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How to find water in the desert

Simon Ellar, editor of Bushcraft & Survival Skills Magazine, explains how to find water in the desert should an emergency arise

As a young boy I studied survival manuals and had the box ticked for finding water in the desert; dig a solar still, leave through the day and overnight, then the next morning there would be a refreshing glass of cool water waiting for me.

However, the reality, having tried this in desert locations is quite the contrary, the stills provided a very minimal amount of water, less than sweated out in the creation of the still!

 My first piece of advice would be not to find yourself wanting in the first place, and to plan effectively by taking more water than you need. However, if you do find yourself in a survival situation, I recommend a transpiration bag.

Trees and plants draw moisture from the ground to carry nutrients to and cool their leaves and as a result, some of this evaporates. Find a non-toxic tree or plant – the bigger the better, as a bigger tree will have a larger, far-reaching root system to find water.

Take a clear bag and place over some foliage, tie the bag around the branch making it as airtight as possible. Then ensure that a corner of the bag sits low to collect the water – a stone can be placed inside to ensure that the corner is weighted down.

Choose a branch that is in direct sunlight for as much of the day as possible and you should find around a cupful of water by the end of the day. The water collected will not need purifying, but may need filtering as pollen or debris may drop in from the foliage.

The bigger the bag, the better off you are, as there will be a greater surface area for water to condense on.

Three key benefits of this method are:

i) Clean pure water

ii) Works whilst you are doing other things

iii) Most importantly it requires very little effort to set up