True North Blog

Making Water Potable

Making Water Potable

One of the most fundamental elements of life, and to potentially surviving a wilderness emergency, is potable water.  Yet, the methods to making contaminated water safe to drink is often misunderstood.

The process involves two steps, not just one, as many believe or are told, even by the staff at big-box outdoor retail stores.  So, remember, making water potable involves both filtration and purification.

Both steps are needed because, depending on your chosen methods, not all necessarily remove the pathogens that will make you sick, namely parasites, bacteria, and viruses.  Most manufactured filters will remove relatively big critters, like parasites and bacteria, but not viruses.  In turn, many purifications methods will not be fully effective if water hasn’t been initially filtered.

There are several methods to filter water, whether it is a piece of equipment or some improvised means. Such examples include:

In turn, water can be purified through thermal, radiation, and chemical means.  Such examples include:

  • Thermal … bring water to a rolling boil
  • Radiation … SteriPEN, or even simply putting water in a clear bottle and placing it in sunlight
  • Chemical … Iodine or chlorine

Whichever combination of steps that you decide to use, this will help you make safe drinking water in a wilderness survival situation, urban disaster, even a trip overseas.

Personally, I tend to recommend water treatment products from MSR.  In particular, I carry on my outdoor adventures the Miniworks EX Microfilter.  It is a pump that uses a ceramic core as the filter.  But don’t think that this is a modern concept … Ceramic filters had been used in Central America at least a few hundred years ago (they would pour water from local streams into a ceramic pot and use the water that seeped out).  Then, once I filter my water, I add 5 drops of common household bleach to every liter collected to then purify it.

This is just an overview, so consider taking a course to learn more, like our Basic Wilderness Survival course.

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook.

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