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Survival Skills

Use desert survival techniques to gather water during a flood

Transpiration bags can gather drinking water both in the desert and flooded areas.
Use desert survival techniques to gather water during a flood

An  irony of floods is that muddy, filthy water inundates everything, but there is generally a shortage of drinking water! People stranded by standing water may be able to adapt desert survival skills to gather potable water.

by Leon Pantenburg

Widespread flooding is ravaging  Louisiana.

An act of God is how some are describing it, a catastrophic 48-hour torrent of rain that sent thousands of people in Louisiana scrambling for safety and left many wondering how a region accustomed to hurricanes could get caught off guard so badly. (Associated Press)


Enclose living vegetation with a clear plastic bag to gather water through plant transpiration. (Peter Kummerfeldt photo)

Who knows if the worst is over?

But what happens in a long term situation, such as after Hurricane Katrina, where people were stranded by for long periods of time? In those situations, staying hydrated in the heat becomes incredibly important.

“In priority order, after shelter and the need to defend your body temperature, preventing dehydration is the survivor’s next most important necessity,”  says survival expert Peter Kummerfeldt.

In some areas, drinking water can be found in vines. Another way to gather drinking water during a flood might be to set up transpiration bags, a method typically considered a desert survival technique.

transpiration bag

The amount of moisture that can be gathered from a transpiration bag varies, depending on a different environmental factors. (Peter Kummerfeldt photo)

“Using clear plastic bags to enclose living vegetation and capture the moisture transpired by the leaves can be an effective method of collecting water,” Kummerfeldt says. “Any time you have a plastic bag and living vegetation it should work.”

This survival  technique relies on a process called transpiration, which goes on constantly during the daylight, in deserts and swamps alike.During transpiration, trees absorb moisture through their roots, and evaporate water

Condensation from the vegetation will be caught in the plastic bag. (Peter Kummerfeldt photo)

Condensation from the vegetation will be caught in the plastic bag. (Peter Kummerfeldt photo)

through openings in their leaves, according to USGS Science for  a Changing World. Trees tend to transpire more with increased temperatures, sunlight intensity, water supply, and size. When it gets too hot, though, transpiration will shut down.

“The vegetation should be given a vigorous shake before placing it in the plastic bag,” Kummerfeldt advises. “This is to remove any insects, bird droppings or other materials that might contaminate the water.”

Within a short period of time, water will begin to condense on the inner surface of the bag, collect into water droplets and drain to the lowest point of the bag.

Water quantity depends on the amount of moisture in the ground, and vegetation type. Other factors affecting water production include the amount of sunlight available, (it doesn’t work at night) the clarity of the plastic bag and the length of time the process is allowed to work.

“It is not uncommon to find two or three cups of water, and sometimes much more, has accumulated over a six-to-eight hour daylight period,” Kummerfeldt said.

The best way to remove the water without disturbing the bag, he added, is to insert a length of vinyl aquarium hose through the neck of the bag down to the lowest point where water will collect. (This should be done during assembly of the apparatus) The water can then be sucked out or possibly siphoned into a container.

“When enclosing vegetation in the plastic bag it is advisable to place chicken egg sized stone in the lower corner where the water will collect” Kummerfeldt said. “The weight of the stone creates a separation between the enclosed plant life and the water and keeps plant saps from contaminating the water.”

“You can’t count on large quantities of water being produced in individual transpiration bags,” Kummerfeldt cautions. “But you must do everything you can to stay hydrated.”

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View Comments (2)


  1. Leon

    12/02/2016 at 17:45

    Will do.

  2. Bill

    11/30/2016 at 09:05

    put us on your email alerts etc as we are vwery interested have a GREAT Holiday Season


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Survival Skills

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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