In the wild, water is like gold dust.
You could survive up to 3 weeks without food, but without water, bring that amount down to 3 days!
In a survival situation, pretty much nothing else matters if you can't find, collect and purify your own water.
Water-borne pathogens like cholera, typhoid fever and Hepatitis A or E are some of the biggest killers in the world.
Putting that fact aside, the main problem with drinking dirty water in the wild, is that it will likely make you vomit and/or give you a bad case of diarrhoea.
We all know that this is one way to lose more water than you take in, i.e. not good.
In this article we will teach you exactly how to collect and purify water in the wild.
Let's get started!
How To Collect Water in the Wild
Knowing how to find and collect water in the wild can be a potential life saver. Depending on the location you find yourself in, water can either be abundant, or somewhat scarce. If your situation is the latter, then these tips will give you a massive advantage when out in the wild.
Streams, Rivers and Lakes
I'm sure it comes as no surprise that these are your three most obvious sources of collecting water in the wild.
That's provided of course you clean and purify anything you collect.
There are two golden rules to collecting water from rivers and streams though:
- If you are going to risk drinking water directly from the source, make sure you drink from the fastest flowing stream, ideally if it's flowing over and through rocks. Try and avoid drinking water from slow moving pools.
- A cool bushcraft tip: If you use a bottle to collect water in a river, place the opening to the opposite side of the waterflow. This way you'll avoid collecting all the small debris, twigs and who knows what else.
I am sure you've come across it before, a dodgy stagnant bog of very dirty water.
Well, the next time you do, dig a hole about a foot deep and foot away from it.
In doing so your hole will fill with water which is somewhat filtered through the adjoining earth. This my friends is known as a gypsy well.
But don't go drinking it just yet, you will still need to filter and purify it further to make it completely safe to drink.
We will go into detail on how to purify water in the wild a little later on.
Below Ground Solar Stills
These work especially well in the desert where water is much more scarce.
How do you build a solar still?
- Start off by digging a hole about 60cm deep and about a metre wide.
- Put a container in the centre of your hole.
- Put some green foliage in your hole (if you can) to promote moisture.
- Cover your hole with a sheet of plastic, you can use rocks or sand to anchor your plastic sheet down.
- Finally, put a stone in the middle of your plastic sheet, right above the container. This will create a funnel that will allow moisture collected to run into your container.
Bushcraft tip: If you urinate in the hole beforehand, the moisture in your urine will condense into clean drinking water!
If a warmish, clear day is followed by a cool, clear evening, live saving dew will likely form.
If this is the case you've lucked out. Dew is super easy to collect.
Simply wrap a towel, rags or any absorbent type material around your legs and go for a stroll through the vegetation.
When the fabric has been saturated, you can wring it out into a container and repeat the process until you have collected as much water as you can.
Moss is essentially natures version of a sponge.
It grows in damp conditions, grab a bunch of it and squeeze it out to produce small quantities of water.
We recommended collecting up a large amount and bringing it back to your home base. If you have some sort of container, use it to catch all the water that gets released once you squeeze out the moss.
This way you can make use of every drop of water.
How to Filter Water in the Wild
A millbank bag is a constituent part of the vast majority of military belt kits.
Its basically a fabric bag in which you pour unfiltered water into.
Any debris gets caught inside while cleaner water drips through the bottom.
The thing is, most of us don't have access to a Millbank bag. This is not a problem!
In the wild, you can use your sock or even your underpants to filter water.
You can even do a better job filtering your water by filling your sock with sand and small rocks.
You can do this by layering it with the least coarse material at the bottom and the more coarse material at the top.
Another more modern way to purify your water is using the Lifestraw.
The Lifestraw comes in Comes in a sealed bag, perfect for storing in your bug out bag or any other prepper gear supply kit!
It removes a minimum of 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria, plus 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites, and filters to 0.2 microns which surpasses EPA filter standards!
The Lifestraw comes in a sealed bag, perfect for storing in your bug out bag or any other prepper gear supply kit!
The straw filters up to 1,000 gallons (4,000 liters) of contaminated water without iodine, chlorine, or other chemicals and does not require batteries and has no moving parts.
