Skids Up No. 9: Water



Water is one of your most urgent needs in a survival situation. Crews can’t live long without it; especially in hot areas where the body can lose water rapidly through perspiration. Even in cold areas, people will need a minimum of 2 liters of water each day to maintain efficiency, because more than three-fourths of the body is composed of fluids. You must drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty. The body loses fluid as a result of heat, cold, stress, and exertion. To function effectively, you must replace the fluid the body loses. So, after PROTECTION and preparing LOCATION signaling devices, one of the first goals is to obtain an adequate supply of water.

Before we fly, however, we need to make sure that we are HYDRATED! A common problem amongst military aircrews is that of ´Tactical Dehydration´; crew members reduce fluid intake before flights to prevent the need to visit the bathroom. At the opposite end of the scale is over-hydration; urinary retention reduces attention span and our ability to make decisions to the same degree as alcohol intoxication or 24 hours of sleep deprivation. So, as aircrews, we need to strike a happy medium and balance. The invention of hydration systems such as Camelbak and Platypus, two commonly used systems, allows us to take regular sips of water over a protracted period.


As we always follow the ´dress to egress´ mantra, and that ´if it isn´t attached to you – you won´t have it´, over the years a number of commercial options have become available. These are in the simplest, best, and cheapest forms:

Surplus US Military Water Bottles


A military 1-pint water bottle that was designed specifically to fit in a flight suit’s lower leg pocket.

Unfortunately, as green in color, remember (as with all equipment) to attach it to your equipment with a lanyard, in case you accidentally drop it.



Water Sachets


Water sachets are readily available, and when empty, provide you with a container for further water collection.

Sachets are available in small or large quantities. Again, place inside a Ziplock bag and attach it with a lanyard to your equipment.

Your survival kit may come with a commercially made device for obtaining and filtering water. However, these may not always be available, or they may have become damaged during emergency landings. Therefore, it is important to have some basic knowledge of how to procure water in an emergency.


Finding water can be an essential skill to have. In much of the world, water is plentiful. In mountainous areas, continue to walk downhill ,and you will eventually find water. Watch birds/animals and follow their tracks. They will usually lead to water, as well. As is my usual method, rather than overload the reader with too many ways, we will look at the simplest, and then after practice, the individual can develop their own further knowledge.


The ground itself makes for a great water filter. If you are near a water source that is less than clean, simply use the ground to filter it. Go about 50 feet from the standing water and dig. If the “pit” looks less than clean after water begins to fill it up, give it a few minutes, or continue to scoop out water and discarding until it clears up.



This filter is easily constructed using a variety of materials that should be readily available. This filter doesn’t filter down to viral levels*, but is surprisingly effective nonetheless.

Constructing the Filter

The filter can be housed in a hollowed-out log, rock, rolled up bark, bottle or whatever else you can make a tube out of (e.g. pant leg). It needs 4 items:

  • Item 1 is the crucial part. It is crushed, black charcoal (not ash). This is wood that has been charred to black, and then crushed up to sand or powder consistency.
  • Sand is packed on either side of the charcoal (Item 2).
  • Grass, moss, leaves or other material is packed in to help retain the sand (Item 3).
  • Finally, a rock to push into both ends to hold it all in place (Item 4).

The rocks are not tight enough to seal anything; they simply keep everything in place. You can skip both the grass and rocks, if you have extra fabric to tie around the ends to hold in the sand.

Once the filter is completed, water is slowly poured in from the top and allowed to filter down through. The first few gallons of water that go through will be a bit murky. Toss these and keep pouring until the water clears up. We then need to refer to our most important survival skill (FIRE) to boil it. Water only needs to be brought to a rolling boil to make it safe.

*Viruses are typically not an issue in water sources unless you are traveling into tropical regions. Most viruses found in the waters of N. America are bacteriophages. They are dangerous to bacteria such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia and other single cell protozoa, which are the bacteria you’re trying to get rid of, anyway. If the charcoal layer is properly packed, this filter should trap the stuff you’re primarily concerned about. In other areas, you will filter and then BOIL the water. The filter will take care of the murkiness, taste, etc., and then the boiling will kill the rest.

Solar Still


A solar still is traditionally what most people think of when trying to collect water in a survival situation. They are a fairly efficient way to collect moisture from the soil, but require a lot of effort (and potentially dehydration) to construct, compared with the amount of water they produce.

Constructing the Still

To begin construction, you must either dig a hole in the ground, or where this is not possible, build up the walls (which is less efficient). A tarp is then draped over the hole. This is sealed in place with rocks, logs, sand or whatever is available. Make sure it is well sealed. The sun on the tarp heats the air underneath, which causes moisture in the soil to evaporate. This moisture has no place to go and condenses on the tarp itself. A pebble placed in the middle of the tarp will provide enough of an angle so that the moisture will run to the center and drop into a collection vessel.


  • The collection vessel can be anything: cup, bowl, tin can, another section of tarp or even a large leaf.
  • The drinking tube shown in the pictures is a nice addition, but not absolutely necessary. You can always lift the corner, reach in and remove the collection vessel every so often. It’s more work, but if all you have is a tarp, then it may be necessary.
  • If available, add in vegetation to the base. It doesn’t even matter if the vegetation is edible or not, as you are effectively distilling the water.
  • The evaporation process can be sped up by urinating on the vegetation (not into the collection cup).

The water that is collected from a solar still is 100% pure, drinkable H2O, and it does not require boiling.

Tree still

This is by far my favorite method. Utilizing a tree still is a very efficient and less work intensive method. Simply find a non-poisonous plant with lots of green leaves, place a bag over a branch and tie the bag shut around the branch. As the sun heats the day, condensation will form, and the bag fills with water. By adding a length of plastic tubing (length of oxygen mask tubing, etc.) into the bag, you can drink directly without breaking the seal.

Early Morning Dew

This is easier, still! A very easily forgotten method of water collection; find any area with long grasses early in the morning, wrap spare clothing around your ankles and simply walk.

As the moisture collects into the clothing, stop and squeeze collected water into a container before repeating the process. Again, this is a very easy method that is often overlooked.


If you drink urine, then you have a choice: dehydration or renal failure. Simple.

There are cases of people surviving a short period of time drinking their own urine, but these are very few. A way that you can drink urine is to boil it, collect the steam in a condenser and drink that (as that is 100% water). However, in the absence of tubing, containers and such in a survival situation, the only real option is to build a solar still and urinate into that. But as described, there are far more efficient means of collecting water that rely on you using less energy to construct.

Finally, there are a lot of references, especially in movies, of water rationing. Water is NO GOOD in a container. You need to drink, remain hydrated and allow your body to make conscious decisions in the attempt to secure more water.

Water is our third Priority of Survival, but if anyone has ever been truly thirsty……

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