As the scripture reads, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” Job1:21, and so is the nature of water that gives life and can also take it away. Profound in its statement to the very least, that would be a truth no one can deny. Then how much more do we need to know about water? Surprisingly a lot. So before I dive into what I really want to talk about, I feel the need to get your feet wet with facts and myths before we can make a really big splash. Pun intended. The fact that our body alone is made up of about 65% water, doesn’t account for how much more water makes up our vital organs. For instance, 95% of the brain is made up of water, with the lungs at another 90%, and our blood rounds the corner at 82%. You would think anything less then the numbers suggest would be detrimental to your health. You would be correct. Hydration is the name of the game here. Simply put, what we lose on the inside, we must replace from the outside, as our bodies need the fluids in order for us to just carry out normal functions.
So how much water is really required? On average, you should be drinking sixty-four ounces a day. That would equate to four 16-ounce bottles of water, or four 16-ounce glasses of water. That’s a 1/2 a gallon a day. You don’t realize just how much water you lose through urinating, bowel movements, sweating and just breathing. That amount really doubles in hot weather and during all physical activities. As for myths, it is possible to drink more water then what you really need. For example, have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’ve had a little too much to drink? Your next move would definitely be a visit to the bathroom, where you would relieve yourself of bodily fluids. The problem with that is when you constantly go, the fluids run through your kidneys too fast, thus enabling them to perform their proper function of hydrating your vital organs. So in reality, drinking too much water could defeat that purpose of what hydrating was meant for. I always sip my water, rather then gulp it. I call it, “Sip and drip”, as it allows the water to pass through the kidneys slowly to where it will do its job more efficiently. Furthermore, in contrast to searing heat, your water intake on cold outings should be just as frequent as if you were always thirsty. Remember, it takes energy to keep the body warm. Don’t be fooled by your core temperature, as with every breath you expel, not only is your body working to stay warm, you are always losing water. By using the guidelines above, it will give you a fair assessment at regulating your water intake as to assure proper hydration everytime.
“SEEK AND YE SHALL FIND”
In the great outdoors, what would you do if you were running out of water? Would you know where to look? Would you know what to do? In as much as it is vital to hydrate, you must have the water in order to do it with first. This is where I want to share my methods and experiences at finding water and what to do in order to make it potable. Streams, lakes and waterfalls are obvious choices, but you want to think more in terms of static, puddles and drips, as anything outside of that is thinking outside the box. Once you’ve established that, you’ll need to have something in which to put it in. Along with my one quart canteen and cup, I carry two extra bottles for a total of a half a gallon of water whenever I go out.
Empty water bottles either carried or found make for excellent containers for collecting and carrying water to be treated later on. Zip-lock bags, the one gallon variety, weigh next to nothing and can also serve you well in the field. However, before any drinking is done, you must treat it. By and large the most effective way to process water for human consumption is through filtering and boiling. This is done through heating either by stove or open fire. It is the waterborne pathogens such as bacteria, parasites and protozoans that are harmful. Understand, you are not going to purify water in the wilderness, as you would not have the means to perform reverse osmosis. Rather, it is through a rolling boil that decontaminates the water as it kills off those harmful pathogens. Providing you are well prepared with what you’ll need in way of gear, you are ready to collect, filter and boil. Filtering is nothing more than passing water through a fibrous material, such as a bandana or a shirt.
Whenever you come across static water, you can use a filtration system made up of charcoal, dried grass, and fine sand before boiling it. Apart from the obvious materials, charcoal can be found in and around campsites, near trees struct by lighting or as litter taken from what’s left of a fire. Once gathered, the idea here is to pass the water through these materials where they will help in collecting any debris and or pathogens. Of all the things I’ve found reliable in aiding me with this task, nothing works better then a simple sock. Whether taken as a spare from your pack, or right off your foot, this is just another great example of utilizing gear for multi-purpose use. I like to stuff some charcoal in first followed by sand, pebbles, more charcoal and then some dry grass. Simply pour the water into the sock and use the same cup as a catch. By adding more materials with every other pass, you can filter with this technique for as many times as you like. Only in a survival situation would you drink it without boiling it first. Remember, if you were to get sick, it will most likely happen days later after you’ve been rescued and whereupon help is just a doctor’s visit away. I personally have never gotten ill, but that’s not to say that it could happen one day. So in hindsight, the point I want to hit home is this. There should never be a reason for anyone to not drink water from a given source. Whether be it static, puddles or drips, it’s collect, filter and boil. So being prepared and applying what you’ve learned will empower you with confidence and provide that balance of proper hydration you need.
