How to Purify Water in the Wild 5 Different Ways

Ever drank water from a fresh-running stream in the woods? You’re not alone. It seems clean and fresh enough to be safe for drinking, right? Nope. “Fresh” water can have traces of animal droppings, diseases, germs, chemicals, sewage, and runoff, among others. Doesn’t sound so appealing now, does it? You can learn how to purify water in the wild to get rid of unwanted bacteria in your body. To know how to purify water in the wild is one thing, but to know many other ways is even more important to accommodate and be prepared for all possible situations.

NOTE: It is recommended that you first filter the water with a clean cloth before performing any of these processes. 

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Method 1: Iodine/Chlorine Tablets or Droppers

To start of on how to purify water in the wild, we’ll learn about Tablets. Iodine or Chlorine tablets are a great way to get out all of the chemicals. They come in tablets, droppers, and even crystals. Simply drop the amount instructed on the container into your water bottle and wait! (the wait time will probably be instructed on whatever product you bought). Usually, you should wait around 30 minutes before drinking. Note that you may have a metallic taste (from the iodine and chlorine, of course). Also, know that this WILL NOT clean out physical particles in the process to purify water. It’s best to use this in combination with boiling or seeping it out through a cloth. 

Method 2: Boil the Water

Although it is one of the more “resource-intensive” ways to purify water, it is for sure the most trusted and reliable. You will need a stove, water, fuel, and a lighter. If you don’t have a lighter, you can try using a grill-like contraption along with fire. Boil the water for 5-10 minutes for best results. The downside of this process is that it can only reasonably be performed while camping. Another way boiling can be used is through distillation, in which you evaporate the water, then condense it, but it is very time-consuming and complicated.

How to purify water in the wild: tools
Portable stoves like these are perfect for making some clean water or a fresh meal. Photo by u/Bentbrook on Reddit.

Method 3: Water Filter

A filter is arguably the next most reliable option for purifying water after boiling, especially if you don’t have a stove. They can range from complex gravity-based systems to the minimalistic survival straw. Filters can remove most bacteria and harmful substances, but viruses may remain. Such filters are quite complex and may be slower than other methods.

On the other hand, we have the survival straw—a filter stripped down to its most necessary pieces—which works surprisingly well. You simply put the straw into unpurified water and drink! It’s great for a quick fix, is very portable, and can be used in nearly every situation water cleansing situation. Just know that you may not have as amazing results as a multi-faceted gravity-fed filtration system. 

Survival straws look like this: simple, easily portable, and can be used by directly putting your mouth on it.

Method 4: UV Light

The UV method has been around since the 1800s. This is also a very good method for purification. The UV can function by shining rays on the water, or taking it into an irradiated chamber. This gear is very compact, nearly the size of the survival straw, yet surprisingly effective. The only drawback is that it is one of the most expensive options around. Even a small model could set you back $60 or more. But it’s definitely worth the investment.

Note that products will come in form of hand-cranked purification and battery-operated. Battery will require less effort, but you may be in a tight spot if your battery runs out of juice. Hand-cranking is more reliable, but you’ll need to put some effort into it. Choose wisely!

Method 5: Tapping Tree Sap with a Spile

This might come as unexpected, but you can actually drink water directly from trees through the use of a spile. First, you need to drill a hole in the side of a tree. The trees you can successfully tap for water include: 

  • Maple
  • Sycamore
  • Birch
  • Hickory
  • Walnut

Then, insert the spile into the tree to tap the water. You will get very clean “water” from this procedure. This is really the only way to “produce” water in this list. There are some drawbacks to this method. First, this only works in some seasons. It is really only effective in the spring-summer time, as plants are actively sucking up nutrients and water to support their leaves.

Second, you need a tree! This obviously won’t work in a desert (maybe you could try a cactus), so just keep that in mind. And third, this method is very slow. Using an individual spile would give you merely drops of liquid per minute. This is why we would recommend buying a full set of spiles if you want to employ this process.

Also, you should note that the water you get from this will be sweet and slightly sappy. If you want to, you could actually boil the tree water to get some syrup!

PRO TIP: Tap the tree on its south side (if you live in the Northern hemisphere) for the best results. This is because this side has the most sun exposure. Switch it around if you live in the southern hemisphere. 

Photo by u/GenericNoNameSteve on Reddit

Last Resort to Purify Water: Zero-tech option

Yeah, yeah, We know. We said drinking water without proper purification was a bad idea. But bad things happen. Here are your options if you have minimal items or nothing on you:

Fast running water is ideal for filtration purposes. Photo by u/Yeetus-A on Reddit.
  1. UV filter with a plastic bottle. This requires the most minimal of materials; a plastic bottle and some water. You need to fill up the bottle with the cleanest water you can find. Leave the plastic bottle outside in the sun for at least a day, and longer with cloudy skies. The UV rays from the sun will work to kill harmful microorganisms in your water. Please know that many bacteria will not die from this, and this doesn’t help with chemical or physical contamination. The other issue with this method is it can take at least 1-2 days to get your water clean enough for consumption. 
  2. Build your own filter. The building of DIY in-the-wild filters’ purpose is to sieve any physical particles in your water. 
  3. Drink from running water. If you don’t have any materials with you, or you simply don’t have the time to make a filter, there are still some steps you can take to obtain reasonably clean water. The best thing that could happen in this situation is that you stumble upon a fast-running river. 

As you can see, one has plenty of options for how to purify water in the wild. Pick the method that’s best suited for your needs, and you will likely come out of your ordeal unscathed. The moral of the story is… bring a water bottle!

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