How to Purify Water while in the Outdoors:
The ability to obtain safe, potable water outdoors is a necessary skill if you plan to be spending any significant amount of time hiking or camping. After shelter, water is the most important necessity for nearly every outdoor activity. Ideally you’d want to be able to bring potable water from home with you on your trips. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. When it is possible the weight of water and the fact that we require up to 5 gallons of drinking water daily quite often makes it far more practical to purify water from a source near our outdoor activity.
There are four basic methods for treating water. They are outlined individually below. Please keep in mind that whichever method you choose, you should use it for every back country water source even if you think it looks safe. You never know what could be lurking in your water source and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
I: Boiling Your Water
This is the safest method of water treatment, but it usually also the most inefficient. To guarantee that you have killed any dangerous organisms in your water, you must bring it to a rolling boil for at least 5 minutes. This will kill any virus or bacteria that could possibly harm you. Boiling, however, WILL NOT remove any dangerous chemicals in your water. Toxins such as pesticides and oil products will remain after you complete the treatment. Another downside is that you will have to bring or gather fuel to boil your water. You’ll also need to pack a pot and have the patience required to let your water cool down to a tolerable temperature in order to drink it.
II: Chemically Treating Your Water
There are many different ways of treating water chemically. Iodine is probably the most recommended. It’ll kill most dangerous organisms. Bleach added to your water in small amounts will also do the trick. Both of these methods work great in the short term (if you can get past the taste), but they both have long-term side effects that are adverse to your health. Iodine can cause thyroid problems and bleach can kill off all of the helpful bacteria that live in your digestive system.
There are also chemical products on the market designed specifically to treat water while eliminating the long term use risk of iodine or bleach. Aqua Mira is one of these products. All chemical products will require a certain amount of time in your water in order to guarantee that it’s safe to drink. Usually the time range is somewhere from 15 to 30 minutes. If you choose to use chemical treatments, be sure to follow the directions on the packaging to ensure proper use.
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III: Mechanically Filtering Your Water
Mechanical filtering involves the use of filters or osmosis to remove very tiny particles from water. On the plus side, your water is available to consume almost immediately. On the downside, both of these methods can let viruses (which are much smaller than bacteria) into your drinking water. Also, filters usually require some pumping action on your part. You’ll also need to make sure that you’ve installed the filters correctly in order for them to work.
IV: Ultra Violet Radiation for Treating Your Water
This method of purifying water is one of the safest and quickest. The basic principle is that you shine an ultraviolet light source in your water for a set amount of time. Usually this is less than a minute. The radiation will kill any harmful organisms almost immediately. On the downside, this method does not work well for murky water and you’ll have to carry extra batteries to ensure that you’re never out of water. On the plus side, your water is ready to drink almost immediately and has no added taste or ill side-effects from chemicals. Light purifiers are also usually lighter than the pot you would need to boil water or the special equipment you would need to filter water.
If you would like to learn more about using ultraviolet radiation to purify water then you should read the article "The Best Way to Purify Water While Backpacking or Travelling."