Best Ways to Purify Water When Camping | The Smart Survivalist Blog (2023)

Imagine that you’re out there, away from the civilization. Camping, hiking, even escaping whatever disaster, natural or man-made, has struck your town. You find a stream, a water source. Can you drink directly from it, without treating the water? You cannot, the water might be polluted with dangerous pathogens, such as bacteria and parasites.

What are the best ways to purify water when camping? In my experience, the most effective purification methods are:

  1. Boiling
  2. Chemical treatment
  3. Reverse osmosis
  4. Squeeze filter
  5. Distillation
  6. Desalination
  7. Cloth filtration
  8. UV water purification
  9. Slow sand filters
  10. Stone/ceramic filtration

At this point you’re wondering, how exactly do they work? How can you use them while camping? And how do you store filtered water? Let’s answer these questions.

10 Best Ways to Purify Water When You’re Camping

The following are 10 different methods for purifying water to make it drinkable. Use your discretion to judge which method is the best one for the situation at hand.


One of the oldest and most widely used methods of water purification is boiling (using camp fire or a portable water heater), which is effective at killing microorganisms in the water. That being said, the water may still have a taste, may still be murky, and may still have chemical traces depending on the source you’ve used. Use this in combination with other methods if necessary. Boiling water is a very simple process if you have the right equipment, but in extreme situations it may become necessary to improvise.

Chemical Treatment

Chemical treatment is used by many municipal water supplies, mostly in addition to other methods of treatment. This will kill off many microorganisms present in the water, but does not prove effective in getting rid of chemical pollutants or murkiness.

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Chlorine is one chemical that can be used for purification in emergency circumstances, with most chlorine bleach containing around 5% chlorine. This is an effective method for almost immediately killing off most microorganisms in water, since bleach is a heavy oxidant, but be careful to not add too much. You should add around 4 drops of bleach per quart/liter.

Another basic chemical purification method utilizes iodine, though this will take a bit longer than chlorine. Since iodine is frequently found in first aid kits, this method of water purification could still be useful in an emergency situation where you’re somewhat away from civilization. Iodine kills an array of commonly found pathogens, but not all of them – so you should still be careful. To use iodine, leave the water to warm in the sun for some time and add between 5 and 10 drops per quart/liter, depending on how clear the water is. Alternatively, you can use iodine tablets for water purification (available at most camping stores). Leave the water to sit for at least 30 minutes before drinking or using for cooking and washing.

Best Ways to Purify Water When Camping | The Smart Survivalist Blog (1)Best Ways to Purify Water When Camping | The Smart Survivalist Blog (2) If you’re looking for the most effective purification tablets, then I personally recommend Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets. They cost almost nothing on Amazon (see the link), but their true value is immeasurable. After just 35 minutes, any questionable water becomes suitable to drink, as the tablets kill all the germs and neutralize the water. These wonderful tablets actually improve the taste of the water (unlike the regular iodine ones) and are widely used by the military and emergency services. You should really check them out!

Reverse Osmosis

Another popular method for purifying water at home is the reverse osmosis filtration, which applies pressure to remove solid particles such as salts. As such, it can be used for desalination as well as filtering out the added fluoride from your municipal water supply.

Reverse osmosis typically utilizes filter systems, whether attached to your tap or in a specialized pitcher. Many of these systems are quite affordable and simple enough to be suitable for home use, so you should consider this if you’re looking for a basic drinking water filter because you don’t like the water that comes out of your taps. There are some reverse osmosis systems which are portable enough to carry if you’re looking for a water filter for camping.

Squeeze Filter

Best Ways to Purify Water When Camping | The Smart Survivalist Blog (3)Best Ways to Purify Water When Camping | The Smart Survivalist Blog (4) Probably the safest and most reliable solution is a squeeze water filter system. This type of filter is usually made of quality micro-tube membrane. Its microscopic holes don’t let anything harmful to pass with the water. The absolutely best system of this type is Sawyer Products PointOne Squeeze Water Filter System, available on Amazon. It guarantess the removal of 99. 99999% of all bacteria as well as 100% of microplastics. You can take this filter system on any trip, and it’s a lifesaver in any emeregency situation. Water from any source will be successfully treated and made safe to drink.

