How to Find Water in the Desert When Camping

Image of how to find water in the desert

In this article, we will look at a few tips for how to find water in the desert. If you truly love camping, you know you gotta try them all.

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Some of the challenging adventures include camping in the rain, camping in extreme cold, mountain camping and now, you can add another feather to your hat – camping in the desert.

Here are a few places that can give you a perfect desert camping experience in the US:

  • Arizona – Oljato-Monument Valley
  • Arizona – Chiricahua National Monument
  • California – Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • New Mexico – Gila National Forest
  • Texas – Big Bend National Park
  • Utah – Goblin Valley State Park
  • Utah – Kodachrome Basin State Park

These are just a few of the fabulous desert campgrounds in the US. You may take all the precautions necessary, but then, you could run out of your camping supplies before your vacation is over.

What would you do if you run out of water? Of course, you know that water is scarce. But, will you wait to die or will you look for water. While you can go for weeks without food, you can die in three days if you lack water.

8 Ways for How to Find Water in the Desert

The good news is you can still find water in the desert. Well, it is not an oxymoron. There is water in the desert. You just have to know how to find it.

But first, you need to ensure you do not lose the water in your body. So when in the desert, avoid direct exposure to the sun and cover your whole body to prevent evaporation.

1. Before leaving home, read about surviving in the desert

It is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the desert that you will be camping in. Know everything about it. You can find out about the water holes available, the types of plants that grow there, types of snakes, animals, insects and so on.

You see, when you go camping in the desert, you need to equip yourself with some survival skills. Thus, bring your camping hatchet too. You are going to need. Also pack your camping knife. It can come in handy when you have to cut some roots to drain water out of them.

Prepare yourself amply. Carry extra rations, get that map and know the area surrounding your campsite well.

Also, remember to bring your portable water filter. You will need it, unless you want to drink directly from the water source.

2. Stay alert out for wildlife, birdlife, and insects

Signs of wildlife, insects, and birdlife means there is water close by. If you see birds circling a particular area, mosquitos, or flies, then you are likely to find water nearby.

Large animals leave tracks when going to a water source. If you find those trails especially those heading downhill, then the animals could have been going to drink water.

Image of finding water in the desert

Pay attention to the living things you find in the desert. They could direct you to a source of water.

Thing is, animals need water to survive. Even if they are desert animals and they are fully adapted to living there, they need water.

3. Scout for vegetation – how to find water in the desert

There is hardly any vegetation in the desert because of the dry climate. If you find any dense vegetation, then that area must have water.

Check out for places with green plants preferably wide leafed trees because these require lots of water to grow. Trees such as willows, cottonwoods, and sycamores are found in areas that have water in the soil. You can see these trees from afar because of their bright green leaves.

Other trees include palm and aspen trees. Wherever you see them in the desert, look for water there even if you have to dig.

In case you are in an Australian desert, look out for the mallee eucalyptus. The tree looks like so many trees in one plant. You just need to cut its root and drain water into a container.

4. Check on Valleys and canyons

In earning how to find water in the desert, you will read that valleys and canyons are cooler. They retain water long after the rains are gone. They are also downhill which is where the water flows. So, there is a high chance you will find water here.

You can assess the area using binoculars to check whether there are any valleys or canyons nearby. Alternatively, use a topographical map to find them.

You will normally find water in north-facing canyons. We said you should know the place where you are camping? You should mark out the canyons.

5. Look for Water in the Dry River Beds and Streams

Except for the Tigris, Euphrates, Nile River in Egypt or the Colorado River in the USA, you will not find many rivers that run all through the year in deserts. In that case, if you are looking for water in the desert, start by looking for dry rivers and streams.

You are likely to find water on these riverbeds once you dig a hole. Seasonal rivers flow along their waterways. Because of the regularity, there is always water cose to the surface. In fact, as you dig deeper, you will find the dirt becomes damper.

Why then don’t plants grow in the riverbeds of seasonal rivers? It is because water leeches the soil, taking the nutrients with it.

6. Survey the surroundings from a high ground

If all else fails and you can’t see any vegetation or animals, look for high ground. Chances are high that you won’t find water there.

Actually, that is not why you will be going. You want a high ground so you can look for vegetation, animals and other signs of water from up there. It is even more useful if you have your binoculars to enable you to see further.

Keep in mind that going to the high ground for how to find water in the desert is the last resort in your quest to find water. The reason behind this is that when you are climbing up, you will lose more water through sweat and you will dehydrate.

7. Dig to find water – how to find water in the desert

Did you bring your shovel for camping? After scouting and finding a temporary riverbed, you might have to dig some.

In the desert, chances are you will not find water on the surface. You will be required to dig.

Therefore, if you are near vegetation, dry streams or rivers, where there are sloping-rock features or at the lowest point in the area, you will need to dig to find water. One telltale sign of underground water is clay soil.

Do not dig at the glaring of the sun. You will dehydrate since you will sweat quite a lot. Wait until it is cool or early in the morning when the water is near the surface.

If you suspect a spot may have water, dig a hole of about 1 foot depth. If you don’t see wetness, move to another spot. When you find a damp spot, expand the hole up to a diameter of 1 ft. Leave the hole for a few hours to allow the water to collect.

Put all the water into a container. If you leave any of the water in the hole, it will dry up.

8. Other techniques for how to find water in the desert

So, you haven’t found any groundwater even after digging. Well, don’t wait to die of dehydration. Think of other unconventional sources.

Collect dew

One character of the desert climate is that it is usually hot and dry in the day. It is also cold at night. In the morning, there is dew. You can trap some to wet your throat with in the morning.

You are likely to find dew in the morning. Collect the dew by passing over it an absorbent cloth or a clump of grass.

Check hollow trees

Dead trees with hollows can store water. So, check them out. If the hole is small, you can attach a piece of cloth to a stick and use it to absorb water. One giveaway of tree hollows with water is if you see insects going in.

Look under rocks

Rocks are also likely to have dampness underneath and dew on the surface because they slow the speed of evaporation. Look for rocks that are half-buried and turn them over. Do this very early in the morning when the dew is still there.

Eat cactus fruits

Image of cactus fruit in the desertCactus fruits look succulent especially when you are thirsty. If you find any when in the desert and you have no water, eat them.

The moisture inside will help you to remain hydrated. However, be careful when picking the fruit, the cactus has dangerous spikes.

Also, the fruit has hairs and spikes so you will need to roast it on a fire for a minute to get rid of them.




You have seen how to find water in the desert. Just because you have run out of water, it does no mean you have to cut your camping trip short in the desert. Try to find water. If you find some, pass the same skills to your kids.