How to Purify Water in the Wild: Save Your Life with These Essential Skills

natural water filtration

There are many things that we can’t survive without. But whether you are stuck at home or in the wilderness, there’s one thing that’s essential.


The fact is, almost 60% of our body is water. So staying hydrated is essential even when you’re fighting for survival. In reality, you can survive without water for around 100 hours. If you’re exposed to direct sunlight, like in a desert, it’s lesser.

While finding the right source of drinking water is necessary, you also need to know how to purify water in the wild. No matter the source, purifying the water before consuming is a must. With millions of microorganisms present in water, you might risk serious illness without purification. And in a critical situation, that can even lead to death.

The good news is, there are quite a few effective natural water purification methods. So in this article, we’ll talk about some of the best ways of wilderness water purification.

Finding a Water Source

how to purify water in the wild

One of the most important backcountry survival skills is finding the right water source. Remember, it’s best to exercise caution and common sense before you collect water from any source. It’s important to visually inspect the surroundings and make sure it’s free from biological or chemical contaminants.

So here are a few sources that are commonly found all across the globe.

Rainwater is one of the purest sources of natural fresh water. It does contain some impurities and particles washed down from the atmosphere but is mostly free from microorganisms. Morning dew can also be a good source of pure water.

Water from a stream originating away from human habitation is one of the best sources of fresh water. River water can be used, but large rivers are often polluted. Lakes and ponds are good sources, but the water there is stagnant. So there are higher chances of bacterial presence.

Snow and ice is another source of water in frigid areas. Note, sea ice has high salt content so it can’t be used. Make sure to melt the snow before consuming as eating snow will lower your body temperature.

In tropical climates, certain plants, fruits, or roots can be a good source of water. For example, green coconuts are one of the best sources of pure water. Likewise, Cacti can be a good source of water in a desert.

In arid areas or deserts, crevices in rocks, dry riverbeds or lakes, and areas around green vegetation can be a potential source of water.

Water Filtration Versus Water Purification

OK, I know what you’re thinking…

Aren’t these two terms mostly the same? 

Actually, they are two technically different terms. Naturally, the best approach is to combine the two methods.

Filtration is the removal of suspended impurities and sediments from water. This is done by passing the water through a porous material or a fine sieve. But even a combination of multiple filters can remove all types of toxins or harmful pathogens from water.

On the other hand, water purification is a method that removes almost all forms of toxins, including bacteria and microbes from water. The process can be chemical or UV light-based. The other technologies used are reverse-osmosis, deionization, and natural distillation.

To sum it up, plain filters aren’t designed to do the heavy lifting when it comes to complete water purification. To remove the whole spectrum of impurities, a combination of filters and purifiers is the best choice. Ideally, a good purification system should deliver nothing less than 99.8% pure water at all times.

An advanced filtration system can be great for urban survival. But in the wilderness, there will be little chance of having such a system with you. That’s why learning about natural water filtration methods is so important for wilderness survival.

How to Filter Water in the Wild

Here are some of the best emergency water purification methods that can be used.


Boiling is one of the best natural water purification processes, provided you have the right equipment and fuel. Almost everyone knows how to boil water in the wild. Other than that, it’s also one of the most reliable methods. While it can’t clear chemical pollutants from water, ten to twenty minutes of boiling will remove most parasites from water. When it comes to a rolling boil, it should be done for at least a minute.

However, it’s best to boil only clear water. Boiling muddy and dirty water won’t clear out the deposits which can still make you sick. In that case, you need to filter the water after boiling. You can use a campfire or a stove to boil water in any fireproof container.

Now, boiling water won’t clear out the chemical pollutants from water. But it’s quite effective for purifying water in the wilderness as well as for urban survival. Most importantly, making sure that everyone you’re bugging out with understands this is key. 


If you ask how to make dirty water clean easily, the answer is- sedimentation. Perhaps, this effective natural water purification method is also the most overlooked. 

But, when you’re out in the wild and the only water available is murky, this process is simply a no-brainer. And it can be easily combined with chemical or UV purification systems.

If you allow the water to rest in a container for some period, the heavier particles will settle down. The clean water at the top can then be scooped out. Finally, you can use some other process like UV purification.

What’s great is that a lot of survival-related products actually contain water purification tubes built-in. There are some survival shovels that you can use to dig up groundwater, allow sedimentation to happen, and then use the included water filtration device to filter out the contaminants. 


Distillation is another effective way of obtaining filtered water. Here the water is heated and converted into steam. Next, this steam is captured and condensed back into water. 

Note, distillation can’t remove all forms of organic compounds. But most heavier particles and pathogens are cleaned off. Basically, the process mimics the way the planet purifies water through evaporation and rain. This natural mechanism is called the hydrologic cycle.

When stuck at home in a survival situation, you can use a countertop water distillation kit. It consists of a boiling chamber with a heating element. The steam generated rises through a steel tube that works as a condenser. 

A high-powered fan is used to reduce the temperature and condense the water faster. The purified water is collected in a reservoir. 

