Water Purification and Survival: Part 1


Nothing is more important to survival than a good water supply.  Our body is made up of about 60-80% water and cannot maintain its efficiency without a minimum of its daily water requirements.  The amount of water will vary depending on the climate and the amount of physical exertion.

Part 1: Protect Your Body’s Water

In a moderate climate with low activity levels, 2 quarts of water is about the minimum amount needed for a 160 lb person.  You might need double this amount or more in extremely hot or cold climates or when doing heavy aerobic work.   A sign of dehydration is if your urine turns dark in color, it should be clear to a pale yellow color when you are properly hydrated.  In order to maintain efficiency and increase chances of survival, the minimum fluid intake must be met.  In addition to meeting a minimum fluid intake, the water must be clean and as pure as possible.  When dealing with  water procurement it is important to consider two important factors, quality and quantity.

Why Water?

The reason your body constantly needs water is because it continually releases its liquids as it emergency preparedness water survivalmaintains normal bodily functions (breathing, sweating, urination to remove toxins etc.).  Some examples of how water is used by the body is; breathing/respiration, urination, excretion and sweating.  On a microscopic level, proper hydration allows nutrients to be distributed through the bloodstream, toxins to be removed through cellular processes and reactions, and also provides the medium for electrical impulses to travel through the nerve and brain cells to activate muscles, thought processes and reactions.  The brain is about 80% water and needs to maintain this balance to function properly.  The hotter or colder the climate, the more water your body needs to survive.  Remember that you your body is made up mostly of water and needs to maintain this balance in order for you to survive.

What To Do

In any survival situation where water is in short supply, the first step is to protect and conserve water already in the body.

1. Cover any areas of exposed skin as soon as you can.  This protects against sunburn which would otherwise lead to more water loss from damaged cells. In a hot environment, it also helps to slow down evaporation of sweat from the body which in turn reduces the need to replace bodily fluids lost from sweating.  Loose clothing is better than tighter fitting clothes in this situation since is traps a layer of relatively still air around the body, thereby insulating it from the external temperature (whether hot or cold).  The air that is trapped gains humidity from evaporated perspiration and then slows the evaporation rate.

2. Regardless of climate try to breathe through the nose and cover the face with a scarf, towel, shirt or other cloth to reduce water loss through breathing and saliva evaporation.  Small pebbles or grass can be chewed on to reduce thirst.  Keep the mouth closed and talk only when necessary.

3.  If you cannot be indoors and find yourself out in hot conditions, try to stay in the shade and minimize movement to reduce emergency preparedness water survivaldehydration caused by direct sunlight.  Sit or lay a little bit above the ground surface using anything that is available including fallen trees, rocks, wreckage, leaves or anything else that’s available.  Even if it’s just a few inches it will help provide a layer of insulation and slow dehydration.

4. In hotter conditions avoid traveling or other types of strenuous work during the hottest part of the day. If you have to move, do it as slowly as possible (or even at night) to keep body heat generation to a minimum.  This will help to reduce the body’s dissipation of fluid as it tries to maintain a low body temperature.  In cold climates this point does not play as much of a factor, however dehydration is still a dangerous and very real problem that must be addressed.

5. In warmer conditions, drink during the cool hours of the early mornings, late afternoon, or evening.  Your body uses calories to warm any water that’s ingested.  In cooler conditions try to let your water warm in the sun or near the fire, drinking cold water in an already cold environment can cause chills.

6. Don’t swallow large mouth fulls of water.  Drink small amounts more often.  It is better to drink before you get thirsty and feel dehydrated.  When you feel your mouth getting dry you are already about 4% dehydrated.  Also, the body can only process so much water at a time so spacing it out will give the most efficient use of a limited water supply.  Try and stay ahead of the hydration curve because it will catch you.

7. Sea water or other waste water can be used to wet your clothes and cool you down and help to reduce sweating.  If you build a survival still you can use this water to make potable drinking water as well.  DO NOT DRINK SALTWATER, this will bring DEATH more quickly than drinking nothing at all.

8. Be careful of Urban Water Survival Myths.  Often when you are desperate you will have a greater tendency to make irrational decisions which can land you in a worse situation than where you would have been otherwise.  Remember your basics and the above principles and you will be better off than trying dangerous schemes to try and rehydrate yourself.

Make It Last

You may have to ration what little water is available but if you can limit fluid loss, you can make the water you have last longer than it otherwise would.  This extra time and conservation of resources will allow further opportunity to find or create another water source.

