Obtaining Water in the Desert

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Deserts make up almost a quarter of our planet. They can be beautiful places. If you have ever taken a walk around the deserts of the Southwestern United States, you will find them filled with majestic cacti blooming with flowers, Joshua Trees, and a variety of other plants with a dangerous beauty that takes your breath away! However, some other deserts throughout the country and world are made up mostly of sand and rock, with nothing but sand dunes, a bit of brush, and dust storms for miles in every direction. So having or obtaining water in a desert is a must.

Wherever you are, you should be prepared before venturing out across a desert. What if you realize you are lost and run out of water? How do you find water in the desert? Humans can survive for about three days without water, but in a harsh climate like the desert, you can get weak pretty fast from dehydration.

There are a few ways to learn this important skill ahead of time. This way, if you ever find yourself in such a situation, you will be prepared to keep yourself alive!


One thing to remember is that water flows down, so check lower terrain for water sources. You are much more likely to find water in a canyon or at the base of a mountain than at the top of the mountain.

Vegetation contains water. Use a rock and smash up fruits, vegetables, cactus, or roots that you find to release the liquid inside.

Look for signs of life to find a water source. Finding an area with a lot of plants, birds, insects, etc., usually means there is a water source there. Similarly, look for damp ground, dry riverbeds, or animal droppings. Even if you don’t see water, dig nearby and it is likely that a little way down, water will begin to seep into your hole. If you can, use something to filter the water you find, but in all cases, choose any water over dehydration and death.

Building a Solar Distiller

A solar distiller uses evaporation to collect water. There are many ways to do this, but in our scenario, you are in the desert with limited items. A few things are important to make this work, though. You will need some sort of container for the water to collect in: a bucket, bowl, cup, etc. You also need at least one piece of plastic, such as a tarp, and preferably two. Bonus points if one of them is translucent or totally clear!

How To Set Up Your Solar Distiller

How to make the solar distiller: Dig a large hole in the earth, about three feet wide and a foot deep. Line the hole with one of your plastic tarps, if you have two; this will help reduce moisture loss into the ground. Put your container into the bottom center of the hole. Cut some succulent plants—pieces of cactus are perfect—and put them all around the container. Cover the hole with the other tarp (use the lightest-colored one here) and use rocks to seal down all the edges. Place a smaller stone in the center so that the plastic dips inward over the container.

What will happen is the sun will shine onto the plastic tarp, causing water to evaporate off the cut plants. The water will rise to the top tarp and condense onto it, where it will roll down the slope caused by the small stone and drip down into the container. It may take a full day, but you will get a little water, and that can be the difference between life and death!

If you are looking to purchase a premade solar distiller, Check out this solar still deluxe kit. It comes with all the items you’ll need to distill and purify your own potable water. Just be sure to have it on hand before you need it, such as placing one in your car and one in your emergency supplies.

Dowsing Rods

Have you heard of dowsing for water? You cut or find a stick, known as a dowsing or divining rod. The stick should be fresh, not dried out, and should have one long side with two prongs, or a “fork” at one end. Hold the forked end, one side in each hand, and practice dowsing over an area where you know there is water, like an underground spring or a well.

When over the water source, the dowsing rod will begin to bend toward it. Hold it tightly at this point so it doesn’t roll in your hands; you want the stick to be straight and bending down by itself. The pull should be strong enough that the stick leaves red friction marks on the insides of your hands.

Nobody fully understands how dowsing works, but it seems to work for both skilled people and novices alike. You can buy premade dowsing rods, like these large solid copper rods, or, in a pinch, make one from the flora around you. Just be sure to practice this before you are actually stranded in the desert (or elsewhere) so that you get a feel for it!

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, these are tips and techniques you will never have to use. Deserts are beautiful and interesting places, but whenever you visit one, be prepared with plenty of water, sunscreen, and shade. However, things happen. Having a solid plan and knowing survival techniques are ways to prepare yourself in case of any emergency. Be safe out there!



Survival has been a necessity ever since the world began and has continually built upon itself. However, few could pull out of their hats the skills to survive if, and when, called upon to do so. With all that is going on in today's world, this knowledge is an important tool, one that each of us needs to hone. This is why I founded this site.

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