Having safe drinking water is vital. A person can only survive for about a week without water before getting severely dehydrated, and that length of time greatly depends on the climate, temperature, and the health of the person in question. Whether you're out on a short hike or on a multi-day camping trip, it's important to know how to purify water in case you find yourself in a survival situation.
Signs of Dehydration
The human body is compromised of 50% to 75% of water. We don't begin to feel thirsty until we've lost about 2% to 3% of our body's water, but even at 1% loss, we can experience mental and physical changes like dizziness. “An adult can lose between 1 to 1.5 liters of sweat in an hour,” says Randall Packer, a biologist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “A child left in a hot car or an athlete exercising hard in hot weather can dehydrate, overheat, and die in a period of a few hours.”
Once a person feels dehydrated, he or she might notice these symptoms:
If someone's dehydration is particularly bad, he or she may experience shock to the point where he or she becomes cold and clammy, and potentially nonresponsive. If a person goes too long without water, the first thing to fail is the kidneys. The kidneys will stop attempting to clean any waste out of the shrinking blood supply that comes with dehydration, and then other organs will slowly begin to fail.
Risks of Drinking Contaminated Water
Think about everything that could be in a body of water. There are millions of tiny bacteria that are floating around in the water, and consuming any of these could lead to a serious infection or illness. Not to mention the fact that all the wildlife that goes in and out — fish, frogs, birds, sometimes reptiles — deposit their waste directly into this environment.
A lot of the filth in bodies of water is because of poor sanitation processes. There are many waste deposit areas that come right from our sewers and go straight into bodies of water. There are many waterborne diseases you can contract from drinking unsanitary and unpurified water. Some of them include giardiasis, salmonella, hepatitis A, and other viruses, worms, and bacterial infections. When left untreated, these illnesses can put your life at risk.
If you are in the wilderness, melted snow can be okay to drink, and even though it's not recommended, it's safer than drinking from stagnant bodies of water. Drinking rainwater in an urban area is highly discouraged because the water travels through polluted air. The only time it is acceptable to drink untreated water is if it is a life or death situation where you have been traveling without water for several days and are severely dehydrated. However, aside from that, there is no reason to drink untreated water, and it's important to know ways to purify water in case of an emergency.
How to Find a Water Supply
Though it may seem obvious, there are many ways to find a water supply before purifying it. The most important thing to remember is that plants like cattails, reeds, sedges, and cordgrass often show the way to water sources. If you are in the desert, look for clusters of foliage. Willow and sycamore trees also often grow near water. Clear, flowing water is your best option as opposed to stagnant water that's not connected to a flowing river or creek. If this is not an option, then consider collecting rainwater or drinking fresh, melted snow. You can also collect morning dew from plants.
Filtering and Purifying
Though filtering and purifying may sound like the same process, they are not. In fact, they are separate processes that are both important when planning to drink water from the wild. Filtering water is when you free the water of debris and bacteria by dumping the water through something like a mesh net or a sieve. The netting catches debris you don't want in your water even after the purification process.
Water purification is a little more complex, but doable. It's the chemical process in which you eliminate bacteria and other harmful properties that could make you sick. Some water only needs one of these processes, but it's recommended that you use both for the safest consumption and lessen your risk of contracting a waterborne disease.
How to Purify Water
Wondering how to purify water? There are several ways to do this. You can build your own purification contraption or you can boil water over a fire. This all depends on which necessities you have — or don't have. For example, if you go hiking for a couple hours and get lost, you might not have a pot to boil your water in, so you will have to make a DIY filter.
How to Purify Water by Boiling
This is the simplest and best way to purify water. For this, you need a container like a pot and fire. For the best results, you will want to boil the water steadily for about 10 minutes. Some people say a few minutes is fine, but the longer you boil it, the more bacteria you are killing. Another key thing to remember is the higher the altitude, the longer the boiling time.
How to Purify Water with a DIY Water Bottle Filter
In emergency situations, you can use a plastic water bottle to make your own purification system. If you don't have one, try to look for trash nearby. Unfortunately, people litter enough where you might have enough luck finding a discarded plastic bottle. For this filter, you will need a water bottle, sand or soil, and a water source.
How to Purify Water with Survival Straws
Survival straws have become increasingly popular in the past few years. The most popular brand, LifeStraw, filters the water you drink through the straw before it reaches your mouth. The only drawback is that most of the survival straws can eliminate bacteria and protozoa, but they may miss viruses. This is because most straws don't have the purifying aspect, only the filtering part. So while you may not be drinking debris and waste, you may consume a waterborne disease.
How to Purify Water by Plant Transpiration
This method is a little complex and requires creativity. This water purification method involves gathering the water that naturally occurs when trees and plants hydrate themselves through their root systems. After water is drawn up through a plant's roots, it vaporizes — but you can catch the excess water and drink it. To do this, you need a large bag or something you can enclose around a large portion of a tree's branches or leaves. Inside of the bag, place a rock so the water drops to the bottom and you can collect it.
How to Purify Water through Solar Water Disinfection
Solar water disinfection, also known as SODIS, is a water disinfection method that uses the sun's polar power. All you need is a clear plastic water bottle full of the contaminated water. You must leave it in the sun, directly under the sun's rays, for at least one entire day. The sun's UV light will kill most of the bacteria and hazards in the water.
However, this simple method of water purification has its drawbacks. For example, you need an entire day of complete sun or at least two days of overcast, and it also does not guarantee to kill all bacteria and viruses. It also doesn't filtrate water at all.
How to Purify Water with Disinfecting Tablets
Modern technology is amazing and disinfecting water tablets is just one example of how it is helping change the world. Depending on the brand of disinfecting tablets you go with, your water can be drinkable within 35 minutes of administering the tablets. Some people say they give water an unpleasant taste, but it's better for your water to taste unpleasant than to be dangerous.
How to Purify Water with Portable Filters
The best way to filter and purify your water is to be completely prepared for it. Most people who go camping or on long hiking trips prepare appropriately by bringing a commercial filter that can fit in a backpack. There are many types of portable filters you can buy and are easy to operate. Many have a gravity drip feature, which looks like an IV bag, so you can watch how quickly your water is getting clean.
There are many ways to purify water. The simplest way to avoid contaminated water is to buy survival straws or compact filters, but if you find yourself in the wilderness without these items, then it's best to use one of the DIY filters and purifiers we highlighted here.