Safe Drinking Water In The Wilderness

Safe Drinking Water In The Wilderness

Why Water Is So Important

Water is essential for life. There can be no denying that in the short term, water is the most important commodity for all your wilderness activities. Water in the short term is more important than food and almost as important as breathing oxygen.

The amount of water required by humans for good health varies with age, physical activity, health and environmental conditions. Studies have shown that 2-3 liters per day are sufficient for normal activity levels.

Intense physical activity such as sports and work will increase this volume. In addition to increased activity, increased  Ambient Temperature also requires more water and can increase this volume to well above 10+ liters per day per individual.

The scientific community contends that in relatively healthy individuals, our bodies are composed of approximately 60% water.

This percentage varies with age, health, and level of obesity. From the low 40’s in the very obese to highs of 70% in the newborn, it is very evident that water constitutes a major part of our structure and well-being.

How To Deal With Water Issues In The Wilderness

In this blog, I will deal with 3 ways of making your water safe to drink, and these 3 ways are;

1) Boiling your water to disinfect it.

2) Solar Water Disinfection, which is essentially using the sun’s energy to make water safe to drink, and

3) Filtering your water to remove bacteria and protozoa.

Boiling Your Water

Boiling your water, by bringing it to its boiling point of 100 degrees C / 212 degrees F is the oldest and most effective way of disinfecting your drinking water.

It does not affect the taste of the water and this single and simple step eliminates most of the microbes that are responsible for causing intestine related diseases.

Boiling water at high temperatures takes less time to kill micro-organisms than boiling it at lower temperatures. Many intestinal-affecting micro-organisms such as Hepatitis A ( requires 1 minute of boiling ), E Coli ( less than 1 minute of boiling ) and Giardia ( requires at least 10 minutes of boiling to render the water safe ) require various boiling times.

Since many microbes get eliminated at temperatures above 60 degrees C / 140 degrees F, the popular advice of boiling your water for 10 minutes is very well known, popular and a very accurate means of disinfecting your water.

In addition to the above, boiling your water ensures that you are reaching a temperature of 212 degrees F, without the need of measuring this with a Thermometer. Water does not need to be sterilized for human health.

The boiling of water is an age-old method of disinfecting drinking water and the main reason why I recommend having a metal pot as part of your required equipment whenever you venture into the wilderness.

This metal pot can nestle in a military-style canteen or it can also be a Nalgene- type bottle nestled in a stainless steel or titanium pot such as the Snow Peak models.

I recommend a bottle and pot combination from experience and practicality. These items are very light in weight and their importance to your health, well-being, and survival cannot be argued against.

Solar Water Disinfection

Solar water disinfection is a method of water purification that uses the Sun’s energy to disinfect water that is contaminated with bacteria, protozoa, and viruses.

This is a method similar to boiling water. This method involves placing your bottled water in the sun. Exposing your bottled water to the sun’s rays will raise the temperature of the water and kill many of the microorganisms that are harmful to humans.

This method of water disinfection uses the sun’s heat to bring water temperatures to 70-100 degrees C for a short period of time. This is close to the boiling point but not quite there. This water is referred to as Pasteurized water and does not kill all the microbes that boiling your water does.

While not as good as boiling, this is an interesting and useful method of water purification when other more effective methods are not available.

Filtering Your Water

This is my favorite method of water purification and disinfection. Water filters remove impurities by means of fine physical barriers. They also use biological and chemical processes.

Filters cleanse water differently by using sieving, ion exchanges, adsorption and other means of removing unwanted substances from water samples. Good quality filters can remove particles much smaller than the holes through which this water passes.

There are many types of Water Filters but for the purpose of this discussion, we are mainly concerned with portable water filters. This is the type of water filters that are carried by backpackers, campers, hikers and the military.

These are small, portable and lightweight filters in the 1-2 pound range. They have a mechanical hand pump that forces water through various types of filters. These filters remove bacteria, protozoa, and other microorganisms.

The Water Filters That I Carry Into The Wilderness

For a more detailed description of my, MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter you can visit this link.

This unit comes with a replaceable, ceramic filter. I have been using this filter for many years and I am very pleased with its performance. This water filter also attaches directly to standard size bottles and water bags and can be seen or purchased here:

This water filter is not capable of disinfecting viruses such as Hepatitis A and Rotavirus.

