ESSENTIAL SKILLS

How Long Can You Live Without Food and Water: Learning to Survive

how long can you live without food and water
John C. Porter
Written by John C. Porter

When we decide to go on a trip out in the wilderness, being well prepared with all of the necessary gear is quite important, right? But what happens if suddenly your trip takes the wrong turn and you find yourself on the brink of danger, running out of essential supplies? Panicking helps no one and in such cases, knowing how long can you live without food and water is a must in order to endure.

Once you know the real danger of the limited amount of food and water, it can make you think more rationally and you will manage to allocate your existing resources more efficiently. Also, by being prepared for the worst while you are on a such trip, you will be less surprised if something undesirable happens and you will be ready to survive throughout the crisis.

Therefore, it is important to know in advance what are the possible threats that may arise when you are out in the wilderness. We made this article as your future survival guide and we will outline the most important things you have to do if you find yourself in such dangerous circumstances.

How Long Can You Live Without Water?

Staying hydrated once you start your trip is your number one priority. Imagine all of those exhausting hiking and walking trips and how hard is to endure them without having the proper amount of liquids on reach. It is especially important if you are making the trip during hot and humid conditions.

hiker drinking water from lifestraw

But, once you are out in the wilderness, things can quickly go out of control and you might easily find yourself endangered, with no one around to help you. In such situations, you must remember to always stay calm, to find ways to overcome the fear and to search for possible solutions.

Running out of water, or any kind of drinkable liquid for that matter, is one of the most critical scenarios that might happen while you are on your adventure and it is proven that your body will endure the thirst for three days only.

With that said, you have three days or less to find ways to extend your lifetime by searching for alternative sources of water in the nature. We do hope though that you won’t ever have to do that, but just in case something unfavorable like this happens, we have some tips on how to make the most of the newly emerged situation.

drinking water with filtration system

Therefore, bear with us through our few, but very useful suggestions on surviving without water and make sure that you will always be prepared to turn the dangers of the wilderness into your favor.

Surviving Without Water

In this section we will cover all of the techniques you need to know on locating the water sources, on how to use the nature as your guide and even how to create a filtration system.

Rainwater

This is the safest water you can find out there. It is as fresh as you can get it and probably the purest as well. The real struggle though, comes if you are in the middle of a drought and not even a single drop of rain can be seen in sight.

rainwater

If you are hiking through a humid place on the other side, then you will probably get lucky and will get caught up in some rain. However, because rain cannot be fully and precisely predicted, you cannot entirely depend on it.

Plants and Animals

Another source that is among the safest is the flora in the nature surrounding you. You should be careful though, because there are poisonous plants too. Once you find a nonpoisonous one, attach a plastic bag around a leafy branch and weigh it with a rock.

When it is set as that, the plant will transpire water which will be collected in the bag. If you are having a trouble finding a nonpoisonous plant, then you should probably look for some clues and there is no better option than to follow the animals.

moose eating a plant

They always know where are the water streams and be sure to follow any hint that may lead you to it. Once you find your water source don’t just go and drink water directly from it, but instead, boil it first in order to get rid of any possible parasites that may hinder your well-being.

Dig a Well

If you can’t find any fresh water near you, but there is a pool of stale water, you can still make it drinkable with the proper filtering and purifying method. One such method is the gypsy well, or also called a ‘seep’, which clarifies stagnant water and allows water to slowly ooze from the ground.

In order for this method to be successful, you need to dig a hole besides the stagnant water and it will slowly start to seep through the ground, leaving large particles behind. Before the hole is filled with water make sure to line the well with rocks in order to prevent sediment from getting in the water. Also, don’t forget that you have to purify the water before drinking it, as it may contain a lot of bacteria.

Saltwater Distillation  

We know by default that saltwater is great if you want to swim in it, but it is no good if it has to satisfy your thirst. However, when the nature calls and you have no other option, you can make it drinkable with only few gadgets.

Saltwater Distillation

All you need is two pots (larger and smaller ones), a plastic bag, some kind of an elastic cord and a rock. With these tools you can easily make a solar water distiller and we will teach you how to properly distill the water.

First what you have to do is put the smaller container into the larger one and fill the larger one with water. You have to make sure that the water won’t overflow in the smaller one because the process will not be successful. Next, you have to cover the containers with the plastic bag and tighten it with the elastic cord.

The rock should be places in the middle so that the lowest point of the bag is above the smaller container. Once the distiller is set like this, the water itself will evaporate, leaving the salt behind in the larger container. The water will slowly condense on the inner side of the bag and it will start dripping into the smaller container.

Pulling Water from the Air

If none of the abovementioned methods won’t work, don’t fall into despair yet. Sometimes it is even possible to extract water from thin air and it is not difficult at all. Even in the driest of climates there is a bit of moisture in the air and all you need is a clean cloth to subtract the dew from it and to periodically squeeze the water from it.

waterdrop on cloth

On the other hand, if you want to extract water from the fog, you need to set up a system, consisting of vertical poles holding a horizontal metal screen. You will also need a container in which the water will be collected once the metal screen deflects the fog drops.

Water Purifying Methods

Every drop of water that you may find in the wilderness must be purified somehow before you consume it, no matter even if the source is a crystal clear water. One of the most effective ways is boiling the water.

Only 10 minutes are enough in order to kill all of the bacteria and the parasites that may be found. Other methods include water filters, purifying tablets or any kind of purifying liquids. However, considering the circumstances, you are most likely to not have any of those, so you should stick with boiling the water.

Another way for clearing the water is through a filtration system. The filtration is done throughout different layers of grass, sand or charcoal, each of which has a special way of contributing to the removal of bacteria. You can also do it by placing a cloth on a plastic bag or a bottle.

water filtration with cloth

All you have to do is fill the bag or the bottle with water and then pour into another container, allowing the water to pass through the cloth, leaving behind all dirt in the primary container.

