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Finding and Purifying Water (Priority #1)

When in “survival mode”, keeping hydrated is of the utmost importance. Our bodies are made up of roughly 50-75% water, so it’s no wonder it tops the list of things you need to know how to acquire when your situation goes south.  Whether you are in a desert or a rain forest, or even at home after a natural disaster, if you don’t manage to find and purify water within the first 24 hours you can expect to slowly start to suffer from the following dehydration symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Dry Skin
  • Headache
  • Blood Pressure Drop
  • Rapid Heart Rate
  • Fever
  • Seizure
  • Lethargy
  • Confusion
  • Coma
  • …………..Eventually (statistically 3 days) DEATH!

It isn’t hard to see why you should be prepared to obtain clean drinkable water promptly and efficiently at any time.  As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and here at Wage War Outdoors we have just the prevention you need, in the form of free survival education, and the gear to help you.   Check out our  #1 recommended water item, the easily packable 1000 liter filtration solution and THE water purification system we recommend you put in your kit.

What if you find yourself alone and injured?  Your heart rate increases, the day warms and you can’t escape the elements.  All of a sudden your situation becomes desperate as you use more of your bodies precious water than you might normally do.  Check out the below video where survival expert Les Stroud shows you how to purify the water you have access to, extract it from the ground easily using a solar still, and even how to recycle your own urine.


All the purification methods available to us in this day and age don’t help you one bit though if you can’t locate a water source.  The most common are naturally observed sources such as lakes and streams, rivers and ponds.  Even a swamp or salt water from the ocean can be utilized with the right methods like a solar still.   Snow can be melted for immediate consumption, and rain can be consumed without processing, so long as it is collected from the open sky before it becomes run off on vegetation.  Check out this quick and easy technique for collection from our friends over at Surviveall Wilderness Survival.

Many people have never heard of “tree tapping”, but it works and can be quite safe on trees like maple and birch and can be consumed right from the source.  If you can’t verify the cleanliness of the source, it is best to always err on the side of caution and use a water purification method.  We’ll list off the best below to help you understand your options in a given survival situation.



Boiling water for purification is common knowledge, however it needs to be done for at least 5 minutes at a rolling boil to kill off all the bacteria, pathogens and parasites.  10 minutes is a much safer number but 5 minutes should be considered the minimum and safe for a majority of water sources.

Boiling water in a vessel over a fire is probably your easiest bet.  Vessels such as those made of metal, glass or ceramics work the best.  If one isn’t available you can heat up rocks in the fire and drop them into a natural depression filled with questionable water in a rock formation or even in a piece of wood (use your imagination here).

While boiling will not get rid of every contaminant in your water such as some chemicals, it is still the oldest tried and true safe method for water purification.


2.Solar Distillation

With some of the easier options available to you, this shouldn’t be your first choice for water purification, however in situations where the water may be tainted with more than living organisms it is a viable solution.   Things like salt, heavy metals or even radiation from nuclear fallout can be removed simply by converting the water to steam and re-condensing it.

The only supplies needed to build a functioning solar still are a sheet of plastic, preferably several feet across, and a container.  If you’re the type of person that would rather have a ready made kit, have a look at this premade solar still kit that has everything you need to get set up.

Once you have all your supplies at the ready, find a sunny area and dig a hole in the ground say 2 to 3 feet wide and a foot or so deep (scale this for more volume).   Place your container in the bottom center of the hole.  Pour questionable or dangerous water in, use urine if nothing else is available, or preferably add lush green vegetation.

Now lay your sheet of plastic over the entire opening above the hole and weigh down the sides with whatever is around like sand, rocks etc.  Now drop a stone or another object in the center of the plastic sheet and directly above your container, drawing the plastic down into a cone shape so that any water that evaporates from the ground can condense and run back down to this point right above your container.  Now you can wait for the magic to happen!

Pro Tip:  Place some plastic tubing in your container and run it out the side of your still so you can drink the water real time without disassembling or interrupting the distilling process.


3. Survival Straws

Survival Straw Lifestraw

One of our personal favorites are survival straws, from the likes of companies such as Life Straw.  These small, lightweight water filters have hit the marketplace like a tsunami, topping the sales charts as THE item to have in survival situations and adventures abroad.  Containing activated carbon, they not only remove bad tastes, they remove a minimum of 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria (>LOG 6 reduction) and they surpass EPA standards for water filters.  A minimum of 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites (>LOG 3 reduction) are removed and ANYTHING above an amazing 0.2 microns are not getting through.  All of this, without iodine, chlorine, or other chemicals.  As much as it seems like this is a home run, it has its disadvantages as well.  Things a survival straw does NOT do:

  • Cannot remove heavy metal like lead and mercury. This can be done with distillation, nanofilters and ion exchangers.
  • Cannot remove substances like salt and magnesium which make the water undrinkable.
  • Cannot remove large pollution particles.

Other survival straws giving the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter a run for its money are:



4. Water Purification Tablets


Water purification tablets can be a great short term, light weight option when the only risk is due to pathogens and viruses in the water source.

They were born from a need in the military to be able to purify water sources without the use of a fire which would ultimately give away their position.  There are two main types of water purification tablets.  One is based on iodine for disinfection and the other is based on chlorine.  Neither should be used as a long term solution.

Iodine based tablets like these popular Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets and chlorine based tablets like Katadyn Micropur MP1 Purification Tablets are some of the best in this class of purification.

Of note is the length of time these products take to render water safe for drinking.  Potable Aqua tablets render water safe to drink in a short 35 minutes, while the Katadyn tablets will take an additional 3.5 hours to achieve the same results.

With an iodine based tablet, you will have the trade off of adding a strong undesirable flavor to your drink.  While they may get you hydrated quicker, they can also adversely affect people with shellfish allergies, thyroid issues, or woman who are pregnant.  If you are stocking something like a bug out bag, shelf life is an issue that should be considered.  The iodine tablets from Potable Aqua will need to be restocked in your kit every year. That’s not terrible, but Katadyn’s Micropur tablets will give you an extra year of shelf-life.  Both are better than 99-percent effective against water-borne pathogens.  The choice is yours.