Locating Desert Water Sources

The ability to find water is perhaps the most crucial element for survival in the desert. In extreme temperatures the human body can require over 10 litres of water a day even when resting in the shade.  Obviously any one journeying into desert areas should carry sufficient water with them to take into account all eventualities and in addition should know where wells and other water sources are located.  
However, when things seriously go wrong and you find your water supply dwindling there are a few tips that may help you find water in the desert.
Flies and mosquitos in combination are a give away for a water source nearby. Bees and wasps also require water and bees fly in a straight line to and from water up to 1000 metres away.
Look out for pigeons, doves, finches and other game birds – they can only exist near fresh water. They tend to drink in the evening so look out for flight in a straight line.  Flying back from water they are heavy and fly low and rest often.  In Australia billabongs can be located from miles away by the sound of finches and parrots.

Desert Sparrow- Morocco 2012 Desert Survival Course

Animals like deer, cattle, sheep and pigs (both wild and domestic varieties) need regular water so do elephants, kangaroos, wild horses and larger predators.  However most reptiles, small rodents and many antelope like gazelle and oryx may never drink.
Camels can go up to a month without drinking.  Lots of animal tracks from more than one species converging in one direction is a good sign especially if there is evidence of green vegetation.


Water seepage in canyons along the high water line of previous floods may yield a source and small pockets of water can collect in sandstone rock formations especially if there has been recent rain. Occasionally digging at the base of rocks and mountains can produce water.
Where sand dunes meet the sea digging above the high tide mark might reveal a thin layer of fresh water sitting atop a heavier layer of salt water. In some inland dune systems water may be obtainable if you dig down deep enough at low points between dunes.
Look for dry river beds (wadis or arroyo) with plenty of green vegetation, digging down in the sand on the outside of a sharp bend (where the water would have been moving slowest) or in a dip (which may have held water longest before drying up) may reveal water.  However you may have to dig down a couple of meters!
Palms require alot of water and digging down among their roots is sometimes successful.
Collections of boulders in rocky desert hills or ridgelines can form “tinajas” which are pools of trapped water that can remain for some considerable time.
All wild water should be filtered to remove silt, and other particulates, and purified.  Diarrhoea and vomiting caused by drinking contaminated water will simply accelerate dehydration.
Even water that is too brackish to drink or is in some way contaminated has its uses. It can be used to soak your clothing and reduce water loss from perspiration.
For more information on our desert survival training course click here

Related posts