Number One Consideration In Survival: Water

BY Herschel Smith
1 week, 2 days ago

Some guy is apparently on the run, possibly in the Florida bush.

Alligators, black bears, clouds of gnawing insects. Two different types of rattlesnakes. Coyotes, bobcats and panthers. Everything is wet, almost nothing is edible, and safe drinking water is nowhere to be found.

If Brian Laundrie actually is deep in the Florida wilderness, a survival expert in Sarasota said that by now, he’s either dead or in very bad shape.

“If he’s down there in the Carlton Reserve, he’s living in hell,” local survival expert Mark Burrow said.

With heavy rain in recent days, starting a fire will be nearly impossible. It’s also the wrong season for foraging edible plants, Burrow said.

He said Laundrie may be able to scavenge leftovers from a predator’s kill. There also are freshwater clams and snails he could collect. Fishing is another possibility.

“People have been making a big deal of the alligators and the snakes,” Burrow said. “But it’s dehydration that’s the real danger.”

Even if he were able to get a fire started to boil water, recent rains will have made the drinking water full of tannins from local foliage. Tannins occur in the roots, wood, and bark of oak trees, and high concentrations can be harmful to humans, Burrow said.

“That can cause loose bowels,” he said. “Not a good thing when you are already dehydrated.”

When it comes to animals, the area’s bears and panthers are not likely to bother humans. But if Laundrie is injured or struggling, he will also have to deal with coyotes and bobcats.

“If you were injured or exhausted,” Burrow said, “they would eat you.”

There are at least four different types of venomous snakes in Carlton Reserve, the cottonmouth likely being the most dangerous. There’s also the pigmy rattlesnake, the diamondback rattlesnake, and the coral snake.

I wouldn’t be too worried about Bobcats or Coyotes, and panthers aren’t numerous enough to pose a real threat, but bears, alligators, snakes and insects are a threat.  The biggest threat, however, is lack of potable water.  I outlined how water controls your every thought and decision in a trip to Colorado.

Here is a recent video on water filtration.

Frankly, I wouldn’t trust a seep well.  It won’t filter Giardia or Cryptosporidium.  I have no idea whether water filters will remove plant tannins.  I confess I hadn’t thought about the risk posed by plant tannins.  I’m glad I stumbled on this article – I will think about it in the future.

I have a backpacking water filter, but I know there are a lot on the market now, and a lot of designs I haven’t seen.

What do readers think and what kind of water filtration do you have, and why?  I notice that carrying bleach wasn’t brought up in the video, and I’ll tell you that I don’t like the idea of loading my thyroid up with iodine.  There can be adverse health effects from that.

But pondering all of this shows just how difficult it would be to survive a protracted time in the wilderness without food, potable water, medical care, dental care, proper hygiene, etc.  Walkabouts can be dangerous.


  1. On October 7, 2021 at 11:02 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    Back in the day, the survival still was lauded as one of the most-important wilderness survival innovations in many a moon. It is a last-ditch method of distilling water when other easy and faster methods have failed.

    Materials needed: 1. Some clear plastic sheeting, perhaps 36-48″ on a side, thick-enough to withstand use in the outdoors 2. A durable cup or mug of some kind, any sanitary container which can hold 6-8 fluid ounces of water 3. Clear plastic tubing or a long straw or tube, hygienic & suitable for human use. 4. A small spade, shovel or other tool suitable for digging in the local soil. 5. Optional: a small weight of some kind, a few coins or something like that.

    Pick a spot in direct sunlight. Dig a cylindrical hole of perhaps 18-24″ across, with sides of roughly 30-45 degrees angle. At the bottom, create a level place where the cup or mug can sit without tipping over. The solar still can be made larger or not, depending on the amount of water you wish to collect and the amount of plastic you have. You’ll want the angled hole to be big-enough to allow the placement of vegetation inside the cone.

    Run the drinking straw or tube from the cup or mug out of the hole, either around the edge of the plastic sheeting or cut a small hole in it to allow passage.
    Secure the clear plastic by using soil or other materials to seal its edges. Allow the plastic to be loose-enough to parallel the angled bottom of the hole, but several inches above it. The idea is to create a cone with the plastic that parallels the shape of the conical hole, with the inside “point” of the plastic directly over the cup or mug. This is done by placing a small weight there.

    Once the plastic has been sealed and the hole is reasonably air-tight, the sun should start to heat the interior of the still, and cause whatever moisture is in the soil to evaporate, and begin to condense on the inside of the plastic cone. Once it does, drops should begin to travel downward to the tip and then drip off into the cup. Once enough water accumulates in the still, it can be consumed through the straw or tube.