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Distillation is effective at removing many contaminants from water, as well as for the purposes of desalination. This process involves heating the water so that it evaporates and collects in a pipe leading to another container, thus removing many impurities that can be found in water. Since water from unknown sources can contain dangerous pathogens such as E. coli, distillation provides a viable solution for making potable water in a desperate situation.

Traditional distillation apparatus requires a sealed pot set up over a heat source, with a pipe at the top for steam to collect. This pipe typically passes through water for the sake of cooling, and leads to a vessel for collecting the distilled water/liquid. Heating the water should kill any pathogens in it, and distillation will filter out any impurities in the water. It may become necessary to distill water multiple times in order to produce completely clean water, so don’t drink right away.

There are solar distillation methods which could be useful in any outdoor situation, be it camping or getting lost in the wilderness. You can buy a kit for solar water distillation, but it’s also possible to fashion one out of a few readily available components that you should be able to scrape together. A solar still is also suitable for the purposes of desalination, so the aforementioned kits are a must have if you’re planning to go camping anytime soon.

A solar still contains two troughs: one for the contaminated water, and an empty one for collecting the distilled water. A piece of glass is placed at an angle over the contaminated water trough, angling down into the collection trough for the distilled water. In order to increase the amount of energy absorbed from the sun, it’s useful to use a black trough for the contaminated water (or to paint it black). This method is basically taking advantage of the processes of evaporation and condensation, and beyond setting up a solar still and adding the water, it requires little effort and no additional filters or technology.


While you can certainly desalinate water using distillation or reverse osmosis, there are other ways that could prove more practical if you find yourself stuck at sea or on a deserted island somewhere and don’t have potable water. There are portable desalination kits available, which you should take to sea with you, or in case of hiking along a sea beach. These include solar stills as well as filter systems and other setups, though the former may be the easiest to take with you.

Cloth Filtration

If there is a lot of particulate matter present in the water, cloth filtration becomes an option. This will not filter out any pathogens or pollutants, so you should only use this method with relatively clean water or prior to purifying the water through other means. You can also set up a more complex filtration system using roots and cloth, which will give you clear water that’s still not necessarily safe to drink. While cloth filtration might not make for the ideal drinking water filter, it will still remove some of the impurities. Here is a video that demonstrates this method:

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UV Water Purification

Ultraviolet light stops microbes from reproducing, which vastly reduces their potential for harm. The drawback of UV purification is that you should not expose the water to sunlight for any length of time, or else there’s a chance of the microbes reactivating and thus becoming harmful again. It’s also a known method of filtration when you’re harvesting rainwater.

You can buy UV water purification systems, some of which are small and portable enough to carry with you. While you will still need a power source to charge it, there are UV water purification pens that you can charge using a normal USB connection (even from your laptop). These are a great idea to keep on hand (and keep charged), should you find yourself in a situation where the only potable water source is subject to microbial contamination.

Slow Sand Filters

Slow sand filters produce relatively clear water free of pathogens, taste and odor. They do not necessarily remove all bacteria from the water. This might not be the most practical setup for a water filter for camping, if you need something for short-term use. It may still be an option if you’re stuck in the wilderness for a long time and need a long-term solution to water filtration, or if you’re building a camping site. It can also be a great solution if you’re trying to survive in the desert.

Slow sand filters are built with a layer of gravel on the bottom, upon which coarse sand is placed. Finer sand is place on top of this, and the water is allowed to flow through from the top. The subsequent layers filter out any sand particles in the water, while many contaminants are filtered out when they pass through the biofilm layer that grows in the top. The addition of charcoal will filter out any flavors or odors present in the water.

