How to Purify Water for Survival: 5 Ways

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If you are stuck out in the wilderness without fresh drinking water, you will not last more than three days, tops. When you find yourself in a situation where you need to survive for as long as possible, one of your first and most important tasks is going to be getting your hands on clean drinking water.

If you’re lucky, the environment that you are stuck in is going to provide you with a source of water, but it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to be able to drink it straight from there. There are millions of bacteria and microorganisms that dwell in water, and without proper filtration, you could become violently – or even fatally – ill after drinking the unpurified water.

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We’re going to teach you some ways that you can purify water out in the wild, including using a brilliant system from Chris Burns, the creator of the Water Freedom System. Read on for more information.

5 Best Methods for Purifying Water in Survival Situations

Boiling the Water

In order to kill the aforementioned bacteria and parasites, one of the easiest methods for purifying water out in the wild is to boil it. To do this, you will need to be able to create and maintain a decent fire that is large enough to fit at least a small tin can on. Doing this is not very difficult, as long as you have some flammable materials and a heat source.

It should be noted that boiling water will not evaporate all forms of chemical pollutants but is still one of the safest methods for disinfecting water anywhere out in the wilderness. Five minutes of a rolling boil will be more than enough to kill most organisms, but to be safe, you should boil the water for about 10 minutes.

You are going to need to boil the water for even longer if you are at an elevation high enough to affect cooking and boiling times, so be sure to take that into account. You can boil the water over a campfire or stove in a ceramic, metal, or glass container. If you can’t get your hands on a container that is fireproof, heat some rocks over the fire for 30 minutes, then place them into the container with the water.

The container could be anything, like a rock depression in the ground, a bowl burned from wood, an animal stomach, or hide. Do not use any river rocks or quartz, which can explode when heated.


Lead, radiation, heavy metals, salt, and a plethora of other contaminants can pollute your water supply after disaster strikes, and trying to filter them out is only going to ruin your water filter. If you are in a situation where only dangerous water is available, you don’t have many options. The safest option, then, is distillation.

Water can be heated to evaporate into steam, and that steam can then be condensed and captured to water that is relatively clean, despite being contaminated before. Distillation will not remove every possible contaminant, like certain organic compounds and volatile oils, but most heavy particles will be gone.

In the wild, the best way to distill water is by using a solar still, which is a simple contraption that collects and distills water using a hole in the ground. Building one requires you to place a square of plastic, either 5×5 ft or 6×6 ft over a more than three-foot deep hope, with a clean container centered at the bottom. Run a tube from the container so that you can drink the distilled water without disassembling the whole still.

Place dirt around the edge of the plastic to seal the still off, and place a rock in the middle of the plastic to create a 45-degree cone over the container. Make sure that the still is in a sunny location and in the dampest sand or dirt available. You can add green vegetation and even urine to the still to increase the water yield.

The Water Freedom System

The Water Freedom System is a device created by Chris Burns based on the portable water generators used, with great success, by armed forces from seven countries. It is able to produce clean, drinkable water in some of the driest and hottest environments in the world – even the desert. It does this using nothing but air.

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The device is based on the simple principle of condensation: it absorbs humid air and cools it, in the same way that an air conditioner does, though at a much more efficient rate. The condensation is then turned into clean water, which is safe to drink. The original device used by the military can produce up to 60 gallons of clean water a day.

When Chris and his family suffered from a major drought a few years ago, he knew that he would need to develop a system much like this one, only it would have to be far simpler to create and much more affordable. This is where the Water Freedom System comes in – it is a somewhat simplified version of the same military contraption and can be made using just $270 worth of materials from Home Depot.

The system can produce 20 gallons of pure water each day and is also completely portable, so you can take it with you into the wilderness in case of emergency. It will produce more than enough water to keep you going and is also relatively easy to assemble.

Survival Straws

This method involves using one of the lightest, smallest water disinfecting tools on the market today: straw water filters. The newer models can be used the same way that you would any other regular straw and can also connect to the drain valve found on a water heater to clean the water that might be found in a heater after disaster strikes.

Survival straws can also be attached to a garden hose to filter the water that runs through it. However, you should not expect a straw filter to get rid of every virus and parasite that could be within the water, particularly when you plan on drinking from a water heater filled with tepid water or from a hose that has been lying out in the sun for a few days.

Most of these straws contain a filter element with activated carbon, which not only filters away larger pathogens and bacteria but also removes unpleasant odors and flavors from the water.


The two primary kinds of water filters are drip/suction filters and pump-action filters. The former are filter cartridges that use a gravity drip action or are placed in line on hydration bladder hoses, while the latter makes use of a pump to push raw water through a filter.

When used on a hydration bladder, drip/suction filters simply suck the water through the filter. Most of these filters will produce around one quart of drinkable water each minute. If time is not a concerning factor, then you could opt for a gravity-fed filter system.

Final Thoughts

Having water with you in survival situations is, needless to say, essential, which is why you need to know how to purify water for survival. Be sure to purify any and all water in the wild before drinking it! The last thing you want is to end up with an upset stomach from unpurified water.

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  1. Pingback: 6 Forgotten Survival Skills Your Grandparents Knew - Essential Survival Skills

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