All of the above actions are short term solutions to a long term problem.  Long term survivalemergency preparedness depends on a good supply of drinking water, without it, survival is impossible.  Water is the first and most important component of survival.  Without water, everything else in your survival cache is worth nothing.

Also See – 6 Dangerous Myths About Water

Coming Soon: Water Purification and Survival – Part 2

Visit Our New Survival Gear Store – Forge Survival Supply

Photo Credits:
Mexican Red Cross
Emily Cain

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

badt44 February 7, 2011 at 10:53 am

What is the ratio of clorox to water for steralization and how effective is it?


Chefbear58 February 7, 2011 at 11:29 pm

There are "test strips" you can buy on the internet which will give you more of an accurate read on the right amount of bleach/water. They are pretty cheap, lightweight, fit into almost any water-tight container, and last for pretty much forever.


Creature February 8, 2011 at 10:20 pm

SODIS is a treatment for clear yet questionable water. I don't see it mentioned very often, but it can be a life saver. It's cheap and easy to do as well. No need for high dollar filters, chemicals or the likes.


Josh February 9, 2011 at 10:13 am

SODIS is one of my personal favorites, it might be mentioned in part two of this series.


Josh February 9, 2011 at 10:13 am

Sweet, thanks for sharing.


CaptBart February 9, 2011 at 11:39 am

Most folks know they need water. What they don't know is what water weighs. A gallon of gasoline is about 6.5 lbs. A gallon of water is around 8.5. I saw a 10,000 gallon fuel truck break its back when some guys decided to wash it out with water. When they filled it up, it weighed over 10 tons more than its maximum weight. If you're planning to pack ALL of your water for a 3 day GOOD plus have a little left over for other things and some reserve, figure 4 quarts or 1 gallon (about 3.8 liters) a day. That is 25 lbs per person just for the water for 3 days (think a 12 pack of 1 liter bottles for volume and weight). Moral is to plan your route so that you can refill your water supply as you travel and NEVER throw away an empty water container. That is a tenderfoot move that could get you dead.


Josh February 9, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Well spoken, thank you for your insite.


KansasScout April 21, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Too true CaptBart, that is one warning from my training in the military and from my reading of Louis L'Amour's novels. Louis in the personages of Tell Sacket, Logan Sacket, etc. tells his readers basic survival tips for wildernesses like the mountains and deserts of the American West. What was true in the 19th Century is true in the 21st, so yes like CaptBart says keep your water containers once they're empty. Even if you can't find even a cattle tank you may find a natural source of water and having that empty water bottle or canteen will be a life saver.


CaptBart April 23, 2012 at 6:39 am

Louis is one of my FAVORITE writers. He even did a short story where a guy was stranded at an oasis because he didn't KNOW the direction out or have a way to carry water. Good stuff.


Chefbear58 February 9, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Another "trick" that I learned from my dad, that he picked up while on a mission in South America… Carry a silver coin, boil your water with the silver coin in it, not only does the boiling kill off most bacteria the silver coin will oxidize a little and kill of some bacteria. Silver oxide is used in several water purification tablets, I have even used the coin trick by just putting it into a clear plastic container and let it sit in the sun for a couple hours. The only problem is that you need to polish the coin every now and then (just buff it with a cloth) and it helps if you move the water around every now and then (shake the container). There is also no exact time that it takes to work, some silver coins contain lead so be careful, and buying a pure silver coin can be a bit pricey… but it lasts for years. I have had 2 which have lasted for about 16 years.


Forge_Survival February 10, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Interesting, I have heard some stuff about Silver coins but haven't found the time to research it yet.


Chefbear58 February 10, 2011 at 7:20 pm

Like I said I learned it from my Dad, who learned it from an Army Ranger Medic while deployed in Honduras. From what my father told me, the guy he learned it from had more confidence in the silver coin than he did in the iodine tablets he was issued.


Josh February 10, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Thanks for sharing.


SurvingJerry February 11, 2011 at 12:37 am

So you're saying that the silver will kill off (some) bacteria that boiling didn't?
Isn't boiling alone generally considered sufficient for making water safe to drink (from a pathogen perspective)?
I'm curious if the advice was in fact more like to use the silver for those times you can't boil the water, like those silver colloidal water purification drops.


