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How to Purify Water in the Wild

You won’t last more than three days if you’re stuck in the wild without fresh water. When you find yourself in a survival situation, your first task is locating clean drinking water.

If you’re lucky, the environment you find yourself in will provide you with a source of water—however, it’s highly unlikely that it will be immediately drinkable. There are thousands of microorganisms and bacteria that live in water and without proper filtration, you could end up becoming violently ill—or even dying—after consuming unpurified water.

This guide will teach you how to purify water in the wild so you can worry less about survival when things don’t go according to plan. Take a look at these seven filtration systems designed to help you access clean water in any survival situation.

  1. Water Filtration System
  2. Boiling
  3. Tablets or Drops
  4. Distillation
  5. Plants
  6. Stone Boiling
  7. Sedimentation

1.    Water Filtration System

In order to learn how to filter water in the wild, it’s important to practice at home. By gathering basic materials like sand and rocks, you can easily create a tool that can be used to filter water in the great outdoors.

Keep in mind, filtering water in nature through things like sand and charcoal won’t purify it completely, but it will remove physical threats and hazards. You will still need to use an additional method for purifying water in the wild before it’s safe to drink. 

In order to create your filter, you’ll need a cone-like container to hold your filtration materials, like a plastic water bottle.

If need be, you can create a cone using large leaves and bundled sticks. Adding a bit of moss or cloth at the bottom of your filter will allow you to prevent your filtration materials (sand, rocks, moss, etc) from escaping out of the bottom.

Pro tip: if you can’t find any materials for your filter in the wild, using a T-shirt or bundle of cloth is the next best thing. Consider washing or boiling your cloth before using it as a filter.

2.    Boiling

Boiling water is one of the best wilderness water purification methods. Boiling clear water is the most efficient way to make it safe to drink. Most bacteria and microorganisms can’t survive in boiling water, and they will likely die off during the heating process.

Only boil clear water. If you boil water contaminated with physical materials like dirt and leaves, you could still end up getting sick from the heavy minerals that will seep into your water. Even stagnant water from lakes can be boiled and purified.

With a solid container and a decent fire, you could have purified water in as little as 10 minutes. Just make sure that you let the water bubble for at least five minutes before you remove it from the fire. Once your water has been thoroughly boiled, let it rest for another five minutes.

3.    Tablets or Drops

If you plan on making a bug out bag checklist to build up your emergency supplies, be sure to add purification tablets or drops to the list. When you don’t know how to purify water in the wild, these can work in a pinch.

The most common ingredients in the filtration tablets are iodine, chlorine, and potassium permanganate. In small enough doses, these ingredients aren’t harmful. However, they are extremely efficient at removing harmful organisms in your drinking water.

One of our best disaster preparedness tips: Include some of these purifying drops in your family’s emergency preparedness bags.

One drawback of tablets is that you will need a way to measure the amount of water you’re going to purify so you don’t over or under-use the drops/tablets. Most tablets require about 20 liters of water.

Here are the steps you need to take when purifying your water with tablets:

  • Filter 20 liters (or required amount) until water is clear.
  • Fill your container and add the drops or tablets in as instructed.
  • Shake or stir the container for about 10-20 seconds to ensure that everything is evenly mixed.
  • Let the water rest for at least 20 minutes before you drink it.

4.    Distillation

This method of purifying water in the wild is particularly useful in tropical settings or Pacific regions. Often, when you find fresh water in a tropical setting, it may contain high levels of sodium and minerals. Drinking this water may cause you to become even more dehydrated if you aren’t careful.

One way to separate the water from its salts and minerals is to distill it. However, this process requires some items that might not be accessible in the wild. For the distillation process to work, you will need some type of container, a smaller container, and a cover.

By placing the smaller vessel inside the larger one and filling the larger one with salt water, you can cover it and let condensation naturally separate the water for you. Just make sure that your cover is indented towards the smaller vessel so that the condensation collects on the cover in a way that causes it to run down and drip into your smaller container.

With enough sunlight and the right gear, you can easily gather all of the drinkable water you need to survive. While this process doesn’t fully purify your water, it distills it. This water can then be filtered using an emergency water filter.

5.    Plants

You might be surprised to learn that there are a handful of plants in the wild that will purify and/or filter your water. However, you need to have a strong understanding and familiarity with these plants before using them. A single mistake when learning how to purify water in the wild with plants could lead to severe consequences.

The following flowers and plants can be used to remove dangerous contaminants from water:

  • Plant Xylem
  • Cilantro
  • Rice and coconuts
  • Banana peels
  • Fruit Peels
  • Reeds and bulrushes
  • Jackfruit seeds
  • Java plum seed
  • Moringa Oleifera
  • Oregon Grape

Fruit peels and shrubs like the Oregon Grape are a great way to purify your water.

By sealing and soaking your clear water in a bag with these plants, you can easily create clean drinking water. The inner bark of the Oregon Grape plant naturally contains berberine which is an antimicrobial alkaloid.

Unfortunately, you aren’t likely to find this plant in a tropical or desert setting. Citric fruits and their seeds are a great substitute, and if you have access to coconuts, they are a great source of both water and water purifying materials.

6.    Stone Boiling

There are going to be a handful of situations when you’re stuck in the wild without the sufficient materials needed to boil your water. Even if you’re crafty enough to construct a clay pot using materials from a riverbed, it won’t likely withstand the heat needed to bring your water to a boil.

To get around this roadblock, many wilderness survivalists have adapted the method of bringing rocks to extremely high temperatures before dropping them in water.

You will still need some kind of container for your water that won’t get destroyed by these extremely hot rocks, but this may be a viable solution in a pinch. Grab a few stones, wash them, and throw them in the coals of a hot fire.

Once the rocks are hot enough, they can be removed with wooden tongs and placed into your water container. If your water doesn’t begin to boil within seconds after dropping the rocks in, then you will have to continue adding hot rocks until it does or start over again.

The best vessels for this strategy are larger, hollowed out rocks that are capable of holding water.

7.    Sedimentation

It might seem like a no-brainer when discovering how to filter water in the wild, but this method often goes overlooked. When faced with extremely murky water, sedimentation is a great way to deal with the excess of unwanted particles.

Simply by leaving your water stagnant for an extended period will force all of the particles to sink to the bottom, leaving the clean water at the top. Using a separate container, the top part of the water can be scooped up used in your purification system.

When you take the clean water from the top, do your best not to disturb the water as much as possible or it could become mixed again.

If you want to avoid the hassle of purifying water in the wilderness using only primitive tools, consider picking up a survival backpack that contains all of the gear you need to get through any mishap. The Uncharted SEVENTY2 Survival Kit is fully equipped with a filter and two water containers so you won’t have to worry.

If you’re ready to prepare yourself and your family for any survival situation, pick up an Uncharted survival backpack today.