    A solar still isn’t particularly fast, but it has the virtue of distilling pure water which is safe to drink. If there is any local vegetation about containing moisture, cut some of it and line the sides of the conical hole before sealing the plastic; it will allow water to be distilled more-rapidly. Contaminated water which is unsafe to drink can also be used, since the still leaves the impurities and contaminants behind when the water is vaporized and condensed on the inside of the plastic.

    The sources I have seen over the years, i.e. military survival manuals and the like, have stressed that even human waste and radioactive water can be used safely in a solar still. I don’t know if I’d be desperate enough to try that, but that is what the published sources say.

    A solar still will “remove” bacteria, viruses, particulates, and protozoan parasites such as Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium, as well as heavy metal toxins.

    Perhaps the best aspect of the solar still of all is that it is compact, light and uses easily-obtained or improvised materials. It doesn’t take up much space or weight in a ruck or day pack so you can still pack in easier to use methods with a higher output.

  2. On October 8, 2021 at 3:34 am, Hudson H Luce said:

    Here’s some good info for water related topics –

  3. On October 8, 2021 at 3:55 am, Hudson H Luce said:

    This looks like a good solution for an expedient field water filter – but you still need to sterilize the water –

  4. On October 8, 2021 at 8:46 am, Mike Austin said:

    I have solo backpacked in the extreme rural regions of: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela and Argentina. I cannot remember how many times the water I had to drink was polluted with insects, animal remains, rotting vegetation and God knows what else. Sometimes I had to share a water source with monkeys, puma, peccary and domesticated animals. I used liquid Iodine tincture to clean the water: 5 drops per liter, shake well, wait five minutes. Sure it tasted awful but I never got sick from the water.

    Nowadays when I backpack or bikepack I use a Katadyn BeFree water filter and a Sawyer Squeeze. I also take Micropur as a backup.

  5. On October 8, 2021 at 8:54 am, wes said:

    I divide everything survival related into three broad time period groups; short term, mid term and long term. These time groupings vary depending on what is being discussed, clothing has different duration periods than say water or food.

    That expressed, while there are many means one can employ to improve the basic safety of water consumption in the wild, for over 30 years I’ve used the General Ecology First Need Water Purifier to meet my needs for my short term drinking water needs. It’s not small, it’s not foxy and it definitely doesn’t get any awards for being chic but it is efficient. As an added bonus it processes water fairly quickly at a gallon in a few minutes.

    Every member of my family carries one of these purifiers and a spare cartridge in their EDC bag. Mine has braved environmental ranges from desert to freezing alpine conditions. Obviously in freezing conditions, just like any other filter/purifier, it needs to be protected from damage so I just make sure to carry it against my body or in an inside pocket and I’ve never had a cartridge failure.

    I have consumed water it has purified from high mountain streams, to swampy bogs, to water sourced from little more than a muddy track in a cow pasture and everything in between. It has seen use from day trips to weeks at a time on extended hunting or backpacking trips.

    Some folks feel the published capacity of the purifier cartridge is a negative. Simple precautions greatly extend the life of the cartridge such as letting heavily turbid water settle and/or using a prefilter on the pick up tube to limit large particles. Back from the wilds, post use was to always back flush the cartridge with bleach water and then let it dry before storage.

    In my personal use the first one of these I obtained I only replaced the filter element after 20+ years and even then it was passing the dye test. In that time that element met pure drinking water needs for not only myself and my family but others that were with us up to the needs of a boy scout troop on an extended outing. I can’t hazard a guess as to how many gallons of water that equates to but I do know it is many, many times the published value.

    I can’t compare this unit to other products on the market because I’ve never had a reason to change what I was using. In short I’ve trusted the lives of my family and others to this purifier and we’ve never had a bad experience as a result.

    Just to note, I’m not affiliated with these folks in any manner and have no financial interest with them either.


  6. On October 8, 2021 at 9:20 am, Longbow said:

    Yep. Water. First priority of work.

  7. On October 8, 2021 at 11:33 am, I R A Darth Aggie said:

    My first thought is similar to Georgiaboy61’s. According to the link tannic acid boils at 200C, so evaporated water should eliminate tannins from the water. Tho I would do further research to be completely sure.

    I’d be more scared of the bugs than pretty much the rest of the critters. Unless the raccoons are rabid.

  8. On October 8, 2021 at 12:34 pm, Fred said:

    Tannins aren’t a serious concern. Only some pinheaded that got their degree in survival by analyzing things in a laboratory would care about tannins. I would drink water from a standing source in the middle of a grove of oak. And in fact, if you run across oak you’ve been blessed with a bounty of nut fat from the acorns. The acorns must be processed properly of course. I’ve (Don’t do this) eaten raw acorns. (ooh nooo Fred is dead, no I’m fine.)

