In the wild, water is like gold dust.
You could survive up to 3 weeks without food, but without water, bring that number down to a few days!
In a survival situation, pretty much nothing else matters if you can’t find, collect and purify your own water.
Water-borne pathogens like cholera, typhoid fever and Hepatitis A or E are some of the biggest killers in the world.
Putting that fact aside, the main problem with drinking dirty water in the wild, is that it will likely make you vomit and/or give you a bad case of diarrhoea.
We all know that this is one way to lose more water than you take in, i.e. not good.
In this article I will teach you exactly how to collect and purify water in the wild.
Let’s get started!
How to Collect Water in the Wild
Streams, Rivers and Lakes
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that these are your three most obvious sources of collecting water in the wild.
That’s provided of course you clean and purify anything you collect.
There are two golden rules to collecting water from rivers and streams though:
- If you are going to risk drinking water directly from the source, make sure you drink from the fastest flowing stream, ideally if it’s flowing over and through rocks. try and avoid drinking water from slow moving pools.
- A cool bushcraft tip: If you use a bottle to collect water in a river, place the opening to the opposite side of the waterflow. This way you’ll avoid collecting all the small debris, twigs and who knows what else.
I am sure you’ve come across it before, a dodgy stagnant bog of very dirty water.
Well, the next time you do, dig a hole about a foot deep and foot away from it.
In doing so your hole will fill with water which is somewhat filtered through the adjoining earth. This my friends is known as a gypsy well.
But don’t go drinking it just yet, you will still need to filter and purify it further to make it completely safe to drink.
I will go into detail on how to purify water in the wild a little later on.
Below Ground Solar Stills
These work especially well in the desert where water is much more scarce.
How do you build a solar still?
- Start off by digging a hole about 60cm deep and about a metre wide.
- Put a container in the centre of your hole.
- Put some green foliage in your hole (if you can) to promote moisture.
- Cover your hole with a sheet of plastic, you can use rocks or sand to anchor your plastic sheet down.
- Finally, put a stone in the middle of your plastic sheet, right above the container. This will create a funnel that will allow moisture collected to run into your container.
Bushcraft tip: if you urinate in the hole beforehand, the moisture in your urine will condense into clean drinking water!
If a warmish, clear day is followed by a cool, clear evening, live saving dew will likely form.
If this is the case you’ve lucked out. Dew is super easy to collect.
Simply wrap a towel, rags or any absorbent type material around your legs and go for a stroll through the vegetation.
When the fabric has been saturated, you can wring it out into a container and repeat the process until you have collected as much water as you can.
Read also: Bushcraft Survival Guide
Moss is essentially natures version of a sponge.
It grows in damp conditions, grab a bunch of it and squeeze it out to produce small quantities of water.
How to Filter Water in the Wild
A millbank bag is a constituent part of the vast majority of military belt kits.
Its basically a fabric bag in which you pour unfiltered water into.
Any debris gets caught inside while cleaner water drips through the bottom.
The thing is, most of us don’t have access to a Millbank bag. This is not a problem!
In the wild, you can use your sock or even your underpants to filter water.
You can even do a better job filtering your water by filling your sock with sand and small rocks.
You can do this by layering it with the least coarse material at the bottom and the more coarse material at the top.
Another more modern way to purify your water is using the Lifestraw.
The Lifestraw comes in Comes in a sealed bag, perfect for storing in your bug out bag or any other prepper gear supply kit!
It removes a minimum of 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria, plus 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites, and filters to 0.2 microns which surpasses EPA filter standards!
The Lifestraw comes in a sealed bag, perfect for storing in your bug out bag or any other prepper gear supply kit!
The straw filters up to 1,000 gallons (4,000 liters) of contaminated water without iodine, chlorine, or other chemicals and does not require batteries and has no moving parts.
This is one piece of bushcraft gear that I swear by.
How to Purify Water in the Wild
Method 1 – Purifying Tablets
I always make sure to carry at least a few water purifying tablets with me in my survival kit.
If the water I’ve collected is not too dirty, I’ll toss one tablet in. If it’s really smelling I’ll chuck in two or three.
Given your purified water won’t taste too good, but it’ll be safe enough to drink.
Lately however, I’ve been trying out Purinize, it’s 100% non-toxic. Free of chemical disinfectants like chlorine, chlorine dioxide and iodine with absolutely NO chemical after taste.
Method 2 – Boil the Water
Most people will tell you, you need to boil water for about 10 minutes before its safe.
If you have an unlimited supply of water, that’s fine. However, if you’ve only collected a small amount, the more you boil it, the more you’ll lose in evaporation.
If this is the case, stop boiling your water once it’s started to bubble. 99.9 per cent of all waterborne pathogens will have been killed.
Method 3 – Distillation
This technique of purifying water in the wild is particularly useful in pacific regions or tropical settings.
It’s quite common that when you find fresh water in tropical conditions, the water will contain a high level of sodium and minerals.
There’s a high chance you’ll become even more dehydrated if you drink this water.
However, fear not. It is possible to separate this water from its salts and minerals this process is called distillation.
For this process to work, you will need items such as a container, a smaller container, and a cover.
This process works very similar to the below ground solar still. You will place the smaller bowl inside the larger one, filling the larger one with salt water.
Next place a plastic sheet over the containers, then like the solar still, place a small stone in the centre of the plastic sheet to create an indentation that allows water to collect and drip into the smaller container.
This process doesn’t purify your water 100%, but it does distill it. You can then use a Lifestraw to drink it up.
Method 4 – Plants
There are a handful of plants that will filter/purify water for you in the wild.
However, it’s important that you have a strong knowledge of this plants before using them.
A simple mis judgement when using plants to purify water could lead to severe sickness.
These plants and flowers are able to remove dangerus contaminants from your water:
- Plant Xylem
- Oregon Grape
- Moringa Oleifera
- Rice and coconuts
- Banana peels
- Jackfruit seeds
- Reeds and bulrushes
- Java plum seed
- Fruit Peels
For example, fruit peels and shrubs like the Oregon Grape, are perfect for purifying water in the wild.
Simply seal and soak your water water in a bag with these plants, and after some time you will be left with clean drinking water.
The inner bark of the Oregon Grape plant contains berberine, this is an antimicrobial alkaloid, which can be used to naturally purify water.
Keep in mind that coconuts are another create source of purified water in the wild!
Method 5 – Stone Boiling
Heating up stones in a fire can really come in handy.
They can not only be used to boil and purify water in the wild, but can also be used as a source of warmth when camping out in the cold.
First, you will need some sort of container that will be able to with stand these hot rocks. A coconut shell for example.
Then toss in a few medium sized rocks into your fire, let them heat up for about 10 to 20 minutes.
Carefully remove the rocks and place them in your container full of water, this should bring your water to the boil, thus purifying it.
Bushcraft tip: heat up some rocks in your fire, then wrap them up in a towel. You can keep this towel of hot rocks with you in your sleeping bag for some extra warmth – works like a charm!
Overview on Waterborne Pathogens
Waterborne pathogens can be divided into three main categories: viruses, bacteria and parasites.
Most common forms of waterborne pathogens include:
Typhoid fever, cholera, giardia, dysentery, hepatitis A and salmonella.
You can read more about these pathogens here.
Symptoms of Waterborne Illness
General symptoms include, diarrhea and vomiting alongside with skin, ear, respiratory, or eye problems.
If you have any other ways to collect and purify water in the wild, feel free to share them with all of us in the comments section below.
Read also: Understanding the term bushcraft