The reality of the matter is that as privileged as we are in the United States to have plenty of opportunities to access clean and sanitized water, that may not always be the case. Preppers are more familiar with the reality of the risks that we face than any other segment of our population, and there are always additional steps that we can take to ensure our survival through tough times. Because our country and our public face so many life-threatening challenges that could potentially impact the way that we live our daily lives, we have to seriously consider the possibility that we will, one day soon, be on the move without access to clean water.
On any normal day, you need to be drinking two quarts of water at a minimum, and that number changes drastically depending on the amount of physical exertion that you engage in during the day. As your energy output increases, so does your need for water. As you probably know, you can get dehydrated after only six hours without water, so it is of utmost importance that you quickly locate a safe source of water. When an attack or disaster occurs that requires you to leave your home and live “on the run,” without stable housing, your absolute first priority should be finding potable water. If you can, stay close by this body of water. That will not always be feasible depending on the threat at hand, however, so here are some important things to consider when evaluating new (potential) water sources.
Some Water Purification Dos and Don’ts
In order to prepare for a situation in which you will need access to clean water on the go (or confined in a small place), it is important to examine some misconceptions about clean water.
Never assume running water is safe. While running water is usually preferable to stagnant water, it can still be contaminated by heavy metals, toxins, or everyday trash dumped into a water supply. For this reason, you will need to be able to thoroughly purify water before you drink it, no matter its source.
Never drink salt water without purifying it, no matter how thirsty you are. It is far more detrimental for your health to drink salt water than it is to go without water, so do not drink salt water unless you can purify it first. You can use typical purification methods like boiling and chemical purifiers on salt water just as you would with contaminated fresh water. It may even be a good idea to use a double redundancy system, both boiling and filtering your water, for example.
Never eat snow to hydrate. Unless you have a way to heat snow and turn it into a water supply that can be purified, eating snow as a way to hydrate is a risky choice. Snow does not automatically turn into hydrating water: your body has to heat and process it. This process can use a lot of your energy and become a trade-off with your hydration attempts. Snow that has been resting on the ground is also much more likely to accrue bacteria from animals and the environment that need to be filtered out, which is why it’s important to purify this water source. If you can start a little fire, dump snow into a bucket, and then purify the snow-turned-water, you’re much more likely to avoid hypothermia or other health related side effects of consuming snow.
Never drink your own urine. While this is a popular move on many survival shows on television, it can actually do more harm to your system than good. There is water in your urine, which is why some people suggest that you should consume it when you’re without potable water. However, the truth of the matter is that urine contains all of the waste products that your body cannot process. When you consume these components over and over again, it can be very hard on your body.
Always know your options. There are many plants with a high enough water content to be hydrating in a pinch. Palm trees, bamboo, and coconuts are all plants that can offer hydration. Like cacti, whether or not you can use vines as a water supply depends on the type of plant. Cut open the vine that you have found, and examine the vine to see if any sap is produced. If this vine produces any sap (especially a white latex sap), you should not drink it. The thicker a vine, the better your chances of finding water are. In order to optimize the water that you can drain out of a vine, make two cuts into the vine, starting with the highest hanging side of the vine. Making a high incision and then a low incision in order to prevent the vine from clamping down and protecting the water within. With all plants that you are attempting to drink water out of, you should try small sips and wait to ensure that you do not have any poor reaction to the water.
Always stock up on water from home. If something happens and water in your home stops running, there are some other options for quick water access. Before you go anyway, check your home for clean water sources. If you are using a relatively conventional water heater (with a tank) you can use the water being held in the tank. Turn off the gas or electricity that feeds into your water heater, and then you have somewhere between twenty and fifty gallons of potable water at your fingertips. You cannot take all of this water with you if the situation requires that you go into hiding in the wilderness for survival, but you can take several gallons with you, and you have the option of attempting to return to your home to get more water when necessary.
Always collect rainwater. For the most part, rainwater is safe to drink without purification. Do some research about the conditions in your area (or areas in your emergency plan) to investigate whether or not rainwater is likely to be contaminated. It might not be “acid rain,” but pollution in any given area can make rainwater dangerous to drink, in which case you would need to purify the water before drinking it.
