Tag Archives: water

Frozen Water

Photo by Joel Casto

Photo by Joel Casto

To Do Today:

  • PT – Cardio – 2000m swim for time // Strength – Leg group

Ice and Water

Heat kills waterborne pathogens, cold does not. Purify cold water, or water under ice, obtained from lakes, streams, rivers, etc. the same as you would in a temperate environment.

Melting snow and ice is the primary method to replenish water supply in arctic environments, or at sea in extremely cold environments. However, fuel use and the task of cutting ice and melting snow is resource intense. Twice the amount of fuel is needed to melt snow than if you melt ice for the same quantity of water. Pack snow tightly in the container to be heated to increase efficiency. Also, packing a water bottle with snow that is 1/4 filled with water, and then keeping it under a parka while moving or working is an efficient way to melt snow on the go.

Sources of liquid water should be safely explored whenever possible (i.e., water from lakes or streams under ice). If digging a hole in the ice over a lake or river to obtain water, carefully do it to avoid splashing:

  • First start to axe or chop all around the hole but make very sure not to puncture the ice to the water.
  • Cut until all your hole is deep and wide enough for your bucket or water storage device.
  • Once you are near water on all sides, give a sharp blow to break the ice totally.
  • If you don’t do this, the water will seep into your hole and you may get dangerously wet while trying to enlarge the hole to collect water.

After cutting a hole over fresh water, the hole should be covered to prevent refreezing (if using the source more than once).

Frozen salt water

Sea ice generally becomes fresh during the period between its formation and the end of the first summer thereafter. If during freezing weather you are ever in a position where you have no other source of water but salt water, contain small amounts of brine and allow ice to form in it. The slush and any remaining liquid should then be removed. The ice will be fresh enough to use in an emergency. On a larger scale, ocean ice looses salt so rapidly that ice over 1 year old is nearly fresh. Ice formed 2 or more years old can not be distinguished as far as taste goes from river ice unless waves have been breaking over it recently or spray has been dousing it. Melted hollow otherwise will usually be found to contain ample fresh water. Salted ice is grey and opaque whereas unsalted ice is bluish and of crystal color.

Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.

Water From Plants

Photo by Cpl. Aaron Hostutler

Photo by Cpl. Aaron Hostutler

To Do Today:

  • PT – Cardio – 1hr Swim // Strength – Rest

Cautions and Warnings

There are certain precautions and a few danger signs with regard to vegetable fluids. If the fluid is milky or red or colored in any way it must be regarded as dangerous, not only to drink but also to the skin (the one exception known is the Barrel Cactus in the US).

Many of the milky saps, except those of the ficus family which contain latex or a natural rubber, are extremely poisonous. The milky sap of many weeds can poison the skin and form bad sores and if allowed to get into the eyes cause blindness. With all vegetable sources of fluid even though the water itself is clear, taste it first and if tasteless, or almost tasteless/flavorless, it is generally safe to drink

Also, fluids or vegetable “drinking water” cannot be kept for more than 24 hours. The fluid starts to ferment and spoil if stored and might be dangerous to drink in this condition. Lastly, the nature of a plant judged by the properties of its foliage is no guide for the drinkability of the fluid which are its sap, for example, the Eucalyptus.


Collecting Water From Plants

In tropical areas, look for plants with hollow or concave sections that collect moisture. Many plants have leaves which are cup-like in shape and collect pools of water in their leaves; be observant. Many palm varieties grow leaves directly from the trunk, and some ferns and bromelaides (from the pineapple family/small plants which grow on the side of other, larger, trees), often have leaves which are designed to catch rain and channel it down to the base of the leaf where it meets the trunk. The water pools there so that the tree can slowly absorb it.  One example of this is the Traveler’s Tree (Ravenala Madagascariensis). This comes from the banana family and can hold up to 1–2 liters of water which pools between the leaf stalks where they attach to the tree.

In desert areas, palms are a good indication that water is nearby, generally within several feet of the base of the tree. Reed grass is also a sound sign that moisture is near. However in general it is futile to search water near desert plants, for this one has already taken it, so use
the plant itself from its roots which you dig, pull and section off.

Leaning tree method

Cloth absorbs rain/dew running down tree and drips into container:


Banana plants

Banana plants hold water in their trunk. This can be accessed by either slicing off the trunk at about 1ft from the ground or by inserting a tap into the trunk. To tap a banana plant, take an 8in length of bamboo, about the diameter if your thumb, ensuring that it is hollow all the way through. Sharpen one end with your knife and insert the bamboo tap firmly into the banana plant at about a 70 deg angle to the trunk of the plant. This will allow the water to start running out of the trunk and down through the tap. Create a water trap underneath the end of the tap, by placing a large leaf or piece of plastic over a depression in the ground for the water to drip into and leave it for a few hours before returning to have a drink. The water may taste like green bananas but it is drinkable.


