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.


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 purify water in the wild with nothing? ›

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

How do you filter sediment for water camping? ›

Pump Filters and Purifiers

Pump-style filters have long been the choice of serious adventurers who need to filter water while camping in the wild. They're easy to use and let you quickly filter a day's worth of water.

What is the best way to filter water while backpacking? ›

Pumps are long-lasting, cleanable, and convenient for quickly filling a bottle. Gravity filters work great for larger groups, and require almost no effort on your part. Squeeze filters are popular with thru-hikers, and can attach directly to a water bottle, bladder, or pouch for instantly drinkable water.

How do you purify water for drinking in the wilderness? ›

The simplest method to purify water is probably boiling. You need to bring the water to a full, rolling boil for at least five minutes to be safe, with some experts recommending an even longer time. The downside to boiling your drinking water is that it removes the oxygen and the water ends up tasting flat.

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 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 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

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.

Do rocks clean water in streams? ›

These connections allow the groundwater to flow through the rock. 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. Dolomite: This type of rock can easily be dissolved by slightly acidic water.

How can I make a homemade water filter? ›

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

Can you filter urine into drinking water? ›

So what if you filter it? Again, sorry to disappoint, the answer is no. The dissolved salts, ions and molecules, like urea, that are present in urine are too small for backpacking filters and even purifiers to remove.

How do you purify large amounts of water? ›

Boiling: Boiling is the best way to kill disease-causing organisms, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites. The high temperature and time spent boiling are very important to effectively kill the organisms in the water. Boiling will also effectively treat water if it is still cloudy or murky.

What is the difference between a water filter and a water purifier? ›

Generally speaking, a water filter is designed to remove waterborne protozoa and bacteria, but not viruses. A water purifier is designed to remove protozoa, bacteria and viruses, offering a higher level of defense.

How do you filter a virus out of water? ›

Boiling can be used as a pathogen reduction method that should kill all pathogens. Water should be brought to a rolling boil for 1 minute. At altitudes greater than 6,562 feet (greater than 2000 meters), you should boil water for 3 minutes.

How do hikers get clean water? ›

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.

How do you filter water without a filter in the wilderness? ›

If you have two containers, try this method for filtering water: Take the first container and fill it with water. Then, put your shirt or some sort of porous layer over the other container. Put your pebbles on top of the cloth and filter your water by pouring it over the stones and into the container.

How can I purify water cheaply? ›

Ten Low-Cost Ways to Treat Water
  1. Ceramic filters. Clay, sawdust and a plastic bucket can make a water filter that catches dirt and disease-causing microbes. ...
  2. Bone char filtration. ...
  3. Slow sand filtration. ...
  4. Everything-but-the-sink portable filter. ...
  5. Bamboo charcoal. ...
  6. Solar distillation. ...
  7. Emergency homemade filter.
Mar 11, 2012

What natural things can filter water? ›

Natural Materials Used for Water Filtration
  • Sand. The use of sand for water filtration dates back 2,000 years. ...
  • Oysters. Oysters naturally filter toxins when they feed. ...
  • Plants. Plants are a natural choice for water filtration, especially in wetland areas. ...
  • Charcoal. Charcoal is a slow, but effective, water filter. ...
  • Coconut.
Apr 24, 2017

How did humans drink water before purification? ›

In ancient times, some people harvested rain in big containers, but many more people used water that had collected naturally in streams, rivers, and in the ground. They could find groundwater rushing by in rivers, or bubbling up from underground through a spring. They could also dig deep into the earth to find water.

What is the safest way to purify water? ›

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.

Is there a water filter that lasts forever? ›

Rightfully named as the '10-Year Water Filter' by Hammacher Schlemmer, it is a filter that purifies up to 25,000 gallons, or approximately 95,000 liters of tap water — without requiring you to replace any cartridges. That is the amount consumed by a family of four over a period of 10 full years!

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.

What can you not drink with a LifeStraw? ›

While the LifeStraw may remove all parasites and bacteria, it does nothing about salt. It cannot be used to make ocean water or other salt water drinkable, and since urine typically has a high salt level, it's going to be like drinking from a salt shaker. Also the LifeStraw does nothing about taste either.