An additional step you can make after the filtration is to expose the water to the sun. The exposure to the UV rays will kill over 90% of the bacteria found in the water and on top of that it is a really simple and quick method. You have to place the bottled water in the sun for six hours and this way you can purify huge quantities of water.

How Long Can You Survive Without Food?

Similar as the water deficit, food deficit is a problem too when you are out in the wilderness. The good news is that you can last longer without food and depending on the environment it might be easier to find it, compared to water.

Superstition Wilderness Area

It is proven that you can survive up to three weeks without food, which gives you plenty of time to find edible plants, catch fish and even hunt animals if there is no other solution left. Also, don’t forget that no matter what happens and no matter what you do, you have to stay calm and think rationally on how to get out of the ugly situation.

Surviving Without Food

In this part of the article we will show you how to find and prepare the food and as well how to make your own ‘kitchen’ and kitchenware out of the nature and how to fully utilize it according to your needs.

Find the Edible Greens

One of the good things regarding the fresh greens is that they are full with vitamins and are 100% organic. They are healthier, their flavors are more intense than the store bought ones and they will contribute a lot to your overall health.

Most of the time you can find a lot of edible plants, such as dandelion leaves and flowers, clovers, chickweed, burdock, amaranth, fireweed and etc. Make sure to pick a plant that is familiar to you, because even though there are a lot of nutritious plants, there are poisonous ones too.

clovers

You should avoid any plant that has beans or bulbs, a milky or discolored sap, a carrot or a parsnip-like foliage, a three-leaved growing pattern, spines, fine hairs of thorns and a grain head with pink, purplish or black spurs.

Fishing

Even though it depends on the environment where you are ‘stuck’, fishing is almost always the best solution for beating the hunger.

Unless you are lost in the desert, you can always find some river creek, full with diverse water fauna. It is more complicated than harvesting plants, but it will keep you full for longer periods of time and will give you the proper nutrients you need for the daily functions of your body.

Given the circumstances, you probably won’t have the necessary tools and gear for fishing, so you will need to make everything from scratch. Luckily, the nature has everything you need and you just have to use it smart. For that purpose, we are here to teach you how to succeed with your mission.

fishing rod

  1. You can start by making a fishing pole. All you need is an approximately 10’ long stick, that has a diameter of 1” on one side and ¼” on the other. Along the stick, you should tie a string that will be secured at several spots along the stick and at the tip you should secure it with a knot. At its end you should attach a floater and a fishhook.
  2. The fishhook is another thing that you can make from the natural supplies out there by collecting a small stick and a large thorn. You should carefully carve the stick to be the base of your fishhook, while the thorn should be the hook itself. The two pieces should be wrapped together with a thin line until they are secured together and afterwards, the hook is ready for use.

If making a fishing pole is too much for you, then you can catch fish by using a simple dam. You can build it around a bend in the creek, so when the fish swim downward they cannot escape the dam. Once they are inside you can get them out by using a net, or simply by grabbing them with your hands.

Become a Nutty Person

Nuts are one of the most nutritious food you can get out there. Hazelnuts and black walnuts can be easily found in the wilderness, especially in the northern part of America.

nuts in the wilderness

You can easily spot the nut trees as they grown in clusters and once the nuts are ripe they fall to the ground. In addition, their shell is quite thin and therefore you can easily crack them, by placing them on a flat surface and tapping them with a rock.

Mushroom Hunt

Another great protein alternative are the mushrooms. The North American region is full with diverse and edible mushrooms that will make for a perfect meal.

But, be careful because as we all know there are pretty poisonous alternatives out there too. Even the most edible ones have poisonous twins and you should obtain some knowledge before you start your trip. Have in mind though to always pick the ones that you are familiar with and don’t ever experiment to try new varieties.

Your New Kitchen and Kitchen Utensils

Once you have the ingredients, it’s time for their preparation. The most famous ways of cooking in the wilderness are cooking in an aluminum foil or over a rotisserie. By cooking in an aluminum foil, you simply have to put the food in the foil, wrap it and place it over the heat. The foil will evenly distribute the heat and your food will be as delicious as if it was prepared at home.

Food being cooked under aluminum foil

But, most of the time you probably won’t have an aluminum foil and therefore you can cook your food on a rotisserie. It is a traditional campfire technique that requires two sticks that have an Y end on one side to be placed vertically into the ground, on the both sides of the fire.

Another branch that it is sharpened on one end should be placed horizontally over the vertical sticks. With that method, you can skewer the meat with the sharpened end, while you can freely turn the meat with the other end of the stick so that it is evenly cooked from each side.

Kitchen utensils are also easy to make by carving tree branches. Almost any kind of wood will do for that purpose and all you will need is a knife to carfully carve the desired shape.

Wrapping Up!

Not even one human being can live without food and water and being in circumstances when you don’t have an access to them can be overwhelming. We are so used to having these essentials always on reach and having to ‘fight’ for them makes it hard for us.

little girl cooking campfire dessert

However, we do hope that if you ever have the need to do that, our tips will be quite useful and will help you in the hardest of times. By simply remembering how to track and to purify the water, or to how to forage the safest food out there, you will outsmart the nature and endure during the tough times.

No matter what happens, don’t forget that panicking is you biggest enemy in such situations and that you should always stay calm. If you have any other suggestions on survival tips, let us know through the comment section!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John C. Porter
John C. Porter

John is passionate about hiking long distances. His record is over 65 miles in one day with backpacking gear. John hiked over 10 thousand miles, tried over 100 hiking shoes and visited 56 countries so far. His favourite hiking route is West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.

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