Eucalyptus leaves are heavily impregnated with oils of Eucalyptus and in many cases poisonous to human beings. However, its sap is generally a drinkable fluid easily collected from the branches or roots. Eucalyptus fluid is entirely free from essential oils and does not taste or smell of Eucalyptus. Its roots measure from 12 to 25 meters, and radiate deeply. Pull the roots, cut into sections, remove the bark, and sap will sweat at both ends. Place containers at the ends to collect the drinkable fluid.

Water trees

Other water bearing trees are the Boabab tree (often known as the tree of life), found in Australia, Africa and Madagascar. All hold water in the trunk. Avoid milky sap. Tap before dark. Let sap stop running and harden during the daytime. These trees produce most water at night. For evasion situations, bore into the roots and collect water out of sight.


In early spring, walnut, maple, birch, and hickory trees can all serve as sources of water. To get the fluid, you simply tap the tree, as maple-syrup makers do, by boring a half-inch or quarter-inch hole into the trunk with a knife or sharp rock, inserting a hollow reed, and collecting the thin sap in a bark or log cup.

Alternatively, you can cut through the bark with diagonal slashes. Make sure that you cut into the sap wood, or cambium, that lies just under the bark and that you don’t kill the tree by cutting all the way around it.

Since water gathered by this method contains a high concentration of sugar, drinking large amounts of it can cause an upset stomach or cramps. For the same reason, the liquid tends to spoil when it’s not consumed soon.

Sycamore trees can be tapped in the same manner as can the hardwoods mentioned above. The water from this tree, however, can be harvested any time of year except the dead of winter and, since it doesn’t contain much sugar, can be consumed in quantity or stored for a few days.


All common species of North American thistle can provide water. Bull thistle yields the most fluid. To get the juice, simply peel the thorns off the young stems and leaves and eat the watery food-like celery. Since thistles supply only a meager portion of liquid, though, they’re best used to quench a burning thirst or to keep you going until other water sources can be found.


Some vines in tropical and subtropical environments can yield a reasonable supply of drinking water, like the Liana or Monkey rope. The general characteristics of such vines are rough bark and off-shoots of about 1-2in thickness. Always be weary of plants with a sticky, milky sap as this is usually poisonous. Vines are no exception so observe this when trying various vines for water.

To get water from a water-bearing vine, simply cut a deep notch in the vine, as high up as you can, (it is important to cut the top first or else the vine will act as a vacuum and suck the water back up the vine) then cut it completely through at the base. At this point the water should begin to run out. Check that it is not sticky & milky and then collect the water in a container or let it run/drip straight into your mouth. Do not put the vine in your mouth as some vines can irritate your lips.

When the water has stopped flowing, cut a section off the bottom end to release water still inside the main vine. Repeat this until all water has been released. General rules:

  • Cut bark – do not use milky sap.
  • If juice is clear and water like, cut as large a piece of vine as possible, cutting the top first
  • Pour into hand to check smell, color, and taste to determine if drinkable.
  • Do not touch vine to lips.
  • When water flow stops, cut off 6 inches of opposite end, water will flow again.


Bamboo will usually yield an excellent supply of water in the hollow stems, between the joints. Water can be located by tapping the stem about 7-10 cm (3-4 inches) above a joint. If you hear a dull sound then they will most likely have water inside. You can shake the stems and listen for water inside too. Aim for thick stem bamboo. Water is most likely to collect in older, yellower stems. When you locate water, cut a notch just above the bottom joint and the water will run out freely. This water will be clean and good to drink as-is.


  • Shake and listen for water
  • Bore hole at bottom of section to obtain the water
  • Cut out entire section to carry with you
  • Filter and purify


In the tropics or near a beach, coconuts are a source of water. Drink in moderation as coconut milk is a laxative.


Whilst most cacti have a fluid content, not all cacti yield fluid which is safe to drink. Some cacti can be very poisonous; like the the giant Saquarro cactus found in the California and Arizona regions of North America and in Mexico. On the other hand, the Barrel cactus is an exception to the “Avoid milky sap ” rule. This life saver can yield around a liter (2 pints or 33oz) of drinkable sticky milky sap. The best way to handle cacti is to cut off a piece to expose the inner flesh, then either cut chunks out pf the center to mash or suck the moisture out, or to cut and mash the flesh, while still in the base, till there is enough liquid to collect or drink then repeat.

