In the wilderness people do die after becoming lost or having their vehicle break down in remote and unknown areas. Many of these deaths occurred due to excessive heat, thirst and exposure to elements. Causalities also occur because the individuals have poor survival knowledge and they lack basic supplies such as water and food.
The average person can expect to survive without water for three to five days, depending on the environment they live in and the activity they try to do. Some instances show individuals have perished within hours of becoming lost due to excessive dehydration.
Why your body needs water
It is no secret that water is essential to survival, but besides quenching your thirst water also helps directly and indirectly various physical and chemical processes in your body. Here are just a few of the functions performed by it:
- It regulates the body’s temperature
- Helps the kidneys to flush out toxins via urine
- It helps the nervous system by carrying impulses around the body
- Carries oxygen, nutrients and other essentials around the body
- Protects the vital organs as a shock absorbent and it also provides lubrication around the joints
You must conserve any water you have, including that already in your body. It is required to replace fluid that is lost, so by conserving body fluid you require less water intake.
Time frame for survival
If your water supplies are limited, you need to use the rations you have efficiently to increase your chances of survival. There have been cases where, in an ambient temperature of 100ºF survivors have stayed in the shade and followed good survival principles and survived for the following periods when in possession of the nominated amount of water. The table below is included to highlight the importance your actions may have on your time frame for survival.
No water 1 litre 2 litres 5 litres 11 litres
3-5 days 5½ days 6 days 7 days 9 days
Keep in mind that even by staying in the shade, the average person still loses more than 1 liter of water each day, just by breathing and urinating.
How dehydration affects our body
Dehydration occurs when you fail to replace the liquid your body loses. It takes place in any type of environment, regardless of high and low temperatures. The humidity, work-rate, the clothes you are wearing and even your body size are all factors that can lead to dehydration.
Here are the symptoms during the various stages of water loss:
Between 1 and 5% loss:
General discomfort, thirst but also loss of appetite, urine changes color (becomes darker), impatience, drowsiness, headache and nausea.
Between 6 and 10% loss:
Dry mouth, slurred speech, swollen tongue, inability to walk, breathing difficulties, blurred vision.
Between 11 and 12% loss:
Stiffness of joints, defective vision, skin becomes shriveled, inability to swallow, delirium, unconsciousness and lads to death eventually.
How fluid is lost from the body
Fluid is lost from the body by perspiring, breathing, urinating, vomiting, crying and talking.
This is a mixture of salt and water with the amount of salt varying from person to person. It is a normal bodily process that has a cooling effect as moisture evaporates from the skin surface. It is important to keep activity down to a minimum and conserve existing body fluids as any rise in body temperature can see losses in excess of 1 litre of fluid per hour resulting in dehydration.
Is also a normal bodily process and cannot be prevented. However, it should be held as long as possible to slow down this fluid loss from the body. You shouldn’t drink urine unless it has been distilled. I wrote in a previous article about how to make drinkable water from urine, but this is a skill that should be practiced and you shouldn’t experiment with it when the situation is critical.
This occurs in the wild after trying various bad or harmful foods. It can generally be avoided by learning about foraging and identifying the right plants, insects and animals.
When people panic they break down and start crying, making things worse. Crying should be avoided and although in theory it may be easier for adults, most people are untrained and they have a hard time coping with the harsh reality. Things complicated when kids are involved and it may be difficult to convince a child to stop crying.
Finding and gathering water is a must for survival
As I said it tens of times before, you should bother to learn about the environment you live in or the one you plan to travel since acquiring this type of information can save your life. You may not have the stamina to look for and purify it and this is why it is always indicated to gather water that doesn’t require purification. If you manage to do so, you will save time, fuel and energy. Natural water sources are all around us and we must learn how to make good use of them.
Related reading: Ready To Drink Natural Water Sources
When to consume water in a survival situation
You should always drink to replace fluids lost from your body, however if you are unable to locate or procure water and are limited to the quantities in your survival kit it should be consumed in small sips to replace some of the fluid lost to your system. Here is a trick to use if you are thirsty and water is in short supply: always rinse your mouth for 20-30 seconds before swallowing. Consuming water in moderation will increase your time frame for survival by up to half a day.
To survive in the wilderness a balance between water intake and loss must exist, regardless if it’s hot or cold outside. Even if you think that your chances of rescue are high and help is on the way, you should still look for water sources as soon as you’ve covered the basics such as shelter and first-aid(if the case). Keep in mind that you can survive for up to three weeks without food, but you won’t be able to survive for more than a few days without water.
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