Josh February 11, 2011 at 9:29 pm

I am not sure of the science behind it, but studies have shown that it works. Colloidal silver is a very strong anti-bacterial/medicinal agent used throughout the world. I dont know that it would work without boiling, but yes boiling water is sufficient from a pathogen perspective.


Chefbear58 February 12, 2011 at 12:28 pm

One problem with boiling is that you need to heat the water to a boil as rapidly as possible. The reason for this is that if given enough time, some bacteria can form a protective shell which will shield them from the heat, making them harder to kill. When the bacteria forms this protective shell it is called a "spore". When in this "spore" form bacteria can be EXTEMELY hard to kill. Using silver or other chemical treatments (from what I understand from my ServSafe training in Culinary School), sort of by-passes the protective coating and kills the bacteria regardless. I looked into it, and the silver will work by itself (from what I have read), but it takes a good bit of time to be effective.

From what I understand of bacteria, they are some tough little bastards! Personally, adding the silver coin into the water when boiling just adds an extra level of security against getting sick. I have been sick as hell while back-country backpacking before, IT'S NOT FUN, I can only imagine that falling victim to a bacterial infection in a SHTF situation would only compound problems that you may face. Just think of how hard it would be to function safely and effectively in a survival situation if you are running a fever and crapping your brains out (graphic but accurate example). If you are the primary provider of security/food/whatever else your family/friends might need, then you are compromising their safety/well-being by getting sick. IN MY OPINION, it's better to be overcautious in trying to prevent an illness, than to fall victim to it and try to do everything you need to along with suffering..


KansasScout April 21, 2012 at 6:08 pm

now the part that in these days is it may be hard to find silver coins unless you get lucky with your change or purposefully buy one from a coin or bullion dealer.


Artnuwa11 February 18, 2011 at 9:08 am

I hear to let it stand for at least 30 minutes before consuming.


Rescue7 February 23, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Read Survival At Sea by Bernard Robin. In 1952 Dr. Alain Bombard tested his theories of survival at sea which concluded in a 65 day drift in a life raft from the Canary Islands to Barbados. You can drink sea water (salt water) for 7 days, 800 ml per day, a sip at a time, taken often and you must start drinking before you become dehydrated. This limited amount of salt is not so high that the body cannot process it out or use it for perspiration.
Additionally, you can extend a fresh water store a lot longer by adding 30-40% sea water to it indefinitely.

Salt isn’t always a bad thing… You loose salt when you sweat so it must be replaced. That’s why Gatorade has salt. Try doing an Ironman without salt. You will not finish. It’s about balancing your salt intake with your loss.

I know a team leader who had one of his men drink his IV bag (lactated ringers) during a record hot day in SW Asia. He lived.


CO_Horseman001 March 3, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Sea water is extremely dangerous. Not just because of the high salt content, but also the levels of arsenic in it. Yes sea water contains arsenic. If on the open seas, and hopefully provided a life boat or raft, a simple water evaporation system should help keep you alive. Or collection system when rain squalls hit. Every survival book out there will tell you not to drink sea water. In any amount if at all possible. Hell, if you can catch or trap fish in some way, drink the blood. It's much safer. Beat's renal kidney failure.


bob March 4, 2011 at 10:58 am

i dont see anything here about katadyn tabs or wptabs made by coleman..are they any good? i bought some of the coleman bvut im allergic to iodine..seafood etc…it has a second addtive but i prefer clorox to anything else ..advise?


CO_Horseman001 March 4, 2011 at 12:28 pm

One cap full of clorox to a gallon of water


mike karr December 28, 2012 at 3:06 pm

a capful of h2o2 to a gal is way to much. 7 drops per gallon of bleach for clear water. 14 drops for stained water. always let set for 30 minutes. A clean silver coin will also work if let stand for a day or so. I am a surgical pathologist so I am sure.


Hook May 20, 2011 at 11:43 am

not totaly and completely safe but better than nothing is keep some of the coals from your fire put it in a sock crush it up then pack some kind of grass on top run water through it once or twice then you should be good to drink but it really depends on how dirty the water is or more importantly what is in the water as far a parasites and other bad things


Hook May 20, 2011 at 11:45 am

last post does not work for sea water just an fyi


waypoint August 26, 2011 at 4:48 am

Can someone confirm if water from a 12V DC automobile dehumidifier be considered potable after I run it through a ceramic filter? Thanks.


