Once you’ve bugged out, water purification is one of your highest priorities. You can’t go very long without water, and it’s too heavy to carry it all with you. Drinking from unfiltered sources can make you sick. This will be even more true depending on what kind of disaster you’re bugging out from. So where does this leave you?
Like most essential things to your survival, you need redundancies. You should bring some water with you. You should also have something you can use to quickly filter other water sources. Even though it won’t be clean, it helps to know you’ve got a water source where you’re going. On top of that, you should know how to use things you can find to purify water if all else fails. In this article I want to run through your best lines of defense for staving off dehydration, in the short and long term.
Water Purification by Fire
Boiling water to purify it is the simplest, but not always the easiest method for purifying water. You only need 3 things, the water, something you can boil it in, and something to boil it on. Finding water is a whole ‘nother article. But as a general rule, head downhill and look for moving water over stagnant. Once you’ve got the water, boiling it can be easier said than done.
I recommend you keep a couple things with you for boiling water. First is a pot. Aluminum is a good metal for this because it’s sturdy and safe enough to heat, but it’s also very light. Carrying a tripod to hang it over a fire is unrealistic so you can shoot for putting it on a grate or bars resting between rocks.
The other thing I recommend is a way to start your fire, in fact you should have a few. Fire is imperative for your survival, for more reasons than just boiling water. Having a flint and steel will last you longer than matches, but having a few little lighters is cheap and easy too.
You likely won’t have a thermometer, so just get your water bubbling. Let it sit for at least a minute before transferring it or drinking it. High altitudes effect the temperature water boils too so if you’re up in the hills, give it at least three.
Straws and Bottles
If you’re looking for easy, it doesn’t get much easier than pre-built filters. They’re not the cheapest solution, but I certainly recommend them for the safety net. The straws are nice because you can drink right out of the water source with them if you want. Both the straws and the bottles will give you a very easy way to purify water on the go. Their main downside is that they are finite and will get less effective over time. They’re absolutely perfect to cover the gap if you’re bugging out to a secondary bug out location. This straw from Purewell is a good deal for a very useful tool.
Building a Filter
Easy is the last thing this method is. Building your own water filtration system is involved and high-effort. But having this knowledge can seriously upgrade your bug out spot. The easiest way to construct your own water filter is with three 5-gallon buckets. You can also use the same method with just one bucket and 3 layers inside it.
The top layer of your filter is fine gravel. This will catch larger debris that might be in your water. The next level underneath is sand. This is a little finer and will catch finer debris. Finally your bottom later is charcoal, this will catch anything too fine for the sand or gravel. Once your water drips out the bottom of this, it’s safe to drink. With this method you can load up a bunch of water in the top and let it run through slowly over time, totally hands off! Water purification without babysitting a fire.
Water Purification by Sun Distillation
This is another passive water solution that’s a lot easier than building a filter. Plus, this solution works for getting the salt out of salt water. There are a lot of physical setups for this process. So I’ll just run you through the theory and a couple easy varieties.
The way sun distillation works is by using the heat of the sun to evaporate water and collect it again. Only the pure water gets evaporated, leaving behind salt and contaminants. So once you recollect it you’ve got pure ready-to-go drinking water.
One simple process only requires 2 bottles and something to seal them. (Think disposable plastic or sports drink bottles.) Take your two bottles and fill one halfway with dirty or salty water. Tape the other one on top of it so the mouths are touching and it’s one long container. Then you prop up the bottles so the empty one is higher than the one with water. Leave this in the sun and the water will evaporate up to the top bottle. Once you carefully disconnect them you’ll have some water ready to drink. The downside to this method is that the amount of water you can make at a time really relies on your bottle shapes.
This water distillation setup will help you speed up the process. You’ll need some sort of box or bin that can hold water, a piece of glass or plastic that can fit over top of it, and a trough or funnel to collect water.
Start by setting up your box so one side is taller than the other, either by cutting it or adding to it. Next lay your glass over top of it, so one side is lower than the other. Make sure that there is some gap or other way for water to roll from the glass to the trough. Finally, you’ll install your trough at the low side of the glass. Once you put some water in your box and leave it in the sun, it’ll start purifying. The vapor will collect on the glass and roll down to the trough. Put another container or bottle for the trough to lead water into and you’ve got a bulk, hands-free water purification!
I’d love to recommend a distiller like this for you, but they’re not very common today. This inflatable still claims to be effective but the reviews aren’t great and it’s quite expensive.
Rain and Condensation
Under normal circumstances, rainwater is perfectly safe to drink, no water purification necessary. But, you do have to take your area and situation into account. Be wary if you’re fleeing a nuclear disaster, or if one has occurred on the continent. If the environment is relatively normal, rainwater can and should be collected!
Simply set up a tarp or poncho by tying corners to nearby trees or buildings. Then, just set something to collect it in under the lowest corner. For added effectiveness, don’t tie the drip corner to anything. Just tie a string or rope to the corner and let it hang down into your collection place. This can even collect water when it’s not raining. Morning dew or high humidity can both collect on tarps. If you have any unsafe drinking water, it’s not a bad idea to store it under the tarp and let the warmth of the sun slowly evaporate it onto your tarp.
The Importance of Water Purification
I hope I’ve given you a solid plan to act on both for stocking your bug out bag and for long term solutions. Water is the next most important thing after air, you can’t get by without it. Your survival relies on your access to drinkable water. If clean water gets scarce don’t get caught unprepared!