Luckily this has never happened to me, but even the most prepared hiker can often get themselves into difficulties if they run out of water. My question here is in your experience in remote arid mountainous locations (*), If I have run out of water where are good places to look for water sources?

  • Remote as in more than a day's walk from civilization. Arid meaning lack of visible streams.
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    Where specifically? It may make a difference. Commented Jan 31, 2012 at 16:28

2 Answers 2


You always look at places where water could accumulate (here are some not so obvious choices):

  • Extra green vegetation like sycamore tree is good indicator of water source. You can utilize the plants transpiration via plastic bag or bottle. And just leave it out in the sun. With big enough plastic bag over bush you can collect quite a bit of water.
  • Bellow rock walls or slopes where water will seep into the ground. You just have to dig and find it bellow earth.
  • You could get water from Cacti, but don't forget to put the cut off part back in place, so the Cacti can heal back.
  • Solar still is always good option. You can put into the pit anything containing water. You could even pee near the pit so the urine gets filtered as well.
  • Collecting morning dew with your clothing or sponge is also good option. But be careful with the plants you are collecting it from.

Don't forget to always filter your water and boil it.

Here is very good article that discusses long list of water sources:


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    Also: plan. If you're going to be in that type of area, know your water sources. Ask locals. Take a contour map and mark the area. Tell people where you're going, leave a trip plan with the local ranger station, be prepared. Commented Jan 31, 2012 at 21:28

Sounds obvious, but if you've got enough fuel and it's snowy, gather some to melt. Bear in mind though that you'll get vastly less water than you might expect, so be prepared to grab lots of it. Stay away from coloured snow as well, not just for the obvious reason but because very nasty bacteria can also cause coloured snow (pinkish as well as yellow.)

If there's no snow, have a look out for some common signs of water nearby:

  • Increasingly wet or muddy/boggy ground
  • Crevices in rocks (water naturally collects here)
  • Converging animal tracks can often lead to a water source
  • Insects - There tend to be more around close by to water
  • Natural valleys, not just the obvious big ones but little ones as well. They tend to be where water collects.
  • Dried up stream / river beds. Even if there's no water, follow them downhill and they may well merge with a running water source.
  • Patches of green foliage, especially green leafy trees

If there really is no surface water, your best bet is probably to build a solar still if the conditions are right. You could also use green leaves and extract water from them via the same method.

Some sites recommend digging up muddy, boggy ground if available and letting the water drain out through a rudimentary filter made with a bottle / can filled with gravel, bark, sand etc. to filter the water. I wouldn't advice this unless you also have better purification mechanisms at your disposal such as chlorine tablets. Drinking water infected with nasty bacteria will make things a lot worse!

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