from any tree or plant, preppers can simply place a large sandwich bag or other clear plastic around a bunch of leaves, tie with an elastic band and leave for an hour or so.

Remember to pack some of these in your bug out bag just in case, and if you don’t need them for gathering water they have lots of other uses too. 

In hot sun you will receive more water, and simply take off the bag carefully without touching the leaves and you’ll have drinkable water. Stick a straw in it to drink. 

Morning & Evening Dew

Under certain conditions dew can form both in the morning and the evening, often when warm weather is followed by a cooler spell.

The best place to collect dew is from long grass, and if you tie a cloth around your ankles then as you walk through it the cloth will become wet, which you can wring out.

Another method to collect dew is to tie the cloth to a long pole or branch and sweep through the grass until it is saturated. You may also collect bugs during this process, so always purify first.

Inside Plants

We all know that in a survival situation certain plants can contain water which can be accessed. However, here in the UK we cannot benefit from coconut water direct from palm trees or cactuses that can be tapped.

Instead, we have to rely on native UK plants like water reed stems and grasses that can be sliced thin and then squeezed to extract the water. If the water produced by squeezed leaves or stems looks white or very milky, then avoid it as it most likely contains toxins.

Vegetables & Fruit

Your body does need water to survive, but it doesn’t have to be litres and litres of fresh mountain water – you can absorb all the water you need from your diet.

Most vegetables and fruit are made up of water, which is why they have low calories, but did you know that these fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of water: cucumber (96%), tomatoes (95%), spinach (93%), strawberries (90%) and apples (86%).

Other great sources include lettuce, mushrooms, broccoli and pineapple.


Condensation forms when there is a difference in temperature and humidity. If you are in a building which is warm but it’s cold outside and there are people in the room, after a few hours condensation will form on the window.

It’s not a lot but it can be collected and drank. Condensation also forms on metal when it reaches a certain condition known as the dew point. Pouring a cold liquid inside a glass on a warm day will draw water out of the air onto the side of the glass for extra water.

Snow & Ice

man melts snow in a pan over fire

If you are surviving in the winter months in Britain, then there’s a good chance you will have ice around and maybe snow from time to time. Both of these are simply water in its solid form, so boiling chunks of snow or ice in a cooking tin will give you fresh potable water to drink once it’s melted.

Try to take only the top layers of snow which haven’t touched the ground, vegetation or anything else that could contaminate it. Don’t attempt to eat the snow directly, it will lower your body temperature.

Sea Ice

Usually sea ice is very salty and eating just a small part of it can cause your stomach to become upset. Fresh ice from the sea is grey in colour or looks milky, is not easily broken and has sharpened edges.

Old sea ice is actually fresh water for the most part and does not contain salt. It will be blue or blackish in appearance, breaks relatively easily and the edges are rounded. This kind of ice can be melted, purified and consumed to provide a sustaining amount of water.


In days gone by wells were a primary source of water that could be drawn. They are few and far between in our modern age, so if you have set up camp somewhere and plan to be there for a while, consider digging a well with your survival shovel to sustain your water supply.

After just a few feet of digging you will hit the water table, but digging down even deeper can provide you with even more water stored underground. Remember to cover your well so no animals or children can fall down it by accident.

Beach Wells

If you are surviving on the coast, then it can seem like the only water close by is salted, however you can also find fresh water near a beach.

In the same way as you would dig a normal well, a beach well involves you moving back at least 100 metres from the shoreline, preferably behind the first sand dune, and digging straight down until you hit the water table which would eventually flow into the sea.

The abundance of sand in the area has likely had a beneficial purifying effect on this water.

Underground Stills

distilling survival water with a solar still

A highly effective way of gathering water, an underground still (also known as a solar still) involves creating a circular bowl ditch in the ground. You should place a bucket inside at the centre and freshly gathered broad leaves around the edges.

Cover all of this with a small transparent plastic sheet weighted down at the edges with a stone or other heavy object in the centre above your collection vessel. Leave this in the sun for a few hours and you will have at least a full cup of water ready to drink.

You can then reset it with fresh foliage for the next day. A long tube can be used to drink from, or simply remove the sheet and drink directly. 

Animal Patterns

Animals need water just as much as us, and will always know where to find it. If you find an animal trail going downhill, follow it and you will likely come to a water source.

Lots of flying insects like midges also congregate around water, so if there is an abundance of them you won’t be far from a river, lake or marshy area.

Birds too will flock together and land where there is a water source, pigeons especially will fly straight and low to the ground as they are nearing an area of water.

Nature Patterns

Certain UK trees, plants and fungi can only thrive beside a body of water, so if you see a cluster of them then you know water is near.

Ferns, irises cattails and reeds are often found just metres away from a water source, and large trees such as weeping willows, alders and river birches are also a good indication of water.

How to find water in a hilly area? Move downhill towards the valley floor that you will encounter some form of stream or river to extract water from.

Use Your Senses

If you are walking in a forest or in a meadow, then using your sense of hearing could come in handy to finding water. Stop and be still, open your ears and listen intently for any kind of trickling noise that could point you in the direction of water.

Pinpoint where it is coming from and head in that direction. Hearing the sounds of frogs as evening is setting can also direct you to water as they need it to survive. Sometimes you may even be able to smell water, especially if the source is stagnant.


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