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Survival Skills: Clean Drinking Water

Cynthia is a gardening enthusiast. She has a green thumb and always plants a variety of items for harvesting during gardening season.

In a survival setting the single most important skill you can have is knowing how to obtain potable water.

In a survival setting the single most important skill you can have is knowing how to obtain potable water.

Water and Survival Needs

Science tells us that the human body can live without food for weeks, in some cases even months. Water is something altogether different. Two-thirds of the human body consists of water. After oxygen, water is the single most important life-sustaining element the body needs.

It is recommended to consume a minimum of 64 oz of water each day. This suggestion is based on the average person on an average day (not hot or cold). Consider this; An average man on a hot day can lose half a gallon of water through sweat alone. Let's face the facts: unless you have tons of money and are living completely off-grid, you can forget about air conditioning in a survival setting. The suggestion would be to have well more than the recommended amount of water for each person per day!

Even a lovely waterfall like this can be a host to contamination. Purifying water before consumption can save your life.

Even a lovely waterfall like this can be a host to contamination. Purifying water before consumption can save your life.

Wild Water Sources

Before you go dipping into the creek, it is important to approach what I call "wild water sources" as contaminated! Until treated all wild water sources can be contaminated with disease-causing organisms. Just think of it as not fit for human consumption! Here are a few examples of wild water sources:

  • Streams
  • Creeks
  • Rivers
  • Ponds
  • Springs
  • Puddles

Wild water sources can be contaminated. Animals bathe in it, animals defecate in it, and there is the potential for chemical contaminants as well. Left untreated you are most likely drinking feces along with that thirst-quenching water!

Now you could stock up on bottled water, and I understand that many people do. I personally do not want to have to try to store hundreds of cases of water. The amount of space needed to store that much water is less than ideal, let alone worry about the chemicals leaching from the plastic in a long-term storage scenario.

I have well water currently, yet in a survival scenario, I will not likely have the electricity to power the pump. This is something I recently dealt with firsthand after a devastating flood in West Virginia left me without power for a week.

We do have natural springs and creeks, as well as a river that borders our property. But you will never see me taking a drink straight from the creek without treating it first! Sure I may rinse off my hands in it and play with the kids. But I am not putting it in my body.

Hands down the best method of purification for water is boiling! Many water filters only clean about 84% of the chemicals and organisms found in water. Yes, that's right! If you're using a filter pitcher or something similar that still leaves some room for YUCK in your cup!

Purifying Water

For water to be safe to drink it only needs to reach 185 degrees Fahrenheit, well before the boiling point. Allowing it to boil is just visual proof that it is indeed safe to consume!

Now that you know how to purify your wild water sources, how will you store it? There are many food-safe barrels that can be purchased, from buckets to 55-gallon barrels. Often times you can find these on Craigslist, Facebook, yard sale groups, or ads in the newspaper. Sometimes restaurants and schools offer these free for pickup. These items are UV resistant and food-grade and will keep your water safe during storage.

In a pinch, if you do not have the ability to boil water, sunlight can be used to purify your water. All you need is a clear bottle and set it in direct sunlight for 6 hours. Although this method is not that fast, if you are thirsty it is worth the wait. This will be hard to do if you're in the wilderness as well. Although it can be a less labor-intensive form of purification. I find boiling more convenient and if I need to I can build a fire and use my pots on an open flame.

With the ability to purify wild water sources so easily, this should be your first goal in a survival setting. As it is the main thing your family will need to survive long term.

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During our power outage, we were cut off due to flood waters covering our bridge. I boiled water to do the dishes. Even washing with a wild source of water without treating it can lead to illness, since you will still come in contact with bacteria if you do not purify it first.

During survival scenarios it is so important to not consume water before purifying it. There are so many harmful bacteria, and germs floating in wild water sources.

During survival scenarios it is so important to not consume water before purifying it. There are so many harmful bacteria, and germs floating in wild water sources.

Easy Water Purification

There are easier ways to purify water than boiling, or setting water in the sunshine, though these ways are a bit more costly. Here are some other water purification methods:

  • Water purification tablets
  • LifeStraw personal water purification
  • Water distillation unit
  • Electromagnetic radiation purifier

These methods are all fairly costly. My personal favorite among these is using water purification tablets. If you are camping, or find yourself out in the woods and needing a drink, the purification tablets are very handy. They are also relatively small, so you can carry them without breaking your back. Purification tablets are the cheapest alternative to boiling water for purification. They are really easy to use, I have used them in the past with much success. It is much less labor-intensive to use a tablet as well. A single tablet can purify a liter of water.

Easy Water Purification Options

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Cynthia Hoover


Larry W Fish from Raleigh on April 05, 2018:

I remember when I was a child back in the 1950s we all drank water from every stream around and also from the house water hose. My, how times have changed and so many water sources have become polluted. It is a shame what has happened to our planet.

Cynthia Hoover (author) from Newton, West Virginia on April 05, 2018:

Mary Wickison thank you for the comment! I do have a filtration system on our well water also. Even the clearest looking water can be loaded with impurities, the gastric upset from those can be horrible . Not to say that your well water may not be perfectly fine with the pumice and charcoal filter though. We upgraded our system and added an additional filtration step and I noticed less days with stomach issues for our family. We have since been excited to find 3 natural springs on our farm since we do suffer sometimes week long power outages. Due to our farm being secluded we are often some of the last people who get power restored so those will no doubt come in very handy.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on April 05, 2018:

We drink well water here on our farm. We've never had it tested but pass it through a pumice and charcoal filter. I didn't realize there will still be so many impurities. One of my friends here who used to work in Africa always boils her water. I think this is something I should do, as well.

I remember when I visited Yosemite years ago and the river water was snow melt and it still had a bacteria that causes gastric problems.

Interesting article.

Cynthia Hoover (author) from Newton, West Virginia on August 23, 2016:

LongTimeMother it is something people should at least look into. You never know when you will be without water. Having a working knowledge of his to purify alternative water sources is very valuable information! So many things in water can make people extremely I'll, and potentially cause death if people are not careful! Thank you so much for sharing!

LongTimeMother from Australia on August 23, 2016:

This is a topic everyone should be thinking about. Because I live off the grid and harvest my own water, I am very conscious of water purification. However I've seen many people fail to cope when their usual water supply is interrupted due to one of many different reasons. Suddenly they end up with problems that could have been avoided with a little advance planning.

Sharing this so others can benefit from your experience. :)

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