How to Purify Water in the Wild: A Step by Step Guide

Water is essential to life. And as we delve deeper into the realms of outdoor exploration, understanding the essentials of survival, particularly water purification, becomes paramount. You always need to find a way to have clean water. Water, while abundantly available in the wild, may harbor harmful pathogens, chemicals, or sediments that necessitate purification. It can cause a lot of potential issues.

Today, we'll embark on a meticulous examination of how to purify water in the wild, drawing upon extensive research and evidence-backed methodologies.

1. Source Selection

First, we need to find water. We are looking for moving water, like streams or rivers, which is typically cleaner than stagnant sources such as ponds or lakes, due to the natural filtration processes that occurs in moving bodies of water.

My tips:

  • Look for flowing sources, such as brooks, streams, or rivers.
  • Avoid water from downstream where human or animal activity is prominent. Yeah.... poop and feces.
  • Clearer water is preferable as it requires less filtration and purification effort. 

Really good source: EPA - Understanding the Source of Drinking Water

2. Filtration

We need to clean this water 🙂

A few tips:

  • Use a clean cloth, bandana, or shirt. Pour the water through it into another container. This will catch large sediments and particulate matter. Seriously. This works. 
  • Coffee filters or paper towels can serve in a pinch.
  • Commercially available portable filters can be used for a more thorough filtration.
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Source: CDC - Household Water Treatment

3. Boiling

For a really detailed overview, check out my overview on how to boil water when camping

A quick summary of tips:

  • Collect filtered water in a container.
  • Bring the water to a rolling boil.
  • Continue boiling for at least one minute. If you're at an altitude above 2,000 meters, boil for three minutes.
  • Let the water cool naturally before consuming.

4. Solar Disinfection (SODIS)

We can harness the power of the sun and have Ultraviolet (UV) rays  kill harmful pathogens.

Some quick tips

  • Fill a clear plastic bottle with filtered water.
  • Place the bottle on a reflective surface under direct sunlight.
  • Leave the bottle for at least 6 hours. In cloudy weather, leave it for two consecutive days.

Source: SODIS - Solar Water Disinfection

5. Chemical Disinfection

Chemicals can be used to kill harmful pathogens.


  • Filter the water to remove large contaminants.
  • Follow the instructions on the chemical disinfection tablets or drops. Typically, you'll add a specific number of tablets or drops to a defined quantity of water.
  • Wait for the recommended period, usually 30 minutes, before drinking.

Source: CDC - Chemical Water Disinfection

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6. Distillation

This can be an effective method against chemically contaminated sources.

Best tips:

  • Set up a system where water is boiled, and the steam is captured and condensed.
  • Use a pot with a lid and a cup. Fill the pot partly with water and place the cup in the center.
  • Cover the pot with the lid upside down, so the highest point of the lid is pointing downwards.
  • As the water boils, steam will condense on the lid and drip into the cup.
  • Ensure the water in the cup doesn't mix with the boiling water.

Source: USGS - The Water Cycle: Distillation

The significance of potable water can't be overstated. Equipping oneself with the necessary skills to transform natural water sources into safe drinking water is paramount. These detailed methodologies ensure not just survival, but a safeguarding against waterborne ailments.

Last update on 2024-07-14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API