How to Purify Water in the Wild
Method 1 - Purifying Tablets
Some of the Bluetti freelancers always make sure to carry at least a few water purifying tablets with them in their survival kit.
If the water they've collected is not too dirty, they'll toss one tablet in. If it's really smelling they will chuck in two or three.
Given, your purified water won't taste too good, but it'll be safe enough to drink.
Method 2 - Boil the Water
Most people will tell you, you need to boil water for about 10 minutes before its safe.
If you have an unlimited supply of water, that's fine. However, if you've only collected a small amount, the more you boil it, the more you'll lose in evaporation.
If this is the case, stop boiling your water once it's started to bubble. 99.9 per cent of all waterborne pathogens will have been killed.
Method 3 - Distillation
This technique of purifying water in the wild is particularly useful in pacific regions or tropical settings.
It's quite common that when you find fresh water in tropical conditions, the water will contain a high level of sodium and minerals.
There's a high chance you'll become even more dehydrated if you drink this water.
However, fear not. It is possible to separate this water from its salts and minerals this process is called distillation.
For this process to work, you will need items such as a container, a smaller container, and a cover.
This process works very similar to the below ground solar still. You will place the smaller bowl inside the larger one, filling the larger one with salt water.
Next place a plastic sheet over the containers, then like the solar still, place a small stone in the centre of the plastic sheet to create an indentation that allows water to collect and drip into the smaller container.
This process doesn't purify your water 100%, but it does distil it. You can then use a Lifestraw to drink it up.
Method 4 - Plants
There are a handful of plants that will filter/purify water for you in the wild.
However, it's important that you have a strong knowledge of this plants before using them.
A simple miss judgement when using plants to purify water could lead to severe sickness.
These plants and flowers are able to remove dangerous contaminants from your water:
- Plant Xylem
- Oregon Grape
- Moringa Oleifera
- Rice and coconuts
- Banana peels
- Jackfruit seeds
- Reeds and bulrushes
- Java plum seed
- Fruit Peels
For example, fruit peels and shrubs like the Oregon Grape, are perfect for purifying water in the wild.
Simply seal and soak your water in a bag with these plants, and after some time you will be left with clean drinking water.
The inner bark of the Oregon Grape plant contains berberine, this is an antimicrobial alkaloid, which can be used to naturally purify water.
Keep in mind that coconuts are another create source of purified water in the wild!
Method 5 - Stone Boiling
Heating up stones in a fire can really come in handy.
They can not only be used to boil and purify water in the wild, but can also be used as a source of warmth when camping out in the cold.
First, you will need some sort of container that will be able to with stand these hot rocks. A coconut shell for example.
Then toss in a few medium sized rocks into your fire, let them heat up for about 10 to 20 minutes.
Carefully remove the rocks and place them in your container full of water, this should bring your water to the boil, thus purifying it.
Bushcraft tip: Heat up some rocks in your fire, then wrap them up in a towel. You can keep this towel of hot rocks with you in your sleeping bag for some extra warmth - works like a charm!
Overview on Waterborne Pathogens
Waterborne pathogens can be divided into three main categories: viruses, bacteria and parasites.
Most common forms of waterborne pathogens include:
Typhoid fever, cholera, giardia, dysentery, hepatitis A and salmonella.
You can read more about these pathogens here.
Symptoms of Waterborne Illness
General symptoms include, diarrhoea and vomiting alongside with skin, ear, respiratory, or eye problems.
1. How do you get water in the woods?
Running water and groundwater are the most common water sources in the wild, and you're most likely to find them in valleys, ravines, and other low points, thanks to gravity. The faster the water is flowing, the better, so prioritize running sources over groundwater. Just follow your ears.
2. Which traditional methods were used to purify water?
Classical water purification methods include boiling, filtration, irradiation and the use of chemicals while traditional water purification methods in use are boiling, filtration, sedimentation, long storage and solar radiation.
3. How did people filter water in the olden days?
People back than knew that heating water might purify it, and they were also educated in sand and gravel filtration, boiling, and straining. The major motive for water purification was better tasting drinking water, because people could not yet distinguish between foul and clean water.
If you have any other ways to collect and purify water in the wild, feel free to share them with all of us in the comments section below.