How to Purify Water While Camping

When camping, it’s always important to bring enough sustenance to get you through the journey. But sometimes, this food and drink can run out or be rendered inedible. Even though it’s a situation nobody wants to be in, it is certainly worth preparing for or knowing what to do in the event of an emergency. 

Humans can survive longer without food than without water, so purified water should be a priority. Thankfully, there are a bunch of different ways to purify water, either by using man made equipment or through natural means.

Why Purify Water?

Any water that is to be consumed should be purified to ensure there is no bacteria or pathogens present in it. Unpurified water can be dangerous to drink if it contains harmful bacteria or pathogens, including water-borne parasites. Water that hasn’t been purified can cause disease such as cholera. 

Whilst bacteria and pathogens are invisible to the naked eye, there are also visible differences with unfiltered water. It can be discolored, contain waste, or cloudy. A filter will also remove any of the visible contaminants in the water, as well, thus making it more appetizing. 

Just because water is clear, doesn’t mean that it is purified and safe to drink. Any water from an outside water source should be purified before being ingested. 

How to Purify Water While Camping

There are a variety of ways in which you can purify your water while camping, using either man made devices you can purchase, or through other natural means. However, these methods are for emergency situations only, and you should be bringing your own safe water when camping before relying on purifying any water from water sources. 


Boiling water is probably the easiest and one of the more effective ways of purifying water while camping. Starting a campfire can be done with both manmade and natural solutions, meaning that it can be achieved in the event of an emergency. For ways to start a fire, read How To Start A Fire Without Matches Or Lighter, and read How To Keep a Campfire Going to see how to get the most out of your campfire. 

The hardest part of boiling water while camping is ensuring that the campfire is substantial and self-sustaining. Once you have a suitable fire, all you need is a suspended vessel above it filled with water. Boiling water can also be achieved using a camping stove, if you have access to one. 

Boiling water is one of the oldest and most reliable ways of purifying water, but it won’t filter out any murkiness, strange taste or discoloration. Once water is boiled, it can be used as-is, or you could use another filtration method to clear it up a bit.

Squeeze Filter

This method is gaining popularity due to its availability and due to advancements in filtration technology. A squeeze filter is a miniature filtration system that prevents harmful pathogens from passing through by using a filter that contains a microscopic membrane that traps pathogens, stopping them from getting through. This method is best for drinking water, as it’s hard to purify large amounts of water using this method- unlike the boiling method. In recent years, squeeze filters have seen increasing popularity since being sold in the shape of straws. With these, you can drink directly from the source, and the straw filters the bacteria from where you’re drinking from. These straws are sometimes reusable (depending on the manufacturer), lightweight, and a perfect addition to any first aid bag in case of emergency. 

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Chemical Treatment

Water can also be purified using chemical treatment, much like how pools and other large water containers are purified. Chlorine and Iodine are commonly used in the treatment of water, and should be used in small doses depending on how much water you’re intending to purify. Both of these chemicals kill pathogens and bacteria effectively, but won’t clear up any dirt or murkiness in the water. Again, this method is best used in tandem with another method to ensure the water is clear. When adding chlorine to water, make sure not to add too much. Normally, 3 or 4 drops per liter is enough to do its job. The same is similar for iodine, which needs around 5 or 7 drops depending on the quality of the water. When using iodine, make sure the water is lukewarm.

On the contrary, you can purchase chemical tablets that are designed for purifying camping water. These purification tablets are available in most camping stores and don’t provide as much margin for error as using the chemical in a pure form. 

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Distilling Water

If you’re spending a while in the wilderness, distilling may be an appropriate way of purifying water. This method takes a while and is better for purifying larger quantities of water. This method is somewhat similar to boiling water, but it is a lot more thorough and requires additional equipment. 

Distillation uses a sealed vessel atop of a stove or other heat source, and has a pipe at the top where steam is collected. This pipe leads to another vessel which is used for collecting distilled water. Water may need to be distilled several times for it to be completely purified and clean, but this method may take a while to see results due to the quality of the fire or heat source which is underneath it. 

Reverse Osmosis

Reverse osmosis refers to the process of removing pathogens from water using pressure. Even though this method is usually reserved for household water systems, some systems are small enough or portable enough to be used while camping. 

Cloth Filtration

Cloth filtration is a method best used to clear the water before boiling it or using an additional purification method. This method is only really recommended for filtering debris out the water. Cloth filtration is exactly what it sounds like – the use of a cloth to filter out any nasties that may be present in your water. To use the cloth filtration method, you need two vessels (usually cups or glasses) and a cloth. Place one vessel on a slightly elevated surface. This vessel will contain the unfiltered water. Put the other vessel next to the first one, but below the elevated surface. Then, connect the two using a cloth. The cloth should be slightly submerged in the unfiltered water, and should lean over the top of the glass and into the other glass. Over time, filtered water will drip into the other glass via the cloth. 