    You have myriad problems on your hands in a swampy area (which oak don’t even like obtw), and myriad more problems with water sourcing in a swampy region long long long before you need to care about tannins.

    I likely wouldn’t drink water out of a hollow in an oak. I’ll give the guy that much.

  9. On October 8, 2021 at 3:06 pm, Levi Garrett said:

    I agree with Fred about the tannins. That would be down low on my list of concerns when considering water in a bush survival situation. Hot and iced tea contains varying levels of tannins, although the commercial processing of tea might cut down on them compared to what would be found in swamp water. Along the same lines, in a bush situation, I’d be more worried about bacteria and protozoans than chemical contamination. I have several Sawyer Mini filters for things like this. They remove over 99% of bacteria and protozoans, are rated for 100,000 gallons of water, are small/handy sized, can be configured/used several ways, and are only about $20 apiece. In a situation like that referenced in Herschel’s story above, a filter like this would allow you to drink on the run without having to build a fire to boil water (eliminating the challenges of wet fuel and concealing a smoke/light signature).

  10. On October 8, 2021 at 7:22 pm, Fladave said:

    My experience spending the night in the swamps of the Florida Everglades in July when our swamp buggy broke down some 40 years ago was usefull training for my later years. Water and saw grass dont burn and we spent the night dry but eaten by zillions of mosquitos without the benefit of a smokey fire. Unless Landrie prepositioned stores I think his chances of long term survival in the Carlton Reserve are near zero. No mention if he had a gun with him or even owned one.

  11. On October 8, 2021 at 11:57 pm, HempRopeAndStreetlight said:

    I have in my BOB:

    Katadyn Micropure Water Tablets.
    A Katadyn Hiker Pro Water Filter
    A Backup Lifestraw Water Filter
    A Stainless Steel Water-bottle for boiling

    Critters, Water and weather will kill you faster than most anything. Have many ways to make a fire and keep warm. Have many ways to keep hydrated. A quality knife and a rifle for critters and bushcraft too. Everything else is gravy.

    In places that get cold, do not discount the utility of a heavy duty trash bag.

  12. On October 9, 2021 at 12:27 am, Frank said:

    This young lady hiker has done a bunch of long hiking AT, PCT, CD, Camino de Santiago and others.
    Here are her videos on the Florida Trail

    She uses the Sawyer Mini is the swamps, and no issues.

  13. On October 9, 2021 at 12:52 am, Ohio Guy said: This is what I use. You may also just buy the filters, 4 @ $110 and place them in a five gal. pail above the reciever pail. This is a great system for having safe, great tasting water. For travel, you could use one or two filters in a small, compact, two chamber tube the size of a large thermos. Berkey filters are pretty neat. If you added red food color to your makeup side, it will come out clear on the filtered end. A little bit of ingenuity, you can have a quality system on the cheap.

  14. On October 9, 2021 at 9:54 am, Longbow said:

    Get bottles of betadyne solution. Amazon has lots and lots of them. I know. nobody loves amazon. However, it is an asset when it can be used as an asset.
    Filter first, even if only through a t-shirt, then purify with iodine. Wait thirty minutes before drinking.

    Don’t buy one bottle of betadyne. Buy dozens of them.

  15. On October 9, 2021 at 6:23 pm, Bradlley A Graham said:

    3 times to Phantom Ranch and once to Supai with a Katadyn Pocket Filter.

    110% flawless.

  16. On October 9, 2021 at 11:41 pm, Factions Speak Louder Than Herds said:

    Don’t forge the pythons that careless owners released into the swamps they can get large enough to asphyxiate a human and there are no natural predators in Florida.
    Water is priority A number 1 and any place that has limited or extremely contaminated H20 should be avoided.
    Red State is chock full of streams, creeks, rivers, ponds, lakes, but there is a hard water problem due to rock and stone quarries.
    Behind the curve on the filtration and thanks for the tips on what to look for, purification tactics, and how much to spend.

  17. On October 10, 2021 at 8:39 pm, Paul B said:

    I have several sawyers, some life straws and some tablets.

    That being said, when I was a kid I drank out of a field tile one time and that did not kill me.

    Sometimes i wonder if we are making it harder on ourselves than we need to

    The mountain men headed out with a blanket, some clothes, coffee beans and flour and they did ok.

  18. On October 10, 2021 at 11:10 pm, HempRopeAndStreetlight said:

    Paul, the mountain men had a supply chain to draw on. Trading posts, Military Forts, Indian Villages, Frontier Towns. Most would head to one of the above to winter.

    They also tended to die at about 35 years old, and they looked like a seventy-year old when they did. They also had a pretty hefty kit they took with them. Those that lasted very long anyways.

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You are currently reading "Number One Consideration In Survival: Water", entry #28330 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Survival and was published October 7th, 2021 by Herschel Smith.

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