The Prepper’s Easy to Set-Up Rain Water Catchment System

By Robert B – this is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest.

Whether for your home or your “Bug Out” location, you’re going to need water to survive, personal hygiene, washing clothing, etc.  I’ve made a simple rain catch system at our bug out location that any one can build for less than $150.00.

Although there are many ways to build a rain catch system, we found this system to be simple to build in under thirty minutes.  The items needed for this rain catch are:

  • Rain catch barrel (50 Gallon) with an opening on top with a piece of mesh held by multiple screws
  • Cement blocks to raise the barrel
  • 8 X 6 water proof tarp
  • At least 6 fence posts
  • Paracord or similar rope
  • Rocks and pebbles / gravel


Choose a location that has little or no trees that will cause pollen and leaves to clog the mesh on top of the barrel or your faucets.  This will also minimize the contamination of your collected water.

The cement blocks raises the barrel so that you can use the bottom faucet more easily.  You’ll thank yourself later.


Remove the plastic mesh to expose the hole on top of the barrel.


Next, center your tarp over the hole and cut a hole in your tarp to match the hole in your rain barrel.


Simply replace the mesh and screws, securing the tarp to your rain barrel.


We had a roll of window screening laying around so we cut a piece for additional filtering of contaminants. Obviously an optional step in the process.


Add gravel and some larger rocks to add weight as well as filtering water as it flows into the barrel.

This step was to help secure the tarp to the barrel on windy days.  The added weight of the rocks and gravel also reduce the stress on the screws during high winds.


Drive your fence posts into the ground leaving room for adjustments as needed and attach the tarp (utilizing the eye holes in the tarp) to the posts slightly higher that the top of the barrel.  Now, just sit back and wait for the rain.

We were worried about high winds damaging or destroying the tarp, but we had two days of over forty MPH winds and it came through right as rain, so to speak.

Our rain gauge at our bug out location showed that we received one inch of rain which was enough to fill the rain barrel.

rain collection barrel

Now you’ll have a renewable source of water.  Keep in mind, it’s still best to boil and filter any bacteria and other contaminants that will inevitably get into your water.

water jugs filled with rain water

When your rain barrel is full, it’s a good idea to harvest and save the water you’ve accumulated. We use cat litter containers which hold nearly three gallons of water.

Use your imagination to improve on this design and feel free to share your thoughts or ideas to help out other folks looking to complete such a project. Enjoy!!!!!

Prizes For This Round (Ends on June 7, 2017) In Our Non-Fiction Writing Contest Include…

First Prize a $999 value:

  1. Numanna Organic Family Pack Bucket a $399 value from LPC Survival Ltd.
  2. CampingSurvival Gear Pack a $400 value from Camping
  3. A $200 gift certificate of prepper books from Prepper Press.

Second Prize a $650+ value:

  1. A case of .308 ammo or $300 off Ammo selection of your choice from LuckyGunner.
  2. A Wonder Junior Deluxe Hand Mill with the Masa/Nut Butter Auger, Drill Bit Attachment, and Bicycle Sprocket Kit a $325 value from

Third Prize a $310+ value:

  1. $300 gift certificate from GunMag Warehouse.
  2. A copy of The Prepper’s Guide to Surviving the End of the World, as We Know It: Gear, Skills, and Related Know-How


  1. I’d like to thank MD Creekmore for posting my article. I would really like to hear other ideas and design modifications. We’ve now had two big storms go through and the rain catch system continues stand strong.

    • Jesse Mathewson says:

      This is awesome, if you dont have gutters or are even camping, this is an amazing idea!

      Can be easily changed to fit any type of container and tarp combination using gravel/or even activated charcoal etc., genius! Love it

  2. American Pacrat says:

    Robert B
    Looks like a winning design to me.
    Can you tell me where you found the barrel you are using for this project.? I have never seen a barrel with that particular design before.

