You can filter water in the wild via boiling, chemical purification, water purification tablets or drops, solar distillation, sand, and charcoal filtration, and other methods. We will show you different ways to filter and purify water in the wild to get healthy and pure drinking water. Let’s start with the reasons you should filter or purify water in the wild.

Reasons you Should Filter Water in the Wild

To Have Clean Drinking Water

Drinking water without purification or treatment is dangerous and can make you sick. One of the significant reasons you should filter or purify water in the wilderness is to get drinkable water that doesn’t have an unpleasant smell, odor, or discoloration. Purifying water in the wild makes water safe to drink by eliminating particles, sediments, heavy metals (such as lead), certain minerals, and other contaminants.

To Retain Healthy Minerals in the Water

Certain kinds of filtration systems, such as the carbon filter, are adept at selective filtration. They eliminate the harmful contaminants and retain healthy minerals that sustain the water’s pH scaler, and are beneficial to your body.

Makes Water Useful for Other Purposes

Of course, you can’t drink all the water there is. There are other things to do in the wild. Perhaps you’re camping with friends, and you want to cook or do laundry. You still need to use a water filter unless you don’t mind ruining your clothes with contaminated water. Also, you wouldn’t want to cook if your water is unclear. Hence, it’s necessary to filter your water before using it.

Prevents Certain Microbes and Toxins from Entering your Body

Water filters significantly reduce the risk of getting gastrointestinal ailments by a huge margin. This is because microbes such as Giardia, bacteria, and e-coli are taken out from your water by your water filter before it lands in your water bottle. Also, untreated drinking water is known to contain thousands of recognized toxins that can gain access to your body. This is why water purification in the wild cannot be overlooked or taken lightly.

9 Ways to Filter Water in the Wild

Sand and Charcoal Filtration

Sand and Charcoal Filtration

These are handy filters when there’s no access to other materials to produce safe drinking water. Sand filters come in various kinds, simple and complex. However, you can’t afford to be picky in the wild, so you will likely opt for the simple sand filter. The sand is tasked with forming an obstruction for bigger microbes and prevents them from passing through to the other end where the filtered water is.

On the other hand, charcoal is also another organic filter that can draw out toxins and other substances from your water. Using charcoal to treat water in the wild can get you not just safe drinking water but improve its taste. To construct your filter:

Grab a bottle measuring up to 2 liters, cut out four inches from its bottom, remove the cap or cover of the bottle, and place a coffee filter on the external part of the bottleneck. Hold it in place with a rubber band.

Grab another bottle of the same size and cut about four inches from the top of the bottle. Take the first bottle, position it upside down, and insert it into the second bottle with the filter in front.

Grind the charcoal into powdered form and place it on the filter as the initial layer. Then, add gravel and put the bottle on top. The coffee filter will keep it in place. Next, add some rough sand as an additional layer on the gravel, then add fine sand as a third layer. Once done, gradually pour the water on these layers to receive clean water in the lower water bottle.

Pros
  • This method is cheap, easy to construct and maintain.
  • It doesn’t require large spaces.
Cons
  • It’s a slow process.
  • It doesn’t eliminate heavy metals and chemical contaminants.

By Boiling

This is a basic method of water filtration. All you need is a heat source (direct or indirect), untreated water, a receptacle, and a pot. This method of filtering water is cost-free and doesn’t require any level of sophistication. It’s one of the easiest ways to get safe drinking water.

First of all, pour the water into the pot or the container you want to use for heating. Ensure your pot has a cover.

Next, you make a fire (through dry wood or any available heat source). Once the water has reached a boiling point, keep the water boiling at that temperature for some minutes.

The heat will kill off microorganisms present in your water. You can decide to filter the water after heating it using a coffee filter or cotton cloth to get rid of the more visible contaminants.

Pros
  • This method of purifying water doesn’t cost a thing. It’s a basic procedure, and even a beginner can do it quickly. In addition, it’s very potent in getting rid of microorganisms present in the water.
Cons
  • The end product of this process will be hot drinking water. So you’ll have to wait for the water to cool down before consumption.
  • It doesn’t get rid of chemical contaminants and heavy metals.
  • Also, the process will take longer for a large group.

By Chemical Treatment (Iodine)

This is actual water purification. Putting water through the filter only takes care of the physical elements in the contaminated water. Therefore, using chemicals to treat or purify water is recommended, especially if the water is cloudy. However, if the water has visible particles such as sediments present, one should adopt physical methods to filter the water before adding certain chemicals to purify the water.

