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  • Water: The Most Important Element Of Survival

    In a survival situation, clean, drinkable water is the most important thing . You can survive without food for weeks or even months, but if you go without water for just one day you will start a downward slide into dehydration and be in serious trouble.

    Your Body Needs Water!

    A minimum of two quarts (liters) of clean water per day, per person is the recommended intake. In hot,cold or dry environments, or if you are physically active, two quarts (liters) of water a day may not be enough to sustain you over a period of days or weeks. In general the higher the temperature the greater your water intake needs to be. If you are active or exposed to the hot rays of the sun you may need as much as a gallon of water per day to stay hydrated.

    Water lost through perspiration and normal respiration must be replaced in order to stay healthy and function at top efficiency. Water is also needed to digest the food you eat, especially if it is salty or you eat heavy foods like meat. If you are losing more water than you are taking in, you will become dehydrated.

    Some foods that contain a high amount of water, such as some fruits and berries may actually aid in providing water, but not enough to keep you hydrated, you will still need drinking water.

    In this article I've compiled knowledge from excellent sources and personal experience about some of the problems of trying to stay hydrated and how to obtain and treat water for drinking in a survival situation.

    Types of Water Contamination

    This is Giardia, you most definitely don't want him and his friends in your drinking water.

    When considering whether water is safe to drink you must consider two types of water contamination; biological contaminants and chemical toxins.

    One of the most common biological contaminants of water is Giardia, a nasty bug that is easily spread and causes intestinal disorders. There are numerous other bacteria and viruses, as well as intestinal parasites that come from drinking untreated or improperly treated water.

    Water contaminated with toxic chemicals is also common. Often this water has been made toxic by the workings of man and includes animal feces from farm runoff, pesticides, heavy metals from mine waste, factory discharges, gasoline and motor oils, etc.

    Water contaminated with living organisms can generally be made safe to drink by relatively simple methods. Water that is contaminated with toxic chemicals is another matter, so extra caution should be exercised when you believe this could be a possibility.

    Running water is usually best but if the water is from a still source try to find a place where the sediment has settled.

    Rainwater collected in clean containers or in plants is usually safe for drinking. But you need to purify water from lakes, ponds, swamps, springs, or streams, especially the water near human settlements or in the tropics.

    There are a number of methods used to purify biologically contaminated water in order to make it safe to drink. When using these methods it is important that you do not cross-contaminate water you have purified with water that has not been treated. For example, do not collect suspect water using your canteen, pour this into a container for treatment, and then pour the treated water back into your canteen.

    These organisms will not survive boiling, but they often can survive the various chemical treatments and filters on the market today.There are a number of iodine water treatment products on the market.
    If you use one of these products be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

    How to Boil Water to Make it Safe to Drink

    The best accepted way of purifying water is to boil it. Boiling your water is the number one method of making sure you have destroyed all disease causing organisms. Water temperatures above 160 degrees F will destroy all pathogens within half an hour. Boil at 185 F and that time shrinks to just a few minutes. The fact is, once you get the water to a rolling boil (212 degrees F at sea level) your task is finished: the water is now safe to drink. Even at high altitudes where the boiling point of water is below 212 F, the water is still hot enough to have completely killed any harmful organisms.

    Chemically Treating Water to Make it Safe to Drink

    Chemical water treatment methods are not as reliable as boiling but may come in handy when speed is of the essence or fuel is unavailable. The two most common chemicals used to treat water are chlorine and iodine.

    Iodine Treatment

    Iodine tastes just like it smells. Fortunately, this is a pretty weak solution, so the taste is not overpowering. Some Iodine tablets come with extra tablets that neutralize the iodine taste ( see above). Iodine works best when the temperature of the water is at least 68 degrees F.
    If you are using a liquid preparation of 2% tincture of iodine, add 5 drops per quart of clear water or double that if the water is cloudy. Shake well and let stand for an hour.
    Iodine treats the water relatively fast. The disadvantage is, that it is harmful in the long term. Iodine has the advantage of being better than chlorine at eliminating Giardia as a threat to your drinking water. However, Iodine must be stored in light-proof containers and is also not safe for use by everyone. People who are allergic to iodine, have thyroid problems, on lithium, women over 50, and pregnant or nursing women should practice caution when using iodine and consult their doctor before doing so.