  3. IdahoBob says:

    If you Google “guzzler” or “wildlife guzzler” you should find a series of articles about these rain water catchment systems. They are intended to be semi-permanent but the ideas available may be useful. They are also intended to provide drinking water for wildlife so if that isn’t your intent you should adjust the design accordingly. We camp at a remote site in the summer where it is quite dry (rain and snow in the winter, dry in the summer). I’m think of setting up something like this that would capture water while we are not there to be used in the summer.

  4. JP in MT says:

    Good idea. Thanks for posting.

    I like simple ideas for essential things that don’t require a lot of technical knowledge, electricity, or tools.

    Simple, effective, and portable (if required).

  5. Greetings, American Pacrat, I bought this rain barrel at the local tractor supply store. I have seen these at Home Depot as well. as long as they have the screen secured by screws at the top, they will work.

  6. anonymous says:

    Thank you for the article, many of us live in areas where potable ground water is very rare. In my location, even underground water is not potable as is – too saline. Distallation is our only hope there.

    I would suggest bird netting to prevent birds from perching on this and contaminating your collection tarp. Again, my thanks.

  7. Rain barrel is about 30″ in dia. that would be 3.14 x (15×15)= about 700sq”. An 8’x12′ tarp (8×12)(12×12)=13824sq”
    13824/700 =19.25″ roughly of water in the barrel, which would be less than 1/2 full.
    Measurements are rough, but close to true, with no spillage.

    • The list of materials at the beginning of the article lists the tarp as 6×8. 1″ of rain could not have filled the drum. (6×12)x(8×12) x 1″ = 6912 cubic inches. A gallon is 231 cu. in.; 6912/231=29.92 gallons. Either my math is wrong, your gage is wrong, or the tarp size listed above is wrong.

  8. Good idea, this type of collection could be used in a boat at sea to collect moisture from night air.

  9. chainsaw says:

    I never though of this. Great ideal. This is the kind of information that is useful. Simple low cost thanks

  10. Sarah Querry says:

    BACK in the 60s LIVING in LAS VEGAS,NEV. playing in the dessert WE would dig a hole place a rock on the tarp in 24 hrs. the coffee can would be full and no rain!

    • Sarah Querry,
      I’ve done a similar thing many times while wilderness camping. Dig the hole and place your cup in the middle and if you have one, place a rubber tube in the cup and run to the outside of the hole. This will be used as a straw to get water without disturbing thins. Cover the hole with a sheet of plastic (clear is better). Weigh down the edges of the plastic and place a small rock in the center to make an inverted dome. You can add some green vegetation into the hole for better moisture collection, since the heat in the hole will dry out the vegetation and allow the condensate to be captured and fall into the cup. The only problem with this is that the water you will be drinking will be warm, but still wet.

  11. Almost There says:

    Great article and looks like it could be done rather easily. Would an overflow “spigot” at the top allow for wildlife to drink if it overflowed into another container?

    Robert, are those yellow containers in the last photo cat litter containers? I have a bunch of the Tidy cat ones. They stack really well.. Maybe wash with bleach or something else… before use? Need to get the deodorizing smell out of the plastic.

  12. Patriot Dave says:

    I like it. Except for the cat litter boxes. They are not food grade plastic. Plus the residue of the litter chemicals will not wash out completely. I read this someplace a long time ago. There are much better alternatives that are not expensive. No reason to take the risk. You can reserve them as ‘grey’ water tanks.

    • Generally, we use the water from the cat litter containers to wash up out there and water our trees. We are fortunate enough to have a spring fed creek. At the house, we use them to save water for our conventional septic system in the event our water goes out.

  13. Greetings, Almost There, Yes, there is an over flow at the top of the barrel. I should have taken a photo of there. I’m sure there’s a way to harness that water for animals. The cat litter containers are mostly to use for watering our trees, washing up, etc. We are fortunate to have a spring fed creek on the property. This the other part of the property (Bug Out locations) if you’re interested.

  14. Greg Monger says:

    The tarp idea for collecting water is good. Using the gravel and rocks for weight and additional filtering is also good. I really liked what another reader suggested about netting to keep birds away. Simple ribbon and foil “flags” would also help keep birds away. Good article.

