How To Purify Water In The Wild

You might not think it will ever happen to you, but dehydration can happen to anybody. 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.

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

Why Should You Purify Water?

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

Waterborne diseases from such bacteria and parasites take the lives of millions of people around the world every year.

Even the cleanest sources of water can kill you if it is drunk before being purified of these dangerous creatures. Thankfully, even if you are miles from a source of untreated water, there are still methods of turning a wild water source safe to drink.

What Are the Best Ways Of Purifying Water?


Boiling is the simplest 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 it 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. They work to kill disease-causing organisms in wild water.

Mix the recommended amount into the water depending on product instructions and 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. You may prefer to add a flavoring before drinking.

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


You may have a water filter at home, but other filters are available specifically for treating water in a survival setting.

These filters pass the unpurified water through charcoal or ceramic before applying a chemical treatment.

Aside from needing to be done carefully 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 unaffected by this process.

The filter will also require cleaning or replacement after several uses, as the filtered sediment from the water builds up and eventually renders it useless.

Similar to 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

Beyond these convenient and commercially-available options, there are more traditional options for cleaning water, which has 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

You can clear water of sediment by filtering it through sand or even soil. You can dig a hole near a water source and use the water that filters through into the well.

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

Distilling/Evaporation Traps

An evaporation trap works: 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 soil, it condenses upon the sheeting, collects along the dip in the sheeting, and drips into the collection vessel.

Similarly, you can distill salt water using pans. If you have access to a fire, place a small pan in a large pan over the fire.

Pour the salt water into the large pan but not the small one. Invert a pan lid over the pans with its center pointing down into the small pan. As the saltwater boils, the distilled water collects in the small pan.

Recognizing Dangerous Water

As previously mentioned, just because the water looks clean doesn’t mean it’s safe for human consumption.

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 not be drunk. This idea 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 often have lots of sediment. Immerse your vessel beneath the surface of a clear water source to avoid floating sediment. Also, you are better off finding a collection point upstream, as all contaminants will flow downstream.


You should 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,’ it is vital that water purification tablets or filters are part of your survival kit and that you are aware of all methods of survivalist water purifying.

Mandy Anderson
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