Survival Basics – Water

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Last Updated on April 1, 2021

One, if not the most important aspect of Emergency Preparedness to get right is developing a plan for how you will obtain water. You simply can’t live without it. You can go a long time without food, but you can’t go long without water. Our bodies are almost 75% water so staying hydrated isn’t really an option. This article will talk about some of the main considerations you have with respect to ensuring that your family is prepared in the event of any disaster to have and be able to acquire water.

Why do you need Water?

Let’s start with the obvious. The average person under normal conditions needs approximately 1 gallon of water for daily use. While a portion of this is for hygiene and cooking, you don’t want to plan on less than this amount in your Survival preparations. Without water our bodies quickly become dehydrated and that can make a bad day worse very quickly. Some of the symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration are:

  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Disorientation
  • Thirst (well duh)
  • Dry skin
  • Lethargy

If you don’t get to any water after this point and head into Severe Dehydration, the symptoms get worse:

  • Severe confusion
  • Muscle cramp
  • Lack of sweating
  • Convulsions
  • Fainting
  • Heart failure
  • Dry wrinkled skin
  • Low blood pressure
  • Unconsciousness

As your body has less of the water it needs to run, the less effective you are. This can seriously hurt your group in an emergency where they are counting on you for their survival. Water is essential and we have to have a plan for having a ready supply if you want to survive.

Not all situations are normal. If you live in the desert of New Mexico, water is of course going to be a much bigger concern and harder to acquire than if you live in the hills of West Virginia. Temperature, exertion, and illness all impact how much water you need per day. In a grid-down scenario, you will most likely be exerting a significant amount of additional exertion than you were in your pre-grid-down life. 

For water, you may not have the option of turning on the tap to have it flow out into your glass. Simply getting water could be an all-day chore. Will you have to walk long distances? Will you have to carry the water yourself?

At Risk Groups

Infants, the elderly or anyone with an illness is going to be more affected by a lack of water so special consideration must be made for them.  Children who are vomiting or have diarrhea are at an immediate risk for dehydration. If you have children to consider, you need to plan for their survival as well as monitor their progress often.

The older you get, the less acute your sense of thirst is. Grandma might either genuinely not feel thirsty or could be sacrificing water to save some for others and this can’t be allowed. Mandatory water consumption will have to be enforced in certain situations. If you are thirsty, it’s too late as you are already showing signs of dehydration.

Pregnant or Breast-feeding mothers will need more water than the usual person because they are taking care of two. Mothers who are nursing will need about 13 cups of water daily as opposed to the normally recommended 8 cups for the average person.

If you live in hotter climates or in higher elevations, you will need more water also. Drier climates evaporate the moisture from your skin so you won’t feel as sweaty, but you are losing water just the same. I’m sure we have all heard the saying “it’s a dry heat” and it is, but that doesn’t mean your body is losing water.

I was in Arizona one time and it was excruciatingly warm, but I wasn’t sweating. Thankfully, there were water stations everywhere and the group was all cognizant to drink water as much as possible, but in a disaster scenario, the desert doesn’t have much water. Something to consider.

Recipe for Saline Solution

If you are suffering from dehydration and there isn’t a doctor to run to or the pharmacy that you would pop into isn’t open so that you can get a resupply of Pedialyte, you can make your own hydration solution. Most normal dehydration is remedied by plain water administered until the body is properly hydrated. In the case of diarrhea or illness, hydration solutions may be needed and it’s easy to make this yourself if you have the simple ingredients below:

  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • One quart of water

Mix all of the ingredients in a container, shake well and drink up. Yum!

Storage Options

One of the more common questions is what is the best way to store water for Emergencies. As in everything, each person’s scenario is different. If you live in an apartment on the 3rd floor, your space and potentially weight considerations are going to limit what you can store. What if you are in a dorm room or worse, away from home and Zombies attack?

Let’s take the most basic scenario of you are at home, or can in a reasonable amount of time get back to your home. Wherever this is, you can comfortably store 5 days worth of water for yourself at a minimum. (5 gallons) FEMA even recommends you have enough for 72 hours. If you have 3 other people in your family, we need to store 15 additional gallons for each of you to have one gallon per day. What about pets?

OK, you are already up to 20 gallons not counting fido and that doesn’t take up much space, but again, you only have one week of water. What if the disaster lasts a month? What if there is a biological outbreak and everyone is ordered by the authorities to stay in your house?

What if you are under siege? Now we are talking about needing 80-100 gallons and this starts to take up space not to mention refilling this when you are out.  If you have a basement or a large unused storage room or garage, two 55 gallon drums are fairly easy to park well out of the way but a plan for refilling your supply is wise.

Apartment dwellers have additional problems but you may already have a great storage space built-in and that is your bathtub. As soon as you know you will need it, and hopefully not too late, fill your bathtub up with water. Optionally, you could purchase a water BOB which can hold up to 100 gallons and eliminates having to screen your water for hair or tub grime. Gross.

