Water Purification Options for Bugging Out

Magic Prepper • November 27, 2023

Water is one of the most important requirements of survival. You can only live for about 72 hours without it. And you can only properly function for about 24 hours without drinking water. After that, it’s a roll of the dice whether or not you’d be able to tie your own shoes. So obviously, having ways to remain hydrated during a bug-out scenario or even just activity out in the field should be prioritized. The problem is that we can only carry so much water thanks to how heavy it is. This means you will have to anticipate acquiring more water frequently. Unfortunately, most of the water we can easily collect in the wild is non-potable. This is exactly why we need ways to purify it so that we can drink it safely and keep a healthy level of hydration throughout any endeavor. Here are some water purification options that work well, are light enough to carry, and easy to use:

Purification Tablets

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Water purification tablets are a tried-and-true way to treat any questionable water. They’re extremely lightweight, easy to pack, and very effective at removing undesirable microorganisms or viruses. The Katadyn Micropur Water Purification Tablets are well regarded as high-quality purification tablets, and if any brand understands water treatment, it’s Katadyn. These tablets are extremely simple to use; you just add one tablet to a quart of water (your standard 32 oz Nalgene Water Bottle) and wait 4 hours. Then, voila, you have purified water ready to drink. Thanks to the small size and negligible weight penalty, there’s really no reason not to have purification tablets in your backpack, fanny pack, or even your pocket.

There are a couple of downsides to using water purification tablets that you should be aware of as well. First off, using tablets offers no filtration of the water regarding sediment or debris removal. All that means is that you would want to filter the non-potable water through something before treatment. A piece of fabric or a bandanna usually serves this function pretty well. The other downside is the amount of time required for the treatment to work properly. If you’re dying of thirst and you find a water source, waiting that 4 hours for it to be purified could be brutal--but at least you’ll be able to safely drink it after that time has passed. These downsides are really minimal compared to the cost, size, and weight of this purification method, but I felt that they should at least be discussed.

Straw Filter Systems

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The concept of the straw filter is simple yet very innovative and effective. As water is pulled through the system, it flows through a cluster of hollow fiber tubes. The water is able to pass through the side walls of the tubes thanks to 0.1 micron-sized pores that are too small for bacteria and other harmful microorganisms to pass through. As basic as it would seem, this method works well and can be extremely versatile in use. My favorite option for a straw filter system is the Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System.

The Sawyer Mini is the best bang for your buck when it comes to features, price, and capability. It weighs 1.4 oz, can filter up to 100,000 gallons, screws directly onto standard threaded water bottles, can be used as an inline filter system for a water bladder, and comes with a straw, squeeze pouch, and a cleaning plunger. The Sawyer Mini is so small (5.35 inches long, 1.35 inches wide) that you can easily throw one in just about any pack or kit you have without any real weight penalty (1.4 oz). Even in survival kits and systems where I have other forms of water treatment, I generally throw a Sawyer Mini in as well for redundancy and because of the extremely long service life. There aren’t any other types of water filters that can filter up to 100,000 gallons with proper maintenance due to filter design. However, there are some problems with the hollow fiber design that you need to be aware of.

The most obvious issue is that these types of filters do not remove viruses from the water. They are small enough to pass through the fibrous membrane and will still make their way into your body without additional treatment. If that’s a concern and you want to ensure your water is virus-free, you would need to use an additional method of treatment, such as boiling or treating the water with purification tablets. That may not be a big enough risk depending on the survival situation you are concerned with, but you do need to know what you’re gambling. Another problem with the hollow fiber system is that it can be relatively fragile when it comes to the cold. If moisture is left in the tubes (which it certainly will be after use) and the filter is exposed to freezing temperatures, the tubes can lose their integrity from the formation of ice. The worst part about this is that there is no great way to tell if your filter is compromised. So, using these in cold environments is risky and generally discouraged. Lastly, the flow-through rate of these filters is rather slow. For example, the Sawyer Mini would take about 1 minute to filter 1 liter of water. So, getting potable water quickly isn’t a reasonable expectation. Even with these disadvantages, straw filter systems still bring a lot of value and capability to the table and are definitely worth having.

