Skip to Content

How To Purify Water While Camping: 5 Different Methods

Camping is an enjoyable outdoor activity that allows individuals to connect with nature and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. One essential aspect of a successful camping trip is ensuring a reliable source of clean drinking water.

While camping, it is not always possible to find a pristine water source. Untreated water in the outdoors may contain harmful pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites, which can cause illness. Therefore, it is essential for campers to be familiar with various methods of purifying water.

Understanding how to purify water while camping can provide peace of mind and ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all. So read on to learn more!

how to purify water

Where to Gather Water

Rivers and Streams

Flowing water sources, such as rivers and streams, are ideal for gathering water while camping in the wilderness. They typically have a higher oxygen content, which can help limit the growth of harmful organisms like bacteria and algae.

Choose a spot upstream from any human activity or wildlife to minimize contamination. Look for clear, fast-moving water, as it can indicate that the water source is in better condition than stagnant or slow-moving water.

Lakes and Pools

Lakes and pools can be valid sources for gathering water in more remote areas, but they require additional caution. Since they are often still, contaminants like algae can grow more easily, making them potentially less safe.

When gathering water from a lake, try to find a spot away from the shore where there is less sediment and contamination. Use a container with a long reach or a rope to collect the water rather than wading into the water.

Snow and Rainwater

If rivers, streams, or lakes are not available, you can resort to snow and rainwater as potential water sources while camping. Snow should be clean and free of debris or signs of contamination. Collect fresh, deep snow and melt it gradually using a camp stove or other heating source. Avoid contaminated snow, such as yellow or dirty patches. Rainwater can be collected using a clean tarp, rain jacket, or tent fly and funneling it into a container. Be sure to choose an area free from branches or foliage that might introduce contaminants to the rainwater collection.

When gathering water in the wilderness, always remember to treat or purify it before drinking, regardless of the source. Utilize water purification methods such as boiling, filtering, or using purification tablets to ensure it’s safe for consumption.

Understanding Water Contaminants

Unrecognizable hiker man sitting with backpack and stainless eco bottle of water on nature outdoor.

Types of Contaminants

When purifying water for camping, it is crucial to understand the various types of contaminants that can be present. These contaminants can be broadly classified into three categories:

  1. Microorganisms: This group includes bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Common microorganisms found in water sources are E. coli, Cryptosporidium, and Giardia lamblia.
  2. Chemicals: Chemical contamination can result from both natural and human-related sources. Examples of harmful chemicals present in water are pesticides, herbicides, and industrial waste.
  3. Heavy metals: Heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic can be found in water due to both natural geological processes and human activities, like mining and industrial waste disposal.

Understanding Bacteria and Viruses

Bacteria and viruses are microorganisms that can cause various illnesses in humans if ingested through contaminated water. They are invisible to the naked eye and can be present in seemingly clean water sources. Some common bacteria found in water sources include E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. Viruses like hepatitis A, norovirus, and rotavirus can also pose a threat.

While the presence of bacteria and viruses can be harmful to human health, not all are pathogenic.

Chemicals and Heavy Metals

Chemicals and heavy metals can be equally hazardous to human health when present in water sources. Some common chemicals that may be found in water include pesticides, herbicides, and industrial chemicals. Long-term exposure to these substances can cause chronic health problems or, in some cases, acute poisoning.

Similarly, heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic can accumulate in the body and cause severe health issues over time. These contaminants may be present due to geological processes, mining activities, or industrial waste disposal.

Effectively removing contaminants is crucial to ensuring that the purified water is safe for consumption during your camping trip.

Water Purification Techniques

Woman pouring water from filter jug into glass in the kitchen

1. Boiling Water

Boiling water is a simple and effective method to purify water. To use this technique, bring the water to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute. If you are at an elevation above 6,500 feet, increase the boiling time to 3 minutes. This eliminates most bacteria, viruses, and parasites that might be present in the water.

2. Using Water Filters

Water filters are a popular and convenient option for purifying water during camping trips. They come in several types, such as pump filters, gravity filters, and squeeze filters.

These devices use a filtration membrane or ceramic elements to remove harmful microorganisms, as well as debris and sediment. Water filters are lightweight and portable, making them a suitable choice for backpackers and campers.

3. Chemical Purification

Chemical purification is another effective method to purify water while camping. This method involves adding chemicals such as chlorine, iodine, or chlorine dioxide to the water, which helps to kill bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Iodine tablets and chlorine dioxide tablets are common options for chemical water purification. The process typically involves dissolving the tablets in the water and waiting for the recommended time before consuming the water. Always follow the instructions on the product label for safe and effective results.

4. UV Light Purification

Ultraviolet (UV) light purification is an innovative and efficient option for purifying water while camping.

