How to purify water in the wild

Whether you’re backpacking through Bolivia or camping down the Yorkshire Dales, clean water is a necessity that isn’t available in the wild without purification.

How to purify water in the wild

Clean water is essential not only for human survival but to ensure that we’re operating on top form, especially when we’re on the go.

The problem is, on adventures in the wild, we don’t always have the option to carry a lot of portable water (as it is a heavy old thing), and if we don’t carry enough with us, we’re likely to run out. Dehydration is not something you want to add to your itinerary, so how do we go about ensuring we have enough water on a trip?

A simple solution to this issue is to purify water and make use of the environment. This is one of the most viable and popular tactics not only to avoid carting around litre after litre, but to avoid the risk of contamination, bacteria, and any other nasties in wild water. It also and has the added benefit of making you feel like you’re a budding Bear Grylls.

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Why purify water when hiking or wild camping?

No matter how pristine or inviting it may seem, wild water is unlikely to be safe without treatment – and it’s simply not worth the risk to try it. 

Purifying water is done on a large scale by countries to provide clean tap water and produce bottled water. This is no different from your needs when you’re hiking or camping!

There are a number of different reasons why you can’t just take a swig at natures finest lake, and that is because wild water generally contains the following:

  • Bacteria (the bad kind)
  • Protozoan parasites
  • Viruses
  • Chemical contamination from farms, landfill leakage, etc.
  • Air Pollution (in rainwater)
  • Other contaminants (from plastic waste, human/animal waste, etc.)

These contaminants can cause a number of symptoms including nausea, cramping, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pains, etc. These can be quite serious and lead to a number of illnesses including giardia, dysentery, and typhoid, for example.

Even one small sip of dirty water is enough to open your body to these dangers which can further lead to infections and possibly even death. Not to mention wild water will also taste and smell bad if not purified!

So amongst everything else, the key takeaway here is to purify any water you plan to consume in the wild!

Tips for collecting the cleanest water

Before we get into how to actually purify water, it is essential that you collect the water first. I mean, how are you going to purify something that you don’t actually have right?

As mentioned, clear water doesn’t mean drinkable. But when you’re looking to filter water, jumping into your closest muddy pool and collecting some water is not going to be as effective as looking for a cleaner alternative.

Here are some key tips for collecting the cleanest water to purify:

  • The faster flowing the water, the better, period.
  • Use your ears and listen for running water as it’s a foolproof method.
  • Another survivalist trick is to follow the wildlife – Look for animal tracks and follow along as they will usually traverse near water sources.
    • Bird’s flight paths in the mornings and evenings generally lead to and from water sources.
  • Go close to the source and aim high (water is cleaner the closer you get to the source so try to head upstream).
    • Conversely, water does flow downhill so low-lying areas and valleys are a good bet if your terrain is difficult to climb!

You can collect water in a number of different ways, though the main two methods are through catching rainwater or digging a hole.

To catch rainwater, you would set up a tarp (or similar) in an elevated position (when it is raining, obviously) and wait for the tarp to fill up.

To collect groundwater, you would dig a hole around 1 foot deep and 1 foot in diameter and wait. After a while, you can come back to find a muddy water source that can be strained with a cloth, prior to purification.

It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway, don’t contaminate near or in your water sources (this goes for any kind of waste). These tips can prove essential for providing the best quality water for purification.

Different methods of purifying water

As the old saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat. This proverb is relevant in this post as there is more than one way to purify water. 

It is noteworthy to say that there is no right answer. Each method has its own benefits and demerits. The one you choose depends on your circumstances and environment (so it’s worth knowing them all and then choosing appropriately).

With all that said, let’s get into it – these are the top 4 most common methods of purifying water in the wild.

Boiling 

One of the oldest and foolproof methods of purifying water is boiling.

If the water source is cloudy or visibly dirty, let it settle initially and filter through with a clean cloth or coffee filter for example. Then you would bring this water to a boil using a heat source, for at least one minute – noting the higher the elevation, the longer time you would need to boil (roughly 3 minutes at 1000m).

The next step is to let this cool and then store the water in some containers, as this will keep the water cleaner for longer.

This is the easiest and safest method to purify water.

Although, it does require a lot of equipment and there are time constraints. Additionally, the taste isn’t ideal – take our word for it. 

Another consideration is that boiling does not make it safe for drinking if the contaminants aren’t organic (often the case with chemical spills, broken infrastructure, etc.). So the use case depends on your environment.

Despite this, boiling can be done with pretty much any type of heat source that can bring water to a boil, such as a fire, camping stove, etc.

Best way to boil wild water – APG Backpacking Stove

The APG backpacking stove provides up to 1100ml of safe water to carry around in the container, which has a drink-through lid and a handle.

