In this continuation of our series on practical survival, we’re going to discuss water: where to find it and what to do with it to make it “safe.”
Water is a common theme in survival – it is unique in that it is both an absolute necessity and a looming threat at the same time. Behind breathable oxygen, it is the single most important element on our survival saw, and we have just three days to ensure a clean, potable supply of water if we are to survive. This is an overview of the “hard” way of procuring safe drinking water. Obviously, Katadyne filters, iodine tablets, and other methods of purification are superior, when they are available. However, we can’t always count on technology, and so here we’ll talk about how to strain impurities/debris and kill microbes in the water.
When determining how we’ll come by water, there are several things to consider:
Demand – How many people are you providing for?
Source – Where will you get the water?
Collection – How will you collect it?
Decontamination – How will you make it safe to drink?
Obviously, some common sense needs to be applied here:
- Don’t contaminate water. Build latrines at least 100 feet from your water source.
- Stagnant water must always be purified.
- Keep water resources separate – douse water, cleaning water, and drinking water should all be separated.
- Use only what you need – keep stocks proportional: drinking water is always the priority.
When assessing the demand for water, figure that each person requires about three gallons per day in order to take care of hygiene and replenishment. Also, consider that this is the bare minimum – in austere conditions, this requirement may well exceed 5 gallons.
So, it’s imperative that you assess this as a part of your initial assessment when you choose a site (we’ll discuss this in greater depth in the MAP-E assessment within the next Practical Survival 101 post, which will focus on Shelter)
Once you understand the logistical demand your party will have for water, you can begin considering what to do to procure it. Keep in mind, you’ll need to rinse any cookware, clean your hands after using the restroom, and may want to use some to wash your face, feet and other areas that are prone to bacterial buildup
Your water source will depend greatly on a variety of things: Your location, rainfall, demand, and duration of stay. Obviously, if you’re only going to be in a spot for a night or so, you do not want to create a splendid purification system that cannot be taken with you.
This is what lightweight, portable filters are for! Pick one up to get you where you’re going, and then apply these principles.
Water collection in most areas is relatively easy – things as simple as rain barrels or as complex as cisterns can be used. Water is difficult to transport, but it’s very important that your plans and equipment reflect the need to have some at hand. Personally, I carry 3 water containers:
- A 3 liter Source bladder in my backpack (3rd Line)
- An 8 oz. canteen with metal cup in my backpack that can be moved to my belt if needed (3rd/1st Line)
- A 24 oz. water bottle in my everyday carry bag (2nd Line)
Over the years, I’ve encountered a lot of people who decided that they really only need one of the above, usually a Camelbak or similar piece of equipment that holds a good amount of water and makes drinking it convenient. This approach begs the question – how will you refill it? If you’re on the move, how will you collect and purify water with only one reservoir?
This is my logic behind carrying the canteen and cup – strained water can be taken from the collection device, put in the cup for boiling, and then added to the canteen, bladder, or bottle. A note on bottles and canteens – dummy cord them to your backpack. Murphy’s law – if it can get lost, it will.
This process can be drawn out and difficult – there are numerous ways to decontaminate water, and experts show a range of different ways. My approach is a simple, effective method that will work with almost any size container and can be constructed simply and without many tools. Sound easy? It is. This is the “street fight” version of water purification – simple, effective, and meant to stop the crisis.
First things first – what you’ll need:
- A container through which to strain the water
- A cloth to put over the top of the straining bottle
- Sand and charcoal, in equal amounts, to fill the straining bottle
- A knife to puncture the bottom of the straining bottle and cut open the top
- A receptacle in which the strained water can be boiled
It’s important to remember that the straining container can be anything – a milk jug, a coffee cup or can, a five gallon jug or a 55 gallon jug – whatever you happen to have available. The more savvy you become, the more things like bark will start looking like a reasonable straining device.
Find a suitable container – in this instance, I’m using a milk jug because my batteries went dead at the camp-site. The process is effectively the same, though I will have to cut some corners. I’ve taken a half gallon milk jug and perforated the cap with about 16 small holes, and cut the bottom so as to form a ‘flap’ – I’ve perforated this flap twice, and will use zip ties to hang it from a fence upside down, so when I put the water in, it will pass through the filtering material (sand and charcoal) and the particulates in the water will be filtered.
The cap – half finished:
The flap – again, this is deceptive. I wouldn’t have it this high off the ground because of the risk of the flap tearing off. Assess these risks when you practice this problem:
And passing the water through – make sure you get rid of the plastic debris that comes off the cap (or aluminium, or whatever)
These pictures are very deceptive – this was a off-the-cuff reproduction, and I didn’t have time to go search for sand or charcoal during this exercise. That said, a little dirt, ash, fine gravel and cloth is all you need – combining a porous material such as cloth or charcoal with a grainy one such as sand or dirt will help get the particulates out.
Once this is accomplished, we’ve got to worry about the bacteria that could be contaminating the water.
Strain the water through a cloth – a lot of people have taken to carrying scarves or a shemagh these days, and those make good items through which to strain the water into the cleaning receptacle. Once you’ve done that, allow the water to trickle through and collect in a cup that can be used to boil the water – for me, this is my canteen cup.
Now you’ve got the larger things (larvae, algae, bugs, dirt, etc) filtered out, it’s time to address the microbes. Simply put – you need to boil the water. No shortcuts, you have to get your fire going, and have a container you can set on the coals until it’s at a lightly rolling boil for 10 minutes. It takes patience, but so does diarrhea – take your pick which you’d prefer. At this point, we’re trying to get rid of the bacteria that are going to cause infections and sickness. This is really a case of preventative medicine. Be very cautious about what you drink and eat – when you’re in the wild, think of your water as you would meat – cook it.
Water purification is not exciting. It’s an ongoing process that needs to occur right along site improvement to make sure that your party has a source of good, clean water with which to drink, cook and maintain hygiene. A small cookpot is a handy thing to carry, as it’ll allow you to clean more water (though it takes a bit longer to get boiling) so consider your needs, your area and your approach – then practice.
This new What Should I Do? blog series is intended to surface knowledge and perspective useful to preparing for a future defined by Peak Oil. The content is written by CM.com readers and is based in their own experiences in putting into practice many of the ideas exchanged on this site. If there are topics you’d like to see featured here, or if you have interest in contributing a post in a relevant area of your expertise, please indicate so in our Input on the What Should I Do? Series feedback forum.
If you have not yet seen the other articles in this series, you can find them here:
- A Case Study in Creating Community (SagerXX)
- Peak Certainty, Food Resilience, and Aquaponics (Farmer Brown)
- Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden (EndGamePlayer)
- The Essential Gardening and Food Resilience Library (Old Hippie)
- Installing A Solar Energy System (rhare)
- The Keys to Transitioning Healthcare: Empowerment, Education, & Prevention (suziegruber)
- A Quiet Revolution in Bicycles: Recapturing a Role as Utilitarian People-Movers – Part 1 (Cycle9)
- A Quiet Revolution in Bicycles: Recapturing a Role as Utilitarian People-Movers – Part 2 (Cycle9)
- Practical Survival Skills 101 – Fire Starting (Aaron Moyer)
- Raising Your Own Chickens (Woodman)
- Dealing With a Reluctant Partner (Becca Martenson)
- Making the Urban-to-Rural Transition (joemanc)
- Prepping on a Shoestring (Amanda)
- Practical Survival Skills 101 – Water (Aaron Moyer)
This series is a companion to this site’s free What Should I Do? Guide, which provides guidance from Chris and the CM.com staff on specific strategies, products, and services that individuals should consider in their preparations.