To carry out this procedure, get a clean bowl. Look for water that’s in motion (water from a stream) or look for water close to wildlife. For still water, ensure you scoop with your bowl closest to the surface.

After collection and using a water filter to get rid of the visible contaminants, use a chemical solution that consists of alcohol (47%) and iodine (2%). To be precise with the quantity of the elements that will make up this chemical tincture, use an eyedropper.

For every liter of untreated water, use at least five drops. The number of drops to apply depends on the appearance of the water. For still water, such as water from a lake, you can use up to 10 drops. However, if the water is from a moving source, like a stream, use fewer drops of the tincture.

After adding the iodine solution, give it about 5 minutes to settle in the water. Then, purify the mouth or top of your water bottle by using it to touch the water. After doing that, let the water be for 30 minutes. Then it’s ready for use.

Pros
  • It’s a cheap way to purify water.
  • It’s convenient and portable, so you can easily carry it with you to the wild.
Cons
  • Unfortunately, you may not like the taste of your water.
  • Though it can purify water, it doesn’t eliminate parasites.
  • The resultant water can’t serve as drinking water to specific people such as children, pregnant women, and thyroid patients.
  • Water that has been treated with too many drops of the iodine solution may be toxic.

Wood and Hose Filtration

This is another basic filtration process that can be key to your survival in the wild. This method of filtering water is very potent in eliminating microbes such as bacteria (up to 99%) that are present in the water.

To construct a water filter with a piece of wood and hose/tube cut a small piece of sapwood (approximately 2 inches long and 1 inch in width). Grab a plastic tube to fit correctly on top of the wood. If the tube/hose is loose on the wood, place a clamp around the area where the tube and the wood connect.

Once done, channel water into the top of the hose and then place the hose base into a container that will serve as the receptacle. The water will be filtered as it passes through the wood. This can only be successful as long as the tube is securely fitted on top of the wood. The secure-fitting prevents contaminated water from entering the receptacle with the filtered water.

Pros
  • This method is very cheap.
  • The process is straightforward to execute.
  • It filters out 99% of the bacteria in the water.
Cons
  • These filters demand frequent supervision because you will need to replenish the water in the tube when it’s running low.
  • The process is very slow. Producing two liters of filtered water can take as long as 12 hours.

Not exactly sure how this is supposed to look like? Let’s watch the video below:

Water Purification Tablets and Drops

Though there is iodine and even chlorine in the form of tablets and drops, there are also other kinds. For example, sulfate mineral salts are another actively used purification ingredient. However, after adding these mineral salts to the water, you can’t drink the water till after an hour. To know the exact quantity to add to your water, consult the pack for instructions.

Pros
  • It gets rid of microbes such as viruses, bacteria, and Giardia.
  • No bad taste.
  • It also lessens or neutralizes the presence of heavy metals in the water and with proper storage.
  • The durability is infinite.
Cons
  • It’s more expensive than some water treatment methods.
  • It cannot get rid of a specific microbe called cryptosporidium.
  • You need to wait up to an hour before you can consume your water.

Survival Straw Filtration

These water filters are very convenient and can be a lifesaver when you’re lost or stuck in the wild. They are miniature in size, lightweight, simple, and very fast. You have to insert your straw into the untreated water and sip. The survival straw contains a hollow fiber membrane capable of filtering as much as a thousand gallons of water.

To use the survival straw filters, open the caps on both sides and activate the filter by inserting the non-drinking side of the survival straw into the water for approximately 10 seconds. Then, take two sips to move the water through the survival straw. You can sip as much as you like through the survival straw as the water is filtered.

When you’re done sipping, blow the remnant water out of the survival straw and restore the caps.

Pros
  • It eliminates almost every kind of parasite, bacteria, and microplastics.
  • It doesn’t require a lot of space to keep or store.
  • The process is fast and straightforward to execute.
  • It’s lightweight, and it improves the taste of the water.
Cons
  • It doesn’t eliminate viruses from the water.
  • It can easily get clogged.
  • Since you need to suck the water untreated, you need to place the straw within the confines of a cup or in the water body itself.

Filtration Water Bottles

All you need to do with these water filters is fill your bottle with untreated water, cover it, and then shake your bottle to begin the filtration process and then drink. It uses a 0.1-micron filter to eliminate almost all the protozoa and bacteria out of the water. A single water filtration bottle can treat up to a thousand liters.

