Water is an essential part of life. It is the basic component for survival, and it’s very important to keep the water well purified and filtered before drinking. This is because water can contain certain impurities such as dirt and chemicals, as well as harmful parasites and bacteria that are detrimental to health. From the comforts of our home, even tap water is safe and hygienic to drink. But when it comes to wilderness and outdoor trips, it’s mandatory to know how to filter water.
There are many ways to filter and purify water for your survival in the wilderness. If you are going for a short trip, it’s wise to carry enough supplies with you in a backpack with proper water bag capacity. But if you are looking for a long wilderness retreat, or perhaps stuck in a situation with no clear water around, it’s best to have some tricks up your sleeve for the sake of your health. In this article, we will tell you the ways of filtering and purifying water, making it safe and hygienic to consume.
How to Filter and Purify Water for Survival
Here are a few ways to filter water. Most of these require preparation and tools that you should bring along with you in the wilderness, but all these methods are guaranteed to work.
Boiling water is the simplest and sure short way of purifying water in the wilderness. For this, you’ll need to know how to make fire. Most people carry a camp stove along, not just for water but for food as well. Make sure that there’s enough gas to last for your trip, or learn how to make fire with wood – which may sound hard, but once you get the hang of it, it can be a great survival skill. You can also bring a box of matchsticks along to make the process quick.
Next, you will need a heat resistant pot or pan to boil the water in – ideally ceramic, glass or metal. In case you don’t have one, you can also heat rocks for around half an hour in direct fire, and then leave them in the container of water. This is called ‘stone boiling’. The water container can be fashioned from a rock depression, or perhaps a bowl made from wood or other materials. This probably works, but it won’t have the same result as boiling water.
Once the heatproof pot is placed on the fire, bring the water to the point when it starts bubbling, and then let it boil for 5 minutes to make sure that you’ve gotten rid of all the pathogens, bacteria and parasites. It is also a good way to evaporate the chemical pollution present in water. If you’re still in doubt, boil it for additional 5 minutes just to be safe. Wait for the water to cool down and stay safe with its handling. Don’t pour it in a water bag or plastic bottle until it has cooled down to surrounding temperature, otherwise, it releases chemicals, making the water impure.
2. Portable Water Purification Chemicals
Carrying filtration chemicals in the form of powder, tablet or liquid won’t weigh down your backpack, and they are an easy way to filter and purify water. However, the ingredients used in these drops and tablets like potassium permanganate, chlorine and iodine are only safer in small doses. These work as an on the go disinfectant, and are quite easy to use while also providing portability and handiness.
Most of the hikers and campers rely on large water bodies such as lakes, oceans, waterfalls or ponds as the main source of water. Once you get the water in a container, filter it out in case it is turbid or cloudy in appearance. This can be done with filter cloth or any porous piece of clothing you have. The next step is adding one tablet in 1 to 2 liters of water. After half an hour, the water becomes safe to drink.
These tablets work via the release of chlorine into the water, which kills most of the harmful pathogens present in it. However, the water will have a slight chemical taste to it, but is still good enough to quench your thirst and keep you hydrated. Even if you have clean water to drink, or other methods to filter it, it’s best to have water purification tabs in the emergency kit. It doesn’t require too much work, as you won’t have to find a heat source or other tools. Once added to water, it is safe to drink it for the next 24 hours without adding more tablets, as they are long-acting and prevent any microbial regrowth during this time period.
3. Pump Filters
There are a number of filters and purifiers that are portable and easy to use during outdoor trips. The water filter separates the larger particles from water, while purifiers make it safe to drink by killing any germs and harmful microbes present in its composition. One common device that helps achieve this is in the form of pumps. It comes with an intake hose and an outlet hose. One end of the intake hose is thrown into the body of water from which you are extracting drinking water. The outlet hose is connected to the container. The water is simply extracted into the container by the use of a pump. It doesn’t need too much pressure to do so, but rather a constant light force. Some form of water pumps thread directly to a container, and there are varying pumping mechanisms that are used to draw water. It all depends on the model you choose.
There are many benefits of carrying a water pump with you on your outdoor excursions. They are light in weight and don’t take up much space or weigh you down. They also allow you to process the exact amount of water you need to drink at any given time, so that you don’t have to carry the excess around with you. The powerful hoses allow you to suction water from seeps and fairly shallow water sources easily. The cartridge that filters water can be replaced with time. However, it does come with its challenges, like constant pumping which can be a bit frustrating. You’ll also have to clean the tool often for optimum function, and even though it is lightweight, it still takes up more space as compared to other methods.
