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Water Bushcraft Techniques: How To Collect & Store Water

We run you through some popular ways to collect and store water on hikes or outings where water is scarce. Come see how to improve your chances in the wild!

There’s no convenient time to find yourself in a survival situation.

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Are you prepared?

These catch you off your guard, throw you in a world where you must make the right decisions and act proactively or you could easily find yourself facing an early grave. 

One of the most important aspects of survival is the ability to collect water. 

Steri-pen and bottled water
In a survival situation, clean water is one of the most essential things.

If you have your bug-out bag with you stocked to the brim with canteens, LifeStraws, and other water-related gear, you’re in luck. 

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 But what if you have the bare minimum or don’t have anything at all? Both of these situations are much more precarious and require ingenuity. 

So let’s look at some bushcraft techniques to collect and store water so you can be prepared even when things go wrong!

Table of Contents


A Walk Through the Grass

This is the easiest method I know of, but your results are going to vary depending on where you live, and how dewy your grass gets in the early morning. 

Gear You’ll Need

  • String
  • A strip of water-absorbent fabric

Step 1: Tie the fabric around your leg

Cotton works perfect for this, and it’s hard to find a backpacker without a bandana.

If you have neither of these – but perhaps are wearing denim jeans – you could use this method with nothing other than your pants. Just be careful you’re not setting yourself up for hypothermia by doing so. 

Man's lower leg with a dishrag tied around it
A dishrag is one option

Step 2: Walk through tall grass early in the morning

All you have to do is walk through tall grass early in the morning while the dew is still present and then wring out your cloth into your mouth. 

Tall grass
Perfect for water collection


Coincidentally, this is very similar to how Lyme disease researchers collect ticks to study (they drag a white sheet through tall grass). So, just be aware this isn’t a bug-free option.

But hey, you’re in a survival situation. Nothing is bug-free for you at the moment. And while getting bit by a tick today may not kill you, dehydration very well might. 

An Alternative to the Walk

If you’re sticking around the same place and are tired of tying and untying that rag from your leg, you may as well just rub the dewy grass with the rag. Within five minutes of doing so, you can get quite a bit of water this way.

You are going to want to filter this through a LifeStraw or something before you drink it if you can. Really, that goes for just about any of these methods. Filter what you drink. 

Measuring cup with dirty water
A half-cup in 5 minutes? Not bad!

Solar Still Pit

If you have your daypack with you but can’t find a stream or spring to fill up your already low water stores you can use a small backpacker’s pot and a trash bag to create a solar still pit.

Gear You’ll Need

  • A container
  • A sheet of plastic (a trash bag works great for this!)
Trash bag
I always hike with a trash bag and a plastic shopping bag in my pack. You should too!

Step 1: Dig a Hole

I dig these about a food deep or so, but you need to ensure you’re not digging a hole that’s wider than what your sheet of plastic can accommodate. You want enough plastic to actually rest on solid ground to keep it from just falling into the hole. 

The width of the hole is going to depend on how much plastic you have available to you. In this case, I dug the hole about a foot wide. 

A hole in the ground, about a foot deep and a foot in diameter
Here’s the hole I dug

Step 2: Place your container at the bottom

This could be anything. A cup, an aluminum mug, a piece of plastic – it doesn’t matter. You just need something in the center of the bottom that can hold water. 

The same hole with a green cup in the bottom
Add your container

Step 3: Add moisture to the pit

Stuffing the pit full of leaves is one way of doing this. Peeing in it is another. Just make sure you’re not peeing in your container. I hear it’s not a lot of fun to drink that stuff. 

The same hole with green vegetation tucked around the cup
A different benefit to those leafy greens

Step 4: Put the plastic over the hole and cover three edges of it with dirt

This will hold the plastic in place yet allow you to peek underneath for the next step.

Trash bag covering the hole
Your plastic should completely cover the top of the hole.

Step 5: Place a rock in the center of the plastic so that it will form a depression right over the container

I always have to look to do this. 

Step 6: Seal the last edge with dirt

Easy peezy. 

The same hole, with a few rocks weighing down the center of the trash bag and dirty sealing the edges
Add a few rocks and some dirt around the edge.

Voila! Water!

Wait 12 to 24 hours before you open your solar still pit to see what’s going on.

