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Water Purification for Survival

Editor’s note: Please welcome Patrick Morrow to the site! Patrick is a freelance outdoor writer. His main focus is on fishing, but he also covers survival, prepping topics, and completes several survival challenges each year.

When you find yourself in a survival situation, water should be one of your top priorities. The human body can only survive on an average of three days without water.

However, the issue is not finding water. There are streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, oceans, and swamps all over the world. The difficult part is finding water that is safe to drink.

Most of the world’s freshwater is contaminated with dangerous bacteria and parasites. Drinking this makes you more dehydrated, or worse make you very ill. In the worst case scenario, drinking contaminated water can kill you!

In this article, we will cover ways to purify water to make sure that you can safely drink it and avoid dehydration. We will also look at a few methods of finding fresh drinking water.

Methods to Obtain Safe Drinking Water

Take Water with You
How do you make sure that you can have clean water to drink in a survival situation?

Take some with you. These days, I am a big fan of hydration so I take a bottle of water with me almost everywhere I go.

If I were ever to be thrust in a survival scenario, I would have at least one bottle of clean water with me. If I were to head out with my bug out bag, I may even have two or three bottles of water with me in my pack. So no matter what happens, I have clean water with me.

Filter
I typically carry my water in a filter bottle. This bottle is designed to eliminate 99.9% of waterborne pathogens from any water I collect.

I can drink the water I brought with me and then dip the bottle in any other source of fresh water to filter out the bad stuff. I have tried several styles of filter and this is by far my favorite.

Get your Sawyer Mini water filter here!

It has a rubber mouthpiece and you can drink with the bottle upright or tipped. You just have to be careful to blow the water out of the filter before storing so it does not clog up. It has a paracord lanyard with a carabiner so I can clip it on my belt and have some extra cordage.

I also have a straw style filter that I can keep in my pocket. It is just as useful as the bottle and is more compact, but it has some downsides.

To drink, I have to get down on the ground next to the water source. Besides, it is pretty hard in the mouth. However, it has replaceable filters so that it does not clog up.

There are also gravity filters that are designed to filter larger amounts of water for groups of people. These normally have large plastic bladders that are filled with water and hung from a tree branch to feed water to the filter. They can purify water for an entire family if they can stay in one place for a bit.
Boiling
One of the most efficient ways to purify water is to boil it.

In most survival scenarios, you will have a fire going anyway. So with a container, you can get your water boiling. If you have a metal pot, then boiling is simple enough.

If your container is plastic, you must take different measures.

You can suspend a plastic bottle filled with water above a fire from a tripod. If the flames just lick the bottom of the bottle, the water can keep it cool enough to prevent it from falling apart. You want to leave the lid off of the top to allow the steam to escape.

Another option for a plastic container is to use the hot rocks method. Heat stones in the fire and then transfer them to the container using two sticks. This boils the water without damaging the container. You only need to have the water boiling for a few minutes to make it safe to drink.
Chemical Purification
My backup plan is always chemical purification. There are a few different chemicals that can kill the bacteria and parasites often found in tainted water.
I like to carry a vial of iodine tablets for this purpose. They make the water taste a little funny and it takes about 35 minutes before it is ready. This is also not a long-term solution.

You can purify water with chemicals for a few days or even a few weeks but you do not want to ingest chemicals longer than that.

The iodine tablets are more convenient for me, but you can also take a vial of liquid iodine or liquid bleach. Just a few drops of each can purify a liter of water.
Ultraviolet Light
Believe it or not, you can purify water with sunlight. The ultraviolet light kills most pathogens if it is given enough time to work.