Portable Water Purification
If you have the tools to do so (a pot or any other metal container and a fire) you can boil the water, which is the most effective way to purify water that you might find in nature. This is the least complicated purification method, and you can even achieve a rudimentary version of this process by using a large shell, jar, can, or bucket to boil water if your supplies are limited, as they are likely to be. It is crucial that you boil water for a minimum of ten minutes in order to ensure that the water is properly prepared for drinking. While boiling is the easiest way to purify water, it does mean that you have to carry a pot with you, rather than a small pack of tablets or a tiny bottle of bleach unless you find a natural container that you can boil water in. Whether or not you plan on carrying a pot with you to boil water, it’s important that you have backup options, especially because conditions won’t always permit you to start a fire. In rain or a storm, for example, you may not be able to boil water, but you may need the liquid desperately.
If you don’t have the equipment necessary to boil water or you need to boil water quickly, there are other options available. Chemical filtration comes in a wide range of options, whether you are using specialized tablets designed to purify water or you are simply adding bleach to your water. Like boiling water, chemical filtration does not immediately render water safe to drink. The time between adding a chemical to water and being able to drink it depends on the type of chemical used. It is usually safe to wait a minimum of twenty minutes before drinking if you are unsure of the safety of the water supply.
The most rudimentary form of water purification filters water through a charcoal or ceramic filter and then cleanses it. This is a great method for removing large particles, but it can be space consuming: filters clog easily and you would likely need to carry backup filters.
Portable Water Storage
Not only will you need a reliable way to purify water, you will need to be able to store water without weighing yourself down too much. Water sources that you can purify and consume may be few and far between, especially depending on what part of the country you are in. Because of that, you should take advantage of the water sources you do find, and stock up on water stores. To do that, you are going to need a lightweight storage container. An important feature of any portable water storage container is that it should be collapsible for easy carrying when you are without water (admittedly, we would all prefer to avoid that situation).
The Jolly Tank  is a store-sold portable water storage container that folds down to the size of an average wallet, holds up to two gallons of water, and is extremely lightweight. If you are looking to purchase a water storage container, you should look for something along these lines. There are many similar products on the market. The best decision you can make is to be well equipped with several of these types of containers, so that you can carry as much water as possible, but they should not be the end-all-be-all of your portable water storage choices. You should make it a priority to invest in traditional water storage containers as well; rigid or canvas water containers can be useful in high intensity situations. If something happens and you are in particularly rough terrain or moving at a rapid pace, plastic water containers are far more likely to be punctured or damage, and losing your water supply can be a life-threatening situation if you cannot immediately replace it.
Portable Water Heaters
You should make a list of all of the functions that you require water for every day, and think about how many of those needs can be met with no or limited water. In cold terrains, if you can find water, you will likely need a water heater just to warm snow or water enough to be able to drink it. You can buy tankless water heaters from the store (there are plenty of options), but they tend to be expensive and you could make a similarly effective tankless water heater that will easily fit in any survival pack. Large tankless water heaters are great for off-the-grid homes, and your options can run on propane or batteries and heat water from anywhere between 80 and 150 degrees, so keep those in mind for you home.
You should invest time now in making your own portable water heater so that it is one less thing that you have to worry about when an emergency occurs and you have to take off. If it is sunny outside, you can construct a pretty simple design with only a large trash bag and a five-gallon bottle. Fill the bottle with water and screw the top on, and then tie the trash bag up. Leave it outside until it is warm, then remove the bottle from the trash bag and attach a hose to the bottle. Turn it upside down and unfold the hose, allowing warm water to flow out of the bottle. A more complex design will require an inner tube between three and fifteen inches, scissors, a pipe coupler, rubber-sealing compound, and an old garden hose. Use water to clean off a portion of the inner tube and then cut a ¼-inch hole in the side. Take the pipe coupler, cut off the bottom half, and then smother it in the rubber-sealing product before pushing it into the inner tube opening. Let the rubber-sealing component dry thoroughly before you do anything else, to make sure that there is an airtight seal. Coat the outer area with several thin layers of rubber-sealer to solidify the seal (again, let it dry thoroughly) and then attach a garden hose to your new water heater.
If you don’t have access to these types of materials, look around and see what you do have. The best way to survive in a tough situation is to think creatively—and of course, be prepared.
©2013 Off the Grid News