APG Backpacking Stove
  • 1.4L Boiling capacity
  • Drink-through lid
  • Push-button igniter
  • Nested design

Chlorine Tablets 

Another handy method is to use chemical purification methods – specifically in the form of tablets.

These chlorine tablets would simply be popped into your water sample, post collection. There is a bit of wait required though, at roughly 30 minutes, after which the water source is purified.

These tablets are simple to use, on top of being lightweight and small so they are easy to carry around. The noticeable downside is the 30-minute wait and the chlorine taste that can linger after using the tabs to filter otherwise tasty water.

Additionally, if the water has any man-made or environmental pollutants (such as heavy metals), you would need to distil the water initially or use another method for purification. To this effect, Chlorine Tablets are not an ideal choice for water purification, but they do work and work effectively.

Best chlorine tablets – Oasis Water Purification Tablet

The Oasis Water Purification Tablets are our top pick for chlorine tablets perfect for a wild adventure.

Oasis Chlorine Tablets
  • 100 chlorine tablets
  • 30 mins per litre
  • Incredibly lightweight option
  • Budget-friendly solution

Filters 

Filtration can be done in various ways, but simply it’s the process of moving water through a specialized filter to treat the water with chemicals and remove contaminants, to make it drinkable.

You can get various filters, such as a pump or gravity filter, however, one of the most versatile options is a LifeStraw.

This is a simple yet groundbreaking device, which comes in a number of different varieties (from a basic straw form to water bottle versions, and more). The different models can offer more filters, which can reduce further contaminants, such as lead or microplastics, leading to even more purity of water.

In terms of backpacking, hiking, camping, or whatever other wilderness adventures, the most suitable variety of these products is the LifeStraw Go Water Bottle. 

Best water filter – LifeStraw Go Water Bottle with Filter

The LifeStraw Go Water Bottle with Filter is our top pick for a filter when purifying water in the wild.

LifeStraw Go Water Bottle with Filter
  • Filters bacteria, parasites, chemicals and microplastics
  • Instantaneous purification – no wait time
  • Filter reduces bad odour and taste
  • Does not require any power or consumables
  • Lightweight and easy to carry

How does a LifeStraw work?

Simply unscrew the lid, fill the bottle with wild water, screw the lid back on and then suck the filtered water through the mouthpiece. That’s it – it’s super quick, easy and simple to make perfectly drinkable wild water. 

The simplicity is achieved by using advanced membrane technology to filter out contaminants, in addition to a carbon capsule to remove chlorine and bad taste.

It’s no wonder that the LifeStraw is an award-winning technology!

Ultraviolet Light

The final method to purify water is to use UV light to neutralize the contaminants in water (including those nasties previously mentioned, such as bacteria, protein protozoa, and viruses).

Make sure you use a prefilter first, like with boiling or chlorine tablets, for any murky water. Then, you would simply stir your water sample with a UV purifier for at least 90 seconds and you are good to go. Pretty much like stirring any old cocktail, right?

Almost sounds too good to be true, and that’s where reality kicks in. This method is very costly despite being very effective at removing contaminants in water.

It also requires batteries! So, a journey in the wild might not be the best situation for this purification method.

Best UV purifier – STERIPEN Water Purifier

STERIPEN offers a well-tested UV water purifier that can treat a litre of water in just 90 seconds. 

STERIPEN Water Purifier's Aqua UV
  • 48 seconds for 0.5 litre / 90 seconds for 1 litre
  • Up to 150 litres per charge
  • Lightweight (178g including battery)
  • Simple to use

Conclusion – How to purify wild water

Let’s run a quick recap of everything we covered:

  • Water is essential for survival and even more so for activities like backpacking, hiking, or camping.
  • It can be tiring and difficult to carry a lot of water, plus it is bound to run out!
  • You’re going to need clean water sources on the go – avoid drinking untreated wild water, as it can contain harmful contaminants, which can lead to illness.
  • Make sure you purify collected water in the wild first, to ensure these contaminants are erased.
  • There are several methods to accomplish this – Boiling, Chlorine Tablets, Filters & Ultraviolet Light.

Make sure you carry out any of these methods to purify water in the wild, to ensure you have a constant source of clean water for your adventuring activities!

FAQ: How to purify water in the wild

There’s plenty of questions to be asked when discussing how to purify water in the wild. Below you’ll find some of the most commonly asked – if you’ve got a question about the topic, hopefully, we’ll have covered it below! 

If you’re still struggling to find the answer to a question, don’t hesitate to send us a message via our contact page or our social accounts. We love chatting all-things-gear and would love to give you personal recommendations where we can!

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