5 Ways to Purify Water for Drinking – a How to Guide

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If you plan to go backpacking, camping, or hiking sometime soon, then you will need clean water. It is important so you have the fuel you need for your day. As they say, water is life. No one cannot get by without it. But how do you get clean water? You can just drink straight from the stream. That is often dangerous. You do not want to get any nasty bugs. So what do you do? That is what this article is for, 5 Ways to Purify Water for Drinking – a How to Guide, so let’s get started for you to head off on your outdoor adventure.

1. Boiling Has Been around for a While Now

If there is one reliable method for cleaning impure water, it is boiling. When you boil water, you kill pretty much all microorganisms for you to drink. In Europe during the Middle Ages, it was safer to drink beer instead of water! That is pretty wild right? Not really, it takes boiled water to make beer, so it was safer to drink than just straight water. You can trust beer to be clean. While beer will be safe to drink on your outdoor adventure, you should not just be drinking beer or else you will be stumbling down the trail. Instead, an instant boiler will do wonders for you.

In 5 minutes of boiling, you will kill 99.9% of microorganisms, but 10 minutes will be even safer. Depending on the altitude though, your boiling time will vary as the boiling point goes up at higher altitudes. While boiling will not remove all impurities, it is a tried and true method.

2. Solution, Tablets, and Drops – a Lightweight Option

The three types you can expect to encounter are, iodine, chlorine, and potassium permanganate. Of the three of them, iodine tablets are most common and the method you are most likely to use. It is prevalent on many outdoor adventures, so you can rely on it as a safe method to disinfect your water. Each will require a wait time before the water is safe to drink

One of the biggest upsides to this method is that tablets, solutions, and drops are very light. If you are a backpacker and want to minimize weight, then this is an option worth consideration. You can save pounds and make the journey a lot easier by leaving the instant boiler at home.

When looking at tablets, consider the shelf life and disinfection time rate. Some tablets last a year while others will get you through two years. You may have to wait four hours on a lightning fast tablet, but a full day on another type. You also need to consider the side effects. For pregnant women or those with thyroid issues or shellfish allergies, iodine tablets are a no go. Children often do not drink iodine disinfected water because of the taste.

While iodine tablets work well and do their job, they can taste terrible. Bleh! No one wants bad tasting water. It is a downside to iodine. Otherwise, you can trust tablets, solutions, and drops.

3. The Filtration System, a Tried and True Method

Another splendid option is to pass your water through a filtration system.

Grab a T-shirt and Let the Water Flow through into a Bottle

When you have no other water disinfection methods in a survival situation, this should be your go to. The shirt will help to remove some impurities, but not all. It will do a bit to help clear out the pathogens and bugs in the water. But do not expect your shirt to do everything, it’s barely got your back! (A pun was very much intended.) It will not take out all the impurities, but it is better than nothing.

Survival Straws, a Popular Product at Many Stores

Making headway in the market today, survival straws can be found at just about every outdoor store. When I worked at Ace Hardware, we sold these on our survival end cap. It was quite interesting to see to say the least. You grab one of these straws, stick it in a river, and start slurping up that delicious water. In a pinch, it is an excellent method. It will not filter out every pathogen and bug in the water, but it does a splendid job. You can trust these straws for the vast majority of cases.

Plant Material Filtration is an Excellent Survival Option

If you are in a survival situation, then you should consider plant material as a way to disinfect water. Trees, vegetation, and roots all do their part in removing impurities in the water, so they can make a world of a difference. The more leaves, roots, and branches you put between you and your water, the better it will be for you to drink. In short, you put roots, nuts, and twigs on a piece of cloth and let the water run through into a bowl or bottle. While the method is much better than a straight t-shirt or piece of cloth, looks can be deceiving. It is not the best method, but it has its uses.

Pump-Action and Drip/Suction Filters, Your Best Filtration Method

By a wide margin, you can rely on a store bought filtration system to clean your water. With pump action systems, a pump forces water through a filter cartridge to come clean out the other side. In drip/suction systems, water is placed in an IV bag like container and slowly works its way through the filtration system. The latter is slower, but works just as well as the first method. Often times, the filter is either ceramic or charcoal.

If you want a more advanced filter, you can find plenty of high tech, filtration water bottles. You pour in dirty water and out comes clean water ready to drink. Purification happens when you drink.

Pump-action, drip suction, and filtration water bottle systems can all be trusted.

4. Harness the Power of the Sun with Ultraviolet Light

If water is left in the sun, UV light eradiates the microorganisms. That is why you wear sunscreen, to protect your skin from those dangerous UV rays; they turn your skin into a raisin if you are not careful. That is why ultraviolet light will eliminate any microorganisms and make your water safe to drink. It is one of the safest ways to drink water for your body.

No matter the color of your skin, sunlight affects you. That is why I recommend everyone wear sunscreen regardless of skin color. You do not want to look like a shriveled grape at 60 years old. In a previous article, I answered the question, Which is the Best Sunscreen I Should Use? If you are looking for an inexpensive or expensive option to do your skin justice, the article provides you with two options. When you apply sunscreen to your face every day, you do not become a self centered cosmetic queen, but a beginner health nut committed to your personal well-being.

==> I Want to Protect My Skin for Old Age <==

Ultraviolet (UV) Light Devices – Again, You Can Find Them at an Outdoor Store Near You

If you go to REI or Summithut, you can be sure to find one of these devices on their shelves. Many are battery powered and hand cranked to clean the water without any effort. You can also expect to find many battery powered UV light devices. While they do not work as well with large pathogens (and you won’t run into these too often), they will do their job of disinfecting water. You can trust UV light devices.

