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Going Running? Know Where to Find Water!

Posted by on May 29, 2013 | No Comments

Given hot weather is upon us, it’s time to talk about water. Specifically… finding water. If you’re out on the trail and run out of water, the situation can go downhill quickly. Knowing where water sources can be found can, minimally, save your run. It could also potentially save your life.

I don’t have the time today to write an entire blog post, so I’m just cutting and pasting an excerpt from the Squirrel Wipe book.

Enjoy, and share with your runner friends!

Knowing Where to Find Water

When it comes to training, hydration can be a bitch. Once the long runs surpass your ability to physically carry enough water (or other drink), your options are limited. You can:

  • Stash drinks along the planned route in some sort of jug or container (though they may get stolen… which has happened on more than one occasion. Seriously, who steals a jug of water?!? Fucking rednecks!) A related option is to plan a loop route that will take you back to your vehicle.

  • Bring money or a credit card if there will be stores along the way.

  • Plan a route that utilizes public drinking fountains.

Personally, I prefer the last option. If you live in a semi-inhabited area, this is a good option. If you live in the sticks or will be training in desolate mountains, it may be impossible. If you do train in a populated area, drinking fountains can usually be found at:

  • Public parks and playgrounds

  • Sport fields

  • Public restrooms

  • Schools

  • Trailheads

  • Campgrounds

  • Large grocery, department, or other such stores

  • Malls

Water from Natural Sources

You’re out on a long run and your bottle goes dry. You start experiencing the early signs of dehydration. You are nowhere near a drinking fountain or a store. What do you do?

I’ve run into this scenario many times over the years… and I always choose the same course of action- I scavenge for water anywhere I can. That has included drinking from streams, lakes, a water hose in some random person’s yard, or making a funnel out of a leaf during a rainstorm.

There’s always an inherent danger in drinking water from questionable sources. The water may contain organisms that can make you sick, like giardia or dysentery. The water could also be contaminated with poisons that could kill you. It’s always a gamble.

In an emergency situation, I look for water that contains some form of life. If a water source does not have any signs of life (fish, plants, etc.), odds are pretty good that it’s undrinkable. Next, I make a filter out of a bandana and a water bottle by placing the bandana over the mouth of the bottle and attaching it with rubber bands (I keep a few rubber bands wrapped around all my water bottles). When the bottle is submerged, the bandana acts as a filter.

It’s not nearly as effective as boiling water, using a commercial filter, or chemically purifying the water, but rarely do I, if ever, have the tools required for elaborate purification. The homemade filter will likely trap most of the harmful stuff and is better than drinking straight from the questionable source.

If you have access to a piece of plastic or a space blanket and a container of some sort, you can make a solar still. A water bottle works well. The setup will use evaporation to purify water over the course of several hours. Here’s how to construct the still:

  • Dig a hole 18” deep by 24” wide in a sunny area.

  • Line the hole with one piece of plastic.

  • Place a small rock or mound of dirt in the middle of the plastic.

  • Place your container on the mound.

  • Dump contaminated water, urine, or green plants in the hole.

  • Cover the entire hole with another piece of plastic and secure it in place by placing rocks or dirt around the edge. The better the coverage, the better the still will work.

  • Place a small pebble on top of the cover sheet directly above the mouth of the container.

How it works: The still works when the sun heats the contaminated water, urine, or plants, which evaporates the water. The evaporated water collects on the bottom of the cover sheet. The pebble in the middle causes the water to run down the sheet and drip in the bottle. If you don’t have enough plastic or you have no water or plants to place in the hole, skip the liner from step two. The still will draw moisture from the ground.

If you’re near a water source like a river, stream, or a beach and you can build a fire, the process can be expedited. Dig a hole near the water source deep enough so the bottom fills with water. Place a container in the center, and then partially cover the hole with the plastic. Build a fire a few feet from the hole. Place a few rocks in the fire. After a few minutes, use a stick to move the hot rocks into the water hole, then immediately cover the hole with the plastic and drop a pebble above the mouth of the container. After a few minutes, place the rocks back in the fire and repeat.

Water can also be extracted from mud with the use of a sock, bandana, shirt, or other fabric. Wrap a softball-size clump of mud in the fabric (or plop it in the sock). Squeeze the fabric over a container. The fabric will effectively hold most of the dirt behind. The water will still have to be purified, however.

To cool the water (or any other liquid), you can once again utilize fabric. Socks work best. Drop the sealed container of water (or beer cans… whatever) in the sock. Saturate the sock with water. It doesn’t have to be purified water. Hang the sock in a shady area exposed to wind. The blowing aids the evaporation of the water, which cools the liquid in the container. I have Jeremiah Cataldo to thank for that tip.

What if there aren’t obvious water sources? Remember water always flows downhill. Birds also tend to congregate near water at dawn and dusk. Look for them circling in the sky. Here are some location-specific places that can be used as, or may lead to, sources of water:

  • Cold environments– snow and ice

  • Desert– trails, animal droppings, birds, palm trees, base of hills or mountains

  • Forest– animal trails (get wider and deeper toward water source, downhill), birds, insects, density and “greenness” of plants, if spring bed is dry, dig

  • Mountains– valleys, crevices in rock (formed by flowing water),

  • Plains– look for taller vegetation like small trees growing in groups (pond) or a line (stream)


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