Water purifying methods in the backcountry

By Doug Williams
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Water purifying methods in the backcountry

Doug Williams
 
 
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Water has always been synonymous with life, and for obvious reasons; even in space, scientists raise their hopes of finding life once they stumble upon the possibility of liquid water’s presence on a far-off planet.

And the importance of water increases tremendously in a survival situation. When you are literally fighting for your life, water can be the single most critical factor and the difference between life and death. We can get by for weeks without eating proper food or even nothing at all, but without water death is imminent within a few days.

The water looks pristine and clean, right?
The water looks pristine and clean, right?

We have this image of wilderness’ Eden, where a beautiful stream of seemingly clear water in the mountains, an image fostered by Hollywood Westerns and other such movies, is presented as a definite life saver. Factually speaking, the mountain stream isn’t all that pure at all.

Consuming water directly from a natural source in a remote area could bring you more harm than good. There could be an abundance of a variety of harmful bacteria and viruses in unpurified water taken from a stream or other natural source. Drinking this water can cause a number of intestinal problems including cramps, diarrhoea and vomiting. Depending on the terrain, you can contract some serious illnesses from stream water, such as typhoid and cholera, along with a number of parasites such as leeches and flukes.

You may need to filter the water before purifying it
You may need to filter the water before purifying it

So, if you don’t have access to clean drinking water, it is always advisable to avoid risks and use one of the following most common water purifying methods when in the wilderness.

Water Purification through Boiling

Requirements:

In order to purify the water obtained from a natural source through boiling you simply need a container in which to boil the water, fuel, a stove, and of course, water.

Boiling water is an effective way to kill bacteria and parasites
Boiling water is an effective way to kill bacteria and parasites

Process:

Although boiling water for a minute will make it safe to drink, it is always recommended to boil water for up to 5 minutes in order to get maximum purity and best possible results.

Pros and Cons:

Despite the fact that in a survival situation boiling water is the most reliable method of avoiding serious sickness and saving your life, there are some negatives as well as positives to this method of purification. If you are stuck in the wilderness and waiting for a rescue or simply trying to get out of the wilderness alive, you definitely don’t want any unwanted attention from the local wild animals.

Fire can attract animals, as its unique smell gives the impression of the presence of food, and your life could be in further danger if you don’t do so cautiously. Also, boiling water takes a long time. Still, its efficacy at killing viruses, bacteria, and other harmful microorganisms is not up for debate.

Water Purification using Purification Tablets

Requirements:

A container for water and purification tablets.

Sanitising natural fresh water (Mixed with lime Gatorade powder). Author: Jorge Láscar – CC BY 2.0
Sanitising natural fresh water (Mixed with lime Gatorade powder). Author: Jorge Láscar – CC BY 2.0

Process:

Purifying water using purification tablets is perhaps the simplest method of making water suitable for human consumption. It doesn’t require a whole load of paraphernalia, you only require some sort of container for water, and then simply drop the tablet in the water and let it dissolve. There is a whole range of purifying tablets on the market, and each one differs from another in terms of size, concentration, and time it takes to purify a certain amount of water. A single tablet is normally enough to purify one liter of water. Sometimes it takes up to thirty minutes for the purifying chemicals to do their job, depending on the nature and temperature of water. Always read the instructions before using the tablet to make sure you’re using the right amount of water for maximum purification.

Pros and Cons:

People going on a walk in the woods or a mountaineering adventure often fail to pack enough water purification tablets. If you don’t carry tablets, you won’t be able to take advantage of this cheap and effective method of purification. If you need to make water consumable in the mountains, and by a stroke of luck you have found a few pieces of tablet in your backpack but you are unable to find yourself a container, you can always improvise. You can turn your shoe into a small container by lining it with something such as an emergency blanket. Be mindful of the shelf life of the purifying tablets, check for the purchase dates on tablets and do replace them if expired.

At last – the water is safe to drink
At last – the water is safe to drink

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