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Tips For Treating Water To Make It Drinkable

You’re out in the middle of nowhere when you realize you’re lost. You only packed enough food and water for your intended hike, but now it’s looking like you may be out there a bit longer. Establishing a source of drinking water is one of the most important things you can do while you're stranded in the wilderness. The human body can only go three days without water so, finding a source for clean drinking water is imperative if you know you're going to be stranded. If you wait too long, you may no be able to collect enough water to sustain you for a long enough period of time.

Once you have collected water, you’ll want to follow these tips for treating water to make it drinkable. The presence of heavy minerals, microbes, and pollution that are commonly found in natural water sources can make you very sick and isn't worth the risk, and can turn a bad situation into something much worse. The last thing you need is to be expelling much-needed water from your body due to an illness that could have been avoided.

Finding Water

When you’re out in the wild, it can sometimes be tough to find water, especially water that’s suitable to drink even after treating it. Some places are full of water sources and some, like the desert, are not. Here are some tips to find a water source:

  • Try to avoid marshes, ponds, and lakes. These are stagnant and tend to have the most amount of organisms in them. If a body of water has algae, it’s better to leave it unless you’re to the point of dying.

  • Large rivers are iffy as well. Because they flow fast and far, they’re likely to have pollutants coming from upstream.

  • The best water sources include a clear flowing stream or precipitation.

  • Follow the animals. If there are tracks in the area, there is most likely a water source nearby as well.

  • Plants are a great source of water if you know how to get the water out of them. We will discuss this later on.

  • Depending on where you are, you can usually dig down deep enough into the ground to reach what is called the water table. This is where the natural ground water collects.

Once you’ve found your water, it’s time to make it safe. Rain and snow directly from the sky are safe as long as you collect it in a clean container. All other water should be processed to kill organisms that live in it, and remove any heavy minerals that shouldn’t be in your body.

Devices You Can Buy

If you tend to end up in places where you don’t have access to potable water, then you may want to plan ahead and get one of these devices. They remove microbes, bacteria, and most toxins from the water you have found. Some of these are bulkier devices meant to clean a larger amount of water, while some are small and fit into your pocket or backpack for when you’re out on the trails.

Water Distillers

Distilling water works to purify water the same way that nature does. Ultimately, water is evaporated, leaving behind impurities, and then collects as steam to separate it from the bad stuff. There are large water distillers out there that can do multiple gallons at a time, as well as countertop distillers that look a lot like a coffee pot that can purify about a gallon at a time. These devices simply heat the water to steam, which then collects on the top of the lid, and runs down a spout rather than falling back into the pot. These are great to keep in the RV in case of emergencies.


Sure, there are filters you can get for your faucet, and even the water inlet to your RV, but did you know there are smaller handheld filters too? They’re great for hiking and backpacking since they take up little space and they filter on the spot rather than having to lug water around. Just be sure that wherever you're going has a water source or they won't help much.


One of the coolest water purifiers we’ve found is the LifeStraw®. This little gadget allows you to drink water from any source. Fill up a water bottle or cup, or drink right from a puddle or stream. As you suck the water through the straw, it filters it along the way, resulting in a purified, refreshing sip of clean water. It’s very lightweight and fits easily into a pack, and truly could save your life in a dire situation!

Squeeze Packs

Another fantastic portable and lightweight way to purify water on the go comes in the form of squeeze packs. They resemble those pouches of baby food or apple sauce, but instead of a tasty treat, you simply fill it with water, and squeeze the water back out through an attached filter to purify it!


Finally, the SteriPEN® is a relatively new product that kills bacteria and microbes using UV light! Simply stick the device into the water and the light will kill anything living in it. You will still need to filter out water that has dirt in it, but you can easily do that with a piece of cloth or your T-shirt.

Getting Clean Water In An Emergency Situation

Sometimes you won’t be ready to go without water. Wrong turns happen, disasters strike, and a two-hour hike can turn into a two-day hike. You may end up spending a lot more time in the woods or desert than you planned, and without water, you’re going to be struggling to find your way back with dehydration setting in. Here are some survival skills that help you clean water without purification devices so you can make it through a tough situation.


