Water and Food

Survival Guide

Warmth - Shelter - Water and Food


The average person can survive without water for a considerable time. And, because most rescues will occur within 48 hours, water need not be a major priority. (EDIT NOTE: I do not agree with this statement. Water should be a high priority. You don't know that rescue will occur in 48 hours.) As has already been discussed, the greater danger from thirst is the psychological factor.

Expected periods of survival without water will vary with daily temperatures and level of exertion. Staying put in the shade will extend survival time significantly.

Some key points to remember:
1. Drink when thirsty. Life will not be appreciably increased by rationing limited quantities of water.
2. Do not gulp. Swish the water around in the mouth and swallow slowly.
3. Avoid unnecessary activity and seek shade
4. Limit food and salt intake if water is limited. Do not eat if water isn't available.

Foraging for water

- Be prepared to capture water from sudden rainstorms. Line a hole in the ground with plastic
- Look for signs of underground water such as dry stream beds, gullies, animal diggings, lush vegetation. Dig a hole and wait for it to fill with water.
- Trees and plants can contain water.
- Strain water from mud.
- Melt snow or ice. (Never place directly in your mouth as this can cause loss of body heat.)
- Dew will form on cold shiny objects at night. Dig a one-foot hole, line with plastic sheeting, and pile with clean stones on top.
- Squeeze center pulp from cactus

Water Purification - Always purify the water you have foraged by boiling or using purification tablets or filters intended for the purpose. Never use run-off water from glaciers.

It is important you do not allow your search for water to tire you and add to dehydration, particularly in a hot dry climate. You will be better off by conserving energy and body fluids.


Hunger, like thirst, is a greater threat psychologically than it is physically. Depending on circumstances, such as temperature and physical condition, you can go as long as a month without food.

The real benefit of foraging for food, as with water, is in avoiding boredom and maintaining a positive attitude by planning and doing activities that hopefully will improve your situation. The search for food is a low priority. You should use your time and energy sparingly in this endeavor. Seeking water, improving your shelter, and maintaining your signaling fires are higher priorities.

Almost everything that walks, crawls, flies, or swims is edible. Your degree of hunger may very well dictate your menu! Snares for small animals or birds can be set and fish may be caught using hook and line.

While a great deal of plant life is edible, there are plants that are poisonous. Unless you know beyond a doubt a plant is edible, don't eat it. This is especially true with fungi.

A final thought on food - this could be a great opportunity to start that diet - food isn't essential in the short term.

A great information source about obtaining and purifying water:
An extract of FM 21-76 Survival, Chapter 6, Water Procurement.

Survival Guide - Warmth - Shelter - Water and Food