    Chlorine Bleach

    Regular ,non-scented, household chlorine bleach can be used to chemically treat water to make it safe to drink. Usually household chlorine bleach is 5.25% chlorine. Simply add two drops per quart (or liter) of water and let stand for at least half an hour. If the water is cloudy double the amount of chlorine and double the amount of time you let it stand. Be sure to splash the chlorine treated water all around your water container in order to disinfect everything the water comes in contact with. A problem with using chlorine bleach to disinfect water is that it has a short shelf life and so should be rotated from your survival gear every 3 months or so in order to keep at full strength.

    Sodium Chlorite / Chlorine Dioxide Tablets or Drops

    These tablets also use chlorination as their method of purification. Sodium Chlorite produces chlorine dioxide giving it the ability to treat water. Chlorination, is a common method of disinfecting water, and is commonly used by water treatment facilities for this purpose. Chlorine kills bacteria by destroying the cell walls of the bacterium/virus, killing the organism. Fortunately, when we drink chlorinated water, your digestive system quickly neutralizes the chlorine. So chlorine concentrations along the gastrointestinal tract are, in all likelihood, too low to cause damage.
    Add one of these tablets to a quart of water. Allow it to sit for approximately 4 hours. Shaking the container once or twice helps dissolve the tablet more quickly, and improves distribution of the tablet.
    Water treated in this manner has a slight bleach/chlorine taste, which is less than your average city water. The advantage of these pills is their simplicity; add the tab, and let sit. The disadvantage is that you will be waiting for a while before you can drink it.

    Treating Water by Filtration

    A water filter works by pumping the water to be treated through a microscopic filter which is rated for a certain size of organism. If the filter holes are large enough, disease organisms can get through. Of special concern are viruses, which are small enough to penetrate a number of the common water filters on the market today. Some water filters on the market will not protect from all the common water borne disease organisms. Caution is advised and be sure to read the filter instructions.

    Common Microorganisms and the Required Water Filter Pore Size
    When choosing a ceramic filter it is a good idea to get information on the filter's micron rating:

    Some contaminants and their size in microns:

    Giardia lamblia: 8 to 12 microns
    Cryptosporidium parvum: 4 to 6 microns
    Bacteria (salmonella - E.coli): 0.2 to 4 microns
    Viruses: 0.004 to 0.1 microns

    Micro-filtration Water Filters

    There are lots of options when it comes to portable micro-filters. As you've read above, it is important to know what it can and cannot filter out of the water.

    Filter bottles

    There are also many different types of these available, simply fill the bottle with water and it filters it as you drink.

    Survival Filter Straws

    There are several manufacturers of survival straws or emergency water filter systems. This one is from Lifestraw.

    Ultraviolet Light Purification

    I like to call this "The Jedi Method" of water purification, because the devices used look like mini-light sabers.

    From "UV purification works as the ultraviolet energy emitted by the light is absorbed by the cells of the microbe, preventing cell enzymes from 'reading' its DNA. Without intact DNA, microbes can’t reproduce to make you sick. The process is simple but effective, destroying over 99.9 percent of harmful microorganisms."
    "Purifying water with UV light offers many advantages. In addition to being safe and effective, UV light does not alter the taste, pH, or other properties of the water, and works without the introduction of chemicals to the water. products use ultraviolet (UV) light technology to purify water, destroying more than 99.9 percent of bacteria, viruses and protozoan cysts such as giardia and cryptosporidia."

    UV treating water will not remove chemical toxins, as stated before, these are very difficult to get rid of.

    Making Your Own Emergency Water Filter

    An empty 2 liter bottle, bottom removed and filled with layers of sand and crushed charcoal to make an improvised water filter.