  15. Good article. Seems great for bugout or camping.

  16. Greyhawk1970 says:

    This was a great article. It’s a low cost solution for water if you plant a small garden or 3 in the back 40 lol.

  17. Encourager says:

    Great idea! We collect water from our gutters into rain barrels. We now have a new roof so I am expecting much less ‘gravel’ from the shingles in the water. We use it for watering gardens. But in an emergency, we would boil it and water ourselves…

    Thanks, Robert B!!

    • That’s excellent. We have three 50 gal rain barrels. We use that water for plants at the moment, but can use the water for numerous purposes if need be.

  18. Buy extra tarps because long-term exposure to the sun does break them down.

  19. Mechanic says:

    Used a tarp and a canoe to collect water post hurricane power outage. If it keeps water out it will
    Keep water in. Obviously not a long term solution but good in a pinch.

  20. That’s a great idea. Water may one day be something we’ll realize we all took for granted. Good to stock up while we can. As I said in the article, we use water for all kinds of things we don’t even think about.

  21. Joan C. says:

    This is a genius system, but there are a lot of pollutants in the air, and MANY chemicals in CHEMTRAILS , so I think I wouldn’t drink this water, without filtering it thoroughly!

    Here is a 15 min video on the subject:
    Pilots, Doctors & Scientists Tell Truth about Chemtrails [Excerpts]

    But if you’d like to see the whole 57 min video of the whole thing, here is the link for that:

    If anyone would like more videos, documents, or websites on this subject, I have many that I could share, or just go to youtube, and put in the search box, any of these terms:
    Weather Modification

    • You’ll find completely contrasting views by other scientists, airline pilots, and doctors on the internet as well, so it’s down to what you choose to believe. It’s fair to post the other views as well so that people have all views and can make an informed decision for themselves.

      • Chuck Findlay says:

        The Chemtrails thing doesn’t pass the smell test.

        In order for it to be true a lot of people would have to be involved from the beginning of the jet age to now. No one within the aviation industry and with any credibility has talked the about why of these things.

        Yes you can find people that say something is there, but real evidence is just a bit short and the question of why they would do it in the first place, how the supposed chemicals survive the heat of the engine and why not just add whatever the evil chemicals to our food?

        A few days ago I was sitting at a stop light and in front of me was a truck spewing white smoke out of the tail pipe and dripping moisture, This truck driver was trying to do evil things with his truck and as proof I offer up the white smoke and dripping water. See how foolish it sounds?

        But hey, don’t let logic or facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory.

    • All we can do it boil and filter the water and hope for the best.

    • Hey Joan, thanks for the info. I”ll take a look at them. Like I’ve said, all we can do is boil and filter and hope for the best.

    • Joan C,
      As an avid long time weather watcher and amateur chemist, I see all of this chem trail stuff as mostly nonsense. While jet aircraft do use hydrocarbon fuels that release more than just CO2 and water vapor when burnt, I think any conspiracy comes from the same ilk of people who push the FEMA camps and FEMA coffins nonsense.
      Weather watching includes BTW understanding various cloud formations and watching those aircraft vapor trails to determine wind and temperature conditions at altitude.
      I think a good place to look would be to follow the money, and see how many of these “experts. are trying to sell you something, from ways to protect yourself to books like: Chemtrails, HAARP, and the Full Spectrum Dominance of Planet Earth
      These are the same type of “expert” hucksters that made tons of money on books and equipment to survive the Y2K event, which was also nonsense and known to be so by anyone who was doing computer work at the time, as well as anyone who was thinking clearly. For instance, why would your vehicle engine controller care about or even know the date and time so it could somehow stop running?
      When collecting rainwater I would be much more concerned about particulates in the air from pollen and potentially carcinogen carrying wood smoke, much of the later of which we generate ourselves. Add to that the various kinds of avian scat that would no doubt be deposited in or on any collection system, and you have many pathogens to be concerned about.
      Filtration is the number one way to make this water potable along with a good distillation system. Keep in mind that simply boiling water may not always be advisable, because although it will kill many or most pathogens, and evaporate VOC’s, some soluble chemicals will simply be concentrated. Best to learn at least the basic chemistry or invest in some very good filtration cartridges containing activated carbon filter elements.

