Letter Re: Desert Stills Don’t Work

Can anyone prove that the long-touted “desert solar still” will maintain life in a emergency desert survival situation? I’m age 70 and tired of hearing the Bravo Sierra.  Prove it to me, please. Sorry , but with more than 35 years experience (15 years at the USN SERE-P.O.W. school in Warner Springs, California plus three years at the USN JEST school and since then 20 years in the business of survival training and digging earth,)  I must call foul on the desert still concept.  People should stop selling the idea. (The USAF has.)  
I have tested the solar still idea since 1968 – hoping it would work. I did so in the El Centro, California desert, Yuma, Phoenix, to the flat lands of Illinois, to the Colorado mountains and they do not produce any significant quantities of water.
I will pay the person who proves to me that such a still will save your life!    My friend Dave Ganci, an expert in Arizona says NO. Peter Bigfoot, also an Arizona expert says NO. Dale Nelson – desert expert,  says NO. My Australian desert friend Sean Mc Bride says NO.The late Ron Hood said NO, and his desert survival DVD had excellent facts.  

I’m sure other experts at Rabbit Stick will agree: no [significant] water. Good try but a real waste of time, sweat and energy. Even the barefoot hippie Cody L. or Indian-trained Tom Brown Jr. can not prove the desert still works.  One can not survive on this nonsensical  information. And I  too say NO to the desert still.  Prove it to me.  
Sincerely signed and standing by, – Mountain Mel

JWR Replies: I have never touted solar stills, although one of my readers once did. His long-winded article admitted that a lot of effort was required in construction, and only marginal output–even with his improved design and with extra foliage tossed in. And he reported virtually no output from the standard design.

Several real-world tests have shown that you sweat more moisture building solar stills than they produce. Unless you are on top of some amazing local surface aquifer, if you depend on the local ground moisture then these stills only produce a trickle for the first full day, and then hardly anything the second and subsequent days. The “experts” talk about adding gathered vegetation to the solar still’s chamber area, but that adds little to their output. Again, the effort of gathering that vegetation outweighs the benefit.

In temperate regions with leafy vegetation, gathering early morning dew from grasses with cloth and then wringing it out into a container is a far more efficient use of your time and energy.