Always be very careful when handling cacti as you really don’t want to get the spines stuck in your skin as they can be almost impossible (especially the fine ones) to get out in a survival situation and if left, they can cause weeping sores which can quickly turn septic.

Cactus fruits such as prickly pears can also provide liquid. The liquid in some cacti can be tasteless and sour in other varieties.

Transpiration Method

Water can be obtained by placing clear plastic bags over the leafy branch of a non-poisonous tree and securing the end of the branch. Ensure there are no holes in the bag (seal these with black tape, band-aids, etc.). The action of the sun on the plastic will cause water to be drawn from the leaves and run to the lowest part of the bag. Do not disturb the bag to collect the water, use a straw or tubing. The leaves will continue to produce water as the roots draw it from the ground.


The water should be drained off every two hours and stored. If this is not done the leaves may stop producing water. The heavy concentration of moisture laden air reduces the effectiveness of the sun. If there are no large trees in the area, you can break up clumps of grass or small bushes and place them inside the bag. The same effect will take place. If this is done the foliage will have to be replaced at regular intervals when water production is reduced.


  • The water bag must be clear.
  • Collected water will taste like the plant smells.
  • Do not use poisonous/toxic plants in any still or bag.
  • Ensure that the bags receive maximum sunshine at all times.
  • Test exposed roots for water content. Soft pulpy roots will yield the greatest amount of liquid for less effort.

Tree Roots

For plant sources of water in arid areas, the best volume is generally obtained by excavating surface roots. They can be discovered and cut close to the plant, lifted and pulled. Roots must be cut in 3-4 feet lengths for draining. Many fail to get liquid to flow because they do not cut the stalk or root into lengths. Unless the segments are made, fluid will not flow and the conclusion is that the root, branch or vine is without moisture. In general water is more plentiful from plant roots in gullies than on ridges.

In the early morning before the heat of the day, the roots from certain trees such as the boab, kurrajong, wattle, some gums and others, can be cut into short lengths, stood end on with their thickest ends down in a container allowing the fluid to drain. It is best to use roots that are easily obtained with a minimum of effort. The ideal location for this is in creek beds and washouts where parts of the roots are already exposed or near the surface.

It is possible to get water from the roots of some trees by removing the bark, cutting shavings into a pile and pulping the root shavings with rocks then squeezing the water out of the pulp and letting the water drip into your mouth.

Some trees will yield more water than others. Some trees with a higher water content are: the blood wood, the water tree and the desert oak; all found in Australia.

This method works if you are desperate but uses a lot of energy for the yield.

Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.

Animal Indicators of Water

Photo by Gabriel Currie

Photo by Gabriel Currie

To Do Today:

  • PT – Cardio – 1hr Cross train // Strength – Arm group

Animal Indicators of Water

Tracking animals must be done responsibly. Getting too close to animals can cause serious disturbances including abandoning young, disturbing nesting grounds, damaging foraging areas, and may even cause the animal’s death. In winter, many animals are severely stressed to gather enough energy to stay alive. Escaping from a human presence could rob them of enough energy that they can no longer sustain themselves. When training, always remember that you are only a visitor into their habitat. In a SERE or survival situation, disturbing natural habitat will obviously be low on the list of priorities, but may be critical to your long term use of area resources…and preservation of resources is a high priority in a SERE/survival situation.

Herbivore Needs

Small herbivores are a food source for predators and attract carnivores. The presence of herbivores may not necessarily indicate a water source, but larger animals and carnivores will. Small herbivores are an indicator of the “value” of the habitat. Even a small and hidden water source will provide exponential value for local habitat and there will be more animal life as a result. Indicators of habitat value:

  • Cover. Most important need. thick tangles of vegetation, brush, rocks, to hide in and escape. However, deep forest areas are sometimes poor habitat as there is little undergrowth and poor cover. The vegetation is not very varied. Generally there may be raccoons, birds, rabbits, but very few others. Travel to lower areas to find water.
  • Transition Areas. These are excellent locations to find animals. A transition area is zone of intersection between two habitats. Ex. Forest and field, field and stream, forest and stream. These offer wide varieties of vegetation and cover. Transition areas are good indicators of surface water.
  • Wide variety of vegetation. If a single type of vegetation is cleaned out, it may be a transitional area for nomadic animals. A good supply of varied vegetation is necessary to demonstrate a good habitat/home for permanent residents. This is due to going outside of the habitat is dangerous; having various vegetation available at different times helps to maintain an ongoing food supply.
  • Surface Water Source. This is not essential since many small herbivores don’t need it. They get water from dew and from the plants they eat. However, smaller herbivores may attract carnivores that leave signs and trails that lead to water. Good habitat for small herbivores also means a good habitat for large herbivores that may also provide signs leading to water.

