Water purification in the wilderness

Water may be the source of all life on Earth, but it can also be the source of considerable illness, pain and even death. Water doesn’t just support human life, it is the perfect environment for millions of types of microorganisms to thrive. Many of these are harmless, or even good for us. However, water can harbor some nasty bugs. Water purification is a must if you’re going to be spending time on the trail.


pure water can be hard to find in the wilderness


When you’re backpacking, camping or even spending a day out in the wilderness, always be sure to drink only purified water. Whether that means bringing your own or purifying it yourself, it’s worth it.

Speaking from experience, some of the bugs you can pick up from drinking water in the wilderness are bad. I mean, really, insufferably, excruciatingly painful bad. With all the different ways you can purify water, there’s really no excuse.


You can always boil your water to purify it, but sometimes you don’t have the time and don’t want to drink hot water. So I’ll take you through three of the easiest and most common methods of water purification in the woods.


Pump filters

Keep your water bottles full in the woods


A pump filter is a great choice for the regular adventurer. If you find yourself in the woods more often than the city, then one of these is a great investment. They are easy to use, easy to clean and can be disassembled and repaired if need be after years of use.

A properly maintained pump filter will last you a long time and save you money on expensive purification tablets. Furthermore, they are reliable and consistent.


Iodine or bleach

iodine can purify water in the wilderness


I was taught to backpack with a water pump as my primary filter and iodine as a backup. If you like, you can make iodine your main source of purification, but you’ll have to get used to the taste.

A few drops of bleach can be an alternative, but bleach is a harmful chemical. Iodine, on the other hand, is produced naturally in the body and is essential to your health. You decide whether that’s worth a bit of taste to you.


Water purification tablets

Water purification tablets


In the last decade, water purification tablets have become extremely popular among the hiking masses. There’s something inherently comforting about having a brand that seems trustworthy sell you a product to perform this task. And it’s true, they do work perfectly well. Pop a tablet in your water and you’ll be good to go in minutes.

The active ingredient in most of these tablets is either chlorine or iodine. In my experience, they normally do not impart strong flavors, but I usually don’t use them. I don’t like to drink chlorine when possible, and would rather put my own iodine in my water. After all, iodine is a lot cheaper than tablets.


Water purification tablets are handy


These are great to have around as backups, just in case, or for the occasional hiker who might need to purify water only a few times a year. They are also great if you want something reliable and reassuring.

The most important part of purification

The thing about microorganisms is that they are tiny. There can be hundreds of thousands in a single drop of water. Millions of them could live in the threads of your water bottle. That means that if you purify your water, one drop of contaminated water could undo all of that work.


Pure water is a must


So any time you purify your water, use this trick before drinking any of it.

Close your water bottle and flip it upside down. Then, slowly unscrew the lid until water leaks out from every side. This will purify the threads of your water bottle and help to ensure no bacteria are still lurking around. Then flip your bottle back over and close her up. If you used iodine, bleach or tablets, be sure to wait about five to ten minutes, or if you pumped, go ahead and enjoy.


River water isn't pure


No system is entirely fool-proof, after all, there are a lot of germs in this world. But these tricks will go a long way towards keeping you healthy and happy on the trails.

Safe travels.


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ian-carroll is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival