Guide to Purifying Water whilst Traveling

Dirty Travel Water

This post looks at the different methods to purify water when in the wilderness or on the road travelling.

The World Health Organization says 80% of diseases are picked up when traveling is due to unclean water, so the issue is worth at least a little consideration before you head out on that trip.

So what are you actually trying to remove when purifying water?

The main things you need to be worried about:

  • Bacteria
  • Protozoans
  • Viruses (not a major concern in North America or Europe)

Others that are not harmful:

  • Debris/Sediment
  • Unsavory Flavor
  • Unsavory Odor

Note: In very rare cases water may contain chemicals/industrial waste. None of the methods in this post are designed to treat such occurrences. If you find yourself in such as situation, get the hell out of there! and/or drink bottled water.

When should you use a Purification Method?

Unless you have special equipment, you will not always be able to tell whether the water needs to be purified. At the end of the day – even clear water may contain harmful elements.

Locals, other travellers and guide books normally offer good advice on whether the water in an area is drinkable.

If you are travelled overseas you can use a website such as CanIDrinkTheWaterIn to confirm whether or not the local tap water is drinkable.

Some Common Methods of Water Purification

Boiling Water

Boiling Water


Using a pot over a fire or stove, bring the water to boil for 15 minutes (which will kill virtually all organisms living in the water and remove most chemicals by vaporizing them).

Good For: You don’t really need any special equipment, very effective at killing bacteria

Limitations: 1. This method obviously does not remove any sediments in the water (but if you let the water settle, the sediment will sink and you can drink from the top of the water. Alternatively you can attempt to strain the sediment out if you have other equipment). 2. Requires significant quantities of fuel and time (plus the end product you are left with is very hot water, not the best on a warm day).

Iodine or Chlorine Tablets


Put tablets in water and let it sit for 30 minutes (works best in clear water (read the instructions)).

Good For: Lightweight, cheap and easy to carry around.

Limitations: 1.Tablet leave a taste which is not pleasant (though you can reduce this taste by adding other flavors). 2.This method obviously does not remove any sediments in the water (but if you let the water settle, the sediment will sink and you can drink from the top of the water. Alternatively you can attempt to strain the sediment out if you have other equipment). 3. Tablets are less effective in colder water (you should let them dissolve for longer) 4. Iodine and Chlorine are not safe to consume in large quantities, stick to the instructions on the tablets packaging.

Water Filters Straws


Place straw in water source and suck water through it. Expect a 1-2 second delay.

Good For: Small, cheap and highly portable.

Limitations: Does not remove viruses from water (though this is only an issue in certain areas of the world).

Water Pumps


These are little hand-held pumps, containing a synthetic or ceramic filter.

Good For: Generally excellent at removing bacteria, protozoans, viruses AND sediment, flavors and odors.

Limitations: Some modules can be expensive and/or bulky.

Ultraviolet Purifier Pens


These devices uses ultraviolet light to kill the organisms in the water (including bacteria, protozoans and viruses). You just hit a button on the pen, stick it in the water and stir for a minute or so.

Good For: Small, highly portable and easy to use.

Limitations: Ultraviolet Purifiers do not normally come with a means of filtering the water.

Ultraviolet Purifier Water Bottles


Similar to the Ultraviolet Pens, though these water bottles are an all in one unit (they can store water and purify it with Ultraviolet). The ultraviolet light from these water bottles in produced in the bottles lid.

Good For: Easy to use. Small and highly portable all in one unit, stores and purifies

water. Often comes with a pre-filter which you can use to remove any sediment from the water.

Limitations: You must rely on an external electrical power supple to recharge your device.

With this post I have tried to cover the main methods available for purifying water, their Pros and Cons. If I have missed something please let me know.

  1. When using a water filter be aware of the size of the filters on the device (the smaller the more effective the unit will be at removing any harmful getup)
  2. It is would be an excellent idea to carry purification tablets as a backup to your primary purification method (they are cheap, lightweight and easy to carry, so should not be a concern).
  3. Gathering water from a still, clear water is a better bet than sourcing it from a running stream (where sediment and other particles may be carried by the moving water).
  4. It is better to source water away from areas of human and animal activity

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  1. March 1, 2015

    […] Guide to Purifying Water whilst Traveling […]

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