How to Find Water in the Desert


Nothing reaffirms the fact that our lives revolve around water more than exploring the desert. One of the most impressive feats you can pull off is finding some old-fashioned H2O in the middle of a barren wasteland, as the cost of failure is usually your life. Take care to follow these tips the next time you’re feeling parched on the dunes and realize your waterskins are empty.


The most important thing you can do if you’re stuck in the desert is to make sure you conserve water. No matter how urgent your search for water is, conserving your energy takes precedence as the onset of dehydration will inhibit your ability to continue searching. Make sure to find shelter and shade, especially during the hottest parts of the day. Keep exertion to a minimum, making sure to keep your search slow but methodical. Finally, always keep your skin out of the sun to prevent sweating and sunburn.


Although rare in the desert, a source of fresh water is your best bet for staying hydrated. A stream or river is preferable because the constant movement helps prevent the spread of harmful bacteria. Although it may seem impossible, there are more than a few tricks to tracking one down. First, pay attention to animals because they require water as much as you do. Things such as animal tracks in the sand, fly swarms and birds overhead can lead you straight to a freshwater source.


The morning dew can also serve as an emergency water source if you wake up early enough. Try to find cacti before the sun evaporates the dew, using a piece of absorbent fabric (your T-shirt will do in a pinch) to transport the dew once you find it. Half-covered stones may also contain non-evaporated dew if they’re turned over early enough in the day.


If you can’t find enough available water around you, try searching for it under your feet. Digging for water takes a lot of time and expends a lot of energy, so avoid exerting yourself in direct sunlight by waiting until evening if possible. Dry streams, the ground around the base of mountains or anywhere vegetation is present are good candidates for starting your search. You’re looking for a small spot of wet sand, where you can begin digging with a shovel (or more likely, your hands).

Dig until the bottom of your hole is at least a foot below the surface. If the sand is wet you may have found a potential water source (if not, you’ll want to move on to avoid wasting precious energy). Get to work making the hole wider until it’s about a foot in diameter, then wait a few hours for water to potentially collect. If a pool of water has begun forming, takea piece of cloth and use it to suck up the water and transport it to a container.

This post was derived from “The Official Handybook for Men” by James Ellis. For more handy tips, you can purchase the book from our online store.