Do you know how to purify water? No matter what kind of outdoor adventure you go on you have to know how to clean your water: it’s a useful skill that can make a difference in any kind of problem situation.
Water Purification; Essential Wilderness Survival
The human body can live for weeks without food, but you can’t survive more than three days without water in any kind of situation.
When you think about your survival priorities, make sure you that you get shelter and water before worrying about fire or food.
However, you need to make sure you only drink clean water, so learn how to purify water before heading out on adventures. Since you can’t carry all the water you need with you at once, the first thing to check is that you have the right equipment.
Then learn how to use tools or chemicals to purify water. Finally, recognize all the different water sources that can come in handy on your adventure.
Table of Contents
Find Your Basic Equipment
When you think about your basic equipment, first you should find the right water bottle for your needs. Plain and sturdy aluminum or steel bottles hold up well, and you can even use them to boil water, but they can be heavier than plastic options.
You should think carefully about the quality and the weight of the water bottle that you choose, because they will stay with you during the entire hike.
You want a water bottle that will stay strong, but not one that can get crushed easily or broken on a tough trail.
Ideally, you also want something that will not let a lot of bacteria grow, so sometimes a metal bottle can be a better choice than a lighter weight plastic bottle.
Another helpful tool is a small rubber hose, which you can use to get water from tricky spots.
That’s especially helpful if you’re in a rugged environment and don’t see a lot of easy-to-reach streams.
You can also use a rubber hose for several different purposes in an emergency situation, which helps if you are trying to pack a lot of gear with multiple functions.
Hand sanitizer is easy to throw into any pack, and it can help kill some of the bacteria that make people sick – it’s especially helpful when you aren’t sure if you’ve been able to wash your hands thoroughly.
You can run a little hand sanitizer along the top of a water bottle to kill any bacteria that might have survived.
Similarly, make sure to carry a small plastic shovel when you need to go to the bathroom: burying human waste will help keep the water source safe.
Finally, make sure that you have a fire starter. Not only will this help you boil water if you need to purify it, but fire can also help you when you need to make food or get warm quickly.
Once you have all of these tools, you’re closer to learning how to purify water.
Now we need to actually find the water!
Locate the Best Water Sources
The best source of water is a clear flowing stream, without any signs of people or pollution.
This water is safest, but you still need to make sure you treat it.
The next best source is lakes, ponds and rivers.
If you can’t find any streams, look for these bodies of water: since they do not move as fast, they’re more likely to have bacteria, but they are still better than nothing.
If you’re in a cold environment, you can use snow and ice for water; just make sure to heat it up!
Eating snow or ice will lower your body temperature and increase the chance of hypothermia, so make sure to boil your snow and ice until they melt before you try getting water from these sources.
The best way to prepare snow or ice for drinking is to heat a little up at a time, because heating a huge pot of snow or ice at once gives off a weird taste.
If you’re in a worst case scenario situation, you can try to filter water out of mud or dig for water near dry riverbeds and other low areas.
You might not think that these places would be a good source of water at first, but with a bit of effort you can get some liquid.
If you’re ever in survival mode, you might think about drinking sea water or urine: both are bad choices that will make you sick, thanks to the high salt and other mineral content.
Learn how to purify water from these sources: make a solar still and collect the steam, which will be safe to drink.
Another overlooked way to get water is from foliage: wrap branches with plastic and collect the condensation from these branches.
This will take time, but you will be able to collect water from any plant this way, as long as it’s not poisonous.
When you can’t find a water source, learn how to find water and then how to purify water.
Walking downhill is a good start, because water flows downhill, and make sure to look for any surprising patches of vegetation, which means water is nearby.
Actually Purifying Your Water
Now you’ve found the water, so you need to learn how to purify water.
The most effective way of treating water is to boil it: bring the water to a boil and keep it there for at least a minute, which gives you safe water.
You can also get filters for your water: the first type just removes debris and gross things, and the second type actually has chemicals to treat your water so you stay safe.
It’s also a good idea to filter your water before you boil it anyway, just to catch any bugs you might see or little twigs.
One of the easiest ways to purify water is by chemical methods, usually using tincture of iodine 2%. This chemical solution is great when you learn how to purify water, because it is easy to carry and easy to use.
This particular chemical also comes in tablet form, just in case you would rather not carry a bottle of liquid with you as you travel.
The liquid version is cheaper, but some people prefer the convenience they see in the table forms of iodine.
If you want a fancier method, you can look at UV lights and solar power. UV lights purify water by shining UV rays at the water, which kills bugs and bacteria.
Using natural solar power (by leaving a water bottle out in the sun) can work in a pinch, but don’t rely on this all the time.
The problem is that you have to plan ahead so you can leave the bottles out long enough, and that does not always help when you are thirsty.
Once you’ve learned how to purify water, make sure that you keep your water bottles clean.
It’s useless to purify your water if you pour it into a dirty water bottle!
You have to clean out the inside, but also the part you drink from, which is what most people forget.
Otherwise you’ll keep getting the same germs as before, and you won’t have safe water.
Finally, use common sense as you decide where and how to purify water. Make sure to have materials to make water safe, but remember that dehydration will kill you faster than bacteria in your water.
Just Drink It?
Sometimes when you are in a survival situation, you might not have time to remember how to purify water.
When you legitimately feel that your life might depend on getting water as quickly as possible, you may have to drink water from an untreated source.
Try to minimize the risk by choosing untreated water from a fast-moving stream or a glacial source, because this will make it less likely for you to get sick.
However, you should make sure to purify your water whenever possible. It is easy to learn how to purify water, so get good at one particular technique and get ready to use it a lot.
Your Next Step
Now that you know how to purify water, you’re one step closer to the great outdoors!
Once you have the equipment you need and know what water sources are best, you’re ready to put your skills to the test.
Use a combination of filtering, boiling, and chemical methods at first, and then when you know how to purify water in the best way for your needs, switch to other methods.
Most importantly, get quick at purifying water so you can concentrate on enjoying the trip!