Purifying Water

Safe Drinking on The Trail

While it's not very likely that this information would apply to anyone other than the adventure crew, it's still necessary to know how to get a safe drink from mother nature.

Imagine you're walking on a trail during the middle of a hot summer day. Your backpack weighs 60 pounds; sweat is dripping down your face. You come to a small stream filled with small rocks that are barely covered by the water. It looks so crisp and fresh and you are very thirsty.

Think twice about drinking from that water source!

The water might look perfectly fine, especially with the water flowing gently over the smooth, glossy rocks, but beware! Tiny organisms which are invisible to the naked eye are abundant in this water. Unfortunately, there is no longer ground water any ground water that you can safely drink without purifying it first.

The water may seem palatable, but it can be home to many things you do not want to swallow. Water is only potable if it has been disinfected by means of boiling, filtration, the use of UV light, or by the use of halogenations.

Boiling is probably one of the best and easiest means of making water potable. When water boils, it gets rid of all the micro-organisms and other bacteria that can make you sick. All you need to boil water is a metal container (example: a pot), something to make a small campfire, a fire ring, and something to suspend the pot from (a tri-pot works great).

To use halogenations means adding chemicals to kill germs and other bacteria. Iodine and chlorine are safe and work the best. They are very easy to carry. If you use them, follow the directions word for word to ensure your water is potable. Sometimes, Halogens can make your water taste less than what you may consider palatable. So, just add some kind of sweet drink powder after the chemicals have done their job. Something like iced tea, hot chocolate, or even cool-aid mix works just fine.

Filtration speaks for itself. All you need is a filter and some biceps. Filters come in a few different ways - some require you to pump a handle while others filter the water via you squeezing hard in order to force water through wherever it has to go. And it must be remembered that not all water leaves you with 100% safe water. It is recommended that if you have to purify water this way that you also boil it, just as a precaution.

Ultra-Violet light isn't exactly the #1 way of making water safe for your drinking pleasure. It does not affect taste nor does it remove the sediments in the water, like sand, which you probably won't want to drink. Furthermore, the light requires batteries, so when your batteries die, so does your supply of filtered water.

But what if you don't have any way to filter water? Don't drink it, unless you are in a drink-or-die situation! Here are some DOs and DON'Ts about using water without filtration.

DOs
DON'Ts
DO drink water as far as possible offshore. DON'T drink water flowing over rocks. It just stirs up sickening germs.
DO drink from pools of water surrounded by healthy vegetation. DON'T drink water by barren grounds or any kind of garbage/animal carcass.
DO drink from tributaries running out of high uninhabited areas that are at a right angle to the main stream. DON'T drink from the main stream of water.
DO drink water that has been collected from a recent rain, such as cavities in rocks. DON'T eat wild ice as the water that was needed to make the ice may have been infected. There may also be sediment deposits in the ice, such as dirt and sand and even insect remains.
DO collect falling rain in whatever you can, including pots, cups, or tarps.  
DO hold snow in your mouth until it melts before swallowing.  
DO collect dew that forms on leaves and metal surfaces before sunrise.  

As we've said before, you probably won't ever use this information, but it's good to know. To ensure you won't have to go through any of the procedures above, here are a few tips on conserving your water:

  • Cover your skin as much as you can. This prevents the water from within your body from perspiring and evaporating off you, which contributes to loss of water.
  • Do as little moving and talking as possible. Moving requires water from within your body to be burned off if you sweat, as was discussed in the first bullet-point. Talking will eventually make your mouth dry and only make your thirst worse. Also, breathe through your nose so that air your body takes in via your mouth doesn't dry it up.
  • Stay out of the sun as much as possible to avoid sweating.
  • Avoid any salty foods.

    If you can't immediately find a source of water, here's what to remember:

  • Carry maps of the area you are hiking in. They can help you to some degree when it comes to finding survival water.
  • Follow dry riverbeds downhill. Water seeks the lowest level, so it may also be a good idea to follow animal tracks downhill.
  • Vegetation grows near water, so look for abundant vegetation in your search for water.
  • Water springs can be found near rock piles or cliffs, and even in low, forested country.
  • If you find snow or ice, melt it and then purify it with one of the methods discussed above.
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