Stuck in the wilderness with nary a drop of water in your canteen? Don’t worry. You can survive this situation and live to tell an incredibly interesting tale.
Living without water is very different from living without food. In hot conditions with no water, dehydration can set in within an hour. A baby locked in a hot car or someone who is physically overexerted in the heat without replacing fluids can actually die in a period of several hours.
Humans need water to live, plain and simple. We lose water through sweat, urine, feces and even breathing. This water needs to be replaced in order for our organs to continue to work properly. In severe heat, an adult can lose as much as 1.5 liters of water through sweat alone [source: Scientific American]. The main risk without water in high heat is that your body temperature will continue to rise and you’ll suffer from heat stroke. Drinking water will cool you down and lower your core temperature.
With mild dehydration, you’ll experience the following:
- Lack of saliva
- Decreased frequency of urine
- Decreased output of urine
- Deep color and strong odor in urine
- Even less urine
- Dry mouth
- Dry and sunken eyes
- Rapid heartbeat
- No urine
- Lethargy and irritability
- Vomiting and diarrhea
The final stage of dehydration is shock. This is characterized by blue-gray skin that’s cold to the touch. A severe drop in blood pressure produces this coolness.
Now back to the question at hand. How long can you go without water? Assuming you’re in reasonable shape and in ideal conditions — that is, not in the heat or cold and not exerting, a human can probably live for about 3 to 5 days without any water. Healthier humans can live another day or so longer.
This isn’t something you should test. While people may fast or try a body cleanse without food, you should absolutely never go without water for more than a day. The Mayo Clinic recommends drinking about eight cups of water a day, although there’s some debate about this number [source: Mayo Clinic]. Some physicians say less is fine, while others say the number should be closer to 10 cups or even more.
1. GET MOTIVATED
You can survive without water, but not for long. The average human can hold out for three to five days without a sip of water, but dehydration will set in and lead to all sorts of problems, like confusion, lethargy, and rapid heartbeat, well before then. You’re going to need to find some water, pronto.
2. DON’T SWEAT IT
Before you start searching for water, stop to consider an obvious conundrum. If you don’t have any new fluids to put in your body, you should be doing what you can to conserve what’s already in there. Try to limit any activities that will make you perspire, which will only speed up the dehydration process.
3. BREAK INTO SNOW BUSINESS
Short of finding a stream, river, or lake – try following animals or their tracks to one of these godsends – there’s no easier source of hydration than snow or freshwater ice. Don’t just start munching on snowballs, though. Eating water while it’s still frozen will lower your body temperature, which will actually increase your dehydration. Melt your frosty finds into liquid water, and you’ll be good to go.
4. GO BANANAS
If you’re in the jungle, seek out a banana tree. With a little help from a knife – you didn’t venture into the jungle without a knife, did you? – a banana tree can become a personal water fountain. Hack away all but the bottom foot or so of the tree, and carve a bowl into the top of the remaining stump. The tree’s roots will draw fluids up into the trunk, and the bowl will fill with water.
5. MAKE GRAVITY WORK FOR YOU
In a desert, water can be tougher to find, but if you’re lucky, gravity will have done some of the heavy lifting for you. Water flows downhill, so walk downhill whenever you can to search for fluids in valleys or crevices. If that doesn’t work – and if you happen to be toting a machete – hack your way into a cactus and squeeze the moisture out of the pulp. You can also put the pulp in your mouth and suck out the water, but be careful not to eat it.
* * *
With these techniques, you should be able to stay hydrated long enough to make it back to civilization. Once you’re revitalized, you’ll probably be sick of drinking water, so crack open a cold beer while you tell your story.