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How to Avoid Dehydration: Lost in the Wilderness

Updated on March 10, 2020
Al Stine profile image

Scientist by profession with a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, including plant and animal diversity.

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How to avoid dehydration when one is lost in the wilderness is perhaps one of the most important survival factors to consider. Dehydration may cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and in some cases hallucinations, thereby limiting the chances of survival. In extreme cases, dehydration may impair one's ability to see or to move properly, limiting their cognitive abilities and eventually leading to death. However, there are several ways to keep hydrated when one is lost in the wilderness.

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The obvious sources of water in the wilderness may include rivers, streams, lakes, and groundwater. Finding these sources may require some knowledge of the surrounding terrain. Another obvious source of hydration is rainwater, depending on the weather and area, rainwater can be collected and used to hydrate.

In the absence of the obvious sources of water, there are some other creative methods of hydrating, such as harnessing water from plants and animals.

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How to Avoid Dehydration in the Wild

Dehydration in the wilderness can be can occur if the human body is not replacing the amounts of fluids that are used up by the body processes. This may be caused by insufficient fluid intake, exposure to excess heat, excessive activities, sweating, and fever.

When one is lost in the wilderness with no available sources of water, the first step is to limit the amount of water that is lost through sweating. This means avoiding direct exposure to heat, limiting the number of excessive movements and activities.

The next step is to find some fluids or water that will compensate for the water that has been lost during the ordeal.

Rivers, Streams, Lakes, and Groundwater

Finding water bodies in unfamiliar terrain is a challenge, even with a map. When a person is lost in the wilderness without any form of navigation guide, finding a river or lake might even seem impossible. However, there are some general terrain features that indicate the presence of some water bodies. The most common is terrain elevation. It is well established that rivers flow downstream, therefore chances of finding water when moving down the terrain are higher compared to moving uphill. In addition, rivers and streams usually collect on the lower side of the terrain gradient, forming lakes, ponds, marshes or swamps.

Terrain vegetation is also a good indicator of a nearby water source. If the grass and leaves are becoming thicker and greener, most likely there is a water source nearby. If hydrophytic plants start appearing, then there is definitely water on the ground.

Another less fancied way of locating water bodies is listening to the noise the water makes as it moves downstream. When there is enough silence, water bodies usually produce some sounds either in the form of water dashing through rocks as it moves or animals moving in and out of the water. The movement of water may sometimes produce some moisture in the nearby surroundings, in extreme cases, a tiny rainbow indicating the water is nearby is formed.

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StreamLakeMarshesRiverImage by WikiImages from Pixabay
Stream
Stream | Source
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Lake | Source
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Marshes | Source
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River | Source
Image by WikiImages from Pixabay
Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

Rainwater and Dew

Rainwater is usually safe to drink directly, unless in some rare cases of acidic rain. When a person is lost in the wilderness and highly dehydrated, rainwater may provide the much-needed nourishment if the person is able to collect it in a vessel or drink it directly. The rains are, however, highly dependent on the season and area, therefore they are not readily available water sources. In the aftermath of a downpour, water droplets may still be available and collected on leaves, holes in the ground and depressions on rocks.

Another water source in the wilderness is dew, formed from the condensation of water vapor on cold surfaces like leaves and grass. If highly dehydrated, collecting dew from the grass in the early hours of the morning before it evaporates can provide some level of hydration.

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Stems, Roots, Trunks, Barks, Leaves, Flowers and Fruits

Plants can offer a wide range of sources of water in the wilderness. Bamboo stems usually store water between the joints, cutting a hole inches above the joint may release the stored water. The Matti tree found in the deciduous forests of Bandipur is able to store liters of water in its trunk. The bark of some pine trees when cut is able to release some water. The Australian Bloodwood tree has readily available water in its roots.

The flowers, leaves, and fruits of plants are able to collect water in the form of dew and rainwater. In addition, consuming them may also provide some nourishment. Depending on the plant species, a flower's nectaries can sometimes be accessed by humans, thereby providing a source of nourishment in the wild. Familiar fruits and berries can also provide a good source of water. In dry and arid areas, however, plants with fruits and flowers may not be available. In such areas, Xerophytic plants such as the Barrel cactus plant and Aloe vera leaves can also provide an available source of nourishment.

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BambooBarrel CactusChokeberriesBloodwood Tree
Bamboo
Bamboo | Source
Barrel Cactus
Barrel Cactus | Source
Chokeberries
Chokeberries | Source
Bloodwood Tree
Bloodwood Tree | Source
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Animals

When all the highlighted sources of water in the wilderness are unavailable, insects, bugs, arachnids, and worms might be the only options left to provide nourishment. These tiny creepy crawlers might not provide the nourishment that would satisfy thirst, but they can still provide enough moisture to nourish a dry mouth and throat. In addition, they are a rich source of protein that is able to sustain a human being for days in the wilderness.