4. Gravity Filters
Another way to filter water and purify it is by using gravity filters and purifiers. They are suitable if you are going on a group trip and need a large quantity of water in one go. They are also easier to use, as it doesn’t require any mechanical work or labor like pumping. However, they are bulky in size and can be a challenge to carry around for long trips. As the name suggests, gravity filters make use of gravity to filter water from a reliable water source. All you have to do is find a place that’s suitable to hang the filled reservoir of water.
There are many designs and models available in the market, but almost all of them have an inline filter and a pair of reservoirs. After hanging them, let gravity do the work for you, as the water flows down without putting any additional effort. This is an easy way to filter and purify water, but is only recommended for people traveling in large groups, as it can be very difficult for a solo traveler to carry it along at all times. The cartridge or element of the filter is easily replaceable.
Some of the drawbacks of having gravity filters are that it’s not always easy to find a spot to hang them when you are out and surrounded by nature. The overall treatment process of filtering and purification is slower as compared to pumps. They aren’t as apt at drawing water from shallow sources, and the tool is somewhat high maintenance, as you have to regularly clean it to ensure optimal performance. Also, lifting and hanging the reservoir filled with water can be a bit of a challenge.
5. UV Light Purification
The portable UV light devices work by preventing the microbes and pathogens in water to reproduce. By disabling this, it makes the water safe to consume, as the microbes can’t multiply and attack the body. But you should know that water treated with UV still has microbes present in it, and are only inhibited from multiplying and reproducing. This means that any organic process of growth is blocked out, so that they don’t cause diseases and illnesses.
There are certain precautions necessary after using UV devices. Long exposures to visible light can reverse the process so that the water becomes impure and unhygienic to drink once again. Make sure that the water treated with UV light is well covered and kept in a dark or shaded place to avoid any contamination. Also, UV works with already filtered water. It works best with clear water, so you’ll need a filtration process before using UV devices.
These devices are very handy and portable, mostly in the form of a lean pen that is activated with a push of a button once inserted in the water container. Then all you have to do is stir it around a bit. The light turns off automatically after about a minute or so, and the water is safe to drink. It might seem like hard work to first filter water and then use the device, but it should be noted that it doesn’t leave any chemicals or effects of harmful nature into the water. The procedure is very simple and you don’t have to clean or replace the device. However, it requires a battery, and if the water is in large quantities, multiple treatments are required.
6. Solar Water Disinfection (SODIS)
This process of disinfection and purification is more of a gamble, but when all else fails, it can be a way to practice safety to some extent. SODIS is a form of water treatment in which the water is disinfected by keeping it under direct sunlight for a minimum of one day. By using the sun’s energy, most of the harmful bacteria, pathogens, and microbes are killed. As discussed above, UV light inhibits all organic growth and multiplication process of microbes, so the sun’s natural UV light works in the same way, but not with the same intensity.
As it is not a concentrated form-focused solely on the container, it is best to leave it out for a whole day to be sure. The best way to do this is by exposing clear plastic bottles in sunlight. If you can afford to do so, leave it for longer than a day. There are many advantages of treating water this way. First of all, it is very easy and requires no tools or chemicals. It is completely free and can offer good results if kept in direct sunlight for the recommended time period. However, it can be a challenge if the weather isn’t sunny enough to carry out the process of exposure. It can’t be used when the sky is cloudy, or when it’s foggy or raining. It is also ineffective against spores and cysts left by bacteria or parasites. If you don’t have one, finding a clear container can also be a challenge. If you leave it open, it is exposed to further contamination by the environment.
7. Water Distillation
When you are stuck in a circumstance where the water is not only polluted but also infected with dangerous components, the best way to make the water safe to consume is through water distillation. This is good to process out dangerous contaminants, if you feel that the water is polluted with salt, lead, heavy metals or radiation in addition to microbes and dirt, water distillation is one of the safest options. Emergency water distillation is also suitable for situations with maritime or coastal emergencies with only saltwater available for consumption.
