Camping

3 ways to find safe drinking water in the spring wilderness

An expert shares his secrets for finding water that won't make you sick.

An expert shares his secrets for finding water that won't make you sick.  (Tim MacWelch/Outdoor Life)

Our word “spring” comes from the Old English word "springan," which means to burst forth or jump up. Maybe this is why the same word is used for the season where new plant growth is erupting everywhere — and the word is also used for the water source where water is squirting up out of the ground.

Despite the abundance of water throughout the spring season, clean water can sometimes be difficult to find. Since the human body cannot last more than a few days without hydration, it’s vital to know how to locate different sources of water.

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Fortunately there are some different ways to collect safe drinking water from the landscape. Check out these three options for water-gathering options for the spring season.

Cut a grape vine.

Grape vines (the genus Vitis) can yield water throughout the spring season in North America, similar to the water vines in the tropics.

Make certain that you have a grape species with thorough identification from a good woody plants field guide. Small vines about 0.5-inches in diameter can be cut a few feet above ground and will drip water for several hours. Larger vines can have a notch cut into them, and they will gush out water.

Again, make certain that the vine is grape with a trusty identification guide. There are some toxic vines out there with sap that would not be safe to drink.

Catch the rain.

The same rain that muddies up the streams can also be an efficient source of clean water.

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The rain is as clean as the air it formed in, and the surfaces it has touched. It requires no further purification if you catch it in a clean container because it is fresh distilled water.

Rain water that is caught in a questionable container, like a dirty pot or a hole in a rock, should be disinfected somehow before consumption. Boil it for at least 5 minutes (more than 10 minutes is unnecessary) or treat it with disinfecting tablets or drops, just to be safe.

Find a spring.

Springs and their slower moving cousins (seeps) are more common than you might think. After all, how do you think small waterways keep getting larger as they go along?

Look for the head waters of streams, and look for places where water flowing out of holes in the sediment. You can also stir up the mud and look for places where the clear water is moving into the muddy water.

What you don’t want to do is drink raw water out of a stream like the TV survival gurus demonstrate. Drinking water out of waterways (without disinfecting it) is the fast track to water-borne illness. Drink the wrong bug without access to medical care, and a healthy person can die as quickly as a few weeks — painfully and embarrassingly.

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Ever gotten a drink this way? Please let us know by leaving a comment.