In addition to this hand-pump style water filter, I always carry the LifeStraw available at the following link:

The LifeStraw is a very small and lightweight water filter that has won many International Awards and accolades. For a more detailed description of this excellent Water Filter you can visit this page :

Final Thoughts

These 2 Water Filters provide excellent value for your money. I have been using them for years and they have worked well for me.

There are better hand-pump style water filters on the market, however, it has served me well and I stand by its effectiveness.

The LifeStraw

The LifeStraw is my hands down favorite. This is an Internationally recognized water filter of great repute. At less than 20 Canadian Dollars, there is absolutely NO REASON to not own one, or to ever wander into the wilderness without it!

Do yourself a favor and Get One Today!

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please do not hesitate to leave them below. I will reply to all of these in a timely manner.

14 thoughts on “Safe Drinking Water In The Wilderness”

  1. I have never heard of the solar method before and it sounds like a good method if you have lots of sun.
    I have usually prefer boiling water as the best method but in a crunch would use water sterilization tabs. What do you think of the tabs?

    • Hi, Dinh.

      A solar method is a form of heating/boiling your water. It requires a tremendous amount of sunshine to heat the water to at least 70 degrees C. Water boils at 100 degrees C. At these lower temperatures the water is only Pasteurized and all the bacteria may not have been killed.

      It is, IMO, a method of last resort. I would only use it if I had no other means of making my water safe to drink or in an environment where the smoke from my fire with not bring unwanted danger to me.

      Tabs are good in a crunch. I do not use them personally because of the chemicals they contain. These can include chlorine and bleach.

      Boiling is very popular and effective and I use it a lot.

      Have a look at the Lifestraw. This is a very inexpensive and effective method of filtering water. Would make a great tool and gift for your favorite Boy Scout.

      Read my blog, LifeStraw Personal Water Filter. This blog is dated 2015/11/29. Get back to me if you are unable to locate it.


  2. Hello there,
    I personally think that’s one of the best feelings in the world. When you’re all the way high up in the mountains and you find a source of clean water, literally water coming out of the earth and you drink it. It’s always so cold and fresh, it doesn’t get any better than that. Otherwise, I just boil it if it’s further down the river. Do you really use those water filters? They seem kind of redundant to me, or is there any bacteria that you don’t destroy by boiling water?

    • Hi, Dejan …

      Sounds like you enjoy your time in the mountains as well.

      Yes, I really do use these water filters most of the time. The few times that I do not use them are the times that you have described in your comment. Drinking teeth-freezing water from a swiftly flowing stream is something that every one should experience.

      As you mentioned, boiling water is an excellent and time-tested method of purifying your drinking water. The problem I have with that sometimes, is that all this boiling is very time consuming, not to mention the amounts fuel involved.

      Even if you use wood, you have to build a fire and this is not always possible in some Parks and certainly not an option in ” extreme fire hazard conditions “. If you are using liquid or compressed gas fuels, this gets very expensive, very quickly! The weight of this fuel is also an important consideration, especially on long, extended trips.

      LifeStraw Personal Water Filter is a simple and easy to use water filter that works just like a ” drinking straw ” and has been approved by many reputable international organizations. It is also very inexpensive. Simply put your straw in the stream or lake and drink. The other way is to fill your cup and stick your straw in the cup … easy, quick and no fuel or fire required!

      There are other ” pump-type ” water filters that I use when filtering larger quantities of water.

      MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter is one such filter that I have been using for many years.

      I hope that this explains WHY I use water filters .

      If you have any other comments, suggestions or questions about anything related to outdoor adventuring, please do not hesitate to drop by and ask! Thanks …


  3. Hi

    Great Article

    I actually lived in the Rocky Mountains for an extended period of time and we had to boil our water due to turbidity. It was not a big deal but was kind of frustrating waiting for it to cool down especially in summer.

    The water filters you have suggested would have been handy in this situation and your suggestions are well described.

    I am glad I stumbled across your site.


    • Thanks for dropping by Chris.

      Living in the Rocky Mountains has to be one of the most fortunate events in anyone’s lifetime. Their beauty and awesomeness make them a joy to behold.

      As you mentioned, turbidity and other factors such as bacteria and protozoa require us to disinfect our water supply. I am happy to hear that you did boil your water to disinfect it.

      However, as you probably know all too well, boiling water is time consuming and does require fuel . Doing this a lot, therefore requires a lot of fuel and a lot of time, … time that can be used for exploring or doing other things.

