The majority of the human body is composed of water. When in extreme conditions lack of water can kill as quickly if not quicker than lack of food or exposure. However, getting yourself ill by drinking contaminated water can turn a tough situation into an almost impossible one. Here are some tips for finding and creating viable drinking water in nature.
You may be in the middle of the woods and exclaim with job because you just found a puddle of water. However, be aware of biological threats aka microorganisms that may be in the water that could cause vomit, cramps, aches, and worse.
The first category of common biological dangers in water would be protozoan cysts. These are microscopic and include things such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Both of these are detectible with inexpensive on-the-go test kits and are not uncommon in nature.
Bacteria are also microscopic and can be tougher to detect. They include things such as cholera, salmonella, and E. coli. Again these can cause sickness if ingested.
Nothing can take you from standing up to rolled in a fetal position like a virus. These are extremely small and can be very difficult to treat if you contract one. Some that you may find in water include hepatitis and polio.
When looking at water the first thing to consider is whether it likely may contain a contaminant or not. The answer is simple. Any open water source in nature may have a contaminant. If there is a chance the water made contact with an animal, dirt, plant, or insect or anything else in nature it should likely be purified.
One common way to find water is a seepage well. This is a hole dug in the earth near a water source of in a dry or drying bed of a water source. The concept is that water will filter up through the soil from a underground store and fill the hole. This is a great way to filter out large contaminants. When doing this let the water sit several hours if possible to allow sediment to settle. Collect water from the top layer of the reservoir. This water while cleaner than stagnant water likely does need to get purified.
Didn’t You Already Filter
Wait a second. Didn’t the dirt or sand already filter the water as it bubbled or seeped up? Yes filtering can take out some of the larger sediment and pathogens. However filtration does not kill or keep out some of the smaller microbes such as some viruses and bacteria.
Why Bother With Filtering
If you have to purify anyway, why bother with filtering? In some cases some store bought water filters in some situations with some water sources do a good enough job that further purification is unneeded. One great one I have used is a Katadyn pump. However, in cases where you do not have a filtration device of sufficient quality to make the water drinkable, which is likely most situations prefiltration is often needed to eliminate mud, insects, etc. from the water prior to purification.
On the Fly Filtrations
One of the easiest ways to filter on the fly when you do not have a store bought took is cloth. You can take a sock, t-shirt, or hat and pour the water through this into a contained to filter out the floating and larger sediment.
One way to kill many of the biological pathogens is boiling. This requires a fire or other heat sources and a container that will not be destroyed or burned up by the heat. Such a container can be a challenge to find in a survival situation. If you have a metal container that is ideal. An alternative is to take small rocks the size of a ping pong ball, approximately, and place them on the coals of the fire. Use a couple of limbs as chopsticks to pull the hot rocks out and put them into your container of liquid. As the rocks cool in the water pull them out and discard (do not reheat). This will need to be repeated quite a bit to boil water but it does work. Another option for purifying is to put a chemical disinfectant such as iodine in the water and then wait 30 minutes to a couple of hours before drinking. Just be carefully to use to minimum amount possible because some are poisonous. The last option is to put the water in a small less than 3 L clear container after filtration and hang it in the sun for over 6 hours.