“For this, you need a clear plastic bottle to hold the water. But it won’t work if:

  • the bottle is glass or if it is tinted
  • the sunlight is not at full strength
  • the water is cloudy

You need full, direct sunlight for a minimum of six hours. Just set it out in the morning and collect your water in the evening.
Proximity Wells
If you are desperate for water and have no other methods to purify it, you can use the earth. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Dig a hole a few feet away from the edge of your water source.
  2. As you dig down below the water level, you should see water slowly seeping into the bottom. If it is seeping in too quickly, you need to dig a new well further away from the edge of the water source.
  3. Let the water sit for at least 30 minutes for the debris to settle at the bottom.
  4. Drink your purified water.

Extracting Water from Plants
If you are in a humid environment, you can use the sun to remove water from plant material. How it’s done:

  1. Dig a shallow pit in a sunny spot.
  2. You need a sheet of clear plastic and a container to catch your water.
  3. Fill the bottom of the hole with green plant material of any kind and leave a small space in the center of the container.
  4. Drape the plastic over the pit and pin down the edges with rocks or sand to hold it in place.
  5. Place a small stone in the center just above the container.

The sun will act on the plastic like it was a greenhouse, and will heat up the plant material. The water from the plant will evaporate and then condense on the plastic. Then it will run down the plastic towards the stone and drip off into the container.

If you leave it out all day, you should have a good drink of clean water when you come to collect. If you are careful, you can also extract clean water from plants more simply. Whether it is a cactus, a root, or just grass, you can chew the plant to extract water. You just have to make sure that the plant is not poisonous.

You should also spit out the remaining plant material unless you know it will not upset your stomach. Many plants are technically edible but can upset your stomach if you eat too much.

Water vines are another good option if you find yourself in the jungle. These thick vines draw water from the soil and transfer it up to the forest canopy. If you cut a section of it, you will find clean water running out. You can drink from the vine safely to help you survive.

Coconuts also provide an option for water but cannot be overly used. If you drink too much, you can end up with diarrhea that causes dehydration.

Finding Safe Water

There are several ways to find water that is already safe to drink in the wild.
Spring
Springs are always a good option because the water comes straight from the earth and has not had a chance to be contaminated so it is usually fine to drink.

However, mineral deposits can cause an issue. If the spring smells foul in any way or the water tastes funny, do not ingest it.
Rainwater
Collecting rainwater is an excellent choice if you are expecting rain. There are a few ways you can accomplish this.

  • You can set out containers to just catch what falls, or you can use sheets of plastic to direct the water into the containers.
  • You can dig a shallow pit to collect rainwater. Better yet, you can line the hole with a plastic sheet to ensure the water does not seep into the soil.
  • There are spots in certain types of trees and rocks that will naturally collect rainwater.

Dew
You can collect dew in the morning if you have some tall grasses in the vicinity. As you probably know, tall grasses collect dew around sunrise every morning.

To collect this moisture, you can tie a bandana or another piece of cloth around your leg. As you walk through the grasses, the cloth absorbs the moisture. You can then wring it out into your mouth for a drink of clean water.
Saltwater Fish
If you find yourself stranded in a life raft on the sea, your options for clean water are limited. However, if you have the ability to fish, you can extract water from the fish.

Before gutting and cleaning the fish, place your knife just behind its head against the spine. Then use the heel of your hand to drive the blade into the spinal column. There is a reserve of clean water in the spinal column so you can tip over the fish and drink from the cut you made.

Knowledge Hydrates

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to find clean drinking water if you are forced into a survival scenario. You need some knowledge and sometimes it requires some work. But with the right plan, you can stay hydrated in just about any situation. However, be aware that there are varying degrees of purity in water. If you can combine filtering with some of these other methods, that would be the best way to ensure that the water is as pure as possible.

For example, filtering and then boiling is about as good as you can expect to do in the wild. If you take the time to clean your water before drinking it, you definitely will benefit from it.

If you have other water purification tips, please leave them in the comments section below.

voteStay safe out there!

For more on storing water long-term, please click this link.

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    By: Patrick Morrow

    Patrick is a freelance outdoor writer. His main focus is on fishing, but he also covers survival, prepping topics, and completes several survival challenges each year.

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