Stone/Ceramic Filtration

Stone and ceramic filters for drinking water have existed for centuries, and are still commonplace in many parts of the world. These include jempeng stones and various ceramic filters, usually of the type using a container with two separate parts. In most ceramic filters, contaminated water is placed in the upper portion and slowly collects in the lower one, passing through a ceramic filter. A jempeng stone filter works in a similar manner to ceramic filters, with the water being filtered through porous stone in order to remove any murkiness or other particulate matter. If you’re looking for a great water filter for camping, you might consider a ceramic or jempeng stone setup.

How to Store the Water after Filtration

Once you’ve actually purified the water for drinking, you need a safe way to store it so that it doesn’t get contaminated all over again. If you have any clean containers or bottles with you, this is the obvious answer. It’s generally better to allow containers to thoroughly dry in the sun (if that’s at all possible in your circumstances), so as to avoid contaminating your freshly potable water with waterborne pathogens or other pollutants. You can also calculate exactly how much water you need to store to remain constaly hydrated.

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Nearly anything that you can find will do, but it’s better if your water is protected from sunlight and from being left open. Open water containers can become standing water pretty quickly, risking re-contamination as well as eventually becoming a breeding grounds for mosquitoes. If you decontaminated your water using UV purification methods, it’s absolutely essential that the treated water is not exposed to any source of light for any duration of time, or else the deactivated pathogens will be reactivated and begin reproducing once more.

Best Ways to Purify Water When Camping | The Smart Survivalist Blog (5)Best Ways to Purify Water When Camping | The Smart Survivalist Blog (6) I did some extensive research, and one of the best water storage products on the market is Cherainti Hydration Bladder on Amazon. It sastisfies your thrist on the go and fits in every backpack. Thanks to its unique design, it’s leakproof and can be easily filled and cleaned. It’s also very durable and safe to drink from.

Related Questions

Is campground water safe to drink? If you’re situated at a campsite, you can rely on the signs that you see next to the body of water. If a sign has an image of a crossed out tap, or you see purple colored pipes nearby, then it is not safe to drink from here. Consider using purification methods discussed earlier.

Can you shower in non-potable water? If there is no other option, then the answer is yes. However, be very careful not to swallow any water accidentally. Untreated water contains malicious pathogens, as we already mentioned in this post. Just to be safe, see if you can at least filter the water that you intend to use for washing.

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Best Ways to Purify Water When Camping | The Smart Survivalist Blog? ›

Best Ways to Purify Water When Camping
  1. Boiling.
  2. Chemical treatment.
  3. Reverse osmosis.
  4. Squeeze filter.
  5. Distillation.
  6. Desalination.
  7. Cloth filtration.
  8. UV water purification.

What is the best way to purify water while camping? ›

Boiling is the surest method to kill disease-causing organisms, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Bring water to a full rolling boil for 1 minute (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for 3 minutes), then allow it to cool before use.

How do you filter dirty water in the wilderness? ›

How to Purify Water in the Wild
  1. Gather your materials. First, you'll need a container like a coffee can, glass bottle, stainless-steel pot, or water bottle. ...
  2. Dig your hole. ...
  3. Place your container. ...
  4. Cover the hole with plastic. ...
  5. Place a pebble on top of the plastic. ...
  6. Remove the container from the hole. ...
  7. Filter your water.
Jan 25, 2022

What are 5 ways to purify water? ›

Here are some of the most effective water purification methods that have stood the test of time:
  1. Boiling. The simplest method to purify water is to boil it for a good time. ...
  2. Water Purifier. ...
  3. Reverse Osmosis. ...
  4. Water Chlorination. ...
  5. Distillation. ...
  6. Iodine Addition. ...
  7. Solar Purification. ...
  8. Clay Vessel Filtration.