There should be a good amount of water in the container because the moisture in the air in the pit condenses on the bottom of the plastic. 

The slope formed by the little rock causes all that water to head towards the tip of the depression, where it then drips into the cup. A pretty cool way to get some water for just digging a hole. 

Measuring cup filled with dirty water
A good payoff for a little work, as long as you can wait to get your water

The Bag O’ Branches

I’m not a huge fan of this method, but it is an option. Basically, it’s a condensation trap.

Gear You’ll Need

  • A plastic bag
  • Something to tie the bag down with

Step 1: Put a plastic bag over a leafy branch.

You really have to make sure you don’t puncture the bag here. Any holes in the bag will mean you’re doing all this for nothing, as the condensation will go right out the spout.

Leafy branches
Branches like these are perfect

Step 2: Secure the bag opening as tightly as possible

Whether you use duct tape, paracord, or a rubber band doesn’t matter. What matters is that you make this thing as airtight as possible. 

Plastic shopping bag covering branches, secured with paracord
Condensation trap in action

Step 3: Wait 12 to 24 hours

As you can see, the amount of water I got from this method was negligible.

Though I didn’t really have to work much to do this, it wasn’t enough to justify my efforts. That said, it’s really humid where I live –so, this method may work better in your environment than it does in mine. 

A small amount of water in a measuring cup
Even easier than the solar still pit, but not nearly as effective

A Harvest of Rain

If you have some form of shelter with you on your hikes (as you should), then you can easily rig up a container to catch rain runoff.

To really get science-y, multiply the square footage of your tarp by 0.56. This will tell you roughly how much water you can collect in gallons per inch of rain. 

Simple tarp shelter that feeds caught moisture into a bucket
Just make sure to weigh down the section of your shelter over the container so that water can collect into it.

Storing Water

Finding water can be half the battle in a survival situation.

What do you do if you’re trapped in the middle of the woods, and you know your only hope of survival is to trek out of there?

How do you store and transport water in the wild?

Water Storage Containers
Containers like these are great for prepping, but you can’t expect to have one on hand in every survival situation.

Here are a few options to consider…

Make a Wood Container

Provided you have a knife on you, you can whittle out a very crude cup. Anyone familiar with carving can attest to the fact this is going to take you several hours — but it will get the job done.

If you’ve found a spring but are tired of lapping up the water like a dog, this can serve as a convenient means of bringing the water up to your lips.

Small log
This piece of wood is perfect for this

And if you don’t have a knife? 

No worries, just make a fire. 

Make your fire and sit the hot coals on top of a piece of wood, using that to slowly burn out the shape of a cup. Once more, it’s incredibly crude, but it works. 

Small hole burnt into the end of the log
It’s not pretty but it works

Reuse & Recycle!

Just about every hike, I find trash. It doesn’t matter how far into the woods I go, eventually, I come across beer cans, chip bags, or other garbage. Many of these items can serve as great ad hoc water containers. 

For example, I’ve no idea how this got on my property – I don’t drink bottled water – but here’s a convenient find…a plastic water bottle. 

I bet you could store some water in that. 

Discarded plastic water bottle
One man’s trash and all that

Miniature Cistern

Seeing that one of my solar still pits didn’t work, I repurposed it into a little cistern pit.

Provided you have some form of waterproof barrier, you can easily make the same. I recommend using clean rocks to line the edge though. 

Hole dug in the ground lined with a plastic trash bag
Just dig a pit and line it with plastic

Everything is dirty clay where I’m at, so I ended up with some red-tinted water, but you at least get the idea. 

Make a Clay Pot

Speaking of clay, if you are in an area where there is ready access to clay, making a clay pot isn’t out of the picture.

Though I’ve personally never done this, it’s most certainly been done before. Check out Primitive Technology’s take on how to do this. 


It’s absolutely vital to have plenty of access to fresh water in a survival situation if you want to make it through the experience alive.

Sling Bag Water
Water…it’s kinda important.

If a fresh spring or some other water source isn’t available nearby, you’re going to need to know some of the above methods so that you have a foundation to work off of. 

Once you have these building blocks, you’re really only limited by your imagination. 

Are there other alternatives to getting water that we didn’t cover? Let us know in the comments below! Want to be better prepared? Check out our Prepping 101 Guide for all your prepping needs.

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