Three Ways to Purify Drinking Water

Small, packable purifying systems can alleviate the need to haul water on your outdoor adventures.

Hunters with a LifeStraw in the outdoors.
Something as small and light as a water-filtering straw can come in handy, especially if you’re in a survival situation.LifeStraw

Since water is one of the heaviest things you can carry on the trail when camping, hiking, or backpacking, it’s fortunate that outdoor adventurers have so many water-purifying options available. From simple filtration systems, to purifying chemicals, to ultraviolet beams that make water drinkable, plenty of options exist for the outdoorsman or woman who want to cut the amount of weight they’re shouldering on the trail. Here are a few ways you can make water from nearly any source drinkable on your next adventure.

Water Filters

LifeStraw water filtration system
This personal water filtration system can filter up to 1,000 liters of contaminated water without chemicals.LifeStraw

When you’re thinking about buying a new water cleaning system, you first need to know the difference between water filtration and water purification. Filtration, which is easily done with a compact, lightweight, water filtration system, filters water through an internal element or cartridge that has microscopic pores that catch debris, protozoa, and bacteria as water moves through the device. Many filters also include activated carbon in the elements to remove unpleasant tastes. Different types of filters include pump filters, gravity filters, bottle filters, squeeze filters and straw-style filters. Many experts recommend that those outdoors adventurers who choose to use a filtration system also use a pre-filter to ensure the water is as pure as possible before consuming it.

Water Purifier

Potable Aqua Purification Tablets
These water purifying tablets can make contaminated water bacteriologically suitable to drink within 35 minutes.Potable Aqua

Unlike filtration systems, most water purifiers use chemicals like iodine to kill viruses, which are too small for most filter elements to capture. Aside from being convenient, purifying tablets are easy to use, easy to pack and carry, and very inexpensive. In truth, outdoor enthusiasts should take some along even if someone also has a trusted filter, just in case the filter breaks or is lost. On the downside, water purifying tablets take a long time to work before they’re effective (30 minutes to four hours or longer), some give the water a chemical taste, and many aren’t effective against Cryptosporidium, although they work fine against other types of protozoa.

Alternative Solutions

Survivor Filter Water
This water filtration bottle removes 99.9 percent of protozoa, virus, staph and bacteria, along with 99.5 percent of mercury and 93 percent of lead.Survivor Filter

Of course, you can also use your camp stove to purify water easily, although it takes a little time and you’ll need to carry extra fuel, just in case. To purify water by boiling, bring tainted water to a rolling boil inside a pot for one minute, or three minutes if you’re located above 6,500 feet elevation. It’s easy to boil water to kill impurities, but it does have drawbacks, like the time and effort required to boil the water, and the extended wait time for the water to cool. Ultraviolet light purifiers are also quite quick and efficient, and don’t require you to have a filter along. However, they require batteries, which can die on you at inopportune times. Also, you’ll need to give tainted water multiple treatments if you’re trying to purify large quantities.