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Survival expert debunks myths about finding water

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Tony Nestor digs through the gravel in a wash that might be hiding some water. The search turned out to be fruitless. (Source: CBS 5 News) Tony Nestor digs through the gravel in a wash that might be hiding some water. The search turned out to be fruitless. (Source: CBS 5 News)
Nestor says hikers should start out carrying as much water as they can. (Source: CBS 5 News) Nestor says hikers should start out carrying as much water as they can. (Source: CBS 5 News)
A person hiking in the desert will expend six quarts of water even sitting in the shade of a desert tree in 90-degree weather over 24 hours. (Source: CBS 5 News) A person hiking in the desert will expend six quarts of water even sitting in the shade of a desert tree in 90-degree weather over 24 hours. (Source: CBS 5 News)
PHOENIX (CBS5) -

(Second of four parts)

It's possibly the most important tip for a person lost in the desert: how to find just enough water to keep you going until help can arrive.

In any desert survival movie, the struggle to find water is key.

Trying to remember all of the tips to finding water in the desert is difficult, at best, with the sun beating down and no help in sight and thirst setting in.

"Just sitting, if I'm sitting in the shade of a palo verde or juniper tree, if I'm just sitting on the ground in 90-degree weather, not even triple-degree heat, I will expend six quarts of water," survival expert Tony Nestor said.

"So, I have one quart here, six quarts of this is going to get sucked out of my body over a 24-hour period," said Nestor, who owns Ancient Pathways, an outdoor survival company in Flagstaff.

The first step to conserving water, Nestor said, is to hunker down in the hottest parts of the day.

Dress like a cowboy, with a wide-brimmed hat, pants and long sleeves to conserve your sweat, he said.

When the sun gets low and the temperature drops, that is the safe time to begin to search for water, Nestor said.

If a lost person knows it has rained recently, a bend in a wash might be hiding a pool of water just below the surface.

"So, I've got a potential water source here, I'm not sure what we'll find at the bottom, but we've got a pour off here," Nestor said as he dug into the gravel in the wash.

But his find was disappointing. There was little moisture.

"This is not going to cut it. This might be enough to wet my bandanna a little bit and help cool me off and help with that positive mental attitude... ," he said, but it wasn't enough for even a single sip.

While many survival books claim lifesaving moisture can be found in a saguaro or barrel cactus, that's not the case, Nestor said.

"I wish it were so," he said. "You know these things show up in a lot of survival books along with solar stills, this whole concept that all you have to do is take your knife, lop off the top, mash up the pulp and the fluid, he said, is almost like a runny Elmer's glue. It looks and tastes about the same.

"And so you are putting this up to your mouth and your body and your instincts are saying, just like when you are getting a bad carton of milk out of the fridge, 'Don't do this!'

"And then you chug it down and I've had to meditate like a monk to hold it down because I just want to vomit that back up, thus further dehydrating myself," Nestor said.

Another documented source of moisture, especially from people stranded in small boats on ocean or underneath earthquake rubble, is to drink your own urine.

Not so, again, Nestor said.

"It falls into this category here: I'm adding something that's noxious to my system that's already taxed, so when it comes to urine, your body has already excreted that. Now you are going to collect that and consume it. That's going to plunge you down further the slope of heat stress," he said.

The search for water is all about time and energy management.

"With every movement, it's all about efficiency out here," Nestor said. "Even the coyotes and animals out here move with efficiency. So I want to take on that mindset. I don't want to burn up a lot of my precious sweat and calories because I may not have much."

A person can actually survive, even in triple-digit heat, without water for 48 hours if they are smart with their sweat, Nestor said.

It might not seem like the sexiest advice, but experts say hikers should bring as much water as they can carry when they first set out, and if they get stuck, they are better off staying put than digging for drops that never appear.

"Survival is not romantic," Nestor said. "It's only an adventure in retrospect. And while you are going through it, it is the most difficult thing you have ever undergone in your life.

"Because the elements are upon you, you are dehydrated, you have an injury, and now it's getting dark. So you have all these things that are working against you. And that's when you just have to tough it out and know you're going to make it."

Nestor also debunked another popular thirst remedy: sucking on a pebble.

"It may keep your mouth producing saliva, but it's just moving the very little water in your system to another part of your body," Nestor said.

He said any water that is found should be boiled or purified with tablets.

And the most common parasite, giardia, has an incubation period of nine days, he said.

Thursday: When to build a fire

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