Survival Skills – Purifying Water
As the rifle seasons begin to take place more and more hunters will be heading out into the wild in pursuit of game. Many of us have already been out hunting this year, but the rifle seasons attract the majority of hunters. According to the US Fish and Wildlife there are approximately 12.7 million people in the United States that hunt with a rifle, shotgun, or handgun. An interesting side note is that there are 70 – 80 million gun owners in the US, so hunters only comprise about 15% of gun owners. That is beside the point of my article tonight, but I felt the need to point that out given the gun control climate these days.
With all of these hunters heading into the wilderness there are bound to be some survival situations arise, or even some close calls. I enjoy informing people about survival skills, and one that I have had to use many times is finding drinking water. When I bow hunt in the wilderness of Colorado in September it is not uncommon to run out of water on an all-day hunt. Staying hydrated, especially at high altitude, is critical for your safety and for a comfortable hunt. Water is heavy to carry, and I can almost always find water anywhere in the mountains after I expend my supply. However, even those pristine-looking mountain streams can contain things that will make you sick. The one exception to that is spring water that comes directly from the ground, and even with spring water there is a slight risk. I wrote an article about how to find water, which you can read by clicking here.
I remember one time on a ten-day backpacking elk hunt I decided to take a bath in a mountain stream one afternoon, I was disgustingly dirty. It was a warm day and I found a deep pool in a small mountain stream that was in the sunlight. I stripped off my clothes, got my bar of bio-degradable soap and had one of the best baths of my life; it felt so good to get clean! I washed some clothes too, and then sat there in the sunlight for a couple of hours while things dried and I rested. When it was time to head out for an evening hunt, 15 yards upstream of where I took my bath and washed my clothes there was a dead, decaying beaver right in the middle of the stream. I didn’t feel so clean after seeing that, but my point is to never assume that mountain stream water is clean for drinking.
Drinking impure water can turn your hunting trip into a nightmare, and in a survival situation it can be your demise. There are many types of water filters that you can put in your pack, and there are also many types of water purification tablets which are extremely light weight and compact. I prefer not to carry a filter on day trips, I just don’t like the extra weight, but I always carry purification tablets.
One thing I always carry in my pack is a piece of tightly woven cotton cloth to drain water into my water bladder of my backpack or canteen as the first step in filtration, this will get out the big pieces of debris, but not the harmful bacteria or pathogens. This is where the water treatment tablets do their job; just follow the instructions on the particular type of purification tablets you choose. Iodine works as well, but I don’t like the taste it leaves in the water.
Of course the best thing you can do is boil water, and I always do this if I have the time or don’t have purification tablets. Another thing I always carry in my pack is a small cylindrical pot; it is very lightweight and takes up little space. I can boil water in this pot and also make meals of freeze dried food. It is best to boil water for at least five minutes to be sure you have killed anything that might kill you.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you should treat snow and ice the same way as you would water from a stream or a lake; it should be boiled. If you are in a situation where you might find snow or ice, you probably need a fire for warmth as well, so be cognizant of the fuel required to melt snow and ice. It is best to not fill your pot to the top with snow; you can melt and boil snow more quickly by melting about a half pot of snow, and then adding more. For ice, it is best to break it up into smaller pieces if possible; it will melt more quickly this way. The main thing to remember is to be prepared; have your water purification tablets, have your cotton straining cloth, and have a small pot in your pack.
Knowing that you have the things you need takes some of the stress out of a survival situation, and it also lets you go farther into the wilderness with confidence that you will have water if you need it.