How to Purify Water While Camping – 9 Safest Ways

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Are you looking to learn about how to purify water while camping and wat the best water purification devices are?

In this article, we’re going to discuss the biggest risks of drinking contaminated water, the primary differences between water purification and filtration, and then the different types of purification and filtration device the market has to offer.

By the end, you will have learned everything you need to know about making water safe to drink for your next outdoor adventure.

Does All Water Need to Be Treated?

As a golden rule of thumb, you should treat all water you collect while camping, backpacking, or hiking out in the woods.

It’s better to be safe rather than sorry and to treat all natural water that you collect for bacteria, pesticides, toxins, and chemical contaminants. This is especially true if you find yourself in a survival situation without guaranteed or quick access to professional medical help.

You may be wondering - what happens when you drink contaminated water?

The Risks of Drinking Contaminated Water

The Risks of Drinking Contaminated Water

First and foremost, when you consume contaminated water the physical symptoms of negative health effects. The extent of the issues will also be determined by a number of factors beyond what was in the water itself, including your age and physical condition.

If you do drink water that’s contaminated with chemicals or with bacteria, it’s very much possible to experience dehydration, severe intestinal or abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, major gastrointestinal problems, and in severe cases, death. And remember, just because none of these symptoms are present right away after drinking the water doesn’t mean that there won’t be potential complications down the road.

In order to ensure that the water is totally safe to drink after collecting, you’ll need to turn to alternative personal water treatment options. This is where a water purification system and a water filtration system come in. But which is better?

Water Filtration vs. Water Purification

Many people believe that the terms ‘water filter’ and ‘water purifier’ mean one and the same, but this could not be any further from the truth. This means that just because you’ve run water through a filter does not necessarily mean that it is ‘purified.’ There are both portable water filtration and purification devices, but the way in which these systems operate can vary significantly.

Water filtration is defined as when porous substances are used to remove chemicals, dirt, toxins, and other debris from water. Water purification is defined as when a method such as distillation or reverse osmosis is used to sanitize water and remove harmful contaminants and bacteria. Reverse osmosis is when water is forced through a porous membrane and then forced under osmotic pressure to remove particles, while distillation is when water is separated with evaporation and condensation.

Water filtration is the best method to use to remove visible offensive substances such as dirt and debris (among other kinds of contaminants such as lead or mercury), while water purification is the best method to use to remove the chemicals and bacteria that you can’t see. Filtration can remove some chemicals and bacteria, but not all.

Neither filtration or purification should be discounted, and moving your water through both a filter and purifying it will be a surefire way to ensure that it is absolutely safe to drink.

Methods Of Purification

Methods Of Purification

Some of the most popular methods of water purification include:


One of the most commonly cited remedies for treating water that you collect in a natural outdoors setting will be to simply boil it. Boiling refers to rapidly vaporizing water by bringing it to its boiling point through heat. While it is true that boiling water long enough will do an excellent job for killing viruses, bacteria, and parasites, it’s also true that due to evaporation it will increase the concentration of other kinds of contaminants.

Purification Tablets

Water purification tablets are designed to eliminate micro-organisms in water in order to prevent a number of water-borne diseases, including but not limited to typhoid, dysentery, cholera. However, they will not remove the offensive substances that you can see, and any water that you purify water purification tablets will likely need to be run through a filtration system of some sort as well.

Plan on using at least one purification tablet for every liter of water.

Best Camping Purification Tablets:

Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets

Coghlan's Drinking Water Tablets

Rothco Us Military Water Purification Tablets

UV Light Purifiers

UV light purifiers work by using short wave ultraviolet light to inactivate microorganisms and pathogens in water. Most UV light purifiers come in the shape of a pen, and only require a minute or so to treat the water in a bottle. You just need to turn on the UV light and then stir it around the water. UV light purifiers require battery, and they also only work with water that is clear. Water that is cloudy or silty will need to be treated further.