What happens if you drink alcohol through a LifeStraw? ›

Can you drink alcohol with a Lifestraw? #lifestraw#test - YouTube

How long can you survive drinking your own urine? ›

How long can you survive by drinking pee? An extra day or two, at best. A healthy person's urine is about 95 percent water and sterile, so in the short term it's safe to drink and does replenish lost water.

What stones purify water? ›

Historically, shungite is used to purify water. You can use a shungite filter or place the stones in water for 2 to 3 days. Wear it as jewelry. Like other stones, shungite is available as beads or pendants.

How do you naturally filter river water? ›

Boiling Water: This is the most effective method to kill all bacteria. Just maintain a rolling boil for 1 minute (depending on elevation), let cool and you're good to go. Here's more about purifying water by boiling. Pros: No special gear needed.

Which rock absorbs the most water? ›

Science activity

Chalk absorbed the most water for its weight. Its weight doubled. Only plants that can survive in dry conditions grow in areas where granite is the underlying rock, as granite does not retain moisture.

What are good water filter materials? ›

Natural materials such as carbon, ceramic, and sand are some of the most efficient water filtration systems to protect against these deleterious effects.

What is a natural filter? ›

Natural filter means the material adjacent to the screens in Type II wells which is part of the screened formation and which is relatively free of fine-grained material as a result of well development.

Why is your pee always yellow? ›

This coloring is primarily caused by the pigment urochrome, also known as urobilin. Whether your urine is diluted by water or in a more concentrated form determines the appearance of the pigment. The more water you drink, and the more hydrated you become, the lighter the pigment in your urine.

Can you drink your pee in a survival situation? ›

It's not supposed to be in your body. That's why your kidneys filter it out of your blood and into your urine, which, ordinarily, then leaves your system. But if you drink the urine instead, your kidneys have to work harder to filter out that extra urea, which could also lead to kidney failure.

What happens when you boil pee? ›

What Happens When You Boil Urine - YouTube

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 do you drink ocean water if stranded? ›

The most efficient way to desalinate salt water is by using a method called distillation. This is where you boil the water and then collect the condensation. The condensation will provide fresh saltless water for you to drink.

Why should we carry chlorine tablets if we go for camping? ›

Boiling water is a surefire way to kill bacteria, viruses and protozoa in the water that can make you sick. Make sure that you bring the water to a rolling boil for at least one full minute before drinking. 2. Chlorine or iodine tablets are a space-saving and effective way to purify water.

How do you make a survival water distiller? ›

Emergency DIY Water Distillation for Survival Bug-Out Bag - YouTube

Is boiling 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.

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 make pure drinking 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.

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 do you make water drinkable? ›

Make Your Water Safe by:
  1. Boiling. If water is cloudy, allow to settle, then skim the clean water above the sediment. ...
  2. Disinfect by using: Unscented household chlorine bleach or iodine (useful against most, but not all, harmful viruses or bacteria. ...
  3. Filtering.

How do you desalinate water in a survival situation? ›

How to Desalinate Water on a Desert Island - YouTube

Can u boil ocean water and drink it? ›

Making seawater potable

Desalination is the process of removing salt from seawater, making it drinkable. This is done either by boiling the water and collecting the vapor (thermal) or by pushing it through special filters (membrane).

How long can you survive drinking salt water? ›

One can live for weeks even without food, but it takes only three days to choke unto death without water or fresh drinking water, to be specific. Surviving in open seas is dementing and depends on the survivors' ability to apply the required skills and be able to use whatever is available and meant for survival.

Can chlorine tablets be used to purify water? ›

Chlorine is a widely used water disinfectant which kills most viruses and bacteria in water and treats up to 60 litres of water.

Do water purifying tablets work? ›

Water purification tablets can kill pathogens, but will not rid water supplies of harmful pesticides. They are generally safe, but inappropriate use can lead to irritation of the mouth and throat, and can cause stomach problems.

What chemicals are used to make water safe to drink? ›

Chlorine and chloramine are the major disinfectants used in public water systems.


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