How to Locate Spring Water

Updated April 17, 2017

Locating safe drinking water is a critical survival skill when hiking or backpacking in the wilderness, or during emergencies. Groundwater is typically contaminated with bacteria and is unsafe to drink, but water from natural springs is a viable alternative drinking source when bottled or tap water is not available. If you are out in the wilderness and need to locate a source of spring water, you will need to know what signs to look for to find sources that are nearby.

Look for the source of a spring to locate water. This is the easiest method for locating spring water. To find the water at its source, you may wish to use a compass to help determine in which direction to head. Follow the direction in which the water might be flowing. If you know you are near a major water source like a river, sea, or ocean, head in that direction.

Head downhill. If you are on a mountain, you are more likely to encounter sources of spring water as you climb down. Water will flow naturally in the direction of gravity. You will usually be able to find a stream or creek at the bottom of a mountain.

Travel within the crevices between mountain ridges. Water tends to flow out around and between these crevices, so if you follow the crevice, you should be able to locate a spring along the way. Listen for the sound of water flowing and try to follow it, but be aware of your compass as well.

An alternate method for finding water is to watch for well-worn animal paths in the woods. Animals require water as much as humans do, and animal paths should lead you to a source of water eventually. Listen for the sounds of frogs or waterfowl.

Collect the water at the head of the spring. Water at the head is the purest and most likely to be free of contaminants. It has not had the time or space to become contaminated with animal waste or bacteria from other sources.


Water collected at the head of a spring should be pure and safe to drink as is without needing to be boiled. You should, however, always exercise caution.


The only reliable way to test if drinking water is safe for consumption is to take a sample to be tested. If you are in the wild, you will not be able to do this, so use your best judgment and common sense before drinking from any spring you find.

Things You'll Need

  • Compass (optional)
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About the Author

Michelle Labbe has been writing online and for print since 2004. Her work has appeared in the online journals Reflection's Edge and Cabinet des Fées as well as in Harvard Book Store's anthology, "Michrochondria." She is pursuing a Master of Arts in publishing and writing at Emerson College.