Five Ways to Make Clean Drinking Water


Whether you’re backcountry hunting, through hiking, traveling the world or bugging out, if you live out of a backpack long enough you’ll likely need to source clean drinking water. Here’s a quick run-down of methods and five solid water purification / water filtration options to choose from for clean drinking water. 

Without a massive system in place, there are five main ways to make clean drinking water: boiling, filtration, distillation, chemical purification and radiation. We’re going to quickly eliminate two from this water purification discussion.

While boiling is simple and works well, it takes time and fuel. If those are available aplenty, go for it. At sea level, the water needs to be at a rolling boil for a minute, at higher elevations it needs to do the same for three minutes to achieve clean drinking water. 

We’ll also cross distillation off the list. If you’ve got the time, equipment and ingenuity to boil, condense and collect pure water, you don’t need this article. True, survival in desert environments can include setting up a collection system to evaporate/condense/collect moisture from plant life, but that’s a whole different topic. 

That leaves us with three methods remaining – water filtration, water purification and radiation. Here are my five suggested systems involving these:

Lifestraw Peak Series (filtration)

Definitely not my water filtration method of choice, but they deliver as promised. One step up from the basic Lifestraw, the Peak is affordable, effective, lightweight and versatile. Employing a microfilter with a 0.2 micron pore size, it will filter enough water to last an individual for five years. Adding some versatility to the standard Lifestraw, this version attaches to standard water bottle threads or inline in a hose from a water bladder. LifeStraw Peak Series

Synonymous with pure water, the LifeStraw Peak adds extra versatility over the brand’s standard filtration straw.

Use as a straw is pretty self-explanatory, but this version allows incorporation into several water vessel types. It can be added to any bottle with standard cap threads or to the hose of a bladder system. While dipping dirty water from a stream into a bottle doesn’t bother me, I’m less enthused about employing a backpack water bladder as the dirty side of a drinking water system. 

Main Drawback: The negative of a microfilter like this (and the others on this list) is that they will be damaged irreparably if frozen – the expansion of any water within the filter as it freezes will render the filter less effective at removing bacteria, viruses and other bugs floating in the water it’s meant to make safe. 

Aquamira Treatment Drop System (purification)

My back-up water purification system of choice, the two-part Aquamira drop system is simple, incredibly lightweight and has an extended shelf life. Once mixed in its attached lid/cup, the system activates within five minutes and can be added to the water needing purification. Within a half hour it kills viruses and bacteria but it does need nearly four hours to kill cryptosporidium in standard temperature water. 

Offering chemical purification, Aquamira’s two-part drop system is ultra lightweight and makes an ideal back-up for creating drinking water, but might not be ideal as a primary system.

I wouldn’t choose these as my go-to for daily water, but if making the water safe is the main goal, the Aquamira system will definitely do the trick. 

Main Drawback: Time it takes to kill crypto – extended further in colder weather. 

Steripen (radiation)

Employing UV light to kill viruses, bacteria and protozoa, the Steripen is a stand-out for speed and effectiveness. This product fall under water purification. In less than a minute you’ll have clean and safe drinking water dipped from any source. 

Just dip water from a source into your bottle, stick the Steripen’s lamp into the water, turn it on and swirl for flair. It won’t remove pine needles, but they’re there for fiber anyway. Steripen can be found here!

Using UV light, the Steripen is fast and effective and makes an excellent primary water purification system – just be sure to pack some extra batteries.

Main Drawback: Batteries. Requiring four AA batteries, the Steripen makes for an excellent primary water purification method if you’ve got a back-up. 

MSR HyperFlow (filtration)

Another of my go-to systems, the HyperFlow is great for making higher quantities of filtered water without being a heavy system. At under 8 ounces, it delivers water filtration at speed and easy use, while putting out an impressive flow of water. MSR HyperFlow

Pumping water through its micropore filtration system, the HyperFlow is quick, effective and lightweight.

Main Drawback: Freezing, like most micropore filters. 

Rapid Pure Gravity Purifier (filtration)

If your system doesn’t need to ride on your back all day, larger and heavier gravity systems like this are highly effective at water filtration. Fill it up with 9 liters of dirty water, hang it from a limb and reap the rewards gravity provides. Rapid Pure Gravity Purifier

If weight and bulk aren’t a huge concern, a gravity filtration system can provide high quantities of filtered water.

Main Drawback: Weight. At 1 ½ lbs, a gravity system like this isn’t ideal for carrying in a pack. 

Bonus System:

Sawyer Micro Squeeze (filtration)

Slightly less versatile than the Lifestraw, the Micro Squeeze one is my wife’s favorite products for water filtration. It does require a bottle to be mounted to (or a hose from a bladder), but it’s quite a bit smaller and easier to stash in the side pocket of a pack. It easily screws to the top of a Smart Water bottle or just about any plastic pop bottle with a standard cap size, creating a stream of clean, fresh water as you squeeze the bottle. 

Simple and small, the Micro Squeeze from Sawyer attaches to a water or pop bottle with a standard style cap, making it a great companion for international travel.

Main Drawback: Like the Lifestraw, it can’t be frozen or it’ll be rendered less effective, but it’s easy to slip into a sleeping bag at night when the temperatures drop. Sawyer Micro Squeeze

This is far from an exhaustive list of water purification and water filtration systems, but it’s a solid start for those looking for direction. It might be that a dedicated bottle with built-in filter is most appropriate for you – leave a comment below if you’ve found a system you prefer most.

Written by

Zachary Hein

Fousek Creative LLC

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