Purifying water in the wilderness

Since our bodies are comprised between 55-65% of water and the fact we are unlikely to be able to survive for more than three days without water, it is crucial that we have access to a safe supply at all times. Most of us are generally assured of a regular supply of clean, drinkable water, through the main water supply as well as simply purchasing bottled water. But what if we are traveling and have to find our own supply, how can we ensure that it is safe to drink?



When holidaying in another country or camping out in a camping ground, the first thing would be to establish that the water, straight from the taps, is safe to drink. Camping grounds will usually warn you regarding the safety of water, so keep an eye open for notifications. However, it is quite a different matter when you are camping out in the wild!


purify water in the woods


Water sources such as rivers and dams are not always safe for drinking, they could be home to any number of contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi or other microorganisms. These various organisms could cause vomiting, cramps or diarrhea. Some water sources house parasites such as leeches and, in extreme cases, these sources could be contaminated by dangerous bacteria like cholera or typhoid.

Should you collect rainwater directly during a rain shower, it is normally safe to drink, providing that the receptacle used for the collection was properly cleaned. All water, from any source which is suspect, should be purified in order to make it safe for drinking, and the same follows for any water which you plan on storing for a time.



Should you be caught somewhere without an adequate supply of safe drinking water, you could use one of the following fairly simple methods in order to purify your water.  Some of these methods, however, require that a little forethought and pre-planning has taken place.

Boil it

The easiest way in which to purify water is to boil it. It is one of the most effective ways in which to kill a variety of microorganisms, viruses, and bacteria. You need to boil the water in a clean container, if you’re at high altitude then you might need to boil it for at least 5 or more.

Allow it to cool, store in a sterile container, and it will remain safe to drink for a long time. This method does, however, take some time, and it requires that you have access to a heat source, sufficient wood or other fuel. It further requires that you have containers for boiling the water as well as for storing it.



Treat it

Water purification Tablets are a very easy alternative to boiling, providing you have supplied yourself with them. They contain chemicals, usually iodine, which kills harmful bacteria, so you may well notice that it gives the water a ‘taste.’ The shelf life of these tablets is relatively short, so ensure that your tablets have not exceeded their expiry date. Instructions for use are clearly shown on the packaging.


Generally, one adds the tablet to a specified amount of water and allows it to stand for the specified amount of time before drinking the water, remembering that colder water requires slightly longer waiting periods. The advantage of this type of purification is that the tablets are relatively cheap, they are light and easy to carry packed in your kit, need no extra equipment and are effective.



Using commercial Bleach in your water is another very effective way of purifying it. You need only a little bleach for a liter of water, so a few drops into your bottle is more than sufficient. Leave the bottle open for a while to allow any fumes which may have formed to escape, and let it stand for about 30 minutes before use.

If you have iodine in your first aid kit, it may be used in place of bleach for water purification. Add about 6 drops of a 2% tincture of iodine to one liter of water, mix, and wait at least 30 minutes, ensuring the water is not cloudy before drinking it.



It’s worth saying that both iodine and bleach can affect the taste of water. Iodine should not be used for anyone with an iodine allergy, anyone suffering from an active thyroid problem or anyone who is pregnant.  Many Iodine based purification sytems have been banned from sale, but in an emergency it’s still a feasible option.

Whichever of the above methods are used for the purification of your water, it is always advisable first filter out any dirt or debris from the water. If you have no filter, a makeshift one made out of a suitable scarf or item of clothing will do the trick.

Another little trick may be useful to remember too: if one has no suitable container for holding water for purification, tin foil pressed into some sort of holder will act as a waterproof liner (a box, a hat, a shoe) will act as a temporary receptacle.


Photo Credit
Photo Credit


A very sensible item to take along with you, if the water is likely to be suspect, is a filter. Today’s hand-held filters have become more affordable, more compact, more durable and much lighter. They have extra versatility and are much easier to use. With your filter, you can pump water from your water source into any suitable container, and the filter will remove protozoa and bacteria. If it has a built-in iodine system as well, the viruses will be killed too.



Finally, if you think that you may need to drink water from an outdoor source at any time, plan ahead so that you may have the necessary items. Ensure that you are able to have your most important survival item: clean, safe, drinkable water.


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fmssolution is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival