Tapping Trees for Water

Clear, clean-flowing steams will not always be available to you if you are in a wilderness survival situation.  Even if you do come across a source of water that looks clean, you would still have to boil, filter, or treat the water before consuming it to avoid dangerous parasites such as cryptosporidium.  This may be difficult if you need to spend your time on other necessities like making shelter, finding food, or gathering firewood.  But there is a way that you can get clean, nutrient enriched water passively in the wilderness: tap a tree.

Before we get started with the instructions, know that there are two limitations to this technique.  First of all, not every tree will work, so look for the ever-useful birch, maple, or sycamore.  Secondly, the technique will only work in the winter and spring, with most success in the late winter or early spring.

  • After locating a suitable tree, make a “V” shaped cut in the tree with your knife.
  • Drive the knife in at the bottom of the cut at an upward angle. Do this on the sides of the cut as well and remove the wood inside the “V” so that you have a triangle shaped depression carved in the tree that goes upward as it gets deeper into the tree.
  • Remove the outer layers of bark and wood from a stick about as thick as your finger and about 6 to 8inches long. Sharpen both ends.
  • Drive this stick at a steep angle into the wound you have made in the tree.
  • Place the downward end of the sharpened stick into your canteen and tie your canteen to the tree. The canteen will fill while you have time to take care of your other needs.  If you do not have a canteen you can manufacture a bowl from birch bark as described in a recent article, and manufactured cordage which I recently posted a video about.  Hold the bowl in place using “Y” shaped sticks with the crotch pointing outward holding the cordage and the other end against the tree with tension.

The water that you will get is not only clean, it will have sugars and other nutrients from the tree.  It will be like getting wilderness Gatorade!  That being said, it will only last a few days before it begins to ferment, but hopefully it can nourish and hydrate you enough to survive.

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