Water is vital to a person’s survival while in the wilderness or the outdoors. I wouldn’t want anyone to stretch it to find out, but you can only survive around three days without water. If you’re going camping for a long weekend and taking bottled water with you, this is something to remember.
Should the worse case scenario happen you and you find yourself out in the great outdoors and you’ve run out of fresh water for any reason, it’s important to know some methods of purifying water.
It’s also fun and educational to purify some water when you’re outdoors from time-to-time, so consider trying out some of these methods even if you don’t need more water. If you have a pack of purification tablets or a filtering system it’s better you know how to use it before it’s an emergency.
Why Purify Water?
You can’t drink water that’s been stagnant, or even flowing along the floor outdoors without purifying it to make it safe to drink. There is often the misconception that you can drink water without purifying it if it’s moving – this is not the case!
There can, and probably will be all kinds of parasites in any water you find outdoors. Such as bacteria, fungi, algae, viruses, and more. Some water will look very murky and it’ll be quite obvious it’s not a good idea to drink it, while some will look fairly clear but can still pose the same risks.
If you do drink unpurified water if you’re lucky you’ll just have an upset stomach. Although that’s not pleasant at all, especially being outdoors. And, if you’re unlucky you are going to fall very ill from drinking unpurified water and will even need to be hospitalized in extreme cases.
7 Ways to Purify Water in the Outdoors
This is the method everyone will be aware of. Boiling water is the easiest ways to purify water and can be done with little more than a pot and some basic fire starting items.
Boiling water kills pathogenic bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and all kinds of other nasty bugs. Bring the water to the boil so you can see it bubbling away and let it boil for at least one minute to purify it.
If the water was murky and had debris in, let it settle for a while so the debris sinks. Ideally, you will have some kind of filter with you to pour the water through after.
Water Bottles with Built-In Filters
If you’re heading out into the outdoors it doesn’t harm to be prepared. You can buy water bottles with filters built in and they aren’t very expensive.
This is a good option if you’re going to take up space carrying bottles anyway, and you intend to find a water source out hiking.
There are a few slightly different models but most of them work the same. You pour some water into the bottle, squeeze the water through the filter, and leave it a few minutes before drinking.
Distilling water is the process of turning the water into steam then capturing the steam as water. This process is commonly used with salty water to remove the salt as drinking salty water can cause dehydration rather than hydrating you.
The easiest way to do this is with a pan to boil water, a clear cup, and a sheet of film. Warm up the water in the pan until it starts to boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Place the cup in the middle and position the film so the steam collects and drops into the cup.
This video takes you through the steps how you can practice this at home on your stove.
A way to save space in your backpack and have a safe and quick solution is to carry purification tablets. These tablets typically contain chlorine, or iodine, and by dropping them into water it purifies the water and makes it safe to drink.
Check the packet of your tablets to see how much water they treat each and stick to the guidelines. The only drawback with purification tablets is that some people notice a chemical-like taste, which isn’t really surprising, neither is it that strong
If you want to really make the most of what the outdoors has to offer, there are loads of ways to filter water. It can be time-consuming, but if it’s all you have the means for it’s a handy method to know.
The most well-known way is to cut a slice of bark off a tree (you can use a bottle) and make a cone shape. Layer sand, gravel, grass, and charcoal on the top. The charcoal is very effective at removing bacteria, you can find some in a burned out fire if you don’t want to carry some.
Pour the water through the cone a few times. This effectively filters the water, it’s not a 100% safe method, but using what you have in the wilderness it does a pretty good job.
If you’re outdoors and have strong sun this is an interesting method of purifying water that should work for you.
Lay a pan out and place a heavy cup in the middle of the pan. Pour the water into the pan so it’s surrounding the cup, then cover the whole thing with a sheet of wrap.
Place a rock or something with a little weight above the cup so as the water evaporates it will run down above the cup and drip in. Very similar to the distillation method, but you’re using heat from the sun and not a flame to boil the water.
One of the newer pieces of backpacking kit people have been including are survival straws. These are exactly as they sound, they are straws, albeit strong straws with filters in them.
The straws include filters in so you can literally stick it into a water source and start drinking. This is probably the fastest way to use water you’ve found, but they are not going to kill as much bacteria as boiling and can only pass so many liters.
Worth looking into if you just want to be prepared in an emergency and don’t intend to find water sources every time you’re outdoors.
Knowing how to purify water to make it safe to drink can literally save your life and others with you. At the very least it’s a cool thing to show off if you need some extra water while camping.
In most instances, you will be able to boil water, and this is by far the safest method to use. You can never be too sure what materials you will have available, however, so I recommend knowing how to distil and use solar distilling methods as they are pretty versatile.
Never chance it with water that has not been purified, it’s just not worth it. The chance of getting sick is very high, and if you’re being sick you’re going to dehydrate faster too.