How do you purify water in the backcountry? ›

Boiling water before drinking is one of the most reliable ways to purify drinking water. The basic rule is to make sure you bring the water to a rolling boil for 1 minute at lower altitudes and 3 minutes at altitudes above 2000 meters. Boiling will eliminate bacteria, protozoa, and even viruses.

What is the safest way to purify water in a survival situation? ›

In order to kill the parasites, bacteria, and other pathogens in water, the most reliable thing to do is boil the water. Boiling will not evaporate all forms of chemical pollution, but it is still one of the safest methods of disinfection.

What is the best survival water purification system? ›

Best portable water boiler
  • Potable Aqua 100 Water-Purification Tablets With PA+ Plus. ...
  • Berkey Filters Big Berkey Gravity-Fed Water Filter. ...
  • LifeStraw Flex Advanced Water Filter With Gravity Bag. ...
  • Sawyer Mini Water-Filtration System. ...
  • LifeStraw Personal Water Filter. ...
  • Roving Blue O-Pen Ozone Purifier.
Dec 17, 2021

Is boiled water the same as distilled water? ›

No, they aren't the same. Boiled water is simply water that has had the temperature increased until it reaches its boiling point. This kills a host of bacteria that can make a person sick. Distilled water is water that has been stripped of all impurities, including minerals and microorganisms.

Does boiling water distill it? ›

Once the water entirely vaporizes, that vapor is put into a clean container where it condenses back into pure water. So merely boiling the water will not distill it, it will only potentially remove few toxins.

Can I use boiled water instead of distilled water? ›

At the same time, boiling does not have an effect on other impurities like minerals, and so these remain in the water. Therefore, while boiled water can't be used in the ways that distilled water is used because of its mineral content, it can be consumed.

How do you purify water without boiling it? ›

Disinfect water using household bleach, if you can't boil water. Only use regular, unscented chlorine bleach products that are suitable for disinfection and sanitization as indicated on the label. The label may say that the active ingredient contains 6 or 8.25% of sodium hypochlorite.

Can rocks purify water? ›

Sandstone: Fine-grained rocks such as sandstone make good aquifers. They can hold water like a sponge, and with their tiny pores, they are good at filtering surface pollutants.

How can you tell if water is safe to drink in the wild? ›

Check how it looks. The appearance of the water is not a guarantee that it is safe to drink, but water that is clear, free of surface scum or debris, and has no odour is more likely be to free of contaminants than cloudy, smelly water that has visible surface scum.

What are 3 ways to purify water? ›

Three Ways To Purify Water
  1. Boiling. Bring the water to a rolling boil for 3-5 minutes. Let cool before drinking.
  2. Disinfect. You can use household liquid bleach (regular household bleach contains 5.25% sodium hypochlorite) to kill microorganisms. ...
  3. Distillation. Fill a pot halfway with water.

What is a natural way to clean well water? ›

You can boil the well water for 5 minutes. With this, all the bacteria inside it will be eliminated. However, boiling will not be able to remove the solids and other materials inside the well water. The use of chlorine drops or iodine tablets can effectively kill the bacteria in the well water.

How can you naturally purify water? ›

Below are some common DIY water filtering methods you can use.
  1. Boiling. Heating water at a rolling boil for 1 minute makes it safe to drink. ...
  2. Tablets or drops. ...
  3. UV treatment. ...
  4. Activated charcoal. ...
  5. Travel-size sediment filters. ...
  6. DIY portable sediment filters. ...
  7. Fruit peel filters.
Feb 24, 2021

What is most effective method for treating water in the backcountry? ›

Boiling water is the most effective way to remove harmful microorganisms from untreated water sources. Bring water to a rolling boil. Continue to boil for 1 minute or, to conserve fuel, remove from heat but keep pot covered for several minutes. Muddy water should stand for a while to allow silt and debris to settle.

How do you Sterilise hiking water? ›

Ultraviolet Light

UV light destroys over 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa including giardia and cryptosporidium. It needs non-cloudy water to be truly effective and requires batteries to operate.

