Digging A Seep Well

As one of the most critical aspects of wilderness survival, having a variety of methods to filter and purify water can come in handy. Easy methods such as boiling, purification tablets, pump filters, and UV filters are great. They are fairly easy, reliable, and pretty well remove the guesswork in transitioning water from questionable to drinkable. I've commented on it before, but one of the things that gets me on the show Dual Survival is the risks they take with water. In more than one episode, Dave will drink water that is, in my mind, more than questionable. I get his logic that being hydrated and able to function for a few extra days before getting sick is preferable to abstaining from risky water and dehydrating sooner, but here is where primitive techniques like the seep well can come in handy!

Seep wells are best dug near a water source where the ground is already fairly saturated. Mud, lake shore, and river bank or sand bar are all good locations. It can also be dug where a water source is not visible but where plant life indicates a water source may be just below the surface of the ground.

There is a difference between filtering water and purifying water in outdoor terminology. Filtering involves removing particulates from the water. This would be removing things like leaves, dirt, bugs, and algae. An exceptional filter would also remove bacteria and other microorganism. After being filtered water is generally safe-er to drink, but not by definition, safe. Purifying is specifically used to describe water that has been cleansed to the point where it is safe to drink. A seep well is a method of filtration, not purification. It improves the quality of risky water and reduces the likelihood of ingesting something that will make you sick.

The technique for digging a seep well is very simple and can often be done by hand. A shovel just makes the job easier. Choose a spot approximately 6-10 feet from the edge of the water source. Dig a hole roughly twelve inches across and as deep and you can reach. If you have the material available, it is helpful to line the walls of the hole with rocks or even wood. This reinforces the sides of the well and helps keep dirt from slipping from the well walls into the water itself. Depending on the consistency of the soil, the time it takes for water to seep through the ground and fill the hole you have dug may vary. The process of the water seeping from the source, through the soil, and filling the hole you dug serves as a filtration method of it's own. Don't drink the first batch of water that seeps in to fill the well. Go ahead and let the hole fill, then scoop out the water. This first batch of water is generally murky because you have loosed the soil by digging and constructing your well. This first bit of water brings loose soil with it and needs to be discarded. It can be helpful to dump the water a couple of times if you can wait. It will get clearer each time you do this.

As I said, the water you gather using this method is filtered. It is cleaner that drinking straight from a pond or stream, but it is still safer to boil this before drinking it.


  1. Thanks! It's a useful, straightforward technique and I'm not sure why it isn't shown more often.

  2. Great post. I've never seen anyone attempt this but might be worth a shot.