Animals can also be used to locate water in the wilderness, most animals are able to locate and find hidden sources of water. They know where rivers, lakes, and streams are located and they are able to find and dig for groundwater. Tracking their movements may lead you to a water source. The presence of certain animals is also an indication of a nearby water source. The sound of Geese should indicate a nearby pond or lake, tracking their sounds or direction of flight might lead you to a water source.

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EarthwormGrasshoppersTermitesCaterpillarsGrubs
Earthworm
Earthworm | Source
Grasshoppers
Grasshoppers | Source
Termites
Termites | Source
Caterpillars
Caterpillars | Source
Grubs
Grubs | Source

Additional Tips

Hidden water sources may be available in the wilderness but it takes a certain level of skill and knowledge to extract that water. Different terrains have different sources of water, therefore, it is important to know which hidden sources of water may be available in the surrounding environment. It is also important to highlight that the available water source may not be pure and clean water, caution should be taken when consuming such otherwise it might exacerbate the already dire situation in the wilderness.

It is also worth mentioning that other unconventional means such as drinking urine and blood might be considered methods of nourishment, but such methods should be avoided. The high salt content in these fluids may increase the thirst levels and thereby accelerating the dehydration levels.

When a person is lost in the wilderness, and in need of water, they might not be presented with the highlighted opportunities of water, but having this knowledge may at least give them hope to cope through an otherwise hopeless situation until help arrives.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 AL

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    • Al Stine profile imageAUTHOR

      AL 

      2 weeks ago from South Equator, East Pacific

      Thanks, Liz. I appreciate the feedback.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      2 weeks ago from UK

      This is an interesting and useful article. For anyone planning on a walking trip in the country, your tips could prove to be life saving.

    • Al Stine profile imageAUTHOR

      AL 

      2 weeks ago from South Equator, East Pacific

      Thanks Kona.. I wish I could research more sources, I'll add some more in due time.

    • Al Stine profile imageAUTHOR

      AL 

      2 weeks ago from South Equator, East Pacific

      Thanks Pam..

      I guess you never miss the water until its gone, glad I could help.

    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

      KonaGirl 

      2 weeks ago from New York

      Too many Americans take our water sources for granted without a second thought to ever having to be without it. Great tips for anyone who is not used to being in a wilderness environment without a water source.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      2 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

      The sources for water you wrote about in the article sound very good. I have never had a problem with dehydration but a couple of my sons do a lot of hiking in the mountains. I think they could benefit by reading this article.

    • Al Stine profile imageAUTHOR

      AL 

      2 weeks ago from South Equator, East Pacific

      Kyler,

      Haha.. that trade would never happen. I have eaten a lot of bugs before, I just do not prefer the ones that are alive and kicking. I once had a horrible experience when I didn't chew the bug hard enough to kill it, the head was still intact, so when I swallowed, the head still had muscle reflexes that enabled its mandibles to clutch the inside of my throat. It was a bad experience.

    • Kyler J Falk profile image

      Kyler J Falk 

      2 weeks ago from Corona, CA

      The one time I had to do it during SERE we were told pinch them between our fingers, bite down on them, start chewing as fast as we could, and swallow if we couldn't handle the flavor/texture/wiggling. So many people puked, but hey, whatever keeps you alive is the point. If we are ever surviving together I'll trade my pee for your bugs, hahahaha!

    • Al Stine profile imageAUTHOR

      AL 

      2 weeks ago from South Equator, East Pacific

      Raymond, surprisingly people that survive the wilderness the longest are the ones with no experience in the wild, they are most likely to play it safe and stay put until help arrives. Survivalists might to try go hunting for a bison so that they can sleep inside it covered with its intestines.

    • Al Stine profile imageAUTHOR

      AL 

      2 weeks ago from South Equator, East Pacific

      Kyler,

      The issue I have with eating bugs and worms is that I have to eat them raw and alive, the legs usually move the mouth. Urine can galloped at once.

    • raymondphilippe profile image

      Raymond Philippe 

      2 weeks ago from The Netherlands

      One thing is for sure. The wilderness is just not for me. I wouldn’t survive a day. Well anyway, the chances of getting lost in the wilderness over here are neglectable.

    • Kyler J Falk profile image

      Kyler J Falk 

      2 weeks ago from Corona, CA

      Crickets and maggot-like insects always seem to taste the best, at least better than my own urine hahaha!

    • Al Stine profile imageAUTHOR

      AL 

      2 weeks ago from South Equator, East Pacific

      Indeed Kyler,

      Honestly, I would rather drink urine before I start chewing on whatever creepy crawling bug I can get my hands on. I have tasted some and they are not easy on the taste buds.

    • Kyler J Falk profile image

      Kyler J Falk 

      2 weeks ago from Corona, CA

      I'm extremely relieved that you mentioned avoiding drinking your urine. So many people suggest it, and I refuse to suggest it even as a last resort. There are much better options to exhaust, a myriad, before drinking your own urine and most commonly it is just "jumping the shark" when seen on survival shows.

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