Does boiling water make it safe to drink? ›

If you don't have safe bottled water, you should boil your water to make it safe to drink. Boiling is the surest method to kill disease-causing germs, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites. adding a pinch of salt for each quart or liter of boiled water.

Can you drink your own urine with LifeStraw? ›

But should you use it to drink your own pee? The LifeStraw may make pee safe to drink, but the talk show hosts' horrified expressions suggest that it didn't taste great. Still, if you find yourself stranded, using a LifeStraw is safer than consuming urine straight from the source.

Can you drink salt water with a LifeStraw? ›

Because pool water may have an abundance of salt and chemicals beyond chlorine, we do not recommend filtering pool water with your LifeStraw. LifeStraw products also do not work in saltwater or brackish water.

What is better than LifeStraw? ›

The Clear Winner

The Sawyer Mini is better than the lifestraw because it has a 0.1 micron filter (vs 0.2 micron filter) and can clean up to 100,000 gallons of water (vs 4,000 gallons). While the LifeStraw is also an amazing product, it pales in comparison to all that the Sawyer Mini can do.

Can you distill water in the microwave? ›

Be safe when microwaving water

Just taking the container out can cause the water to explode out of the container and cause serious scalding/burns." And because distilled water, by definition, has no impurities, it is more likely to become superheated than regular tap water.

Can you distill water in a kettle? ›

Use a plastic bowl to quickly put over the kettle. Keep it there for about five minutes. The steam will be caught and trapped by the plastic bowl. All the steam will turn to liquid, which is your distilled water.

Why is there a shortage of distilled water 2021? ›

Why Is Distilled Water Lacking In Stores? Many waves of panic caused by the Coronavirus have resulted in a rush to empty distilled water from grocery stores and a shortage of protective gloves and masks.

Is rain water distilled water? ›

This is because rainwater is pure, distilled water evaporated from the sun - nothing else. However, when rainwater falls from the sky, substances from the air and land melt into the rainwater. Fortunately, when rainwater soaks into the ground, it then becomes mineral water.

How do I make my own distilled water? ›

The process of distilling is simple: Heat tap water to the point that it turns to vapor. When the vapor condenses back to water, it leaves behind any mineral residue. The resulting condensed liquid is distilled water.

How can I quickly distill water? ›

How to make your own distilled water
  1. First, place the large pot over a stovetop burner and add 8 cups of water. ...
  2. Next, turn the burner to somewhere between medium and medium-high heat. ...
  3. After you put the burner on, place the lid upside-down on the large pot. ...
  4. At this point, you can sit back and wait.
3 days ago

What is the best substitute for distilled water? ›

An alternative to distilled water is mineral water. The process of distilling is simple. Heat tap water to the point that it turns to vapor.

Is boiling water better than filtering? ›

Water filters are way more reliable and more powerful at cleaning water. Boiling water will purify water to some extent, but you'll be drinking “dead” water, poor in nutrients and other useful microelements. The only way to ensure the water you drink is beneficial for your health is to use a high-quality water filter.

Can you make distilled water with a coffee maker? ›

Does a Coffee Maker Distill Water? A coffee maker does not distill water as it is not capable of boiling or steaming the water. To distill water, you need to boil it and then collect the condensed steam. Therefore, you can not use a coffee maker as a still.

Can you drink lake water with a LifeStraw? ›

With the LifeStraw, you can drink directly from a water source (such as a stream, mud puddle, or lake), but keep in mind the ground might be soggy.

How can I make a homemade water filter? ›

DIY: Make Swamp Water Drinkable! King Of Random Dives Into How To ...

What do cotton balls do in a water filter? ›

The cotton ball layer helps to keep the other layers of your filter from falling out into your water. The sand layer acts as a coarse filter for large muddy particles and to keep the activated charcoal or clay particles from getting into the cleaned water.

