How to purify water in the wilderness

Knowing how to purify water in the wilderness can be the difference between life and death. Regardless of what anyone might try to tell you, surviving in the wilderness is a full-time job. Although it might be fun to try doing it for a few days sometime, even as a training exercise, if you had to do it all the time, you would find it quite challenging. Coming up with enough food, water and fuel to keep you alive would occupy pretty much all your time, leaving you little time to enjoy the scenery or better your lifestyle.

Clean, drinkable water is a constant need. Even if you have a ready water supply, such as a stream or lake, that doesn’t mean you have drinkable water. That water can be filled with things which can cause you harm, even to the point of killing you.

Most of what will kill you in water is too small to be seen with the naked eye. On the other side of the coin, what you can see probably won’t hurt you. 

Nevertheless, you should never trust water you find in the wilderness, but should purify all water in the wilderness before drinking it.
You can use it for washing as it is, but not for consumption.

It is the biological pathogens in the water that you have to watch out for. Many bacteria, protozoa and viruses can live in the water. While many of these aren’t really dangerous, there are others, which if you ingest them, some will cause you to become sick.

In a survival situation, sickness is extremely dangerous and can weaken you to the point where other things can kill you even easier.

That’s why survival instructors recommend having at least two means of water purification in your survival kit. With two, you’ve got a backup, just in case your primary means fails, so you are assured of always being able to purify water in the wilderness.

There are a lot of people who will tell you that you can make a water filter to purify water in the wilderness by layering gravel, sand and charcoal in an old soda bottle. Watch out for this. What they’re talking about making is called a bio-filter. However, you need activated charcoal to make one, not the charcoal from your campfire. One made with charcoal won’t make your water safe to drink. A bio-filter made with activated charcoal works great, but one made with normal charcoal is an invitation for trouble.

How to Purify Water in the Wilderness Video

Purify Water in the Wild with Straw-type Water Filters

Straw type filters are one of the most common types of water filters used to purify water in the wilderness survival situation. There are a number of these on the market, such as the Lifestraw. These filters work by taking out anything that is larger than 0.2 microns. Since most bacteria are larger than 2 microns, that’s a pretty good safety margin. The Lifestraw will filter up to 1,000 liters of water.

Straw type filters are used by putting one end directly into the stream or lake and drinking through the straw. This is very convenient, but it doesn’t allow you to purify water to carry with you in a canteen or water bottle.
When you look at straw-type filters, there are two important things to look for, the filtration size (the 0.2 microns above) and the number of gallons of water that the filter is good for. Some straws don’t filter as well or last as many gallons as the Lifestraw will.

Purify Water in the Wilderness with Bag-type Water Filters

Many people carry a bag-type filter in their bug-out bag as well. The major advantage of a bag type filter over a straw type is that the water you run through the filter can then be put into a canteen or water bottle to take with you and drink later. This is important, as it allows you to move away from the water as you are traveling.

Lifestraw also makes a bag-type filter, although it doesn’t actually use a bag. In this case, the bag is a hard plastic cup, but the idea is the same. Since it uses the same filter as the other Lifestraw, it gives you the same level of protection. Another excellent filter is the Sawyer Mini Water Filtration system, which uses a hollow fiber design. The is design not only filters finer at 0.1 microns, but can be back-flushed, allowing the filter to be used for 100,000 gallons of water.

Purify Water in the Wild with Water Purification Tablets

Iodine is commonly used as a means of purifying water; however, iodine is a bit inconvenient to carry with you. Therefore, people use iodine tablets, such as those by Potable Aqua. These are easy to work with, and provide a convenient way to purify water in the wilderness. The biggest problem with counting on tablets of this sort is that they eventually run out, leaving you without a means of purifying water.

To use the tablets, a canteen or water bottle is filled with stream water and the tablets added. The water needs to be allowed to sit for 30 minutes before using, so that the iodine can kill any pathogens in the water. These are great for an emergency situation, keeping them in a survival kit, but you wouldn’t want to use them for long-term water purification.

You can accomplish about the same thing using ordinary household bleach. Bleach is chlorine, the same substance that’s used in municipal water systems and for keeping pathogens from growing in swimming pools. The trick is coming up with a container to carry the bleach in, so that it won’t leak out all over your food and other equipment. You’ll need an eye dropper as well, as you need to use eight drops of bleach per gallon of water to purify it. Like the iodine tablets, allow the bleach 30 minutes to kill off any pathogens.

Purify Water in the Wilderness by Boiling or Pasteurizing

You can also kill the pathogens in water by boiling it. This merely requires having some sort of container, like a canteen cup, which won’t melt or burn and a fire. In a pinch, you can make a cup out of birch-bark and boil the water in it. As long as the flames are kept below the level of the water, the cup won’t burn.

You can save fuel and time by pasteurizing your water, rather than boiling it. To kill the bacteria and protozoa you only need to raise the water’s temperature up to 158oF, not the 212oF required for boiling it. So if you have a means of telling you when the water reaches that temperature, you can save yourself from having to get the temperature all the way up to the boiling point.

The WAPI (water pasteurization indicator) has been designed just for this. It consists of a plastic capsule, with a wax bead inside it. It is submersed in the water when the water is being heated. When the water reaches 160oF, the wax bead melts, dropping down to the bottom of the capsule to indicate that the water is ready to use. Designed for use in third-world countries, the WAPI is an ideal means for purifying water in the wilderness.

Purify Water in the Wild by Solar Power

The WAPI can also be used for purifying water by solar power. To harness the sun’s power to purify your water, put the water into an old clear soda bottle or a clear water bottle. Put the WAPI inside with it. Lay the bottle somewhere that it is in direct sunlight; preferably someplace where it is laying on a black or dark colored background.

The sun will heat the water inside the bottle, hot enough to bring it up to the pasteurization temperature. You’ll know that it’s hot enough, because the wax pellet in the WAPI will melt.

Water purified in this manner can be easily cooled before drinking by submersing the water bottle in a stream or lake and allowing the heat to bleed off. You’ll have to be careful when drinking the water though, making sure that your lips don’t touch any part of the outside of the bottle, except what was covered by the bottle cap. The bottle might have picked up pathogens by being submersed in the water. It would be even better to pour the water into another container to drink it.

If you’re reading this you must have read the article above showing you some ways on how to purify water in the wilderness.

Have you used any of my recommendations, or have suggestion of your own?

Comment below, I want to hear from you!

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