In this process, water is heated to the point of it converting into steam, and then that steam is captured, which turns into comparatively clearer and clean water. This distills out heavy lead and radioactive fallout, but the water can still have some organic components and volatile oils present in its composition. A quick and easy way to achieve water distillation is by using small diameter copper tubing along with a pressure canner. In addition to this, you can also use a solar still that distills and collects water within a hole in the ground. A transpiration bag can also be used, but it doesn’t yield the same results.
Another way to collect distilled water is from trees. For this, look for trees that have wide leaves such as maples and oak. When exposed in sunlight, these leaves get some moisture buildup which is basically evaporated water that’s already treated with the sun’s UV rays, so it’s distilled and purified and safe to drink. Just position a container or a plastic bag near the leaves in a way that the water drips down. However, this can’t possibly give you enough water for storage.
8. Survival Straws
The lightest and most portable tool for filtration and disinfection of water is a straw style filter. These are much wider and firmer than plastic straws and provide water on demand so that you don’t have to store or carry the purified water along with you. But this also means that it can only be used by one person at a time, and for hygienic reasons, it’s advisable to not share it.
The cylindrical straws consist of a built-in element which filters and purifies water before it reaches your mouth. There is no manual labor required in the process, all you have to do is find a water source and insert the straw in it on one end, and slurp it from the other. It is very easy to use and immediately provides safe and clean water for drinking. It also doesn’t take up space or weigh the backpack down. Some updated models of this filter straw can be connected to the drain valve of a water heater so that it can be cleaned up. They can also be fitted into a garden hose if required. The straw consists of an activated carbon filter element that filters water and also eliminates any odd odors or flavors from it.
Although simple to use with generally good results, you can’t expect the water to be completely clean and free of microbes and pathogens. A straw lying in the sun without being used itself can collect certain airborne bacteria and microbes. This means that regular cleaning before every use is mandatory, and it’s best to buy a model that comes with the option to replace the element for optimum function.
Although sedimentation is a simple and easy way to filter water, this option is surprisingly not used as commonly as you’d think. When there’s nothing else available and the water is extremely murky and cloudy, sedimentation is the best option to get rid of the unwanted particles and contaminants. All you need is a container in which you can keep the water. Leave it stagnant for a certain period of time – as long as you can afford to do so, and all the heavy and unwanted particles (including dirt and pollutants) will eventually sink down to the bottom layer of water.
This leaves a clean layer of water on the top which can be scooped up. You can even carry out this process when you do have other devices and chemicals to purify the water. This is highly recommended for heavily discolored and murky water as a first step to purify and filter it. Be gentle while scooping out the top layer, and only do so when you are sure that it is now clear and separated from the murkier bottom layer. Try to keep the water still so that it doesn’t get mixed up with contaminants again. Sedimentation is a free and easy way that requires no physical labor or effort. However, it takes a very long time, and you are still not guaranteed safe water.
Only people with true survival skills have the necessary knowledge to identify certain plants and fruits that can help with the purification of water. Yes, it is possible to purify and filter water with the help of surrounding vegetation. However, only use this method if you have the necessary information and understanding about different types of plants, and you trust yourself to easily identify them in the wild. One wrong move can lead to further damage.
Plants such As Moringa, Plant Xylem, Rice and Coconuts, Oregon Grapes, Java Plum Seed, Jackfruit Seeds, Fruit Peels, Cilantro, Banana Peels and Reeds and Bulrushes have the ability to remove dangerous microbes and contaminants from water, making it relatively safe to drink. If you stumble upon these plants, you can keep them in water within a sealable bag for a few hours and then drink that water.
The barks of plants such as Oregon grapes have a naturally occurring substance called berberine which is an antimicrobial agent. However, these plants are not easily found in a subtropical or desert climate. In such instances, you can use citrus fruits along with their peel and seeds, which are also effective to some extent. You should know that these plants can be infested themselves, and if there’s not enough water to wash them, they can add their own dirt and contaminants to the water too. If you can find coconut, you can have some refreshing coconut water instead to quench your thirst.
Always carry a survival kit with you when planning long trips out in the wilderness. To make the above-mentioned treatment methods and devices more effective, carry clear and clean water containers with you and try to find water sources that have clear water. Keeping your hand cleans while handling these water treatments is also very important, so don’t forget the hand sanitizer. Also keep the weather conditions in mind when planning the trip, as snow and extreme cold can make it harder to filter and purify water.