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7 Ways to Access Clean Water in the Wilderness

7 Ways to Access Clean Water in the Wilderness

Each year, thousands of people around the world venture into wilderness areas to hike, camp, and hunt. Whether you are going on a day hike or a weeklong excursion, it’s important that you pack the right gear and supplies. The most critical of supplies to consider is water. 

The human body is made up of 60% water. Activities like hiking can quickly deplete your body’s water reserves resulting in dehydration, headaches, fatigue, and disorientation. Prolonged exertion without drinking water can have serious consequences and even result in death.  

Ideally, you should plan to carry enough water for your trip. The general rule is to carry 1 litre of water for every 2 hours of hiking. Areas that experience high temperatures like deserts and tropical jungles will require more water. However, it isn’t always possible to carry enough water for your journey. You could also find yourself in a survival situation such as getting lost which would require you to find a safe, alternate source of water.

Dangers of Drinking Unsafe Water

While water sources in nature can be abundant, there are many risks associated with drinking water that isn’t properly filtered or treated. There are numerous ways that water can become contaminated including animal waste, naturally occurring heavy metals, and human pollution.

Even clear water can contain microscopic organisms such as parasites, bacteria, viruses, amoeba, and protozoa. Most life-threatening waterborne diseases are caused by these microbes. Infections can cause symptoms that include stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, headache, fever, and kidney failure. You can also contract diseases such as typhoid fever, cholera, and hepatitis. 

Fortunately, avoiding these dangerous elements is easy if you have the right tools or methods to clean, filter, and purify your drinking water.

For top tips to deal with contaminated water outdoors, read Tips for Dealing With Contaminated Water In The Backcountry.

7 Ways to Make Water Safe to Drink Outdoors

Finding a water source can be a challenge depending on the environment. Below are seven of the most common ways to get access to safe drinking water when exploring the wilderness. There are pros and cons to each method, so it’s important to figure out which option works best for you. 

1. Boil

Boiling water is one the easiest ways to make water safe to drink if you have access to a campfire or camp stove. Bring the water to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute. This should be sufficient to kill dangerous bacteria, parasites or viruses. Be sure to allow the water to cool before drinking so you don’t burn yourself. 

  • Pros: Boiling is an easy way to purify large amounts of water at a time. It’s also useful when you have access to non-liquid forms of water such as snow and ice. 
  • Cons: This method requires a heat source. Boiling water also doesn’t remove dirt or other sediments from the water (it’s recommended to filter water through a piece of cloth before boiling).

For a detailed look at filtration vs purification in the wild, read Filtration vs Purification.

2. Purification Drops or Tablets

Chemicals in purification drops or tablets can be used to quickly kill harmful microorganisms. The most common chemical used is iodine, but some products contain other ingredients such as chlorine or potassium permanganate. Simply add the drops or tablets to your water and wait about 20 minutes for the water to become safe to drink. 

  • Pros: Drops and tablets are easy to use and very inexpensive. 
  • Cons: This method may not be the best tasting option. 

3. Evaporation Trap

If you are having trouble finding a water source, you can build your own trap to collect natural condensation. Start by digging a hole in the ground and place a container at the bottom to catch the water. Place a piece of plastic over the hole so no moisture can escape. Rocks can be positioned around the hole to hold the plastic in place. You want to make sure that there is a dip in the middle that hangs directly above the container. As moisture evaporates from the ground, condensation will form on the underside of the plastic. If positioned correctly, the water should flow to the low point in the plastic and drip into the container.

  • Pros: Evaporation traps are a great option for dry environments (like deserts). 
  • Cons: The process to collect water is extremely slow and requires patience. 

4. Filtration Pumps

Filtration pumps are a small hand-operated device that allows you to pump water directly from the source, through a filter, and into your water bottle. These pumps are easy to use and can produce a steady supply of water. 

  • Pros: Filtration pumps can provide a good amount of drinking water.  
  • Cons: Pumps are a separate piece of gear that can take up room in your pack. Pumping water from extremely shallow sources may be difficult.  

5. UV Light Devices

Ultraviolet (UV) light can be extremely effective in damaging small organisms rendering them harmless. Most of these devices are powered through batteries or a manual hand crank. 

  • Pros: UV light works quickly (just a few seconds) and requires no chemicals. 
  • Cons: UV light may be less effective with cloudy water or containing floating particles that can block the light. Also, UV light doesn’t remove non-organic contaminants like heavy metals. 

6. DIY Water Filter

If you don’t have access to a filtration pump or other purification device, you can make your own. Cut the bottom off a water bottle to form a funnel (with the neck of the bottle facing down). Insert a cloth filter into the bottle such as a coffee filter, cotton balls, or a bandana. Next, gather charcoal from your fire pit, crush it into small pieces, and place it in the bottle. Add sand on top of the charcoal layer, followed by small stones. Finally, pour water through the filter to clean it. 

  • Pros: DIY filters are cheap and easy to build.
  • Cons: You may have difficulty finding the materials you need to build the filter. Also, the effectiveness of the filtration system will depend on the quality of construction and the materials used. 

7. Portable Filters

Many hikers and survivalists rely on simple filters to supply them with clean water. These filters come in a wide range of options including filtration straws, water bottles with built in filters, and gravity filters.  

  • Pros: Lots of options to fit your needs. These tools are usually inexpensive and easy to use.  
  • Cons: May be difficult to get large amounts of filtered water to use for activities like cooking. 

View our portable water filters here.

Access Safe Water from Anywhere in the World

The team at AquaHike is dedicated to keeping adventurers around the world hydrated and educated. Whether you select our AquaHike Straw (filtration straw) or AquaHike Flow (portable filter bottle), you’ll have access to clean water outdoors in seconds. Our lightweight filtration system is designed to remove 99.9999% of all bacteria and parasites. Check out our website for more information about our water filters.

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