After hypothermia, dehydration is the number one killer in survival situations. Not only can you die from dehydration itself, but this condition can also speed up other conditions such as hypothermia or hyperthermia.
A lack of water can lead to disorientation. This might cause a person to get turned around in the wild. Dehydration can also cause dizziness, potentially leading to injuries. Under normal conditions the human body can survive three days without water. However, with extreme heat or physical activity a person may only make it a few hours.
At a minimum the average adult needs approximately 1 liter (34 oz) of water per day to survive. A 72-hour survival bag would require you to take along 3 liters of water. Water isn’t light, and it takes up a lot of space. 3 liters of waters will weigh close to 6.5 pounds.
Your survival bag needs to answer the following questions:
- How will you transport your water?
- How will you purify additional water you find?
Transporting Your Water Supply
You are going to have to make some decisions when it comes to how much water you want to try to carry. Does your bug out/get home route have water sources along the way? If not you’ll have to carry a lot more water than if you can replenish as you go.
1) 32 Oz. Wide Mouth Bottle
For starters, we recommend that you carry a large 32 oz. wide mouth Nalgene bottle. These bottles are fairly indestructible, hold a ton of water, and don’t give the water a plastic aftertaste. Get one with measuring units on the side in case you need to pour out a specific amount to re-hydrate food, make coffee or hot chocolate.
These are easy to refill on the go, and the wide mouth is large enough to use with a survival straw like the LifeStraw to filter the water as you drink.
We also like the Camelback Chute 1L water bottle. It has the option of opening a small spout cap for drinking, or the full wide mouth for filling. It doesn’t have measuring units on the side, but it does have a handle that can be clipped on to your pack with a carabiner for easy carrying.
Both of these will get the job done.
Another option is a combination container/filter like the Grayl Ultralight water bottle.
With a bottle like this you don’t have to carry a separate filter. However, at 16oz. it won’t hold as much liquid as the other bottles above.
You will need to make other arrangements to carry additional water. You will pay for the convenience as these are significantly more expensive than the no-filter-included bottles listed above.
2) Collapsable Canteen
In addition to our primary water bottle, we also recommend stowing a Nalgene Wide Mouth Canteen in your pack. This crushable water container holds a whopping 96 oz. of liquid, but folds down to next to nothing when empty.
If you are planning on acquiring more water along the way, this is a great container to hold this additional water. It has a built in grommet so you can clip to your bag with a carabiner or other attachment device (paracord, etc.).
3) Water Bladder/Hydration System
When going on a hike or camping trip, a backpack with an integrated water bladder is an efficient and handy way to carry water. There are some pros and cons, however, for using a water bladder in a survival situation.
Water bladders take up a lot of space in your pack, aren’t puncture resistant, and you can’t tell how much water you have left without taking it off your back. In addition, your water tube can freeze up in a cold weather situation, and standard water bladders don’t make water readily available for filling a pot for your portable stove, washing your hands, or sharing a drink with a member of your party.
On the flip side, you can carry a lot of water quite comfortably with a water bladder. Being able to sip on the go while keeping your hands free is fantastic. If you are going to go with a water bladder solution, you have several options. The typical Camelbak or Source water bladder will work just fine.
But if you can swing it, a GEIGERRIG Pressurized Hydration Engine is the way to go. With this system you can “spray” water to fill up another container, wash your hands, or cool off. You can get an in-line filter as well so you can simply fill and drink on the go.
4) Additional Container Options
If you have room, carrying a couple 20 oz. soda bottle style water bottles can be extremely useful. These are easy to share, and you can screw on a Sawyer Mini water filter to purify your water as you drink.
Don’t underestimate the value of being able to share water with a stranger in need. Handing them a small water bottle might just keep them from eyeing your larger water supply as something they want to take for themselves. You never know how people are going to act when desperation hits them right where they live. Being able to provide a quick solution to aid them while you get on down the road can help prevent the confrontation from escalating to something worse.
You might also consider packing a metal canteen. You can use these to boil and purify water that you find to remove potentially harmful bacteria.
Purifying Your Water Supply
Almost all water you find must be purified. Salt water is not safe to drink as the salt will actually dehydrate you faster. Drinking sea water will cause hallucinations and eventually death. On the other hand, the vast majority of the fresh water on the earth is contaminated by bacteria, parasites, debris, chemicals, and minerals. You cannot assume that water is safe to drink just because it appears clean.
