6 Best Ways to Make Your Water Safe in the Wilderness

As an amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases. Read more about us

Water filtration is the process of eliminating microscopic bacteria and physical dirt from water thus making it clean and safe for drinking. This is not similar to water purification, which, on the other hand, is the use of chemical and non-chemical methods to eliminate all bacteria and viruses from water to make it safe for drinking. In general, filtration only removes some bacteria and physical dirt but not viruses as they are too small to be filtered out. And, here’s where purification comes in to eliminate the viruses that could not be removed through filtration. Luckily, most of the water, at least in the developed countries, can be made safe for drinking by filtration only.

We know that campers and backpackers often have the challenge of access to sufficient drinking water. This is because oftentimes they cannot manage to bring along enough water from home to last the entire camping or backpacking period. To get by, they have to turn to readily available water in the outdoors and since they cannot use it as it is, they have to filter it first.

drinkable water at the campsite

Fortunately, there are lots of filtration options available, both commercial and DIY that campers and backpackers can exploit to obtain safe drinking water. The following are some of the water filtering tips that we shall be highlighting in this article:

How to Purify Water While Camping ( 6 Clever Tips )

  1. Wood Tubing

    This involves using an improvised tube and a piece of wood to filter water. To set it up, you need a piece of wood (sapwood works best) and a tube. If the tube is not available, you can improvise one by cutting a water bottle. Then place the piece of wood inside the tube and push it halfway inside ensuring that it is airtight enough. Then pour water into the tube from one end and place it vertically into a container. Allow the water to drip through the tube into the container. This method yields up to 4 liters of filtered water in a day, which is pretty much sufficient for one person.

    The only downside to the wood tubing method of filtering water is that it is slow. But, you can trust the safety of the water that is filtered through this process especially if you use sapwood. Research shows that sapwood eliminates up to 99% of bacteria in water. Unfortunately, it still isn’t good enough to eliminate microscopic viruses. If you are camping in a large group of friends and family, this method would not be ideal for you. But, you can still set up several wood tubing filters and each will yield approximately 4 liters. If you are camping in an undeveloped country, you can go ahead and boil the filtered water. This will guarantee 100% safe drinking water.
    Wood Tubing for filtering water

  2. Rock and Sand Layer

    This is another water filtering method that is popular with survivalists. It entails setting up a layered log/bag or container through which dirty water drips into a clean container. To set up this filter, you will need a clean container, a large water bottle/log or bag, fine sand, coarse sand, pebbles, and charcoal. If you are using a water bottle, cut off the bottom then make small holes in the bottle top and put it back in place. Also, make two holes close to the rim of the cut bottom and tie a piece of rope to serve as the handle for the inverted bottle. This will help to hang the bottle someplace as water drips through it into a clean container. Now invert the cut bottle and pour in the first layer of fine sand followed by coarse sand, pebbles, and charcoal then fine sand again at the top.

    Once you have created the layered filter, the next thing is to hang it strategically and place a clean container beneath. Now pour water from the top and allow it to drip through the layers into the clean container. The different layers will help to eliminate dirt and quite a number of bacteria but obviously not all of them. The method yields more water than the wood and tubing method and so it can be used in a large group of campers.

  3. Clothe Sieving

    If visible dirt and debris are all you want to get rid of in your water, then this would be the perfect filtering process you could use. Just take a piece of cloth or shirt and use it as a sieve to pour water through it into a container. It is going to eliminate just about every piece of debris and mud present in the water. However, you might want to purify the water further if you intend on drinking it. This is because the filtration alone will not get rid of microscopic bacteria and viruses. More often than not, this filtration method works best for water not meant for drinking. You wouldn’t be 100% safe drinking water whose only filtration has been through a piece of cloth. Use the water for showering maybe, or preparing meals. But for drinking, it’s better if you purify it further.

    Water Filtration Using Fabric

  4. Decanting in a Container

    This entails putting dirty/muddy water in a container and then allowing it to settle for about 12 hours. After this amount of time elapses, all the mud and debris will settle at the bottom of the container. So, you need to carefully pour the clean water into a separate container ensuring the dirt doesn’t pour over with it. Obviously, this method does not get rid of any bacteria in the water. It just makes it clean. Use it as the first step to purifying water in case you are dealing with water that is full of visible dirt. Follow up with more effective methods of filtering water to achieve the best results.

  5. Survival Straws

    A survival straw is a type of drinking straw fitted with filters to help with the elimination of bacteria, protozoa, and other impurities in the water except for viruses. Some manufacturers sell the straw with an accompanying bottle while others sell it as a standalone straw that you can use on any bottle of your choice. One of the best things about survival straws is its ability to eliminate bad odors and tastes. This is made possible by the carbon filter that is fitted inside the straw.

    You should, however, be sure about the condition of the water before you use a survival straw on it. Water in undeveloped countries would still be unsafe even with a survival straw so be warned. Ideally, only use it on the water that is rated safe for filter only. This way, you will be sure you are getting the best service from your survival straw.

  6. Gravity/Pump Filters

    Both a gravity and pump filter performs filtration as well as purification on the water. A pump filter makes use of a ceramic filter that is capable of getting rid of large amounts of pathogens. They also have silver elements that are known for their effectiveness in eliminating different types of viruses residing in water. The good thing with pump filters is that they have very large capacities that yield lots of water per minute. The only downside to these filters is that they use batteries. Those that operate without batteries are manual and will require you to use your arms to facilitate the filtration process.

    Gravity filters, on the other hand, do not use any batteries or human effort to run. However, they are slower and you would have to specifically look for one that does both filtering and purifying. One common challenge with gravity/pump camping water filters is that they are usually bulky and would pose transportation problems to a backpacker or survivalist. Whether you are using a pump or gravity filter, never be too sure about the purity of the water especially if you are camping in a region with challenges of pure drinking water. Most campsites in the US and Canada have no such challenges and one would get away with just filtering the water. Still, it would be great if you took the time to either boil or use other chemical purification processes just to ascertain that the water is safe for drinking.

Related: Best Portable Water Filters for Camping

Pump Filter


Camping outdoors should not affect the way you use water at all. The various filtration methods mentioned above will do a great job of providing you with the safest water possible both for drinking and other purposes. Just be sure to use these tips effectively and you will not have anything to worry about as far as water safety is concerned. The best way to ensure that you are having the best filtration practice is to use more than one method. Preferably, you will have to make use of methods that eliminate both bacteria and viruses. Most of the methods, if used on their own, will only eliminate bacteria leaving behind harmful viruses. Despite being bulky, gravity and pump filters have the ability to eliminate both bacteria and viruses and this makes them the right choice for campers and survivalists.

Like This Article? Share On...


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Articles