Camping & Survival

30 Days of Preparing for Spring Storms and the Stinging Heat of Summer Day 12: Finding Alternative Sources of Water

Picture shows water being filtered through a bandana into a water bottle.

Water is essential to our survival. Humans can typically only live three days without clean drinking water. Whether a flood or a tornado hits and your city or well water is shut-off or compromised or you find yourself in a survival situation outdoors, you need a way to procure safe, potable water.

Bugging In

It is important to store enough water for three days in the case of any emergency—a gallon of water per person per day is the minimum recommendation. The easiest way to store water is by purchasing prepackaged cases of bottled water. Store them in a cool, dark place. Rotate water supplies once a year. Keep water-safe containers, such as food-grade plastic buckets, store-bought water containers or thoroughly cleaned and disinfected plastic jugs handy in case a disaster is imminent. Generally, in the case of severe spring storms, you get a fair warning. When you know bad weather is going to hit, fill up your bathtub, sinks, washing machine and collapsible water containers with water.

Once you have filled up your water reserves, turn the water off at the main to avoid contamination of the water remains in the water heater, pipes and commodes. If your stored water does not last through the emergency, you can find last-resort water in your water heater, toilet tank and the water pipes throughout your house.

Picture shows a hiker filling up a water bottle from a small stream on some rocks.
Find a stream, creek, river or lake. Follow animal tracks to find a natural source of flowing water.

Water Heater

You should find a drain valve at the bottom of the unit. This water is generally safe to drink without purifying first. To be extra safe, boil it for at least 10 minutes.

Toilet Tank

Use the water in the back of the tank only, not what is inside the bowl. Do not use it if you put cleaning chemicals, such as toilet blue, in the tank. Filter and boil the water from the toilet tank first before drinking.

In the Pipes

If you live in a two-story or larger house, you can drain the remaining water from the pipes. Open a faucet in the shower at the upper-most level. Then turn on the faucet in the bathtub or sink of the lowest floor bathroom. Whatever remaining water is in the pipes should drain into the bathtub. Remember to line the bathtub with a WaterBOB before filling it.

The typical two-story house has about 10 gallons of water stored in its pipes, water heater and toilets. That is a significant amount for an emergency.


You should carry water with you at all times when you are outside. A portable bottle filled with water is probably what you normally take with you on a leisurely short hike, walk or bike ride. However, you need to take steps to procure safe drinking water in case you get lost. Pack a LifeStraw or other filter straw. In a few short hours of being lost, you will run out of water. The following are alternative ways to finding water.

Find a Source

To find a stream, creek, river or lake, follow animal tracks to a natural source of flowing water.

Collect Dew

Place a cloth or bandana in high grass overnight. In the morning it should be wet with drew. Wring it out into a container or directly into your mouth. Alternatively, before sunrise, tie the bandana or cloth around your shins and walk through a dewy field.

Transpiration Technique

This method collects condensation from trees. Tie a plastic bag around the end of a leafy tree branch. Water will start to form at the bottom of the bag. It might not produce much, and it takes awhile, but it is a way to get water.

Condensation and Solar Stills

Picture shows water being filtered through a red bandana.
You can filter on the fly by running the collected water through a bandana or cloth into a container.

Dig a shallow hole in some moist soil and put a container at the bottom of it. Cover the hole with a plastic sheet and secure the sheet’s edges with rocks, making sure there are no gaps. Put another rock or weight in the middle of the plastic sheet. Water should begin to collect in your container.

Muddy Areas

Muddy areas may indicate groundwater. To check, dig a small hole about a foot square. Wait to see if it starts to fill up with water. If it does, then you have a water source.


Some plants, such as bamboo stalks, store water that is safe to drink. To get the water from a bamboo stalk, bend one down, secure it to the ground and cut off the top. Place a container under the hole you cut, and overnight, water should drip out of the stalk and into your container.

Filtering and Purifying

Many sources of water will need filtering and purifying before you can drink safely. Filter on the fly by running the collected water through a bandana or cloth into a container. Commercial filters work extremely well, even when filtering stagnant, murky water.

You can purify water by boiling it for at least 10 minutes or adding chemicals to it. To disinfect water, you can use commercially packaged iodine or chlorine tablets or use bleach. To disinfect water using household bleach, make sure to use plain bleach that is free of dyes and perfumes. For one quart or liter of water, put in five drops of bleach. For one gallon, add a quarter teaspoon. Wait at least an hour before drinking.

You also may boil water directly in a plastic water bottle. Fill it up to the top and tightly close the lid. Place the bottle on hot coals or hang it over a flame—without letting it touch the flame. The bottle should not melt due to the lack of air inside.

Learn more about filtering and purifying water in these blog posts:

Do Not

  • Drink your own urine or anyone else’s.
  • Drink water from a cactus.
  • Rely on coconuts for water.
  • Drink salt water.
  • Drink straight from a flowing body of water, no matter how clear it looks, without first filtering or purifying it.

What are some other alternative water sources? Share them with us in the comments section.


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Comments (5)

  1. Rainwater is an option as well for gardening or purifying.
    I installed a water catching system and it works great.

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