With a few cheap items, you can purify water just about anywhere, even in the middle of nowhere! This process allows you to use either water found from a source such as a stream, or moisture from the air. One of these methods can actually pull water right out of the ground for you, depending on the supplies you have with you!

In-Ground Distiller

What you need to make this work is an area of ground you can dig into, a large plastic sheet, and a container to collect the water. This is a great makeshift purifier, which can be made with a poncho and a container from your hiking pack or made out of materials around you. Let’s get to work:

  1. Dig a hole that is around 2 feet wide and 1½ feet deep.

  2. Dig a smaller hole about the size of your container that you'll be using to collect the water in the middle of the first hole so that the container will stand upright.

  3. Set the container in the small hole and put any vegetation you can find in the large hole around it, but not over it. If you have a water source you’re purifying, pour the water into the dirt around the container.

  4. Cover the large hole with the plastic sheet, using some rocks to anchor the edges.

  5. Find a rock that’s heavy enough to pull the center of the sheet down a bit but not pull the sheet all the way in the hole. This is going to create a cone shape in the plastic that points down at your collection container. Make sure the rock sits on the plastic right above the container.

  6. Use more rocks and dirt all the way around the outside of the plastic sheet to make it as air tight as you can get it.

As the sun beats down on the plastic and warms the ground, the water from the soil and vegetation will begin to evaporate. Since you covered the outside of the plastic sheet with dirt and rocks, the evaporated water has nowhere to go but collect on the plastic. The cone shape you made with your rock above the container will let the water to run down into the container. Depending on how much moisture there is in the area, how humid the day is, and how sunny it is, you should have a decent amount of water within 24 – 48 hours.

Water Bottle Distiller

So what do you do if you don’t just travel around with plastic sheeting? Wait, you mean not everyone does that? If you don’t have the ability to make the in ground-distiller, you can make one out of a plastic water bottle and a cup or smaller water bottle. Here’s how you can get clean water using the power of the sun.

  1. Cut the very bottom of the water bottle off.

  2. Bend the sides of the cut end of the bottle, up into the bottle. You’re creating the area that will collect the water for you.

  3. Using a container small enough to fit into the center hole in the bottom of the water bottle, fill it with the water to be distilled and push it up inside the water bottle.

  4. Set the bottle in the sun and watch the magic happen.

The water from the smaller container will evaporate in the sun and collect on the top of the water bottle. It will then run down and collect in the area you folded up on the bottom. If you have tape, you can cut the bottom off a bit farther up, place the container inside the bottom piece, and then tape the bottle back together so you have a larger collection area. You just have to really make sure the water can’t escape as it evaporates by making sure the tape seals it up.


Boiling water can kill any harmful bacteria that may be living in it. It won’t remove as much sediment as the distilling process, but at least anything living in the water will be killed. Just make sure you get the water hot enough and let it boil long enough. Here are some tips on how to make the most of the situation:

  • Strain the water through a cloth before boiling it. This will help to take out larger particles like dirt.

  • Get the water to a full rolling boil. A simmer may not be hot enough to kill off some organisms.

  • Once it’s boiling, let it do so for around 10 minutes to make sure all bacteria and other organisms are dead.

  • If you cannot boil the water because you do not have a suitable container, heat rocks in a campfire, then place them into the water.

Plant Power

Plants take the water from the soil, using their roots to send it to their leaves, using water and the sun together to make their own food. If the plant is nice and green, it most likely will give you water, and you don’t have to kill it. All you need here is a plastic bag and either a string or rubber band.

  1. Find a bush or other plant that sits in a sunny spot and has a lot of green leaves.

  2. Pull a bunch of the leaves on a branch together in a cluster and place the plastic bag over it.

  3. Secure the bag on the leaves using the string or rubber band. Get it as tight as you can so the moisture won’t escape.

After some time, the sun will pull moisture from the leaves, which will evaporate out and collect in the bag.

Water is our life source, as we are made up of around 65 percent water. Without staying hydrated your body cannot function properly! Make sure you’re ready if you happen to find yourself in a situation that has you without clean water. It’s hard to imagine, especially for this Muskegon RV dealer since we’re just down the road from Lake Michigan, but it is always a possibility! Just follow these tips for treating water to make it drinkable and you'll make it through just about any tough situation!

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