Solar Water Disinfection (SODIS), Grab a Plastic Bottle Full of Water and Sit it in the Sun

Just like the subtitle says, you fill up your plastic water bottle and sit it in the sun. It will do the same thing as an ultraviolet light device, but much slower. Compared to other methods listed here, it is inexpensive and often free. No one charges you to use the sun.

It does come with some downsides. With this method, you need to let the bottle sit for at least one day. Any shorter and you will risk infection. For those overcast skies, you need to wait two days. On rainy days, it is not an option. You are better off collecting rain water. Also, it does not work with glass bottles. The thickness does not allow UV rays to come in. It must be a plastic container. When you put the water in, it needs to be clear. Muddy water will just not do. You also cannot use it on bottles over 2 L. Small bottles are preferred.

While SODIS will work well in a pinch, it is not the best method available to you.

5. Distillation Brings the Chemistry Lab Outside

When you think of distillation, imagine boiling water in one container and letting the steam flow into the other container to condense back into water. It is a very reliable method. Heavy metals like lead with a higher boiling point get left behind, providing you with safe, clean drinking water. If you are in a disaster situation and you can only drink contaminated water, then distillation will be your best bet. It protects your precious water filters and any other traditional water purification methods.

It takes a lot of time to set up such a system. Unless you are camping near a nuclear power plant (which you should not) or surviving in a post apocalyptic world, then you can use less intensive methods to purify your water.

You can trust distillation, but it is quite intensive.

Are You Going to Get Outside this Week?

Well, that was a lot of different ways to purify water for drinking. You can always drink raw water in a desperate situation, but only as a last resort. It will get you through the day, but you cannot be sure after that. It is a gamble. If you need to stop death from dehydration, then by all means drink raw water. If you have the time, then disinfect the water.

It is excellent that you finished this article, but now it is time to get outside. Outdoor adventure awaits you. Nature is calling. Imagine the trees hush. Taste and play with the cool breeze in your mouth. Feel the cool creek water flow through your fingers, dancing around your skin like merry minstrels. If you need to find a path, then I recommend you check out AllTrails.com. More than likely, it has a trail near you all mapped out and ready for you to hike. So what do you say? Are you going to get outside this week?

==> I Want to Live a Better Life and Get Outside <==

If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, do not hesitate to comment below and please share the article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!

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10 Comments on “5 Ways to Purify Water for Drinking – a How to Guide”

  1. It is apparent that you are well versed in outdoor survival, your information is amazing! I know where to look for my next hike.

  2. Hey,

    Great article. I am planning on camping in the Lake District in the UK in January and I am definitely going to be using your tips to help me.

    Thanks for sharing and all the best,


    1. I appreciate the compliment. It is nice to hear you plan to camp soon Tom. I have not yet been to the UK, but I have heard there is plenty of good camping there.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  3. Great post Alex!

    I remember getting beaver fever one year, from drinking creek water. It was clear and sweet, but who knows what happened to it before it got to us. We were sick for a week.

    I have seen people in movies filter water using clothing (the Reese Witherspoon movie Wild), and it still looked pretty gross.

    If you were in a survival setting, like being evacuated due to forest fires, what would be the best and second best options to have with you for filtering or creating decent potable water?

    1. I appreciate the compliment Irma.

      What is beaver fever? That is a new one for me. I appreciate you for sharing this experience. You definitely want to avoid drinking unpurified water as much as possible. I am sorry to hear you got sick. That must have been quite the pain.

      Yes, you can filter water with your clothing, but it is a bit of a stretch. It works, but only a little. There are better ways to purify your water.

      I appreciate your question. It is a good one. In a survival situation, your best option is boiled water, hands down. It has been around a long time. You do have to wait for the water to cool down though, but not too long. My second choice would be a filtration system, using a store bought filter. If you were to let me choose a third, I would recommend some tablets. All of the methods I list here will be sure to help you out in a survival situation in a pinch. I hope this answers your question.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  4. Hi Alex,

    The great images alone on your site make me want to get outside and go hiking. The weather is cooling down a little now and it would be a good time of year.

    Thank you for the water purification information. We are so used to having everything readily available and at our fingertips at home but in the wild we would be lost.

    My family have no plans to go camping soon but it won’t hurt to have the tablets and drops on hand for emergencies, at home and away.

    Vanna Pearl

    1. I am glad to hear you liked the images Vanna. Since it is November now, there should be plenty of nice cool hikes for trekking.

      Not enough people know how to purify water. Many people just assume the water from their taps is clean, but it takes quite the process to get clean water to someone. Tablets are always a great option.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  5. Hi Alex. Great article. Many thanks for sharing. We are lucky that it is so easy to buy water these days just about everywhere.

    But I like many others have been caught out in the wild and have been worried about where my next drink of healthy water is going to come from. Trekking around Nepal a few years ago I had to resort to iodine tablets to get me through. It’s not the best solution, but what are you going to do? Unfortunately, I couldn’t build a fire or wait while my water sat in the sun for a day to purify itself.

    Maybe my next expedition will be different? Cheers.

    1. I appreciate the compliment Andrew. You are right that we take water for granted. We cannot forget its worth.

      Your trip to Nepal sounds incredible. If you had to use iodine tablets to get through the journey, then it had to be so. You do not want to be caught without any water. You cannot really start a fire in the Himalayas of Nepal, so you have to do what you can.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

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