BOILING YOUR TROUBLES AWAY
Having said that, you have now accomplished filtration. Your next step is to bring the water to a boil through a reliable heat source. Whether by camp stove or open fire, it will take two hundred and twelve degrees fahrenheit to reach a rolling boil. When the heat source is consistently hot enough, five minutes is all it would take to render it safe to drink. That would be the standard in which there are no exceptions to the rule. Now having the containers to store your potable water is just as important. For example, when I spend considerable time out on the river, I like to travel very light. If one bottle of water weights a pound, a gallon is eight, and that’s not counting your other basic essentials that you’d be carrying around. For that reason alone, just having access to a river is like addition by subtraction, as weight would not be a factor. As much as I hate seeing litter out on the trails, I can’t say the same about the empty plastic bottles I’ve found. They are never in short supply and have come to serve me well at camp. Once I’m established, I’ll bring some water to a boil and pour it into the empty bottles to sterilize them. That would be more then enough to kill any bacteria and provide the extra containers I’ll need to store my potable water. Let the adventure continue.
HAVE WATER, WILL TRAVEL
Harvesting water to drink in its purest form has always been the quest of every pioneer to explorer past and present. Be it in the canyons or high in the mountains, there is evidence that water runs through them. Some are obvious while others take work at finding a reliable source. When supplies are abundant, life is good. But when they are hard to come by… Here are some simple tricks, yet effective ways in which you can attain drinkable water from a source. I call it “Ready water.” After a storm you can find rainfall that collects on rocks that are concave enough to serve as a catch. So long as the water is clear and void of wildlife fecal matter, you could drink right out of it. Have you ever noticed morning dew? Droplets of water that collect on grass can be gathered by simply running a bandana across them. The wetter the better as you can actually use this method for harvesting water for later.
In the canyons were runoffs can be spectacular, they can be varied to a simple trickle. Where puddles gather, you would only need to look up in order to trace where it is coming from. Water from above that passes through sediment of fine sand and vegetation is naturally filtered on the way down. It is at the point of collection that renders it safe to drink. The same principle applies with underground wells. For example, in Bryce Canyon, Utah, their visitor center has an active line tapped into an underground well that passes through thousands of feet of sand and sediment providing fresh, clean water for their drinking stations. From one given point to another, height or depth combined with pressure can determine what’s safe to drink without treatment. On collecting drips off a cliff wall, again, I use my bandana as a catch. Once it’s saturated, I squeeze and use my thumb to guide the water in for a drink. Remember, so long as the cliff is high enough and covered with vegetation, you are good to go.
MOUNTAIN SPRINGS WONDERFUL THINGS
Have you ever wondered where Southern California gets its water? How about where a mountain springs at an elevation of over eight thousand feet? Well, about ninety-five percent of our fresh water comes from the Sierra Nevada snow packs of central valley. When it finds its way to our local mountains, not only does it travel as surface water, it comes by way of groundwater too. Beneath the earth’s surface, existing between sand, gravel and clay, groundwater is collected via wells or flows. Sometimes as compaction threatens, pressure naturally forces water to the surface as seepage or forced out as a spring high in the mountains.
If you were ever fortunate enough to find one, you would be amazed at how clear, fresh and cold a spring can be. Just by being at elevation and with the flow speed alone, springs traveling underground make numerous passes through fine sediment and rock eliminating any threat of bacteria. Furthermore, well known springs serve as permanent highways for the well traveled water that comes from the north and keeps the flow active year round. Of all my years climbing in the mountains, I’ve come to rely on these natural springs and see no change in how I’ll do things differently.
Apart from life as we know it, life in the wild has not changed much for a thousand years. For the record, I’ll go on to say that life as we know it is even wilder. So apart from everything learned, my hope is that this article was insightful as well as received. Remember, given the opportunity, it only takes that first step before you find yourself running away with it. Learn to be confident in knowledge and skills, and you’ll be toasting life at another level. Cheers