How To Find Water in the Desert

Deserts are areas that receive very little rainfall. They tend to be hot & dry during the day, and relatively cool at night. The last summer in Phoenix, Arizona reached temperatures of 115F or 46C! The biggest threat is dying from dehydration, or a lack of water.

With the air being so dry and the heat so hot, your sweat may evaporate off of your skin before you can even feel yourself sweating. This gives the perception that you’re not as hot as you feel you are. It also may cause you to not feel as thirsty.

It goes without saying that you should bring LOTS of water when venturing out into the desert. Bring double what you think you might need. If you’re already in the desert lost and are able to read this, call for help immediately if possible. Here is how to find water in the desert:

Prevent Loss of Water

Before searching for water, you need to understand that you’re losing water if you’re running out in the middle of the day. It’s best to stay in shaded areas away from the sun and wind if at all possible during the afternoon and evening. Search for water when it’s cooler out or at night so you aren’t losing more water than what you may find.

Remember, with the desert being so hot you may not even realize how dehydrated you are getting. Be safe and move slowly, don’t work yourself out unnecessarily!

Geographical Locations

If at all possible look for shaded canyons and valleys. Look for locations that would remain shaded during the morning and afternoon because these areas will be significantly cooler. If you find lots of vegetation, bugs, and animals near these areas, there’s a very high probability you’ll find water.

Also sometimes water gets trapped under rocks in these types of areas. Combine the other advice you’re about to receive with this one for the highest chance of finding water in the desert.

Follow Wildlife + Green Vegetation

Try observing where insects, birds, and other animals are coming/going to. This may indicate that there is a source of water because all living creatures require water to survive.

The greener and more abundant the vegetation, the more likely there is a source of water. Move towards greener, more abundant areas, and try figure out where the animals are coming/going to in these areas.

Dig for Water

Once you’ve located the best possible area, that is also hopefully shaded, you’ll want to dig a hole that’s one foot deep. Dig it one foot long/wide too if possible. Dig near the greenest vegetation in shade. Again, it’s best to do this in early morning, otherwise any water that collects may instantly evaporate.

Dig a few holes around areas with lots of vegetation that have the most abundant life, preferably in areas that would be shaded during morning + afternoon. You will then have to wait a couple of hours, so while waiting dig other holes around the area! Don’t just wait for one hole!

Look for moisture as well. Moisture and mud are signs of water you should consider. After a couple of hours the hole will fill up with a bit of water if it’s in the right area. Immediately dig more holes near that area.

Collecting the Water

It goes without saying that you should try purifying your water if possible. Boil it, throw in an iodine tablet, or run it through an anti-bacteria filter. If it comes down to drinking dirty water or not drinking water though, drink the dirty water. The short-term effects will not be near as bad as not drinking water.

If you’re unable to collect the water or put it in a bottle, place a cloth or a shirt in the hole and ring it out. If the water is particularly dirty the cloth may collect a lot of the dirt too. Don’t expect the water to taste good either way!

Water from Cactus- A Huge Lie

There’s a big misconception that you can just drink cactus water. This is a lie. Cactus water will cause headaches, fatigue, vomiting, temporary paralysis, and perhaps even be fatal. Not to mention, the effort required to collect this water is greater than the effort of digging holes around abundant areas.

If it comes down to it though, there is one type of cactus called the “fish hook barrel cactus” which can sometimes be safe to drink. This is the safest cactus water to drink, and it’s abundant in the southwest United States (Arizona, New Mexico, etc.).

This is what the fish hook barrel cactus looks like:

Chop off the top of the cactus, smash the watermelon-like inside, and then squeeze it out and drink the liquid that comes from it. If you’re desperate for water, this is the safest type of cactus water. Only drink a little bit, as much as you need, to prevent getting poisoned.


It is always best to make sure you have cell phone connection and lots of water wherever you go. Deserts are no joke- don’t be stupid! We hope you enjoyed this read and have a safe desert adventure.

-Wildlife X Team International

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