Ways to Find Water in a Desert


One of the most challenging landscapes to survive in is a desert. According to National Geographic, deserts are areas that receive no more than 25 cm, or 10 inches, of precipitation a year and are arid or dry. Any precipitation in deserts typically evaporates due to the sweltering heat experienced during a given day. 

This extreme heat in the desert can lead to dehydration– and possibly death–for anyone traversing a desert. Traveling during the midday heat can lead to exhaustion and cause you to sweat out any water you’ve already taken in during the day. Your situation can become even worse if you run out of water during a trek across the desert.

Deserts are characterized as arid and dry. A common fear of the desert is dehydration, but deserts do still have sources of water. The plants and animals in the desert still need water to survive, even if they’ve adapted to the desert landscape.

If you’re ever stuck trying to survive in the desert, there are a few ways to find water in the dry and arid landscape.


Searching the terrain for any water is a great start. The best way to get the best vantage point for the surrounding land is to find the highest point you can reach. Once you’ve managed to grab a good vantage point of the desert around you, keep an eye out for any glimmers of light in the distance. This glimmer of light can indicate the flat surface of a pool.

If you do not spot any glimmers of light, search for any rocks that slope down into the ground. Since water tends to travel down, you should search the bases of any mountains. Keep an eye out for any canyon basins or valleys as well. There’s always a chance for you to find water in these locations because of gravity. You can also search for any craggy sandstone outcrops because rainwater may have accumulated there overnight.

Dried river beds are also a great starting point in any search for water. While they may be dried out, the bends in the river may still have some water soaked in the ground that hasn’t evaporated yet. When you need to find water in a pinch, this is the place to look. 

As you travel or observe your surroundings, keep an eye out for any clay or soil. These are good indicators that there may be a water source nearby. Any cracks or bulges in the landscape can be an indicator of roots in the ground. Where there are roots, water tends to follow. 

There may be different trails in the desert as well. Animals and other survivors may be searching for a source of water, so following their path may lead you to a water source. Following these trails may not be a reliable method, however. You can’t be guaranteed to find water at the end of the pathway. This option is good if you have already found water and can traverse the desert. 

If you can find a long stick, you can also work on digging a hole as the sun goes down. Dig a hole about 30 cm down, and you check for any moisture. If the ground is damp, widen the hole by 30 cm and wait until morning. It may be a good idea to cover the hole with a piece of cloth to avoid any contamination while you wait for more water to fill up the hole. After a few hours, you should start to notice some water accumulating. The key is to either drink or store the water before the sun rises and evaporates the water you’ve discovered. 

In the early morning, you can also search for any dew or moisture underneath rocks. The only challenge here is that you may run into a scorpion. Keep the dangers in mind while searching for water in the early mornings. 


Anytime you see plants, you are likely to find water as well. The flora in the desert have adapted to the dry and arid landscape, but they still need some water to survive. 

Cacti and roots contain water that you can access. Use a rock to break open the roots or break off a piece of the cactus. Be wary of the spines on the cacti, and make sure you either remove the spines or cook the cacti over a fire.

Trees with wide leaves, like willows or cottonwoods, are good to look out for. These trees are very likely to have water in them. If you find one of these trees, but don’t see any water, just start digging. As you dig a hole, it should fill up with water.

Other trees can be good indicators for water as well, but these trees may not have as much moisture in their bark. Tree stumps or fallen, dead trees can also retain some moisture. The key is to look for any insects crawling around on the stumps or bark. If you see insects, wrap a cloth around a stick and try to wedge it into the tree. If the cloth comes back wet, you can drink or store the water and continue this process until the water is gone. 


The wildlife in the desert needs to know where to find water: otherwise, they risk dehydration. If you see any animals in the desert, make sure you keep an eye on where they’re going. 

Large groups of insects, flocks of birds, and reptiles are good indicators of water nearby. Birds will typically appear in the early morning and right before sunset. Reptiles typically hang around insect nests, and insects will flock to a source of water. 

The desert can be a dry and unforgiving place to be stranded, but you don’t have to be worried about dehydration with these tools. Understanding the desert terrain and keeping an eye on the wildlife in the area will help you survive in the desert and avoid dehydration. Websites offer great information on deserts such as that from best borehole logging software to educate you more about ways and techniques Geosciences use to find water in a desert. 

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