In most survival situations, obtaining clean drinking water is absolutely essential. You can survive almost a month without food, and you can let your body temperature drop to around 95 degrees before having major medical issues. However, you can only survive three days without water. In addition, drinking unpurified water can lead to all kinds of illnesses. It is unbelievable how often I see survivalists drinking from a stream simply because “it looks okay.” In this article I will detail the safest ways to purify your water so you will not have to worry about the consequences.
I was about four hours into my survival challenge last fall when my hand and forearm started to cramp. I knew cramps were an effect of dehydration, but I had no idea that they would be so crippling. I could not even hold my machete, and my shelter was only half way complete. I had been heavily hydrating for days prior to my trip, yet I still felt the wrath of dehydration after only a few hours. It was time to get some clean water going.
There are typically a few options to consider when purifying water. The oldest and simplest solution is to boil it. I typically suggest having it at a rolling boil for at least a few minutes. Some survivalists would tell you that you only have to bring it to a boil for it to be safe. That being said, why risk Giardia if you already have your water on the fire?
These days there are many more convenient choices besides boiling your water. One of the fastest options is a straw-style filter. These are relatively inexpensive and filter to 0.05 microns. The only two downsides I have experienced are that you have kneel to drink, and that it can be hard to get the suction you need to draw the water through the straw. I actually ended up with sores in my mouth from using my filter. It was not the end of the world. However, when you are in the wilderness every little issue adds up.
Another popular option is iodine tablets. The military has used these for years both by themselves and in conjunction with filters. They do not list a micron level, and they heavily emphasize that bacteria is eliminated. Based on this, I can only assume that there is still the potential for other pathogens. The other concerns are that it takes around 30 minutes for the water to be safe, and that it does make the water taste strange. I know 30 minutes does seem like a long time, but when you are dehydrated and cramping it feels like an eternity.
One of my most recent purchases has been a water bottle with a filter built into the lid. This is by far my favorite option. It accomplishes everything my straw-style filter does, but I do not have to crawl on the ground and drawing the water through the filter is easier. In addition, I can take tap water with me when I head out and can just refill when that is gone. The one I bought also has a 550 paracord lanyard which when unwoven would be about 40 feet of cordage. I take it with me every time I head to the forest.
Because of the importance of clean drinking water, I actually use all of these purification systems during survival challenges. You cannot be too safe when it comes to water. Yet there are other options when you do not have these items available. Sphagnum Moss can be used because of a chemical it naturally produces. Just run your water through it or put a bunch in your water bottle or cup. You can also build a filter with sand and charcoal if you have a container available. Layer gravel, sand, and charcoal and cover the mouth with cloth. Pour in your water and what trickles out the bottom will be partially purified. I have also seen people use hydrogen peroxide and bleach, but I have never tried it simply because it is not intended for purification purposes.
In the end, I was able to get hydrated and functional again. However, if I had not had the means by which to purify water I would have been faced with a tough decision. A storm was rolling in and I was too dehydrated to finish my shelter. It would have been a choice between drinking tainted water and finishing the shelter or possible hypothermia from the storm. Thankfully I did not have to make that choice.
When you are dehydrated and you finally get some drinking water, you can feel it permeating the cells of your body. Dehydration causes heart palpitations, severe headaches, cramping, vomiting, sore joints, seizures, and eventually death. It is a miserable feeling. Knowing how to remedy this feeling in a safe way is invaluable in a survival situation. Hopefully you will know what to do if you are ever faced with that situation.