    You can make a survival water filter using only your knife and the materials provided by nature. Fashioned from a birch bark cone containing layers of grasses and sand, this water filter will effectively remove particles from the water. If you happen to have charcoal, crush it and include it among your layers, it will serve to remove bacteria from the water.
    Make a horizontal cut all the way around a birch tree with a knife. Make an identical cut about 15 inches below the first one. Join the horizontal cuts with a single vertical cut.
    Slip the tip of the knife blade through the vertical cut and under one side of the bark to create a slightly loosened edge to grasp. Pull or pry the bark strip from the tree in a single piece.
    Roll one end of the bark inward, like rolling a newspaper, to form a cone. Roll the tip end of the cone as tightly as you can, leaving an opening no bigger than a penny, if possible. Secure the cone's shape by using some flexible vines around it to tie it into place, creating a container.
    Drop several small rocks or stones into the bottom of the cone. These will serve to hold filtering materials in the container.
    Alternate layers of sand, grasses and crushed charcoal, if you have it, to fill the cone. Make each layer an inch or so deep. It doesn't matter which material you start or end with, as long as they are alternated.
    Pour impure water into the top of the survival water filter and collect it in a separate container held below the filter. If the filtered water doesn't look clear, filter it again.
    ( As pictured above, you could also use an empty plastic bottle in this process, by cutting the bottom off of it, if you don't have access to birch bark.)
    Read more: How to Build a Survival Water Filter |

    Some canteens have a built-in screen to help block large particles. Heavier sediment will make it more difficult to purify the water from contaminants. Another good idea is to use anything from a coffee filter to a piece of cloth to pre-filter the water before boiling or chemical treatment.

    Solar Still

    Using the sun's energy, you can purify water and have your own source for clean, drinkable water. The process is fairly simple and easy to accomplish, however it is advisable to create several solar stills as each one will only produce a small amount of water.

    Search for a place that has a high level of exposure from the sun. Ideally, you will want a south facing slope or sandy beach area that is easy to dig into and that receives sunlight throughout the day. If possible, find a location that has wet, moist soil and exposure to the sun. However, if you have to choose between one environmental consideration or the other, finding a sunny spot takes precedence.

    Use a shovel to dig a hole that is roughly 3-by-3-by-3 feet.
    Place an empty cup in the middle of the hole so that it is resting with its open side facing up towards the top of the hole. If the ground is moist enough, you will not need to put any water source inside the hole. However, the solar still will work better if you can increase the humidity by placing another cup that is full of non-purified water inside the hole as well. (Grass and green non-poisonous, vegetation also work.)

    Stretch the clear or black plastic sheet over the top of the hole and line the plastic sheet with rocks on its edges. If possible place dirt or large rocks on the outer edges of the plastic so that no air or moisture can seep out from the inside of the hole. Place a rock in the center of plastic sheet, on top of the hole. The rock should be large enough to create a depression in the plastic. When the sun hits the plastic, it will trap the heat inside the hole, causing evaporation and condensation on the inside of the plastic. The rock will cause the condensing water to run down to the center of the plastic and drip down into the cup placed in the middle of the hole. The water gathered inside the cup is completely purified and safe to drink.

    Read more: How to Make a Water Purifier Using Solar Energy |


    Transpiration, also referred to as sweating, is the process by which plants lose water through their leaves especially, but also stems, flowers and fruits. this water is converted from liquid form to vapor and released to the atmosphere.

    Here is how to collect water using Transpiration:
    Clear plastic bags work best for transpiration, as sun shines through the bag causing photo synthesis, which will in turn cause transpiration.
    Carefully slide the bag over a leafy branch containing at least 3 or 4 healthy green leaves that are dry on the surface. Tie the top of the bag off with whatever is available (handkerchief, hair band, twist tie, shoelace, etc.) Any of these will act as a gasket to make sure there are no air leaks. Do not tie off around more than one branch as this would permit air leaks and that will hurt the process efficiency considerably.
    As the bag heats up, it draws water from the selected branch and the hot air evaporates it, eventually leaving condensation on the inside of the bag.
    You can place a rock or stick to the bottom of the bag to draw the water to the bottom. You can also tie the branch to the trunk of the tree to hold it in a downward position.
    Let the bag sit in the sunlight until you feel enough water has collected in the feel enough water has collected in the bottom of the bag. you can either remove the bag ,cut a small slit in the bag above the water line and squeeze the water into your mouth or a container. Alternatively you could insert a drinking tube into the water through the top of the bag.
    Any leaves in the water will color and flavor the water. Oaks and other high tannin plants will make the water taste bitter but it's not poisonous.
    Sometimes, the tree branches that you may choose just wilt and cook in the sun (especially if you leave the bag on for more than a day for example). So if you have many trees around, switch the bag from branch to branch.

