Safe Drinking Water:
4 Wilderness Ways to Make It Happen.
by Byron Kerns
Water is huge when pondering wilderness survival. Sorta huge during day one and day two; sorta-for-sure huge come day three; and, giantly huge if there’s a day four. Huge because your body says so. The Institute of Medicine currently recommends a daily intake of approximately two to two and a half quarts of water to replace water lost through normal body functions - urination, defecation, breathing, and sweating. Remember that all of the chemical and electrical activities that take place in the human body take place in a water environment. When water in your body is in short supply these activities begin to malfunction. Hmmmm. Doesn’t sound good. We eliminate bacteria and viruses from procured wilderness water - so that we can drink safely, stay hydrated, be strong, and, ultimately, do what it takes to achieve home.
Before reading my wilderness ways suggestions to make water safe, keep in mind a couple of things, reinforced in a recent magazine article by Peter Kummerfeldt, a former USAF SERE Brother - “Many survivors begin their emergency already dehydrated and continue to dehydrate further when water supplies are limited and the available water quality is suspect. There have been cases where people needed water, but feared the water source was contaminated with Giardia, Cryptosporidium, or other harmful pathogens. So, they delayed drinking, or chose not to use the water at all. Here’s the quandary: Should you drink possibly impure water and prevent the immediate physiological impact of dehydration? Or, should you not drink the water and risk dehydration, but eliminate the chances of becoming ill? This is a dilemma that many survivors have faced! In North America, as a general rule, it is usually better to drink the water, since dehydration can very quickly reduce the survivor’s ability to function. If the water contains harmful pathogens, the onset of symptoms will usually be days, if not weeks away. By then the individual will have access to medical care. Remember … doctors can cure Giardiasis and Cryptosporidiosis, but they can’t cure dead!”
Way 1. Boiling. The best way to remove all bacteria and viruses, as long a fire or a commercial source of heat is in the vicinity. How long do you boil? In the old days, they’d say boil water 3-minutes and a minute for every 1000-feet of elevation. Nowadays, we skip all the minutes and just bring it to a rolling boil. Where bubbles dance on the surface.
Way 2. Commercial Water Filters. There is a bunch - I think more than one gets invented each day. Then, my goodness, which to buy? Trust seems to be a big issue with my students. “Really? Will this one work? You positive I won’t get sick?” Trust me, if it’s being sold in an outdoors store or a store’s camping section, it’ll work. Be sure to follow the instructions. There is one and only one I’ve used over the decades. The Katadyn Hiker (was the Pur Hiker, until Katadyn bought ‘em out). $75 worth of pure pumping power. I like it. FYI. After purchasing and before taking it to the woods, be sure to pump a couple of liters of water through it at the kitchen sink - gotta wash out any carbon dust that’s in it from the manufacturing process.
Way 3. Chemical Treatment. Where there are dozens of choices regarding commercial water filters, there are only two chemical treatment choices to consider: iodine and chlorine. Tablets and drops. 30-minutes to 4-hours for the disinfection process to take place. Taste is the big issue. Me, after doing iodine tablets for 30-years, I finally switched to chlorine drops. Aquamira. Part A & B. $15.
Way 4. Rain. My absolute favorite. And, a person can’t fully appreciate unless he or she has tramped the wilderness without water for 3-days; then, it rains - glorious, free, non-contaminated water from the sky being delivered right into a drinking bottle. When it rains and you’re in the woods, gather the rain any way possible. Make a water catch. Dig a hole and line with plastic. Only three things needed for this one: rain, a liner, and a tad of digging ingenuity.
To be a better outdoors person, take the time and try all of these ways. Never know when you might need one.