When bugging out, water becomes arguably your most precious resource. Because we need so much of it to survive, finding a source of freshwater is easily a top priority–including higher than finding food or a stable shelter. However, finding freshwater is not the end of the journey–then you have to make sure it is safe to drink by purifying your water.
There are all types of products that you can buy which promise to ensure the safety of your water source, but they are only as effective as the person using them. If you do not use these products or other techniques properly, you can easily end up making yourself sick or worse. Here are 9 of the biggest mistakes you can make when searching for clean water.
1. Snow or Ice:
If you find yourself in an extremely cold climate, you may think yourself a step ahead of many of your fellow preppers when it comes to finding that vital resource of freshwater. I mean, Mother Nature was kind enough to not only drop that resource from the sky but to make sure that it stayed in a form viable enough for you to use when you need it.
Unfortunately, this is only half true. While having access to ice or snow can be a boon to survivalists, it is not the end all, be all it may first seem to be. For one, snow will carry with it many of the same issues that all freshwater has–meaning that you still have to treat it to make sure it is safe to drink.
A common misconception is that evaporated water which then falls from clouds in the form of rain or snow has been treated through the process of evaporation. While this process may remove some of the heavier contaminants like various types of pollution, it will generally do very little to prevent microorganic stowaways from tagging along.
As such, it is important to remember to treat snow the same way you would other sources of water. Freezing temperatures may slow the rate that bacteria breeds, but it will not stop all species entirely. This means you will need to first melt the snow, then treat the water.
2. Plant-Sourced Water:
This is a potential problem that can trace its roots as one of the many common misconceptions generated by our media. Moreover, this is often the hot weather climate correlate to the previous entry on our list focusing on cold weather water purification issues. Still, most people are aware that many forms of cacti contain within their bodies stores of water that are just waiting for dehydrated preppers bugging out across the desert, right? Wrong.
While there are a fair number of different cactus species which can be opened up to find stores of water within, that does not mean the water is safe to drink. Just because the water is inside of a plant does not automatically make it pure. That being said, the actual risk associated with most cactus water is not what you might first think.
Most cacti which contain water are incredibly alkaline. This means that this water is considered basic. While not at the same degree of intensity, this means the water has some of the same properties as bleach which is also a strong alkaline. Ultimately, unless you are a botanist trained to distinguish the Barrel Cactus–the one exception to this rule–from other cacti species, you should avoid cactus water altogether.
3. Filtering Layers:
There are a wealth of different survival tips and tricks for filtering water. In the direst of circumstances, you can fill a tin can with specific rocks, puncture holes in the bottom of the can, and allow the rocks to filter the water the same way that Mother Nature does with rivers. Of course, even rivers free from pollution are not perfectly safe, and that water generally runs for miles upon miles.
Still, even if you make it a point to use the best possible type of water filters, there is little to no guarantee that you have actually made your water safe to drink. One of the more common types of water filtration people use and assume to be foolproof is activated charcoal. While this is indeed an especially effective form of water filter, it too is not absolute.
Instead, it is a much better idea to filter your water in layers or steps. This means running the water through different types of filters and through more than one kind of filter. A coffee filter or thickly woven fabric is great for larger particles while activated charcoal can provide assistance with smaller pollutants and contaminants.
4. Clean Container:
While it may be obvious that you need containers to store your water in, some of the more strict requirements for those containers may not be quite so obvious. For instance, depending on what those containers previously held, they may not be a viable option for long-term water storage.
There is plenty of advice for on making sure that water is safe for drinking. To that end, you need to make sure that whatever container you store your water in has not also housed liquids with any kind of sugars in them. This includes drinks you may not expect like milk, which includes the sugar lactose. The reason is that you will not be able to clean the sugars completely out of the container, and they will provide fuel for bacteria to grow in the container.
Another big issue with water storage containers involves the risk of cross-contamination. The first point of cross contamination would be using the same container for retrieving the water as for housing once the water has been filtered and purified without cleaning that first container. This may seem one of the more obvious risks for cross-contamination, but in the heat of the moment, it can be quite easy to lose track of which container was which–especially if they are not marked or otherwise distinguishable.
The second and less conspicuous way that purified water can be cross-contaminated is by an unclean top or opening. This is likely to go unnoticed since our first impression is to clean the inside of the receptacle, but the area that comes in contact with the outside most–the cap and opening, including the threads–is actually more exposed to cross-contamination and from sources that go beyond the water itself.
5. Chemical Purification:
Once you have filtered the water for larger debris, contaminants, and pollutants, the job is still not complete. Unless your filtration system is specially made, chances are it will not ensure your water is actually safe to drink. If you are using one of the DIY filtration methods, this principle goes double for you.
Arguably the biggest risk when drinking untreated sources of water comes from the microorganisms that inhabit it. While there are some special filters you can buy which actually will treat the water for microorganisms as well, these are generally not loose filters you can fashion into a DIY system.
