Camping & Survival

Purifying Water on the Fly: Safe Drinking Water in an Emergency

You can gather water through condensation.

Anytime you venture out into the great outdoors, you should pack a few essential items that can make the difference between life and death. Even if you plan just a short trip, you need a way to start a fire and purify water for safe drinking. Even in the easiest of terrain, the most experienced outdoor adventurer can become lost or injured. A one-liter water bottle won’t last 24 hours, if you get stranded. Two items I recommend are the Strikeforce Fire Starter and the Aquamira Frontier emergency straw filter or iodine-based water tablets. If you have a thyroid issue or are pregnant, you should avoid iodine and use a chlorine-based drop instead, such as chlorine-based water treatment tablets. Both the Strikeforce and a few of the tablets in a baggie will easily fit into your pocket. The Strikeforce fire starter with tinder and flint only weighs 3.7 ounces and is five inches long. The tablets are small, and the baggie can come in handy as a way to collect water.

If you do happen to find yourself lost or stranded in the wilderness, having the straw or disinfectant tablets will clean up virtually any water you find. However, what if you don’t have either item; have used up the tablets, or the lost the straw? Staying hydrated is your number one priority for surviving until someone finds you.

The surest way to disinfect water on the fly is by boiling.
The surest way to disinfect water on the fly is by boiling.

Making Water Safe

The surest way to disinfect water on the fly is by boiling it. If you don’t have a canteen or cup, find an old coffee can or an aluminum can. You can set either of these in a fire. Let the water come to a rolling boil for at least five minutes; then let it cool before drinking. Boiling the water kills any microorganisms that can make you sick. However, it will not filter dirt and sediments, nor will it rid the water of chemical pollutants. After boiling, let the dirt and sediments sink to the bottom and scoop out the rest of the water. You can also filter the water using a cloth, bandana or coffee filter.

Plain, household bleach will also disinfect questionable water. You can carry a water bottle or small container of bleach with you. For one liter of water, add three drops of bleach. If water is very cloudy, add five drops. Wait for at least 30 minutes before drinking.

Most commercial bottled water comes in a bottle made of PETE, or PET plastic. If you have one of these bottles, you can fill it with water and set it in the sun for at least six hours to make it safe. Ultraviolet light will kill bacteria. There are ultraviolet light pens made specifically for purifying water, such as the SteriPEN, but it can be costly.

You can gather water through condensation.
You can gather water through condensation.
Gathering water from condensation is another option. Tie a plastic bag around a branch with green leaves and water will start to form at the bottom of the bag. This will take some time and not produce much, but it will give you something. Another way to get water from condensation is by digging a hole in moist soil. Dig a shallow hole and put a container at the bottom to collect the water. Cover the hole with a plastic sheet and secure the sheet using rocks or other weights making sure there are no gaps. Put a weight in the middle of the plastic sheet and wait. Water should begin to collect in your container.

To gather water overnight, take advantage of the morning dew. Place a cloth or bandana in high grass overnight. In the morning your cloth should be wet with dew. You can wring it out right into your mouth.

Being high in the mountains can have its advantages; even in warm temperatures you may still be able to find snow. Do not eat snow or ice directly. You must melt it first. Put a little bit of snow or ice in a fire-safe container and melt it. Add more snow as it melts.

Some water sources are safer than others. Better water is clearer, as opposed to muddy or cloudy. Running water is better than stagnant water. Avoid water that is near roads, wildlife run-off, down river from towns and industry, stagnant water, marshes, swamps, and water that has algae growing in it.

Hopefully, needing to find clean drinking water will never be something you have to endure. Remember, before heading out on an outdoor adventure leave a detailed plan of where and when you are going, and how long you expect to be gone with a trusted friend or family member. Take your cell phone and be prepared with a few life-saving items.

What is your favorite way to purify water? Tell me in the comment section.


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Comments (13)

  1. Great ideas,all! I just prefer the long use and still small, roll up convenience of the Katadyn Water Bladder Filter that CTD sells for about $50. I have 5, enough for home, vehicles and packs all around. made one serious concern a non issue anymore!

  2. you can boil water in a plastic bottle, too. just dangle it over the flames, from a hand held cord, and keep it moving around a bit. the water cools the plastic enough that it won’t melt, but have the bottle mostly full and do NOT just hang it from a tree, etc. you have to hold it yourself, keep it moving, have the cord WET, etc or the fire WILL melt a hole in the plastic, burn the cord, etc.

  3. A portable hand pump filter is my favorite way. You can get some fairly inexpensive ones for hiking/camping and emergencies. They are a lot more convenient than carrying bleach pr purification tablets, though those are good backups.

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