How to Find Water in the Wild

Purifying Water

Boil your water for at least ten minutes to kill all bacteria.
Boil your water for at least ten minutes to kill all bacteria.
Photographer: Photawa | Agency:

If you're lost in the wild near a river or lake, half the battle is over. In order to safely drink this water, you need to purify it. Boiling is the best and easiest way to make fresh water safe -- 10 minutes at a steady boil is a good rule of thumb. Of course, boiling water means you need fire and a container of some kind. If you don't have a container, you can probably find one or more of these items:

  • Aluminum can
  • Tin can
  • Large shell
  • Plastic bottle
  • Glass jar

Use your shirt or other cloth to filter out large bits of sediment before boiling. Believe it or not, plastic bottles do work for boiling. One method is to completely fill the bottle with water, cap it and drop it into some hot coals. The lack of air in the bottle should keep it from melting. If you don't have enough water to fill the bottle, suspend it above the fire with rope or vine so the flames just touch the bottom. The risk of boiling in a plastic bottle is that your bottle and main collection device may be gone. If you can't start a fire, leave the water in the sun in a clear container to help kill bacteria.

Another way to purify water is to use purification tablets. Many companies manufacture them, and they're mandatory in any survival kit. The tablets use either iodine or chlorine to treat the water. Many people are allergic to iodine, so make sure you know if you are before you use them. Murky water often needs more than one tablet to make it safe, and any tablet needs at least 30 minutes to be fully effective. Like with boiling, it's best to give the water an initial straining with some kind of cloth. It's also safer to drink warmer water, so if it's from a cold mountain stream, allow it to heat up a little in the sun first.

When you drop the tablet in the bottle, swish some of the water onto the cap and the mouth's threads. After boiling it or treating it with tablets, pour the water back and forth between two containers. It will add oxygen and improve the taste.

If you want to learn more about survival and nature, follow the links below.

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More Great Links


  • "How to Choose a Water Filter or Purifier." REI, 2007.
  • "How to Make a Solar Still,", 2007.
  • "How to melt ice or snow to drink,", 2007.
  • "Rainwater harvesting methods,", 2007.
  • ­"Survival, Evasion, and Recovery." U.S. Military Field Manual 21-76-1, June 1999.
  • Curtis, Rick. "The Backpacker's Field Manual", 1998.
  • Jolin, K. " Wilderness Survival: How to Obtain Safe Drinking Water.", August 29, 2007.
  • Tawrell, Paul. "Camping & Wilderness Survival", 2001.