Can sand purify water? ›

Mainak Majumder and colleagues note that sand has been used to purify water for more than 6,000 years, and sand or gravel water filtration is endorsed by the World Health Organization.

What is the safest and cleanest source of water? ›

Generally, both groundwater and surface water can provide safe drinking water, as long as the sources are not polluted and the water is sufficiently treated. Groundwater is preferable over surface water for a number of reasons.

Is rainwater safe to drink? ›

There is nothing inherently unsafe about or wrong with drinking rainwater, as long as it's clean. In fact, many communities around the world depend on rainwater as their primary source of drinking water.

Can you drink from a freshwater stream? ›

Never drink water from a natural source that you haven't purified, even if the water looks clean. Water in a stream, river or lake may look clean, but it can still be filled with bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can result in waterborne diseases, such as cryptosporidiosis or giardiasis.

How do you purify water when hiking? ›

Luckily, there are now many simple and convenient ways to purify water obtained along the trail when you're out for a nice hike. You can choose from chemical treatment (iodine or chlorine), filtration, ultraviolet light, or boiling. Each of these methods is very effective when used properly.

Is camping water safe to drink? ›

It is probably safe to drink, but it sure isn't enjoyable to drink. We have also noticed some water didn't leave our clothes or dishes very clean. Also, your gut gets used to the microorganisms and chemicals in your local water. When you move around as much as we do, your body is constantly trying to adjust.

How does boiling water purify it? ›

Boiling the water kills microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, or protozoans that can cause disease. Boiling makes the tap water microbiologically safe.

How long should you boil water to purify? ›

Bring the clear water to a rolling boil for 1 minute (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for 3 minutes). Let the boiled water cool. Store the boiled water in clean sanitized containers with tight covers.

What is the best survival water purification system? ›

Best portable water boiler
  • Potable Aqua 100 Water-Purification Tablets With PA+ Plus. ...
  • Berkey Filters Big Berkey Gravity-Fed Water Filter. ...
  • LifeStraw Flex Advanced Water Filter With Gravity Bag. ...
  • Sawyer Mini Water-Filtration System. ...
  • LifeStraw Personal Water Filter. ...
  • Roving Blue O-Pen Ozone Purifier.
Dec 17, 2021

How can you tell if water is safe to drink in the wild? ›

Check how it looks. The appearance of the water is not a guarantee that it is safe to drink, but water that is clear, free of surface scum or debris, and has no odour is more likely be to free of contaminants than cloudy, smelly water that has visible surface scum.

How long does cooled boiled water stay sterile? ›

Boiled water can be kept in sterilized, properly sealed containers in the refrigerator for 3 days or for 24 hours if kept at room temperature out of direct sunlight.

Can you boil river water and drink it? ›

You can, but you shouldn't. River or creek water can contain bacteria, viruses, and parasites such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, and Shigella. These can lead to illnesses such as gastroenteritis, diarrhoea, and symptoms such as fever, bloating, nausea, fatigue, and coughing.

What is a natural way to clean well water? ›

You can boil the well water for 5 minutes. With this, all the bacteria inside it will be eliminated. However, boiling will not be able to remove the solids and other materials inside the well water. The use of chlorine drops or iodine tablets can effectively kill the bacteria in the well water.

How do you boil water in a survival situation? ›

Survival Skills: How to Boil Water with Rocks - YouTube

What bacteria can survive boiling water? ›

Although, some bacterial spores not typically associated with water borne disease are capable of surviving boiling conditions (e.g. clostridium and bacillus spores), research shows that water borne pathogens are inactivated or killed at temperatures below boiling (212°F or 100°C).

How do you boil water when camping? ›

It's really straightforward to boil water while camping:
  1. Light your camping stove using a lighter, matches or built-in spark.
  2. Put your pan of cold water on the stove and cover it with a lid if you have one.
  3. Turn the heat up and wait until you can see steam escaping out of the lid. You might hear bubbles too as it boils.
Apr 13, 2022


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