When it comes to survival, water is the most important part in the holy trinity (water, food, and shelter). You can survive more than 30 days without food, but only 3 or 4 days without water, even if you’re physically fit. Other than oxygen, water is the most important thing for human survival, which is why it’s so important to learn about water collection and purification.
Also, you should be aware that you are “leaking” water constantly through your breath and perspiration. If you don’t replenish it in time, dehydration kicks in. Things get worse in extreme heat, especially when combined with physical effort. In these conditions, you can become dehydrated in just a few hours. And the combination of dehydration, extreme temperatures, and physical exertion could kill you.
The first symptom of dehydration is thirst, obviously, but things get much worse shortly afterwards. Soon you experience weakness, nausea, lack of mental clarity, and a loss of appetite. All these things considered, finding and purifying water in a SHTF scenario should be your top priority.
Unfortunately, there are many mistakes one can make when dealing with water in a survival scenario. Here are 8 mistakes to beware of:
1. Carrying Too Much Water
Don’t carry too much water with you; it’s pointless and tiring. Considering that the human body requires at least half a gallon of water per day, you can’t carry enough water to live off of for a significant amount of time, anyway. The ideal solution is a high quality water filter, together with other water purification solutions, including boiling. Hence, a portable water filter, a metallic cup for boiling water and/or water purification tablets are the way to go. Keep in mind that a regular water filter usually just removes sediment and particles. To play it safe, you should also boil water before drinking it.
Another thing to consider is that generally speaking, surface water is not pure. There are 5 basic contaminants to be aware of: turbidity, chemicals, worms, bacteria, and viruses. A regular water filter or purifier takes care of turbidity and chemicals. Better ones also remove worms and bacteria. Only a few will actually remove or kill viruses, such as the SteriPen.
2. Boiling Water Insufficiently
As I’ve mentioned previously, boiling the water is the most efficient way to kill bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms. But there’s a catch to it: if you don’t boil water long enough, you’ll fail to kill all the pathogens and you’ll get sick (for example giardia, a common parasite found in water causes diarrhea which equals dehydration). Some people think that once the water starts boiling, it’s safe to drink. But you need to wait longer than that.
Boiling water for too long is also a mistake, as you’ll be wasting time, fuel, and water (via evaporation). Once the water starts boiling, let it boil for a minute to a minute and half–that will do it.
3. Cactus Water Is Okay To Drink
Never drink water from cactuses as it’s very bitter and alkaline (promotes dehydration via diarrhea, among other things) and it will make you sick. The only exception to this rule is the barrel cactus, but if you think you know what you’re doing, think again–it’s better to be safe than sorry. Unless you’re a botanist, it would be crazy to assume “in the heat of the moment” that you can discern a barrel cactus from the dozens of similar species. Remember, dehydration symptoms include confusion. Hallucinations are also common if you’re severely dehydrated.
4. Drinking Saltwater
Speaking of drinking water and dehydration, although it may seem paradoxical, never EVER drink saltwater. Salt is well known for its dehydration properties and obviously saltwater will do the same if ingested. Just to get an idea, if you drink a glass of saltwater, you’ll require two glasses of freshwater to get even. Drinking saltwater is a no-no procedure in any circumstance.
5. Drinking Urine
If drinking saltwater is a deadly survival water mistake, drinking urine as a last resort is just as bad. Some people did it and managed to survive to tell the story, but in this writer’s opinion, drinking your own urine when you’re already dehydrated will only make things worse. Sure, if your body is in peak condition it might be able to handle filtering urine; but if you’re already dehydrated then drinking urine could push your body over the edge.
6. Eating Snow To Quench Your Thirst
Don’t eat the yellow snow, or any snow for that matter, if you’re thirsty. Eating snow will lead to more dehydration because your body has to use energy to melt it, despite the urban legends you may have heard when you were a child. The way to go is to melt the snow first, then drink it (after it’s been filtered and/or boiled first, of course).
7. Running Water Is Always Okay To Drink
Legend has it that running water is perfectly okay to drink. Assumption is the mother of all… well, you know. Never assume (or prepare) for the best; only for the worst. This way you’ll never be caught with your pants down. Any running water comes from somewhere, and you don’t know what happened to it along the way. Just play it safe and boil or filter the water before ingesting it, and live to fight another day.
8. Storing Water Improperly
Never store water in improper containers, such as juice or milk cartons, as they’re leaky by nature and improper for storing water long term, especially in a survival situation. The same goes for plastic jugs, because it’s almost impossible to clean them thoroughly (remove the sugar and other residues completely; sugar promotes bacterial growth and that’s the last thing you want in your water supply). Here is a beginner’s guide to water storage.
That pretty much sums it up folks. As per my final advice, I would strongly urge all my readers to learn basic survival skills before being confronted with a SHTF scenario–things like how to make a fire, how to DIY a water filter (it’s relatively easy), how to find/collect water in the wild, etc. Stockpiling gear and supplies may keep you alive for a while, but survival skills are another story.