Iodine Purification

Iodine purification is a very effective purification method for viruses, protozoa, and bacteria. They usually come in the form of drops or pills and just need to be mixed in with water. When using with hot water, you will need to wait around a half an hour before consuming, while with icy cold water you may need to weight for four to five hours.

The iodine is also sure to leave an unpleasant chemical taste behind, so be sure to treat the water with a neutralizer tablet as well to eliminate the taste. As with the purification tablets method, iodine purification can eliminate pathogens and bacteria that you cannot see, but the water will require filtration to remove visible offensive substances.

Plan on using five drops if iodine per liter of water, or ten drops if the water is particularly cloudy.

Chlorine Purification

Chlorine purification is where chlorine is added to water in order to disinfect it. The chlorine is usually available in the form of either solid calcium hypochlorite or sodium hypochlorite solution. Chlorine purification should always be combined with filtration to make the water truly safe to drink. Plan on using two drops of chlorine for every liter of water, or eight drops for every gallon.

Methods of Filtration

Some of the most popular methods of water filtration include:

Bottle Filters

Bottle filters are simple water bottles with a built-in filtration system. Most use a suction system for when you sip the water from a valve, but some will use UV lights as well. Bottle filters enable you to drink the water right away, but as with most filters, they may not remove all bacteria and pathogens that you can’t see. Fill up your bottle, drop a purification tablet in here, and then screw the filtration cap back on and drink the water.

Best Camping Water Bottles with Filters:

Survivor Water Filter Bottle. Made in USA

LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottles

Nalgene OG Water Bottle with Filter

Gravity Filters

Gravity filters remove contaminants from water through, well, gravity. A gravity filter device will consist of an upper chamber to pour the water into, and a lower chamber for containing the filtered water. A mediator in between the two chambers will filter the water through. This is a good system to use to filter large volumes of water at once, but it’s not very portable and the process can be slow.

Straw Style Filters

Straw style filters enable you to drink water directly from the source. You’ll insert the front end of the straw into your mouth and the reverse end into the source of water, and then you’ll use suction to drink the water directly using the straw.

Best Camping Water Straw Style Filters:

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

FS-TFC Personal Water Filter Straw

Sawyer Products MINI Water Filtration System

Squeeze Filters

Squeeze filters are very similar to bottle filters except they work by filling up a small reservoir and then squeeze the water through the filtration cartridge. This is a very quick method to use for treating water, although they often require consistent field maintenance and cleaning in order to work to their full potential.

What’s The Best Method For Various Scenarios?

Here are the best water treatment methods to use for:


For backpacking, you’ll want to use a portable water filter and purification device together. Specifically, a bottle filter in conjunction with purification tablets would be very convenient: fill up water from a stream or lake into your bottle, place a purification tablet into the bottle, and then screw the filtration cap back on and drink.

Car Camping

For car camping, you can bring a number of different purification and filtration methods along with you. You can boil the water over a campfire, but you can also bring along straw style filters, bottle filters, purification tablets, and UV light purifiers.


For RV traveling or camping, you can use more stationary water filtration systems such as gravity filters designed to provide water to multiple people. You should also keep iodine or chlorine purifiers on hand, and you should have the option to boil your water in your RV’s kitchen as well.

Best Camping Water Containers:

Scepter 05177 Military Water Container

Reliance 7 Gallon Rigid Water Container

Igloo 6 Gallon Water Container


• How much water should you take camping?

The golden rule to follow in regards to storing water is one gallon per person per day in order to stay fully hydrated. Therefore, take the number of people in your group and multiply that by the number of days you’re going camping. For example, for a three day camping trip for four people, you’ll need no less than twelve gallons of water.

• Can I drink water straight from a river?

You can if you want, but it’s a question of whether or not it’s wise to do so. As noted previously, it’s better to always be safe rather than sorry. If you do drink water straight from a river, always use a filtration device such as a filtration straw, and strongly consider boiling or purifying the water as well.

• Can you purify water without a filter?

As was discussed previously, water purification and filtration are two different things. You can purify water without a filter and drink it, but it’s far safer to use filtration and purification together in order to remove all contaminants, bacteria, and pathogens.

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