Camping and Purifying Water

When you travel, making sure the quality of the water you use is generally not an important issue, if you stay at a hotel then this will obviously not be a problem and if you travel in an RV then installing a filtering system or a portable water softening device is an economic and easy solution.

But when you go camping, securing a safe and clean water supply will become one of the most important things to arrange beforehand.

Drinking and using water from rivers, creeks, streams, springs, lakes or any other body of water is usually a terrible idea, regardless of how clean, clear and
perfect it might look. You would never drink a glass of water that has been left on the open for a week, would you? Then why would you drink water from any body of water that is permanently exposed to bacteria, virus, protozoa, parasites and animals who defecate and bath there? Besides, getting sick, throwing up and with diarrhea while on a camping trip in the middle of nowhere can be the worst situation you can find yourself in.

Since taking a huge supply of clean purified water might not always be a practical option, the solution could be to get water from a natural source and then purify it and make it drinkable. There exist several practical ways to quickly and easily purify water, and the most popular and recommended methods are listed below along with the type of contaminants they can get rid of and how to perform them if several steps are required.


Method   Description   Contaminants treated
Boiling Boiling is the most essential method of purifying water and is also one of the most effective to get rid of any microbe or biological threat. To make it more effective, remember to allow the water to remain at 80°C or higher for at least 15 minutes, which will ensure you will get rid of any microbe.


However, boiling requires a large amount of energy (or fuel), and the bigger the amount of water to be treated is, the bigger the amount of fuel that will be required. Additionally, while it will kill anything that is alive, it will not get rid of most inert chemicals and heavy metals.

·   Bacteria

·   Virus

·   Fungi

·   Parasites


Sedimentation This is perhaps the most easy to perform method; it involves simply putting the water in some container and allowing to remain still for an hour, to allow any contaminant or unwanted particles to settle at the bottom of the container; after which, as much water from the top as possible is slowly and carefully transferred to a second container, leaving in the first one a little of the water with all the particles that settled in the bottom (sediments).


Sedimentation is, as you imagine, not very effective at truly purifying water, and will only get rid of the biggest unwanted particles and the pieces of dirt that are visible, while not getting rid of any of the contaminants that are dissolved in the water.


·      Macroscopic and visible contaminants and dirt
Decantation Decantation involves pretty much the same process as sedimentation, except in decantation contaminant particles that float on water are allowed to go to the top and then the lower layers of the water are removed from the bottom; this process can be easily performed by putting the water in a container that has a perforation or opening on the bottom (such as a plastic water bottle turned upside down with the bottom cut out).

Decantation has the same downsides and limitations as Sedimentation and will only work for contaminants that float on the water.

·      Contaminants of lower density (such as oil)

·      Macroscopic or visible contaminants and dirt

Filtration This process involves making the water flow through a layer or membrane that has small pores through which water can flow but any contaminant bigger than the pore can’t and is sifted out.

There are many commercial options available specially for when traveling but a basic filter can be improvised if needed by cutting a plastic bottle in half and turning the upper half upside down so it will look as a funnel; after which, a piece of fabric is set on the inside and layers of progressively bigger particles are placed on top of the fabric. So, you will end with your bottle (turned upside down and looking like a funnel) and on the inside of it you will have the fabric, then an inch of sand, then another inch of the smallest pebbles you can find and finally another inch of bigger pebbles. To use it, water is ran through it from the biggest pebbles to the fabric and recovered at the lower end of the funnel.

But ideally, you should get one of the commercial options, especially one with a carbon filter; but even so, filters will not take care of the smallest contaminants such as viruses.

·      Macroscopic or visible contaminants and dirt

·      Bacteria

·      Protozoa

·      Heavy metals

Chemical treatments Chemical treatments are commercially available in the form of tablets which are dissolved in the water you want to purify; they are very simple to use, comfortable and work relatively fast (they will need around 30 minutes to ensure all the microbes in the water have been killed).

Chlorine and Iodine tablets are the most used but have their own downsides. For example, people with immune or thyroid issues should not consume Iodine if possible and pregnant women should use it sparingly, if at all; and both chlorine and iodine will leave an unpleasant smell and taste in the water afterwards. On top of that, they will not get rid of heavy metals, but all the microbes will be killed.

·      Bacteria

·      Virus

·      Fungi

·      Protozoa

·      Parasites



External links and resources