UV Water Purification

UV light is an effective way of keeping water clean. It’s a known fact that UV light can stop the reproduction of microbes, so it only makes sense that it can also be used to prevent further spread in purified water. UV systems can be purchased and  are a reusable method providing you have a way to charge them up. Whilst some kits are larger than others, it’s possible to buy smaller, handheld kits for purification on the go. As some other previous entries on this list, this method works well in conjunction with another method. 

Stone Filtration

Resorting to using the materials around you in the wilderness is truly a last-ditch effort for when you have no other options available. This method uses either porous stone or ceramic to abrasively remove any dirt or nastiness out of water. This system is set up by using a chamber of two parts, separated by the stone or ceramic material. The water is introduced at the top, and the filtered water slowly drips down and is collected in  the bottom part. 

Sand Filtration

This method works the same as stone filtration, but is better used and more accessible in desert climates. Rather than stone and ceramic material separating two parts of a chamber, a sand filtration system uses a layer of gravel and tightly-packed coarse sand on top to filter the water which enters the vessel. 

Do I Need to Purify Shower Water?

You should purify any water that you intend on putting in your mouth. Unless you rinse your mouth under the shower, there isn’t a need to purify shower water, bath water or any water you don’t intend on drinking. However, it is still good practice to boil water before engaging in any of these activities and allowing it to cool. One, it’s a lot more comfortable to take a warm shower, and, two, it will also provide some peace of mind. Filtered and purified water is also cleaner, meaning you won’t be washing yourself with dirty water. 

Can I Drink Campsite Water?

Never assume that you can drink the water just because you are at a campsite where other people are staying. Make sure to look for signs that suggest the water is drinkable or undrinkable. For instance, campsite lakes or water sources that have a sign with a tap which has been crossed out with a red cross means that the water there is undrinkable. If there are no signs available, look for if the water source has purple pipes leading into it. This is another easy way of telling that the water is inedible. If you do come across a campsite that doesn’t have these signs, it’s better to be safe than sorry and treat the water accordingly. As mentioned before, the fastest and most efficient way of purifying water is through boiling, so make sure you boil the water just in case. Some campsites will also have taps that are specifically designed for drinking from, saving you from using a potentially dangerous water source. 

How to Store Filtered Water

Water that has been filtered shouldn’t just be stored exposed to the environment. As it can easily reintroduce pathogenic bacteria, and it can evaporate easily. To store filtered water, the best option is to use a closed-off container. The most popular of these methods is a bladder, as they are portable, easy to store, and easy to pour from. Water bladders can be bought in a variety of different sizes, from handheld ones to ones the size of shower water bags. 

Regular plastic water bottles are also a reasonable alternative, as they can be reused and the amount of water inside them can be seen without needing to open and check. 

How to Conserve Water While Camping

Knowing how to conserve water while camping can help prevent you from needing to utilize any purification systems, or it can save you from purifying more water. Don’t let conservation get in the way of having a drink though, as dehydration can be dangerous. 

Avoid Foods That May Dehydrate You

Certain foods and drinks have dehydrating qualities, leading you to drink more water than you normally would. Avoiding salty foods, alcohol and coffee will help you go longer without needing to hydrate yourself. 

Keep Your Water in the Shade

Keeping your water in the shade or out of the way of the sun will increase its longevity as it is less likely to evaporate. Exposure to the sun’s heat will eventually cause your water to evaporate, which means it’s better to keep it out of the way of the sun. It also helps keep it cooler, as lukewarm water is nowhere near as refreshing as a nice cool bottle. 

Make Sure You Take as Much Water as You Need

When taking essentials such as food and water when camping, taking more than what is necessary is always a good idea. Taking more will provide a backup in case some is rendered inedible or if you have to unexpectedly spend longer out in the wild. 

Final Thoughts

Purifying water should only be used as a last resort when camping – as it’s ideal to take as much water as necessary when planning your trip. If you do find yourself in a position where water needs to be purified and harvested from a natural water source, the best and most reliable method of purification is to boil the water a couple of times over before letting it cool. There are other equally effective options, but boiling water can be accomplished without using any pre-purchased equipment. It’s always handy to have some smaller methods packed away in your camping bag or first aid kit, such as straw filters, as they provide a portable means of purifying water. 

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