Whether you’re going out for a camping trip that goes awry, or you become stranded somewhere with no help, learning how to purify water is essential if you want to survive. Without water, humans can generally only survive for up to three days. The number does not include individual specific conditions, age, and other factors. 

Learning how to purify water will help you should you ever run into a survival scenario. Here, we give you the ultimate guide explaining how to locate sources, utilize the land to assist, and purify the substance no matter what equipment you have. 

1. Take Stock of Your Situation

When you initially find yourself in a survival scenario, don’t panic. Take deep breaths and situate yourself in your surroundings. What do you have with you? Do you have camping gear, or do you only have a cellphone and a bottle? Go through a checklist in your mind of the things you need to prioritize. 

You’ll want to perform a mental and physical scan of yourself before you start your search for water. If you have any injuries, you won’t be able to move as far or as quickly. Plus, your mental state might close some path possibilities for you. 

Your scan should be efficient and fast-paced but allow you to transition from a panicked state to a survival state. 

2. Follow the Rule of 3

In any dire situation, survivalists always recommend following the Rule of 3. It dictates how much time you have to survive without the essentials for life:

  • 3 min. without oxygen
  • 3 hrs. without shelter
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

The Rule of 3 means that you have three days to find safe, drinkable water. 

3. Survey the Land for Potential Water Sources

Once you’ve collected yourself and taken stock, it’s time to survey the land for potential water sources. 

The water-rich areas will vary depending on the environment. If you’re in a desert, you’ll look for different sources than a temperate rain forest or a swamp. You can also rely on precipitation for emergencies, whether it’s rain, snow, or something else. 

Deserts have pockets of land where water stands interspersed among the sands. If you can orient yourself north, try to look for canyons shielded on the northern side. Broad-leaved trees like palms are also indicators of water. 

If you’re in a rainforest, follow the birds, insects, and other animals to their water sources. For both swamps and rainforests, you can also tap trees to get water if you have a spigot. 

4. Figure Out How to Get the Water

No matter where you are, you’ll have to come up with a way to access the water. 

If you’re choosing a tree, you’ll need to have a spigot or a way to tap into it. In a desert or near a river/stream/lake, you’ll need a patch of dry land to stand close enough and capture the liquid. 

In all cases, you’ll need something to hold the water. If you have a bottle, you can utilize that. However, you can also use thrown-away plastic bottles if you find any. You can even fill tree trunks, animal hides and stomachs, or branches with water if they hold. 

5. Choose Your Purification Method

Clean water

Now, before you drink the water straight from the source, you need to purify it. You don’t want to risk becoming ill from unknown pathogens. Fortunately, there are various purification methods. 


If you’re focused on surviving, boiling is a great way to go. Fire will help you stay warm, cook any food that you procure, and purify water. 

Give your water one to five minutes at a rolling boil to kill most bacteria and pathogens. If you don’t have a fireproof container, you can place heat-resistant rocks onto the fire. When they’re hot, put them into your container for 30 minutes. Avoid any rocks by rivers or streams.


In areas where there is a risk of contamination, distillation is your only option. You can heat the water and turn it into steam. Then capture the steam to drink. The distillation gets rid of most heavy particles and makes relatively clean water. All you need is a pressure canner and some copper tubing. 

Using a Survival Straw

For situations where you’re out camping and find yourself stuck, you can use a survival straw. All you need to do is put the straw in the source and drink. The filter attaches to the straw itself, making it simple to purify. Sometimes, you can even attach the straw to a garden hose or damaged water heater. 

Using a Filter

You can also utilize either a pump-action filter or a drip/suction filter to purify water. Having a filter on you when you’re hiking or out in the wilderness is essential for potential survival situations. You can either pump the water through a filter or let gravity do the work, depending on your time constraints. 

Using UV Light

UV light works to kill microscopic organisms. Most devices power using a manual crank or batteries. You fill the pouch with liquid and use the UV light for five minutes to disrupt the DNA of pathogens. 

SODIS Packets

If all you have is time and bottles, you can use the sun’s energy to kill bacteria. Fill up your bottles and leave them in the sun for at least 24 hours. You need two days for overcast weather. The method isn’t foolproof, but it’s inexpensive and of good quality. 

When to Drink Unprocessed Water

For situations where you can’t utilize any of the purification methods listed above, drinking unprocessed water is an option. Leave it for last resort. While you could fall ill from the water, you’ll still be alive for another day. Drink small amounts and focus on creating a filtration system. The essence of survival is in the maintenance of your body’s basic needs, one of which is water.