(Article 4 of 6 in the Survivor Series)
So far in this series, we’ve covered STOPGAPS (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan, Gather, Assemble, Point, Save), Shelter, and Fire. We’ve assessed our situation, chosen a site, built a shelter, and started a fire. Our stomachs probably started rumbling quite a while ago, and our mouths may be dry. It’s time to get some water and maybe some food.
After air, shelter is the number one priority because a person can die of exposure in a matter of a few hours. We can last for weeks without food, but only three to four days without water. Water is necessary for all body functions, including thinking, so if you don’t find water quickly, you’re also likely to make stupid mistakes.
Depending on where you are, there are many different problems possible – too much water, too little, it’s all frozen, it’s too hot and full of minerals, it’s grossly disgusting (dead animal, etc.), or it could be crystal clear and still full of dangerous bacteria. The fact remains, you cannot survive without it, so you must have some plan for getting it and making it potable.
There is also conservation to consider. You want to conserve as much of your body’s water as possible. Perspiration wastes water, so do what you can to prevent sweating copiously. If water is scarce, and you must travel, do so at night with a slow steady pace to prevent sweating.
You need to conserve heat as well as water, so if you’re in snow, don’t eat snow for water unless absolutely necessary. It takes energy to melt and can lower the body’s temperature.
Pay attention when you pee, too. You want the color of your urine to be clear or light-colored. This indicates that you’re properly hydrated.
So, before we look at how to find it and how to purify it, let’s look at some cold, hard facts:
- E-coli and other water-borne bacteria incubate in about three days.
- Viruses incubate in 12 hours.
- Giardia and many other water-borne parasites incubate and get you sick in about 2 weeks.
It’s more important to drink water than to purify it in a survival situation. You can die in three days without water, while diarrhea will normally not kill you. (If you get diarrhea, increase your water intake.) If you must choose between being ill and rescued or being dead and recovered, drink the water. That being said, always do your best to purify all water before drinking.