More important than finding food or shelter while wandering the wilderness, is maintaining hydration. Our ability to survive without food maxes out at 40 days, but our ability to survive without proper hydration hits its peak somewhere in the 4 to 5 day range (seven if you’re elite).
Finding water sources and slurping away is not enough. You’ll need to go the extra step of decontaminating the water, whether you intend to use it for cooking, basic hygiene, or drinking.
Below are five tips on getting your water pure.
Search For Moving Streams
Avoid stagnant water if at all possible. Stagnant water will be cloudy, contain sediment, and generally be more difficult to purify. On the other hand, the faster the water moves, the cleaner it will be, which translates into less work on your end. However, if stagnant water is all you have, follow the tips below for bringing it up to snuff.
Bring It To A Hard Boil
The number one reason hikers and campers fall ill from their water is improper boiling. You would think boiling water is fairly straightforward. Drop water into a pot and heat until big bubbles form on top. Easy peasy, right? Not so fast, MacGyver: For bacteria in water to be neutralized, the temperature must reach at least 185-190 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything short of this will leave pathogens in the water, thus your chances increase of getting sick. Be patient and play it safe: Always bring outside water to a boil and leave it there for 1-2 minutes.
If you don’t have the time or equipment to boil water, a quick and easy solution can be found in water purification tablets. These handy capsules are inserted into a bottle of water and quickly neutralize most bacteria. Note the word “most”. Tablets are not 100% guaranteed, nor do they promise as much. Certain pathogens may remain in your water, but tablets are still your best option if boiling has been ruled out.
You may grimace when thinking about bleach in your water, but it’s actually one of the simplest methods for producing potable water. First point to remember is that you should never use bleach that has been treated with dyes or perfumes. Straight no-frills bleach is all you need. Second, you don’t need a lot of it. Eight to 10 drops from an eyedropper for every gallon should do the trick. Be mindful that you may need to strain your water if it is cloudy or contains foreign particles. Once you’ve strained it, add the bleach, mix well, and wait 30-45 minutes. If the water is pure enough, you should catch a faint whiff of chlorine. No chlorine smell means you need to add another 8-10 drops and wait another 30-45.
Portable filters might run you a couple hundred bucks depending on the size and model you prefer, but they will more than earn their money back in terms of reducing the risk of contracting waterborne disease. Filters work just like home-based filters that attach to a sink or sit in the fridge. The water is purified through the filtration system and made acceptable for drinking and cooking. Some models sit upright (think of a small oxygen tank), while others require gravity to initiate the filtration (think hospital IV). Smaller models can be easily stowed in a hiking pack or tent to ensure clean water wherever you travel.
When you have the freedom to carry water bottles or a cooler full of drinks on your outdoor adventures, water purification may be low on your list of needs. Should an emergency or disaster strike and you are left without your supply, however, the above tips will prove indispensable. In the event that you are stranded or miles from civilization, they could even save your life.