Animal Signs

Use animal signs, tracking, and observation in your search for water and understand that tracking starts with knowing where to look for animals. This is done by what is called “sign tracking”. Signs are anything besides a track proper that is an indication of an animal (e.g. trails, scat etc.). About 1/2 of tracking is sign tracking the other 1/2 is working with actual tracks.

Large Scale Signs

Landscape tracking is the reading of the general landscape to locate animals by observing travel routes, escape routes, sleeping areas, and feeding areas. In most landscapes there are “islands” where many species will be found. One way to look is to find the best “islands” for herbivores. Wherever there are herbivores, carnivores will follow and the water source will be bearby. The areas between the islands will tend to be scarce of animals except as an area for animals to pass through.

Travel Routes

Nearly all mammals need water at regular intervals to keep alive. Even flesh eaters must drink (but can travel long distances between water; are therefore an unreliable indicator). However, certain animals never travel far from water: wild pigs are a sure sign that water nearby. A general rule is to follow tracks and trails downhill and watch for animal movement at dawn or dusk.

Animals will tend to take the easiest route of travel across a landscape (just as humans do) unless they are being pursued. This results in the creation of a number of “roadway systems” within the habitat. However, sticking to a roadway system when being chased would be a poor choice. The prey is usually smaller than the predator and therefore tries to push through tiny openings in deep brush where the larger predator can’t follow, creating false directional signs for the tracker.

  • Trails. Animals need water the same as humans and they will travel great distances regularly each day, leaving trails to the water source Trails are species nonspecific. Any number, size, and shape of animal will use them. Visible trails are the superhighways of the woods. They are frequently used, rarely changed, and animals know them intimately. There may be troughs, no vegetation or battered vegetation. Look for multiple trails converging.  Where a large number of trails converge together, it would indicate that the water is not far distant. Trails often indicate water presence and a usually reliable indication being a marked increase and a progressively deepening and widening thereof.
  • Runs. – these are less frequently used and are very subject to change. There is some definite wearing into the landscape but varies. These are very specific to a particular animal and what it is used for (e.g. runs may connect watering areas, bedding areas, feeding areas back to a trail). Note: Runs are good areas to trap. You know what animal you are going for.

Escape Routes

Established escape routes may be a good indicator of nearby water as they often lead to hides and feeding areas. Indicators of escape routes:

  • Pushdown.  Generally only used once, crashing through the brush from a trail or run to escape. Brush is broken down or bent and fully recovers within 12-24 hours.
  • Established Escape Route. A pushdown used repetitively. It often leads to a hide. Brush shows noticeable signs of a trail run.

Sleeping Areas

Observe, but don’t disturb, animal sleeping areas even when hunting the animal. Sleeping areas can be observed for animal direction of travel leading to feeding or water sources. Differentiate between long term use and short term or transient use. Beds and dens are good indicators of local water sources.

  • Bed. Any consistent sleeping place. It is well chosen to be in the thickest area of brush to be able to hear a predator coming. The presence of beds and dens are good indicators of local water sources.
  • Den. Only used to bear and raise young. For example, the fox is normally an open ground sleeper, it curls up in the brush. For birthing it excavates a hole or uses an old groundhog hole for a den.
  • Transit Bed. An established bed used infrequently.
  • Lay. Usually used only once or twice. Used for rest, chewing cud, etc. Can be recognized by broken and crushed vegetation that recovers within 24-48 hours.

Feeding Areas

Follow feeding area trails back towards beds and dens, or locate trails to possible water sources nearby:

  • Varied Run Feeding area. Where animals go through and eat off of the trail or run further and further.
  • Single plant feeding area. Characterized by a run terminating at a single plant or group of plants of one kind.
  • Eat-through. Where an animal or animals has literally eaten through a patch of vegetation and come out the other side.
  • Patched. Marked by irregular nibbling along the edges of established trails or runs. Demonstrates recency.

