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How Long Can You Survive Without Water?

Did you know that the human body is made up of 60% water? Maybe more interesting than that are the more specific figures of individual organ composition. For instance, did you know that the brain and heart are each 73% water? Or that our muscles and kidneys are 79% water? What about the fact that our lungs are 83% water? We’re basically all here just floating through life.

Our most essential organs—as well as our greater bodily systems like circulation, muscular function, and nutrient and message delivery—rely on water down to the cellular level to be able to perform properly, i.e., keep us alive.


“How long can you survive without water?” is a little more complicated than you might think. But there is no direct, all-encompassing answer because all of our bodies and circumstances are so unique. Some people have generalized that a human can go 48 hours without water, or even up to 72. But that answer fails to take into account the specifics of every individual situation and therefore can’t be accurately relied on. Some things that can affect how long you can survive without water include:

  • Age

  • Sex

  • Body composition

  • Activity levels

  • Location/temperature

  • Overall health

  • What you’ve eaten recently, particularly salt vs. water content

Another figure experts sometimes use in predicting how long you can survive without water is a 10% rule. Meaning, if you lose 10% of your body weight due to water loss, you’re considered severely dehydrated and your body is going to start shutting down, fast.

Most of us have noticed at some point or another that our mouths are dry or we feel very thirsty. These are the first indications that your body is running low on fluids and you need to replenish it with water and possibly electrolytes, quickly.

Once your body is passed that initial phase, other bodily functions that rely so heavily on water, will begin shutting down as well. Some signs of dehydration include:

  • An inability to produce sweat and regulate body temperature

  • A drop in blood pressure and proper circulation

  • A slowing down of the digestive system

  • Lack of kidney function and subsequent toxin buildup

  • Other organ failures

  • Fatigue, unconsciousness, and even death

Whoa. That got real serious, real fast. And we obviously never want to see those negative side effects of dehydration. So let’s talk about how to prevent it, particularly in emergency situations.


#1: Water Goes Bad

The fact is, water never expires. That said, not all water is good for drinking! If not stored properly, water can become contaminated with biological growth (bacteria, algae), or even with chemicals. So while the actual water doesn’t go bad, the gunk in it can make it ill-suited for human consumption.

#2: You Can Store Water In Any Plastic Container

Not all plastics are designed for long-term water storage. Even disposable water bottles aren't great for the long haul. Some plastic bottles, even those used for other drinkable liquids—milk jugs, for instance—are biodegradable and will break down over time. Soda and sport drink bottles are a better option but can still leach previously-stored liquids’ flavor into your stored water so you could end up with cola-flavored water. It may make you start wondering how long you can survive without water, but it’s drinkable.

#3: You’ll Be Fine If You’ve Stored Water Barrels Only

The problem with thinking that water barrels (large, typically blue, water jugs designed for your long-term emergency supply) are sufficient water storage, is that there are a number of emergency scenarios where you may not have access to your barrels. Think on-the-go emergencies or evacuations—you may not have time, space, or ability to move your water supply if it’s solely in barrels.

#4: If I Have Water Purification, I Don’t Need A Water Filter

Water purification pills or chemicals can be a great way to kill off 99.9% of the microorganisms in your water. But they don’t have the ability to remove chemicals, dirt, and other mystery “floaties” from your drinking water. Only a filtration system can do that.

#5: I Don’t Need To Store Water Because I Have Access To A Well Or River

If you’re not storing water because you think you have access to a regular source of water, like a stream or well, think again. Even typically reliable water sources can be contaminated by man-made or natural disasters. They are also at risk of being reduced greatly by pump sources upriver or drought.


  • Store water. Yeah, the first tip for the best way to store water is to just do it. Sure, there is a right way, and we’ll get to that next. But make the commitment today to start!

  • Know your water needs. Just like FEMA’s recommendation to store a two-week supply of emergency food for each individual in the family, there is a target for water storage as well. The goal is to store 1 gallon of water per person, per day in case of an emergency. Of course, you won’t be able to predict how long a given disaster will last, but you can start small and build up to a solid (er, liquid) supply of drinking water for your family over time.

  • Don’t forget about water for your food supply. Remember that 1 gallon per person rule? Don’t forget that that estimate does not include water you may need to rehydrate emergency meals you have in your food storage. For instance, a good rule of thumb to follow is about 1 cup of water per serving of a freeze-dried meal. That means that in a 1-month supply of Hibernate’s emergency food, you’ll need to store about 20 gallons of clean, drinkable water to enjoy your fettuccine. (Trust us, it’s well worth it.)


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