Drink or die! Is it really that simple when it comes to survival? Dehydration can happen in any type of survival scenario (not just the scorching hot desert). You may become dehydrated due to the lack of water, or your failure to drink water (due to fears of contamination). Whichever is the case, when you don’t swallow enough water to match your body’s demand – you’re on the path to trouble.
The Pee Test
You’ve been drinking some, but also exerting yourself a lot, how would you know if you were dehydrated or not? My best recommendation for hydration assessment is to keep track of your water intake and urine output. Most people need about 2 quarts of liquid per day to just sit around, and more if they are sweating or the conditions are arid. Add exertion to this setting, and your need could jump to a gallon or more.
When drinking the right amount for the conditions, you should also be urinating an appropriate amount of liquid. I don’t expect anyone to measure their pee in a bottle, but if you aren’t peeing every 2-3 hours (and a “normal” volume), you’re dehydrated. Urination frequency and volume will naturally reflect your exertion and health, the weather and environmental conditions, and even how much alcohol and caffeine you have consumed.
If you and your crew aren’t drinking enough to pee once in a while, you’re heading toward dehydration.
Learn The Symptoms of Dehydration
The signs of dehydration can start out minor, but as you continue to “dry out,” it’s hard to ignore the messages that your body is telling you. You may start out with some dizziness or a headache, if you haven’t had enough to drink. Tiredness and weakness will follow, as your strength and motor skills begin to deteriorate. By the time you notice a significant thirst or a dry mouth, you’re staring dehydration in the face.
As dehydration continues and worsens, the frequency and urgency to urinate will decrease. If you haven’t needed to pee for several hours, and when you do finally urinate – the result is only a small amount of dark yellow urine, you are definitely dehydrated. As this lack of water continues, constipation will rear its ugly and uncomfortable head.
Delirium or confusion will follow, as your condition worsens, and after some time – you may notice chapped lips, dry skin and sunken eyes. At this stage, your blood has thickened which will create low blood pressure. Following low BP, dehydration symptoms can include a rabid heartbeat and quick shallow breathing. If this situation is not remedied quickly and carefully, shock is likely to follow.
Know Your Foes
Despite the example set by a few TV survivalists, it’s never a good idea to consume untreated water in any survival setting. There are dangerous organisms in the surface water wherever you roam. It’s important to know what you’re up against, especially when ingesting these pathogens can lead to cause serious illness and even death. These four groups represent the most common creatures that we would need to kill or remove in any raw water.
Viruses The littlest of the waterborne pathogens, viruses can be found throughout the world’s surface water and common species include rotavirus, enterovirus, norovirus and hepatitis A. In total, more than 100 different viruses are transmitted from water to humans, and these tiny organisms range in size from 0.03 to 0.1 microns (micrometers). To put their minute size into perspective – a virus can enter and infect a bacterium!
Bacteria Bigger than a virus, bacteria can enter the waterways through feces and dead animals in the water. Bacteria sizes range from 0.5 to 2 microns, and some of the most common species include vibrio cholerae, salmonella spp., campylobacter spp., shigella spp., and staphylococcus aureus.
Protozoa Still too small to be seen by the naked eye, protozoa like Cryptosporidium parvum and Giardia lamblia are very common in raw water. These organisms can grow thick walled cysts (shells), which defend them against disinfectants like chlorine and iodine. Cryptosporidium range from four to six microns in size, while Giardia cysts are found between 10 and 15 microns.
Helminths Very tricky to detect in an infected human, helminths are parasitic worm species that can be found in drinking dirty water. These may naturally exist in the water, or they may be deposited in a waterway through the feces of an infected animal or person. Varying by species, helminths may linger in your GI tract or migrate to other organs (like your eyes, liver, brain or lungs). These parasites can be challenging to diagnose, and it’s possible for them to lie dormant for months or years in a human host.
Boil With Hot Rocks
If you’re lucky enough to be carrying a metal pot when you get lost in the wild, and you’re able to get a fire going – the simplest and safest way to disinfect your water is to boil it for 5-10 minutes. This simple act kills all waterborne pathogens and it doesn’t require chemicals (which you would use up) or filters (which could clog).
But how do you boil without a metal pot? The title of the paragraph gives it away. Hot stones have been used for cooking, boiling, bed warmers and space heaters for thousands of years. Warming up a stone near a fire (between 120 and 140F) is a great body heater (under your coat) or bed warmer. And by heating that stone much hotter, cooking it in the fire, you can actually boil water in vessels that cannot be placed over a fire (like a gourd, wooden bowl, or some immobile object like a rock cavity).
The technique is not just for water disinfection. Rock boiling can also allow you to brew teas, simmer soups and create many other dishes – without any modern containers.
To perform this bit of camp magic, locate roughly two dozen egg-sized stones from a dry location. Toss them into a fire to heat them (for 30-45 minutes), and fashion a split stick to act as tongs while they heat up. Use the wooden tongs to grab the hot rocks (like giant tweezers) and drop them in your improvised water container.
You could carve out a wooden bowl or basin from the side pf a log, or fold up a tree bark container. Even a hole in a large rock can act as a boiling vessel. Drop in one or two hot rocks at a time, and pull them out when they stop hissing. Add new hot rocks until your cooking time is done.
Caution: ONLY collect your rocks from a high dry location. Waterlogged rocks collected from the riverside or a wet area can store water deep inside. When this heats up in a fire, the water turns to steam and the expansion is powerful. Watery rocks can explode dangerously when heated up in a fire, sends stone shrapnel in all directions.
If you are uncertainabout using any stone near a fire, chuck a few samples into a large fire and flee the area. Wait and watch until the fire dies down. If you didn’t hear or see anything pop, see if the rocks crumbled into sand. If the rocks are intact after your test, they are likely to be suitable for use around a fire.
Build A Tripod Filter
Typically made from layers of cloth, grass, charcoal and sand – a tripod filter can be a useful fixture in your survival camp. It won’t filter out enough pathogens to make water safe to drink right away, but this simple filter can clarify muddy water and remove debris. Start your build by collecting the three tripod sticks, roughly four and a half feet (1.5 m) long. Lash them together with a tripod lashing and a bit of cordage. Stand it up to reveal the tripod.
Next, tie three pieces of triangular cloth into the tripod, lying flat and one above the other. It’s helpful if the three pieces of cloth are each a different size (small, medium and large). At the top of the tripod, load up the smallest piece of cloth with fresh green grass. The tiny barbs on the leaves of grass can grab tiny particles. For the second layer, dump in some crushed black charcoal from your fire. Don’t use charcoal powder, which will clog your filter. Just use tiny crushed chunks.
For the bottom layer of the tripod filter, pour in some clean dry sand. To use the filter, pour water into the grass layer at the top, and watch it trickle down through the entire unit. At first, the water will flush charcoal dust from the second layer and dirt from the bottom sand layer. Once the filter starts to run more clearly, it’s ready to use.
This filter may remove some of the largest organisms (like worms), but you’ll still need to boil the water after collecting it underneath the bottom layer (in a bowl or some other vessel). Here are some of the pro’s and con’s of your tripod filter.
- This crude filter can improve the clarity and taste of your water.
- It can be built with many different natural materials, if you have a bit of cloth and cordage to spare.
- This filter is portable and re-useable. Just dump out the contents, close up the tripod and move it to a new location.
- If you lack the cloth, this is hard to build.
- The charcoal isn’t readily available unless you can make a fire or find charcoal from a previous fire.
- Green fresh grass won’t be available in every location and the season.
- It doesn’t remove many pathogens from the water.