One Press Technology Filter

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This particular water filtration system is unique to a company called GRAYL. The concept is novel and functional. Basically, you have a water bottle with a filter attached to the bottom of it as well as an outer sleeve. You fill the outer sleeve with questionable water, slightly open the lid of the water bottle, and then push it down into the outer sleeve containing the possibly contaminated water. The action of “pressing” the water through the filter and into the water bottle purifies it in only about 10 seconds. The filter uses layers of ultra-powdered activated carbon and electroabsorption to remove viruses, bacteria, microorganisms, particulates, heavy metals, chemicals, and more. This is the most capable method of purification on this list, as the water is ready to drink as soon as the filtration is completed.

My personal choice is the Grayl UltraPress Titanium Bottle Filter Covert Black for a few different reasons. The UltraPress has a 16.9 oz volume compared to the GeoPress, which has a 24 oz capacity. But the UltraPress has some tricks up its sleeves that make it worth the slight decrease in capacity. First off, it has a titanium outer sleeve that is more durable than the standard GeoPress and UltraPress bottles. The titanium sleeve can also be used for boiling water or cooking, much like the USGI canteens with the aluminum cup. So, you get your water treatment and cooking container in one package. The UltraPress Ti also has a one-way valve, so you can add drink mixes right in the bottle without issue. This is the model I would suggest if you were interested in adding a Grayl to your kit for all of the aforementioned reasons.

Now, there are some drawbacks to the Grayl One Press Technology filter design that could be troublesome depending on your use case. The first concern I have with this system is its filter service life. As effective as these filters are at purifying water, the service life for an UltraPress is only 40 gallons. Of course, you can purchase additional filters to extend the lifespan of your system, but it is a consideration. Now, if you have the UltraPress Ti, you can still use the bottle as a container and the outer sleeve to boil questionable water even if the filter is no longer usable, which is why I prefer it over other Grayl models. Much like the Sawyer Mini, the Grayl filters are also susceptible to freezing temperatures. Grayl states that the purifier cartridge should be changed after two freeze/thaw cycles. So, it’s still more resilient than the Sawyer Mini in that regard but will also need to be more closely managed in those environments.

Why These Three Purification Options?

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There are many other ways to treat water out in the field, including some of the most effective pump filters like the Katadyn Pocket Microfilter Water Filtration System Aluminum Black. The reason I did not include them on this list is that my focus here was on bugging out or field use where we are considering a dangerous environment to be part of the equation. Pump filters are generally larger, heavier, and slower than the other purification options previously discussed. And spending unnecessary time at a water source might not be the safest thing to do, considering everyone needs water. These filter systems are very good at what they do and are excellent for hiking and camping, but may not be the best choice for these purposes.

Although all of the water purification options I presented here (purification tablets, straw filter systems, and One Press Technology filters) have some flaws, most of them can be overcome by incorporating all three into your survival system. I carry purification tablets, a Sawyer Mini, and my Grayl UltraPress Ti together as a total water treatment package. This way, I have redundancy and multiple ways to treat water in case one of the three options fails. If the Sawyer Mini can’t remove viruses in a situation where there is an inherent pathogenic threat, drop some Katadyn Micropur tablets in the water and keep going. Not sure if the filter on the Grayl UltraPress Ti is still up to snuff? Use the Sawyer Mini in conjunction with it, just in case. Even if you’re using a water bladder, you can fill it with the UltraPress Ti, throw the Katadyn Micropur tablets in it, or install the Sawyer Mini in line with the bladder hose. Each of these systems is so versatile and doesn’t really add any additional weight (considering you need a water bottle and a cooking container anyway when it comes to the UltraPress Ti) that you may as well have all three.

Water. We all need it, and you can never carry enough. So, make sure you can get more and drink it safely. Hopefully, these options give you some things to consider and allow you to integrate water treatment easily into your preparedness plans. These wise words have been said to me time and time again: “There is no such thing as too much water.”

--Magic Prepper