      Nice to read that these water filters would have been useful in your situation.

      If you require any more information on these water filters or on water filtration, please feel free to visit and ask some questions about them. I will be happy to help you further.


  4. Hey Paul:

    Thanks for an interesting read. I am glad to know that boiling water is the best way to make water safe.

    The Light of My Life lives off-the-grid and gets his water directly from the stream that runs past his house. We use filtered water for drinking, but, I was wondering whether it was okay to cook spaghetti and eggs and root vegetables with the stream water.

    The straw sounds like a great way to not have to pack lots of bottled water around….

    • Good Day Netta !

      It would not be wise or correct to give your stream ” certification ” without having tested it . That being said , most clean , flowing water is Safe after filtration and/or boiling . As an extra precaution , I would follow that stream – UPSTREAM – and see that there are no Chemical Run-offs or Dead Animals above your point of water capture .

      To answer your question – most people ” in the know ” , agree that water needs about 10 minutes of boiling to make it Safe . This boiling of your water will kill the ” organics ” but will NOT remove the ” chemical component ” .

      10 minutes of boiling is sometimes ” too much ” for certain foods and can make them – not very tasteful .

      It is very wise to be ” concerned ” about your drinking water .

      Remember that there are 2 enemies – organics and non-organics !

      Enjoy the time you spend in Nature – it is the medicine for these times .


  5. Hey Paul
    I love this article. I have been doing some research on this very topic. I am thinking about moving to a remote area so any advice on water is helpful. I like how you broke it down in to steps and what is more effective than others. I will be taking your advice on board if I do in fact go into the wilderness.

    • Hi Kevin and thanks for reading my post on ” safe drinking water ” .

      There are many ways of filtering your water and I am very happy to hear that you have made it a high priority in your wilderness setting .

      As you are already well aware , water plays a very important role in maintaining good health . Don’t forget that ” boiling ” is also , always available .

      Please stop by again , if you have any more concerns about wilderness life .


  6. Hi Paul

    Great blog on drinking water in the wilderness your three ways of making water safe to to drink are very important in my opinion. Just got a couple of questions for you I have been told a lot that waterfall water is better than standing water and safer because it is moving and not just still. Is that true? Another thing I was wondering do you suggest using all three ways of making water safe in the wilderness boiling water, solar disinfected water, and filtered water. Or what ones are the most important to use? Thanks so much for the educational blog.

    • Hi Tim …

      Thanks for dropping by … generally speaking , running or flowing water is always safer to drink .

      Stagnant water has no way of naturally cleaning itself and is almost always a magnet for mosquitoes and other similar insects , that love to breed in these water zones .

      Having said that , even flowing water can contain dead animal carcasses and feces which can greatly affect your health , when drinking even small quantities .

      This is why I recommend to ALWAYS filter your water . I do this even at home .

      I don’t think that it’s necessary to use all 3 methods mentioned .

      Personally , I always carry 1 or 2 water filters when I am hiking or camping in the outdoors .

      On short , day hikes , I carry a LifeStraw , which is simply ” a straw ” that filters all protozoa and bacteria and on longer trips I also include a pump-style filter that connects to my water bladder .

      Without a filter , I would surely boil my water for 10 minutes to be safe !

      Solar filtration is much slower and not as safe and I would only use it if the other two methods were not available .

      Hope this answers most of your questions , however feel free to return anytime with more questions and answers !


  7. Paul,

    Your advice about how to treat water to make it safe is useful NOT just for the wilderness, but in urban areas as well! Sometimes when city water is not available, these tips could help keep the population safe. Do any of the filters you mention filter out lead? I’m guessing not, or they could send some to the people in the cities whose water is currently contaminated with lead.

    I did NOT know that boiling water for 10 minutes was the way to kill the bacteria etc. I thought you just had to get it up to boiling! So that’s some very good advice!

    I have NEVER heard of Solar Water Disinfection. So that was eye opening!

    And I have heard of filters. In fact, I bought a plastic water bottle with a built in filter, but that was 15 years ago! Do you think it could still work? I was supposed to soak the filter for a few hours (or maybe one day?) before I used it to activate it, but I have never done that. Probably safer to buy a new one!

    Love the filters you suggest.

    Drink safe!


    • Good morning Rodger and thanks for reading my blog . Your comments are greatly appreciated . Get yourself a LifeStraw … they are worth their weight in gold !

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