How To Find Water and Food in the Wild

The survival Rule of Threes says that in an extreme situation you can’t survive three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, and three weeks without food. This post will focus on two of the most challenging aspects of the Rule of Threes: finding sustainable food and water in the wild.

finding water in the outdoors


The human body needs about 2 Q of water a day to continue functioning normally, so finding a reliable source of water should be one of your first goals in any survival situation. Three of the best places to find it are in natural bodies of water, the air, and the ground.


Natural Bodies of Water

These include lakes, rivers, streams, and springs. They are often the first thing that people think of when it comes to finding water in the wild, and for good reason: they are large and reusable.

When looking for a natural body of water there are a few good tips to keep in mind. Listen carefully, look for lush, green foliage, and head downhill.

You can also take clues from the animals in the area. Finding signs of animal life including droppings, paths, and swarms of insects can let you know that you are close to a body of water. Following bird’s flight paths in the morning and evening can also point you in the right direction.


The Air

Condensation and precipitation can be an extremely reliable source of hydration, but in both cases the water can still be hard to collect. The most helpful tool you can have for collecting water from the air is a small sheet of plastic or a tarp.

Hanging a tarp in a tree can be great for capturing dew that collects overnight, or for collecting rainwater. If you collect snow, be sure to melt it before drinking it. You can also collect morning dew by tying a piece of absorbent cloth around your shins and walking through a grassy field in the morning or after a rain storm.


The Ground

Underground water can be a steady, reusable source of pure drinking water, but often requires a substantial amount of effort to obtain. Dig a hole about three feet deep near muddy ground or any body of water. Once you have dug deep enough, the bottom of the hole will begin to fill with water. The water may look muddy or murky, but should be drinkable because the rocks beneath the ground work as a natural filter. If you are still concerned about the purity of the water it is best to play it safe and purify it.



In a survival situation it is always best to make sure your water is pure before drinking it. Drinking water with bacteria or viruses can lead to severe sickness and dehydration.The two most common ways to purify water are to boil it or to use a filter or chemicals.



To use boiling as your method of purification you need two things: fire and a container. We recommend using flint and steel to get your fire going because it is reliable and compact. Finding a good container can be more difficult. The best case scenario is to have a metal bottle or canteen with you, but if that’s not the case you may need to get more creative. Bark, bamboo, and seashells work great if you are careful enough.

Once you have your container and fire, simply place your container over the fire until it begins to boil. Let the water boil for a few minutes, and then give it a little time to cool before drinking.



Using a filtration straw, or a chemical like iodine (in tablets or drops) is great because it doesn’t rely on your ability to get a fire started. Straws like this one work by filtering out pathogens and viruses as you drink, while iodine capsules or droplets use a chemical process to purify and cleanse water.



Finding food is a lower priority in a survival situation because your body is capable of surviving a long time without it. Even in short-term survival situations, however, finding food can be a great psychological and energy boost.



Plants can be a great, reliable resource for food in the wild for one simple reason: they can’t run away from you. However, there are many poisonous and inedible plants out there, so how do you know which ones are safe to eat? The most straightforward way to know if a plant is safe is to use the universal edibility test. This test, however, takes more than a day to fully complete, and is therefore not always a viable option. For that reason, it is always best to do a little research on which types of plants are edible in your region before you head out.

As a general rule of thumb avoid plants with the following traits:

  • Milky or discolored sap
  • Spines, fine hairs, or thorns
  • Beans, bulbs, or seeds within pods
  • Bitter or soapy taste (spit it out!)
  • Dill, carrot, parsnip, or parsley-like foliage
  • An almond scent in the woody parts and leaves
  • Grain heads with pink, purplish, or black spurs
  • Three-leaved growth pattern

For more information on identifying edible plants, including a breakdown of edible plants by climate zone, check out this guide.



In a long-term survival situation it is important to find a reliable source of protein. The safest and easiest sources of protein are small game and fish.

The best way to catch small game is to use traps like snares. Snares are great because they work in any climate or location as long as they are used properly. You will have the most success with your snares if you set them in areas that are highly trafficked by animals and if you check them regularly. Check out this great guide for information how to make a variety of snares.

Fishing can also provide a reliable source of protein in the wild, but can be quite difficult without the proper equipment. It is possible, however, to improvise equipment using objects around you. You may need to get creative. To create a hook you can use a sharp or carved piece of wood, a hair pin, or a paperclip, and a line can be made from shoelaces, a string from your clothing, or fiber from a plant. For bait it is best to use insects, meat, or shiny/colorful objects.


Survival in the wild is unpredictable and challenging, but by following these guidelines you’ll be one step closer to making it out alive.