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Finding and Purifying Water

Mar 25, 2008
What amount of water is recommended for a trip? This is a typical first question new adventurers ask when the topic of an adequate water supply is brought up. The average human needs two quarts for drinking, food preparation, and cooking. Several gallons per person can easily be used when you consider bathing and washing out clothing while on the trail. These non-food and drink needs do not have to meet the same exacting standards of purity. Most travelers want to feel confident the water is sufficiently free of human destructive germs and chemicals. This helps in the prevention of illness from touching bathing water, or wearing clothes washed in an impure pond.

Finding Naturally Pure Water

The normal places to find water are springs, creeks, lakes, and ponds located along the trail or nearby campsites. The general rule of purity is the closer that the water source is to an underground reservoir, the better. If possible, water from open sources, such as streams, should be drawn from below the surface of the water flow. Avoid any water that has a discolored scum on its surface, or gives off an odor you can smell as you approach. Stay away from water sources with oil or water with floating matter on the surfaces. Never drink sea water or urine as you will become dehydrated.

When there are no natural flowing sources available, you can seek secondary sources. Snow should not be used directly as drinking water, however, it may be heated on a stove, or over a fire, to melt it before you start any purification process discussed below. A heavy morning dew can supply water, or rain water can be collected in a bowl type vessel. The least desirable sources are water from tree crotches or rock crevices. In an emergency, scrutinize ants or bees going into holes of a tree. This often indicates that there is water stored inside.

Purifying Water with Heat

Water can be purified by first straining out solid impurities. Simply use a cloth over a funnel shaped device. The water can then be brought to a vigorous boil. If you have sufficient fuel, keep it boiling for a full 10 minutes. If you have equipment that can be used to improvise a distillery, that would be an even better way to purify the water. Once the water is boiled or distilled, let it cool. You can add taste to the water by aerating the water when you pour it between two or more clean storage vessels.

The Chemicals and Concentrations for Purity

When planning your trip, be sure to include water purification chemicals. The best choices are chlorine or iodine. If you have laundry bleach, it can be used as a source of chlorine. For iodine, use the common disinfectant tincture of iodine. If you are using laundry bleach, use two drops per quart of water assuming the water is initially clear. If the water is considerably cloudy, increase the treatment level to four drops per quart of water.

When using tincture of iodine the method is similar, although the measurements are different. For initially clear water, add five drops per quart. For cloudy water, double the amount to ten drops per quart. Mix thoroughly in a bottle with a small hole in the cap. This will allow any expanding gas to dissipate while you shake the bottle for 10 minutes. Let stand with the lid removed for a half hour, or until the odor of chlorine is no longer detectable. Iodine treated water will not smell.
About the Author
Cory Doggett owns and operates several websites specializing in survival and wilderness skills. Visit the Untolerable.com survival forums.
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