Going further down the scale, you can get water out of the backs of toilets, water beds, and water heaters in a pinch. As with everything else, you should make sure the water is safe to drink first. Toilets that have had chemical biscuits thrown in there might not be a good choice for drinking.

Homeowners can also store water in rain barrels that you collect off the roof. In almost every case this water will need to be disinfected, but it is a storage option that could give you at least 50 gallons of water per rain barrel and not take up any space indoors.

How to Disinfect Water

When we are discussing disinfecting water we are primarily concerned with killing any germs or bacteria that can make you sick or worse, kill you. There are a few methods available using Iodine, but that would be rare to come by in a Survival situation I think so I will cover the basics


Chlorine Bleach is probably the most common household item that you will have that can be used to disinfect your drinking water but it is a little tricky. Chlorine is affected by the temperature of the water you are treating. Always try to filter any water that may be cloudy with contaminants such as lake water first.

You can use paint filters or a bandana if necessary. If the water is room temperature (meaning not cold or hot) you would add two to four drops of chlorine bleach per quart. Shake well and let the container sit for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, smell the water. It should smell like chlorine and this is normal.

If it doesn’t smell like chlorine add another drop or two and let it sit for 30 additional minutes. By drops, we are talking about an eye-dropper size drop, not a dollop.

Filters are an easier method in my opinion but you don’t always have that luxury. I use a Berkey Light water filter and it couldn’t be easier. If we have a situation where I need to disinfect my water, I would simply pour the water in the top and the Berkey does the rest. Camping filters are also really good at filtering and disinfecting, but you run the risk of breaking these if you are constantly pumping water for a large group. They are great if you are mobile though and living off the land and need a lightweight portable solution.

Boiling is probably the oldest method of disinfecting water but it works! All you need is a container (preferably not plastic) and heat. Bring your water to a boil and let the water boil for a couple of minutes and that’s it. The boiling will kill any bacteria and you can drink the water. Let it cool off first…

Distillation is another option but requires more equipment than the average person will be able to acquire much less put together in an emergency situation. Another option is the SODIS method which uses UV light (sunlight) to treat water stored in clear containers. There is a lot of information about this method online and here.

We will be discussing this and other survival topics further in upcoming articles and as always your comments are welcome.

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Freedom-loving American doing what I can to help prepare and inform others. Editor and creator of The Prepper Journal 2013-2017, 2020 -

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Dawn Bogle

What about tabs or treatment drops?! What is your opinion on those?! Can you recommend a brand you like best please & would this be something to put in a bug out bag?! Btw, how do u pick a bug out bag. The actual bag, that is. There are too many out there and I dont know if Im making the correct choice.


Dawn, I am so glad you are finding some useful information on our site and hope you keep coming back! The ingredients in those treatment pills that you can get at Wal-Mart or any camping supply should be crystallized iodine. This is a great fall back solution that is easy to carry, but it doesn’t kill everything. The pills are all pretty much the same and I have some in my wife’s car emergency kit for a back up, but I rely on filters to do the heavy lifting. If I was packing a bug out bag, I would have… Read more »

Dr. R. B. King

Dawn, that was a good reply from Pat.

I know of only one source of treatment drops for suspect water.
Contact me off-line by email and I’ll see if I can be of help.
teneagles999 at yahoo dot com.



Tom Bosworth

We have a WaterBob, but it is important to remember that the limiting feature is the size of the tub, not the 100 gallon WaterBob. Bath tubs don’t hold anything like 100 gallons. Our tub is one of the small 1970s types. I haven’t measured, but it is probably less than 30 gallons. Even the great big old ones probably don’t hold more than about 50, and my guess is that would be optimistic. Other storage possibilities are the washing machine and the laundry sink. If you anticipate an emergency, fill them up. Even a wheelbarrow. If you have storage… Read more »


Recently I’ve begun prepping on a very limited budget. I know how important water is. Here’s my question. I live in a second floor apartment. I know that a gallon of water weighs 8.34lbs. I can fill up a 7 gallon Aquatainer and that comes out to 58.38lbs. How many of those can I fill up before the floor below me collapses on top of poor Emily, who lives below me? I know that you can’t answer such a structural question without knowing the details about the building itself…which I don’t have access to. But, it’s questions like this that… Read more »

Pat Henry

Thanks for the comments and questions Neo101,

Assuming you are living in a quasi new apartment, the floors should be concrete over structural metal and not wood. Obviously, I am making assumptions here and I can’t accurately give a definitive answer, but I would propose distributing the weight. That way your static load isn’t as great in one place. Makes storage ideas harder I know but Emily might appreciate that. You could put two containers in one closet, two in another, two in the kitchen and at least have some capacity. That shouldn’t break anyone’s floors.


Reema A

To stay healthy and alive in the outdoors, it is important to become familiar with essential materials and skills. Water.

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