Medium Scale Sign

This makes up the largest assortment and most definitive sign. It is found especially on trails and runs and may indicate size, activity, direction and recency of animal activity:

  • Rub. Polished areas on the landscape. Unintentional: animal rubbing up against an object that protrudes onto the trail (e.g. a branch). Intentional: specific area where an animal is rubbing itself. E.g. deer scraping velvet off antlers, wallowing in dirt to rid itself of mites etc.
  • Hair and Feathers. Especially at a rub or a projection where the hair or feather gets snagged. Clumps of hair may either be purposely pulled out by the animals or clumps of hair or feathers may indicate a kill site.
  • Gnawing. You can tell the animal by the size of the teeth marks.
  • Chews. Where a plant has been bitten off (twigs, stalks of grass, etc.). 45 degree Clean Cut: caused by an animal with incisors = rodent. Little serrated edge: deer (pulls grass up against upper palette and sickle it off by pulling neck up). Masticated: teeth marks all over possibly with saliva = a predator chew, used to get minerals.
  • Break. Caused by animal movement, not a chew.
  • Scratchings.  These can be all over, made by claws digging in on trees, scampering over sticks, boulders etc. Intentional: for example a skunk or raccoon scratching in the ground for grubs, cat or bear sharpening claws on a tree. Unintentional: from the animal’s passing.
  • Ground Debris. Any debris on the ground that is scratched, pinched, dented, abraded unnaturally, holes, stone rolls, broken twigs etc. (stone roll = a stone out of its bed, rolled over, skidded etc.).
  • Upper Vegetation.  Vegetation breaks (see above), plants abraded and broken by animal passage. The location of the break (how high up) indicates type and size of animal. You can age a break by clearly noting how the vegetation has aged at the break and doing a sample break to observe and time. This is not as accurate as track aging.

Scat. Scat can tell you an incredible amount by its size, shape, and consistency. It tells you what the animal is and what it has been eating and drinking. Animals leave scat in areas which they feel safe. This means that it is a good area to look for animals and by extension, water. Scat is often found near lays and its appearance is as different as the animal that produces it:

  • Tubular – Dog family, raccoon, skunks, opossum, wolverines, bears
  • Tear drop or tapered – Cat Family
  • Fattened threads – Weasel Family
  • M&M’s – Rabbits & Hares
  • Oblong – May have nipple at end – Deer
  • Pencil Lead – Rodents
  • Fox – Tubular & Tapered at both ends – between dog and cat
  • Pellets – Raptors (hawks, eagles, and owls) regurgitate pellets of what isn’t digested. These pellets consist of bones, hair and/or feathers.

Scat Analysis. First determine the family shape. Then lay the scat on a piece of paper, cut it down the center carefully, then quarter it. Take a pair if tweezers or a toothpick and pick away at the edge carefully. Separate the contents into piles of bone, feathers, hair, misc. in order to see what the animal’s been eating (this is for carnivores). Herbivores tend to show loose, mushy scat in the summer because they are browsing on soft succulent vegetation. As summer turns to fall you will find more evidence of nuts, seeds, and fruits. In winter the scat becomes quiet hard and compact consisting mainly of the more woody buds, twigs, and bark. Avoid using your fingers to work with scat (wear gloves). If the scat is dry and dusty, don’t inhale the dust (can lead to lung infections).

Aging Scat. Scat can be aged but accuracy depends on many variables including weather, temperature, etc. The only way to be certain is to see it come out of the animal. Scat dries from the inside out so find some fresh, pick it apart and examine the contents. Come back later, pick another apart and see how it has changed over time. Observation and experience is key here.

Small Scale Sign

Compressions – this is both a track and a sign. On any surface there are dust particles and grit which collect. When anything walks over this surface it either presses the grit into the surface or removes it. You can see this using the side-heading technique:

  • Keep the track between you and the light source.
  • Get you head down along the ground.
  • Scan the ground with your bottom eye (bottom eye reads to 1 ft. top eye reads to 3 ft.).
  • The compressions will appear as a shiny spot or a dull spot on the surface (depending on whether the grit is shiny or dull).
  • When more dust settles it will add a layer to everything but the pock still is visible.

Ghost Scale Sign

This is an interface between tracks proper and disturbances not on the ground which disappear (or seem to):

  • Dullings. In the morning with dew on the ground everything is shiny from the dew. If something crosses the grass it either presses or wipes away the moisture which appears as a dull area. This disappears as the dew evaporates.
  • Shinings. During the day everything begins to dull down. Anything walking on the grass presses it down and the shinny side of the grass may catch the sunlight giving it a shining. The shininess disappears in about 2 hours. Bent grass generally recovers completely in about 24 hours.
  • Leaf Depression. Leaves are compressed as an animal walks leaving a compression outline beneath the leaves in the soil (a true track). The leaves spring back up but not all the way leaving a depression. By side-heading you can see the depression.

A note on frogs and reptiles

Frogs, salamanders, and weevils will almost always be near damp soil or surface water. Dig in moist soil to find a possible water source.

Most land-living reptiles are independent, to a very large extent, of water. They get what they need from dew and the flesh of their prey. They are not an indicator of water.

Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.