TED March 23, 2012 at 4:38 pm



waypoint March 26, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Certainly. I have a few of those with some extra cartridges. But I’m thinking multiplicity and redundancy. And also because I live in a location with 95-98% humidity. Actual air-to-water machines cost a bomb and the 12V DC machines seem to be a viable option pumping out up to 300-ml every 4-6 hours.


SOS Central December 25, 2011 at 6:56 pm

I agree water is critical for survival. But even if you have a water source the water might contain organisms that can make you really sick and even kill you. It is possible to use different water treatments with chemicals. However the best filter that I have found for the price is Sawyers Water Filter system. You can find that and survival gear at sosgearshop.com. Go check it out and see if there is anything there that helps you guys with your survival gear equipment.


Rxmichaels February 5, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Bleach works, but packing it is problematic. Boiling is one of the better methods. Collecting dew by using your poncho or rain gear works well however, the supply is limited. Use the suns rays to essentially distill water from the soil. Cover a small hole with plastic and secure it so water drips down. You can also use plants in a small depression and cover with plastic. The sun will sweat the moisture from plants and soil. You can use container positioned under the plastic. The water drips down the sides and collects, or you can punch a small hole or let it collect at the bottom.


KansasScout April 21, 2012 at 5:53 pm

My friend Dennis was a Medic in the Army durning the Desert Storm and he told me the amount to disinfect a canteen is different from steralization of water, but Combat_Medic is correct. Now if you're out with only what you can carry on yourself a fire and a canteen cup would do better to steralize your water before drinking or cooking. If you have a base camp and the means to carry and store say Clorox or even store brand clorine bleach then by all means use the 8 drops per gallon, but let it set long enough for the bleach to evaporate from the water. Drinking bleach is not healthy.


KansasScout April 21, 2012 at 6:11 pm

In an answer to those wondering about sea water, it is far better to take any piece of plastic sheeting you may have and a can, cup, or other cantainer and some small weight to center the low part of the plastic over the opening of the cantainer to make a solar still. This can also be done in many places on dry land.


KansasScout April 21, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Now an interesting thing I learned from some old timers over the years; cowboys on the range and even hobos traveling from one job rumor to another would keep coffee grounds in a sock too. This was so that they could have a limited means of filtering their coffee as they brewed it. Hook's idea on using charcoal from your last fire and crushing it up into a spare sock isn't all that bad, but still you will need additional means of clearing out the various forms of garbage found in the water out there.


PurePlanetEssentials May 17, 2012 at 1:04 am

This a great article with some very useful and important information for survival depending on what type of situation you're in. One of the most important aspects of water purification that is overlooked is the pH level of water. A pH level of 7 is the optimal level for water. When water has a pH balance of 7, water reaches an alkaline state. Drinking alkaline water regularly, helps your body to hydrate itself as well as flush out toxins and waste products. If you’re trying to lose weight, you may get a boost there as well. Overall, there’s no better way to help stay healthy.


Chris June 14, 2012 at 2:05 am

You should go back to chemistry 101. A pH o 7 is neutral. i.e. not acid not alkaline.


Red Wildman August 2, 2012 at 10:07 am

I know alot of folks buy those water purification tabs with the Iodide in them, I used to. Like Aquatabs I think is a close enough brand name to let you know. These use Iodine and can be harmful to folks who have Thyroid problems, and to pergnant or nursing mothers. So in a true TEOTWAKI, or just lost with someone in this catagory, it could KILL them to use these.

Also boiling won't remove lead,mercury, or other heavy metals or toxins. So still carry a filter


Bonita Bennet September 6, 2012 at 6:26 pm

We should have dehumidifyer installation elsewhere. It could be a factor in getting purified water.


Darren E Garza September 13, 2012 at 3:18 am

Water is the most essential thing that you can intake. You can survive 5 days without eating as long as you have water. Also important is, for hygiene's sake and cleanliness of course. That's why if you have drainage problems, be sure to call your perth plumbers to ensure your leaked pipes, or shower needs.


Sabrina Beiler September 24, 2012 at 3:44 am

Water is a basic need and I think it's really best to learn so much about how we could preserve and clean it. This is the reason bought a water desalination equipment in Perth to ensure that my family's water is safe.


Lucinda Huish February 11, 2013 at 3:06 am

The reason why we need humidifiers at home instead of heaters during winter is to maintain the moisture in our bodies… and maybe dehumidifiers to remove excess moisture in the air? I guess too much moisture is bad too.


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