    Vegetation Bag

    Similar to the Transpiration Bag, only vegetation such as grasses and moss are gathered and put into the bag.

    Drinking Water From Wild Grape Vines

    Grape vines are a good source of clean, emergency water. Especially in the spring of the year or any wet season. They also grow in almost every region of the U.S. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the grape vines in your area, you don't want to mistakenly drink from a poisonous vine. Just cut into the grape vine and drink from it, or collect the water in a container. The larger the vine, the more water it will contain.

    Water Carrying and Storage

    In the most ideal situation you will have a solid container to carry the water that you find (i.e. metal/plastic pot, water bottle, or canteen) Most stores that sell camping supplies will have collapsible water jugs and bottles, these are an excellent thing to have in your survival kit. However, other alternatives to consider are:
    -Zip-Loc bags
    -a plastic sheet, folded to form a bag.
    -a condom, preferably with no spermicide, or lubricant, inside of a sock to prevent bursting the latex, funny, but it works.

    6 Dangerous “Urban Survival Myths” About Water

    1. Running water is safe to drink. Don’t count on it. Remember it came from somewhere and the source or what it came in contact survival waterwith between the source and reaching your location could be suspect. Typically if you have to choose between running water and stagnate water always default to the former but make sure you also treat and purify the water before you consume it.

    2. Eating snow is a great way to rehydrate safely. NO!, This can actually lead to further dehydration due to the snow because of the process your body has to go through to heat and melt the snow once you eat it. It can also lead to hypothermia. Also, if the snow has been on the ground for a significant period of time it could contain bacteria and other organisms that can make you sick. Always try to melt snow before you consume it. If the snow is not white & fresh, stay away from it or at least make sure you melt, purify, and treat it as you would any other suspect water.

    3. Drinking saltwater in small amounts is safe. NO! NO! NO! Drinking saltwater in any amount will lead to further dehydration and DEATH more quickly than if you went without water at all. You can use saltwater to apply to your body to cool down ,but never to drink.

    4. Water found in natural depressions is safe to drink. NO!, this should be treated before drinking. It has all the risks associated with stagnate groundwater and runoff.

    5. Drinking urine will prevent dehydration. You can drink urine 1 to 2 times in an extreme emergency but remember, urine is how you pass waste products out of your body. There is more water than waste products in a well hydrated individual however the ratio goes down as your hydration levels go down. Hence your urine will become darker colored as you become more dehydrated. To turn around and put those waste products back into your body and force it to process and filter them again causes more work and bogs your body systems down. This forces your body to need more water to complete the body processes and to try and pass these waste products yet again, in addition to the new waste products created by the increased workload. It is a process of diminishing returns and eventually your body will shut itself down.

    6. Barrel Cacti are a great source of water. This is not necessarily true. Although cacti do hold water, the odds are that the inside will be tough and fibrous and the water contained will not be abundant. In addition there is a greater likelihood that the water inside will be bitter and acidic which could induce vomiting, diarrhea and cramps. This would further complicate a survival situation and speed up dehydration.

    Most importantly ,all water that comes from untested sources should be considered contaminated and be treated before drinking. Toxic chemicals are difficult to remove,( if the water has a chemical,petroleum, or other unnaturally strong smell, pass it by, don't drink it!), but pathogens can be destroyed, inactivated, or removed using a variety of methods that include boiling, filtering, and chemical additives. Use common sense most of all, if you have any doubt at all about a water source, treat it! It's wise to use a combination of these methods on the water you intend to drink: filter, boil, chemical treatment, in that order, if possible. I have had Dysentery before, trust me, it's not fun at all, I would not wish that on my worst enemy! There are worse things than Dysentery lurking for those who drink untreated water. But don't worry, you now know some of the skills you'll need to obtain clean, safe drinking water in a survival situation. I urge you to use the resources at your disposal to learn more, knowledge is power and water is life.

    Stay safe (and hydrated) out there.

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