How To Purify Water In The Wild

You might not think it will ever happen to you, but it does. As anyone who has lived through dehydration in the wilderness will say, there’s no more sobering moment than realizing you would give just about anything for even a sip of water.

How To Purify Water In The Wild

Should that time ever come for you- and through good graces you do then stumble upon a water source, such as a stream or a pool- then you still need to know how to purify water in order to survive.

Why Should You Purify Water?

Water in the wild is home to all manner of life, including many species of bacteria, viruses and microscopic parasitic organisms- some of which can make you very, very sick.

Waterborne diseases take the lives of millions of people around the world every year. Even the cleanest-seeming source of water can kill, if it is consumed before it is purified of these dangerous creatures.

Thankfully, even if you are miles from a source of untreated water, there are still methods of making sure a wild water source is safe to drink.

What Are The Best Ways Of Purifying Water?


This is the most simple method of purification. Bring the water to a full, rolling boil for at least five minutes to kill any dangerous organisms. Allow the water to cool before drinking.

This process can leave the water tasting flat, as the process removes oxygen. Pour your purified water between two vessels to reinfuse it with oxygen and restore the taste.

Purification Tablets/Solutions

Purifying solutions are available in drop or tablet form. These can be made from iodine, chlorine, potassium permanganate, halazone etc. and all work to kill disease-causing organisms in wild water.

Mix the recommended amount into the water depending on product instructions (usually quite a small amount) and then wait until the solution has taken effect before drinking. These solutions are usually relatively fast-acting.

Water purified in this way often takes on an unnatural taste due to the chemicals involved, in which case you may prefer to add a flavoring before drinking (but only after purification is complete).

In an extreme survival situation, people have used tiny amounts of bleach (just a few drops) in a large amount of water in order to achieve purification.


You may have a water filter at home, but there are other filters specifically designed for treating water in a survival setting.
These filters pass the unpurified water through a filter of charcoal or ceramic, before applying a chemical treatment.

Aside from care having to be taken with the filter itself (the two hoses must never cross-contaminate each other), this is one of the better methods of purifying water. The flavor of the water is also mostly unaffected by this process.

The filter of the unit itself will also require cleaning or replacement after an amount of use, as the sediment which is filtered from the water builds up and eventually renders it useless.

Just like water-purifying tablets, these filters are readily-available from camping stores, and are well worth the money if you are going hiking or traveling through the wilderness for any reason.

Survivalist Methods

Survivalist Methods

Beyond these convenient and commercially-available options, there are more traditional options of cleaning water which have served human beings well for millennia.

These methods are still used by survivalists today and are worth learning in case of an extreme situation.

Primitive Filtering

Sediment-heavy water can be cleared by filtering it through sand, or even soil. In the past, people would dig a hole near a water source and then use the water which filtered through into the well.

This method does very little to clear water of bacteria, parasites etc, but does make water much clearer.

Distilling/Evaporation Traps

An evaporation trap works as such: dig a hole, and place a vessel in the center for collecting water.

Cover the hole with a sheet of clear plastic, weighing it in the center over the water collection vessel so that it dips towards that point. Seal the edges of the sheet around the hole with soil or rocks.

As water evaporates from the solid it condenses upon the sheeting; collects along the dip in the sheeting and drips into the collection vessel.

A similar method can even be used to distill saltwater, using pots. If you have access to a fire, place a small pot in a large pot over the fire. Pour the saltwater into the large pot, but not the small one.

Invert a pot lid over the pots, with its center pointing down into the small pot. As the saltwater boils, the distilled water collects in the small pot.

Recognising Dangerous Water

As previously mentioned, just because water looks clean or comes from a crisp mountain brook, doesn’t mean that it’s safe to drink. Use your common sense when collecting water for purifying, and try to invoke some survivalist knowledge.

Do the plants surrounding the source look healthy? Plant life also thrives on good water.

Could there potentially be dead animals resting in this body of water? If so, it should absolutely not be drunk. This also applies to human or animal feces.

Is the water sitting, or stagnant? Insects and parasites love to breed in stagnant water- you must find a running water source.

Running water sources are often plagued by sediment however- immerse your vessel beneath the surface of even a clear water source to avoid floating sediment.

Also, you are better off finding a collection point upstream, as all contaminants will flow downstream.

Never drink unpurified water- diarrhea resulting from bacteria or parasites is often just one of many symptoms you’ll experience, and is deadly in a survival scenario as it leads to even more extreme dehydration.

If you are a regular outdoorsman, is it absolutely vital that water purification tablets or filters are part of your personal survival kit, and that you are aware of all methods of survivalist water purifying.

Mandy Anderson