Instead, people often rely on various forms of chemical purification to ensure their water is safe to drink from microorganisms. However, the primary risk in this context is not getting the amount of chemical applied right. If you use too little of the chemical, you will not purify the water from all the microorganisms–just one of which may be deadly depending on what species it is. The other concern is too much of the chemical which can then cause sickness or death depending on how much you used.
6. Boiling Water:
In the absence of chemical purification, one of the best ways to purify your water from microorganisms is to boil it–and for good reason. Humans have been using fire and heat to purify both food and water for millennia. There is a reason we cook our food, and it has little to do with the fact that it tastes better cooked.
Quite simply, there are fewer ways better at killing living things, including microorganisms, than raising the temperature to an unsustainable point. That being said, there are a number of mistakes you can make when boiling your water in order to purify it.
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when boiling their water to purify it is assuming that the longer you boil the water, the more purified it becomes. The whole point of boiling the water is to reach temperatures that kill microorganisms living within. Once those temperatures are achieved, few microorganisms can survive for more than three to five minutes. Boiling your water longer than that is just wasting an already precious resource.
The other potential issue with this method of water purification comes from the other end of the spectrum. In an effort to either get the water as quickly as possible–an issue more likely to occur if you are already extremely dehydrated–or to conserve as much as possible, you may not actually heat the temperature hot enough to kill the microorganisms within.
7. Long-Term Storage:
Water may not technically expire like other foods and liquids, but neither does it have an infinite shelf life. There is a reason you can purchase distilled water from the store, and it has a great deal to do with the difficulty of making sure that water is completely free from any contaminants. Keep in mind, what we are about to say actually applies to distilled water as well–though for different reasons.
No matter how good of a job you do filtering and purifying your water, you cannot ensure that it is absolutely free from all contaminants. While consuming water shortly after ensuring that it is clean poses no immediate risk, the same cannot be said if you drink that same water a year or more later. There is a reason that pretty much every product sold–even those using industrial cleansing processes–always include the caveat of 99 points umpteenth percent pure.
When storing water for an extended period of time, it is important to rotate your stocks about every year or so. This will help prevent any natural development of microorganisms in purified water and will also prevent any issues with the chemical breakdown from containers–generally the issue with distilled water.
8. Sunlight Degradation:
They say sunlight is the best disinfectant. We are here to tell you that that is total malarkey. In some situations, sunlight can actually be used to disinfect your food by cooking it, but this is not anywhere near a sure thing. When applied to liquids, this process becomes even more of a risk. This is because of the light and its effects on the container housing whatever you are attempting to disinfect.
Basically, sunlight can be used as a substandard disinfectant because of the ultraviolet radiation. These UV rays, which are invisible to the naked eye, can damage and kill living cells. This is the reason that your skin burns when you go to the beach without sunscreen. Of course, living objects are not the only thing at risk from UV radiation.
UV rays also have the annoying tendency to degrade non-living matter as well. This includes the various plastic receptacles that may be housing your water–even if they are rated for food or water storage. In fact, even many types of glass containers will start to leach harmful chemicals into whatever they house when exposed to UV rays for an extended period of time.
9. Drinking Urine:
It does not matter what movies or television shows say. In fact, even nature documentaries can and should be thrown out the window when it comes to this commonly held misconception. Sure, you may have seen Bear Grylls do it on his program and he seemed to turn out fine, right?
What you may not know is that Bear Grylls also travels with an entire suite of people and supplies in case things get really hairy just to make sure his television program does not turn out horribly. We know, television did not present the entire truth? Shocking.
For the rest of us, drinking urine is a terrible idea. Your kidneys filter out contaminants for a reason. It should naturally follow that putting those contaminants back into your body is a terrible idea. Of course, there can be potential exceptions to this rule, like if you are drinking enough water that the contaminant concentration is fairly low, but then you really do not need to be drinking urine in the first place since you obviously have enough water to dilute the contaminant concentration in your urine in the first place.
With clean, fresh water being such a vital resource and one that can easily become scarce, it is vital to know what to do when you finally come across it. Remember, untreated and unfiltered water can make you sick–with diarrhea as one of the more common symptoms. Since diarrhea causes dehydration, this issue can create a vicious cycle leading to death in a survival situation.
That is why it is important to understand what water sources are viable and how to properly treat the water once found. For more information of finding water and what to do once you found it, check out our comprehensive bug out guide. In it, you will find not only how to locate water and what to do once you have, but a near-exhaustive list of other tricks and lessons to help you survive when you need to bug out.
Conrad Novak is a proud father of two children. His journey as a prepper began when Hurricane Katrina hit and he lost his job due to the 2008 economic crisis. That made him realize that everything can change for the worst in a very short time. This experience was the detonator for him to pursue learning and becoming better prepared to face the kind of unexpected disasters that may occur at any point in our lives. You can read more of his content at SurvivorsFortress.com.
Thanks for visiting the Preppers Survive website. If you enjoyed this article, please share it on your favorite social media and comment below. Also, check out Top Prepper Website and vote.