      • Joan C. says:

        That’s too bad you want to ignore this. It’s not about selling stuff. There’s hundreds if not thousands, of articles, videos, etc., online, if you would just look and listen to it…trying to warn everyone, without selling a thing!! There’s more proof than you shake a stick at, so to speak. The younger generation, never grew up without these chemtrails. Us older folks did. We don’t remember those things in the sky, growing up. Just listen to a few experts, and look at the evidence. The ones who don’t want to face up these facts, are the same ones who say the planes brought down the twin towers. The ones who just don’t want to believe the truth, the facts, and what’s right in front of their eyes. Sad.

        • As I wrote previously,there are two sides to everything on the internet now. Believe what you want and leave everyone else alone.

          • Chuck Findlay says:

            OP I voiced my not buying into the Y2K BS and was told I was a fool buy almost everyone on-line.

            It (like chemtrails) did not pass the logic test.

            In the end Y2K proved to be a big pile of nothing.

            This is why I question everyone who says they are an expert. I have found (as I suspect you have) that the supposed experts are not so expert after all.

          • Chuck Findlay

            Y2K was a real issue – luckily, it was fixed before it materialized into a major event.

        • Chuck Findlay says:

          That’s too bad you want to ignore this

          Joan it’s not about ignoring it, it’s about real proof and a question of why it would be done in the first place when there would be an easier way.

          And if something was sprayed from a jet engine by the time it got to the ground it would be quite small as to how much supposed chemical would actually be left to do it’s evil whatever that you think it is supposed to do.

          I question things with an open mind and let the facts decide the outcome.

          I suspect you went into the chemtrails thing already having decided there was evil intent and an intent other then to have a jet fly people from one place to another.

          I also am quite sure no logic, lack of proof or facts would change your mind.

  22. How do you keep the water fresh if it’s for stocking up for long term storage?

    • We’re mainly using this water for watering trees right now so we don’t have to haul water up from the spring fed creek. However, we would simply boil and filter it if we needed to drink it. We have multiple water filtration units.

  23. When I saw the photo in this article, the first thing that came to mind even before reading the first word was pop up.
    You can get the nylon pop ups for well under $100.00 that are generally used for either sunshade or to keep the water off of you. A minor modification placing a small hole and hose in the center would I think work nicely, and would be very portable by design. For a barrel you can purchase a simple 30 gallon or larger plastic trash can like those made by Rubbermaid. As far as the can being usable for potable water, all I can ask is, You were not going to drink rainwater without further filtering were you?

    • Greetings, OhioPrepper. we built this system to water trees we’ve planted at our land. We have a spring fed creek, but we didn’t want to have to carry water the couple hundred yards or so from the creek to the trees. If a time comes where we do need the water for drinking, we have multiple filtration units that we would use after boiling the water.

  24. Travis Riley says:

    This design will collect about 30 gallons for each inch of rainfall. That’s a one month minimum supply for one person so it would take 12 inches of rainfall, per person, per year to supply minimum needs. Based on the average monthly rainfall in your areas driest month and number of people you can calculate how many you would need.

  25. rt66paul says:

    If you have to drink some water, I would trust this before using a stream downstream from a town, the water should be good enough. I remember hiking up through streams in the mountains north of L.A. and I would drink that water – snow melt from the mountains and I would always drink from a running stream at the point it entered a pool.
    People would actually bring canteens and bota bags to hold water(those were for wine)
    Animals can drink it and be fine, mankind has been drinking water this way for many thousands of years and survived.

    Yes, someone could have poisoned it, but then again, someone could have poisoned your canteen.

    • Chuck Findlay says:

      I would say the best thing to do is run all the water through a sand filter then a Berkey to be safe.

      A sand filter is easy to make and we all should have a Berkey type of filter.

  26. Absolutely, We have multiple water filtration devices including a Big Berkey with replacement filters and plan to boil any water we plan on consuming. Thanks for the comment.

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