Even spring water can be contaminated my mineral deposits deep within the earth. These contaminants will not kill you immediately, but over time they will make you sick. Drinking tainted water will cause vomiting and diarrhea that will lead to even further dehydration in the end.
Water can be found just about anywhere on earth. Between rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, and swamps there is almost always a source nearby. Even in the desert, water can be found in the ground. So once you find a viable source of drinking water, how will you purify it?
There are several different options you can go with when it comes to purifying water on the go. As always, convenience, mobility and capability are all factors that you must evaluate.
Be aware that no water purification method in the wild is 100% effective. Some come very close, but there are varying degrees of purification. Always choose the method that will give you the best chance of survival for your situation. There is no method that will be perfect for every situation.
1) Straw Filters
Straw style filters like the LifeStraw, Sawyer Mini and Frontier Straw are small and lightweight. You can simply dip the end of the filter into your water source (stream, pond, lake, etc.) and start drinking. However, you would have to get down on your belly if you do not have a container. Also, drawing water through the straw can be a little rough.
Combined with a wide mouth Nalgene bottle, these types of filters are a quick way to purify water. If you want to go this route, a longer straw like the LifeStraw is a simple no-muss, no-fuss solution.
When it comes to straw filters, you can’t beat the Sawyer Mini’s versatility. It comes with a detachable 7″ straw you can use with a Nalgene bottle. It also have a squeezable 16″ water pouch that you can use to fill a larger water bottle.
And you can even thread it onto the end of the standard 20 oz. water bottle or use it as an in-line water bladder filter. At only 2oz, throwing one of these into your survival pack is almost a no-brainer.
2) High Capacity Pump Filters
Remember, you need at least 1L of water per day to stay minimally hydrated. It’s worth it to make space in your kit for a filter with more capacity than your straw filter.
The Katadyn Hiker Pro is a small pump style filter that can can purify a liter of water in about 90 seconds. The MSR Sweetwater Microfilter is another similar option. You simply put one tube into your water source, connect the other side to your container, then pump water through the filter using the handle.
3) Gravity Filters
Finally, there are gravity filters that allow you to filter large amounts of water. These typically have a plastic bladder that you fill with water. You then hang the bladder with a filter down below. Gravity will push the water through the filter giving you gallons of clean water. These are great if you are staying in one place or if you have a group of people to keep hydrated.
Fair warning, these filters are fairly pricey, but they can purify a lot of water in a short period of time.
Quick Tip: With any filter you have to be careful not to let it become clogged. If your source water is fairly muddy, use a coffee filter or bandana to pre-filter the water before running it through your filter system.
4) Chemical Purification
There are certain chemicals that will eliminate bacteria and microorganisms in water. These would include iodine and bleach. They are not products that should be consumed over a long period of time, but for a short survival situation they are fine. A few drops of either chemical in a bottle of water will kill the living organisms that could make you sick. You simply apply the chemical, let it set for five minutes, shake it up, and then wait 30 minutes. Then the water is good to drink.
I prefer to take iodine tablets with me versus carrying liquid chemicals. For just a few dollars you can buy a small vial of these tablets. Just dropping two in a bottle of water is the same as a few drops of iodine. The water should still be filtered for debris if possible. This method does not help with removing minerals or other chemicals. Also, if used for several weeks the chemicals themselves could start to make you sick.
5) Boiling Container
If you have a metal canteen or cooking pot, and access to a fire, you can boil your water to purify it. Bringing water to a boil is one of the oldest methods by which man has purified water.
This method has been used almost as long as man has been able to create fire. Boiling water creates temperatures that eliminate bacteria and microorganisms.
For years it was thought that water must boil for ten minutes or more for purification, but recent studies show that the water must only be brought to 212F for it to be safe.
The water should also be filtered to eliminate any debris. Be aware that boiling will not eliminate minerals or chemicals in the water.
However, we look at this as a last resort option if for some reason you lose access to your filtering gear.
Bug Out Bag
Get Home Bag
If you find yourself in a survival situation, remember the risk of dehydration. Also remember the risk of drinking tainted water. Take the time to find water and take the steps to purify it before drinking.
When it comes to water purification, preparation is key. It is not only about knowledge, but also about having the right supplies with you. Having a filter or a way to boil water is a huge advantage.
As you go down the line of options for water purification, the fewer supplies you have the more difficult it is to get make water safe to drink. You can also never assume that you will find a spring or have rain to collect. Be prepared.
Staying hydrated will help you in every step of your journey, and hopefully help you find your way to safety.