But how to purify water in the wilderness by distillation? Let’s find out.

Distilling Water in the Wild

For that, you need a large container, a smaller container, a plastic bag, and some elastic cord. Here are the steps.

  • Firstly, you can pour impure or even salt water in a large container. 
  • Then place the small container inside it. Cover the top of the large container with a plastic bag, and tie it with the cord. Make sure that the low point of the plastic is over the small container.
  • You can heat the container or leave it under the sun. The water will evaporate and condense on the underside of the plastic. Then, the drinkable water will slowly drip into the smaller container.

However, the process of solar distillation is a slow one and not practical for purifying a large amount of water. It can take anywhere between 4 to 6 hours to produce a gallon of water by distillation.

Filters or purification pumps

In general, there are two basic types of water filters- pump-action filters and drip/suction filters.

Pump-action filters use a pump to force the water through the filter cartridge. On the other hand, the drip/suction filters use gravity drip action. 

One of the most effective ways of filtering water is carrying a personal water filter in the form of  straw. These advanced, ultralight survival straws can remove all forms of parasites, microplastics, and dirt from contaminated water. You can simply remove the cap, dip it into the water source like a normal straw, and drink.

The best thing is, such filters can be used for survival in any terrain, be it wild or urban. In fact, many people have developed portable water filtration systems using their bug out vehicles

Filtering Water in the Wild

In the wilderness, natural water filtration can be done by using three layers. These can be made from pebbles, sand, and crushed charcoal. Charcoal can not only remove various contaminants but can also improve the taste of water.

You need a container to arrange these materials in layers. A two-liter soda or water bottle can do the trick. Or else, natural materials like bamboo or a hollow log can be used as a container. You can clog the opening with a ball of grass which will hold the top layers.

However, such a filter may not be effective against all kinds of pathogens. Still, it may take a few days for you to fall sick. In the meantime, it’s important to stay alive by staying hydrated and eating right. Having a survival fishing rod is a great way to find food in the wild.

Keep in mind using natural materials like sand and charcoal can clear the impurities from water but won’t make it fully safe for drinking. For that, a filter cartridge made from a combination of materials like ceramic and silver is necessary. The ceramic filters out the heavier impurities and the silver eliminates the harmful microbes like bacteria and protozoa.

Purification tablet or drops

Chemical treatment is one of the simplest but most effective methods for emergency water purification. Let’s say you don’t know any other ways about how to filter water. Then these are the best choices for your bug-out bag.

Some of the most common chemicals used in these materials are iodine, chlorine, and potassium permanganate. These chemicals leave a chemical aftertaste in the water but are very efficient in cleaning out the parasites.

Note, there are a few things you need to do while using these chemicals. You need to measure the volume of water so that the right amount of chemicals can be used. Next, the tablet or drop should be evenly mixed in the water. Finally, the water should be kept aside for around 20 to 30 minutes for the chemicals to do the job.

But here’s the problem…

Firstly, these tablets come with a shelf life. So check the dates before use. Also, iodine tablets aren’t a safe choice for patients with thyroid disorders. It should also be avoided by pregnant women. Then again, chlorine is a poisonous substance. Using too much of it can lead to organ damages and other forms of illness.

Besides, some parasites like cryptosporidium have a hard outer shell that’s resistant to chemicals. So, for completely safe drinking water, it’s best to use a top-grade filter along with a chemical treatment.

UV Light Devices

These compact and easy-to-use devices are a perfect answer to the question of how to purify water. Actually, ultraviolet light of a specific wavelength destroy the DNA of microorganisms like bacteria, and viruses. That renders them ineffective almost immediately. 

The best part is some of these devices don’t need an external power source like a battery. If you have a solar generator, you won’t need it here. They can even be hand-cranked to power the UV lamp. However, if there are large floating particles in water the system won’t be fully effective. Microorganisms can hide inside these larger particles.

And you know what else? 

The sun is the biggest source of UV radiation. Water kept under the sun in a clear plastic bottle for five to six hours can get disinfected naturally. While this process can purify enough water, it isn’t instantaneous. Obviously, the time taken will depend on the intensity of the sun. 

The process is termed Solar water disinfection or SODIS. But you won’t be able to use this method on an overcast day. Besides, glass water containers can’t be used.

All in all, UV radiation is an effective and economical natural water purification method. But, if the water has a higher amount of suspended particles, filtration is required before UV treatment. Purification of chemical contamination is also not possible with this method.


So, now you know how to purify water in the wilderness or in your home.

No matter the emergency water treatment method you use, make sure to store the pure water in a clean container.

When you’re arranging a survival kit, the supply of pure water is one thing that you simply can’t overlook. Remember, even when all hell breaks loose, staying hydrated is a must.

As we have listed, there are several methods that can be used for emergency water purification. Some of them are easy while others need a bit of work. Your choice will depend upon the resources that are available to you. Also, the type of water source will determine the purification requirement.

That said, DIY filters should be the last option in a survival situation. The best option is to use portable and effective water purifiers with you for general use as well as in emergencies.

Trust me. You’ll be glad you did.