Pros
  • It’s a straightforward process and can be carried out by just about anyone.
  • The process is very fast.
  • The bottle is portable and convenient to use.
  • The bottle is also soft, so it is foldable to accommodate tight spaces.
Cons
  • The bottle is prone to tearing.
  • Due to its lack of sturdiness, it can’t stand on its own.
  • It makes water taste like plastic.

UV Light Filtration

There are portable UV light sticks/pens that can be taken with you on your camping hike. Unless you prefer a rustic way of life, taking a portable UV light source is a good idea. This light can neutralize microbes such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. It takes just seconds to work. You can gather up to 1 liter of water, insert the UV lightstick into the water and move it around for a minute and a half.

Pros
  • It acts quickly on contaminants.
  • UV filtration doesn’t require chemicals to function.
  • It is convenient and easy to carry.
  • No bad taste in your water.
Cons
  • It’s expensive.
  • It needs the energy to work.
  • It only functions at its best with water that has already gone through physical filtration because it can’t neutralize visible particles and sediments.

Water Purification Via Solar Energy

There are two ways to use solar energy to purify water- solar distillation and solar water disinfection.

Solar Distillation

This method requires direct heat from the sun to trigger water to evaporate or vapourize within a closed setup so that the vapor can be trapped and then condensed back into pure water. It is widely used to desalinate seawater.

Solar Disinfection

This is the utilization of heat from the sun to neutralize microbes in the water and make them unable to contaminate it. It’s highly effective.

To use this method, you need to find clear water or water that has been filtered from sediments. Fill up plastic bottles with the water and shake them to spread oxygen in the bottle. Place on an elevated surface so it can be directly exposed to the sun. Leave for about 6 hours when the weather is sunny. When the weather is not sunny, this process can take up to 48 hours.

Pros
  • It doesn’t alter the taste of water.
  • Solar energy is free and accessible.
  • Plastic bottles are easy to find.
Cons
  • It’s a prolonged process.
  • The process works better only when the water has gone through physical filtration.

Can our sun even filter saltwater for survival? Let’s find out in the video below:

Best Filters/Purification Methods for Specific Settings

Traveling

If you plan to travel into the woods, you may not take enough clean water for emergency situations. The survival straw, water filtration bottles, or ultraviolet light stick will be ideal in this situation. You can also decide to travel with a coffee filter in your backpack. It’s a cheap and portable way to filter out visible particles from your water. Clean water may be readily accessible and taken for granted during your stay, but the situation will be different in the wild. Go prepared.

If you’re traveling with others, make sure that they have water treatment options as well. The ultraviolet light stick is known to stop working without warning. If you’re traveling alone, travel with at least two kinds of water treatment options.

Camping

If you’re camping out in the wild with friends, there will likely be a campfire. Make sure you go camping with a lighter or matchbox. Boiling is one water treatment method that will suit this scenario because a heat source is available. Boiling will work great if you also use physical filtration initially because it can’t eliminate dirt or particles on its own. Using the coffee or cloth filter can help with physical filtration. Although boiling can work, the best method for this setting will be sand and charcoal filtration.

Lost in the Wild

When you find yourself in an unfortunate situation such as this, you have very few options since you didn’t venture into the wild prepared. Boiling is an excellent method to help out in this setting. Cloth filtration and solar distillation work well, too. If you can’t boil water or the weather is not sunny, you can opt for the wood and hose filtration method. This is the best method for this scenario because pieces of wood are readily available. You can’t run out of them as you will run out of tablets or drops.

Conclusion

There are many methods to filter water in the wild like boiling, chemical treatment (addition of the iodine solution), tablets and drops, sand and charcoal filtration, wood and hose filtration, survival straw filtration, filtration bottles, ultraviolet light filtration, solar distillation, and solar disinfection. Other notable methods include sedimentation, cloth filtration, carbon filter pump, hydrogen peroxide, and chlorination.

There are so many filtration options to choose from. Some are more common than others because they are so easy to set up and use, others because they’re faster, and some are more potent than others.

About the Author

Lucas Greer

Lucas vs. Wild - Lucas is a true nature lover and survivalist. When he's not teaching biology at school, he can be found in nature, hiking, climbing, camping, and rafting. He knows all the tricks and DIYs for making unclean water drinkable with simple means in an emergency. At school, his students love him for his exciting water filtration projects.

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