Devices that use UV light work by emitting ultraviolet light that destroys the DNA of harmful microorganisms, rendering them unable to reproduce or cause illness. To use a UV light purifier, simply immerse the device in the water and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. While this method is highly effective against most pathogens, it may not remove debris or sediment from the water.

5. Distillation

Distillation is another method that can purify water while camping. In this process, water is heated and converted into steam, which leaves behind contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, and heavy metals. The steam is then collected and cooled, returning it to a liquid state as purified water.

While distillation can be more complex and time-consuming compared to other methods, it provides a high level of purification. However, distillation may not always be practical for campers due to its reliance on heat sources and specialized equipment.

Choosing the Right Water Filters and Purifiers

Outdoor kitchen equipment camp fire and brewing tea pot moka coffee drip cup,with wooden table camping gas stove set in nature outdoor,mountain background,concept camp and travel,vintage tone

When preparing for a camping or backpacking trip, having a reliable water purification system is essential. Choosing the right water filter or purifier will depend on factors such as the water source, duration of your trip, and individual preferences.

In this section, we will discuss four common types of water filters and purifiers: Portable Water Filters, Pump Filters, Gravity Water Filters, and Carbon Filters.

Portable Water Filter

Portable water filters, like the popular LifeStraw, are compact and lightweight, making them a favorite among backpackers. These filters function by having the user drink water through a filtration straw or bottle, trapping contaminants in the process.

Most portable water filters can remove bacteria, microorganisms, and sediment from water sources. However, they might not be as effective at removing chemicals or viruses. When choosing a portable water filter, look for one with an NSF certification to ensure that it meets certain standards for water filtration.

Pump Filter

Pump filters are another option for water filtration while camping. With a pump filter, you manually pump water through a filter cartridge, which removes impurities such as bacteria, protozoa, and sediment. Some pump filters also come with additional carbon filters that can reduce chemicals and improve the taste of the water.

While pump filters provide a higher filtration rate than portable water filters, they can be bulkier and require more effort to use. Consider your water needs and personal preferences when deciding if a pump filter is suitable for your camping trip.

Gravity Water Filter

Gravity water filters use the force of gravity to filter water through a cartridge or membrane. With these systems, you fill a bag or reservoir with water, then hang it above your collection container.

The water flows through the filtration element, leaving contaminants behind. Gravity water filters are an excellent option for people who need to purify a substantial amount of water at once, as they don’t require manual pumping or sipping.

Additionally, they can be useful for group camping trips or basecamps, where multiple people need access to clean water. However, they can be slower than other filtration methods and may not be suitable for individual use during long hikes.

Carbon Filter

Carbon filters use activated carbon to remove contaminants from water. They are often integrated into other types of water filters, like the pump and gravity systems mentioned above. Carbon filters are effective at reducing chemicals, improving water taste, and removing odors.

When looking for a water filter with a carbon component, check for an NSF certification to ensure it effectively removes specific contaminants.

Frequently Asked Questions

What to consider when choosing a water filter for hiking?

When choosing a water filter for hiking, consider factors such as weight, ease of use, filter type, and filter lifespan. Lightweight filters are preferable for long distances, while user-friendly ones ensure quick and efficient water treatment.

Additionally, consider the filter’s effectiveness in removing bacteria, protozoa, and viruses, as well as its lifespan to ensure durability and reliability throughout your hiking trips.

How to ensure virus-free drinking water in the wilderness?

To ensure virus-free drinking water in the wilderness, use a purification method that specifically targets viruses. Boiling water is a highly effective option; bring water to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute (or 3 minutes if above 6,500 feet) to kill viruses, bacteria, and protozoa.

Alternatively, consider using a water filter that removes viruses or chemical treatments with virus-killing capabilities, such as those containing iodine or chlorine dioxide.

What are the best practices for treating contaminated water during camping?

When treating potentially contaminated water during camping, follow these best practices:

  1. Source selection: Preferably choose flowing water sources, such as streams or rivers, over stagnant bodies of water. Avoid sources near human or animal waste or those with visible contamination.
  2. Pre-filter: Use a cloth or coffee filter to remove large debris and sediment before applying your chosen purification method.
  3. Purification: Select a reliable water purification method, such as boiling, using a filter, or applying chemical treatments like iodine or chlorine dioxide tablets.
  4. Proper storage: Store treated water in clean and dedicated containers to reduce cross-contamination risks.

Wrapping Up

Camping is a favorite pastime of many, but without clean water, outdoor adventures can quickly turn into dangerous situations.

It’s important for all outdoor enthusiasts and frequent campers to understand the basics of how to purify water while camping.

Check out our camping hub for more helpful tips and tricks to make your next camping trip safe and successful!