Water may seem like a cheap commodity, but when you don't have any, it's priceless.
In the big picture of wilderness survival, being hungry for a night or two isn't a big deal -- it certainly won't kill you. However, going without water for a couple of days will put you WAY behind the power curve, and it will decrease your odds of survival.
Unfortunately, water is heavy and can be awkward to carry. Take a look in any sporting goods catalog and you will see many creative ways to carry a day's supply of water. Most hunters, myself included, carry some water, but we will definitely need to find more if we get stuck in the woods for a couple of days. Here, again, the market is full of options, but the following are a few above-average tools well suited for hunting situations.
SteriPEN has produced both the smallest and the most advanced ultraviolet (UV) light water purification units on the market, with the Adventurer and the JourneyLCD. I had a notion that UV water purification was a gimmick until I did the research. This is the same technology that has been used in water-bottling plants for many years, and it is very effective. It's fast (90 seconds to purify 32 oz. of water) and it destroys viruses, bacteria, and protozoa (like Giardia). SteriPEN has put all this in a 6'' unit that weighs less than 4 oz. Both units work with simple pushbutton operation and are ideal for bivouac hunts or carrying in a daypack. Both sell for $99.95.
SteriPEN also offers a Pre-Filter that helps remove particulate matter from the water, since it is best to use UV units with clear water. You can also use a clean porous cloth for a filter, or you can purify your water twice with the UV units to ensure complete destruction of harmful microbes. Cost is $12.95.
Weighing only 7.4 oz. and boasting a flow rate of 3 liters per minute, the HyperFlow is ideal for weight-conscious backcountry hunters. The ergonomic grip is a plus, and the bottle adapter securely interfaces with many containers -- MSR hydration products, hard plastic bottles, etc. The filter can be cleaned repeatedly, no tools are required for disassembly, and it has a lifespan of approximately 1,000 liters. It retails for $99.95.
This compact unit has a flow rate of 1.25 liters per minute and the lever-action pump handle is easy to use. Plus, when not in use, the handle folds flat for easy packing and storage. The filter eliminates over 99.9% of all waterborne bacteria and common parasites, such as Giardia. Simple brushing will restore a clogged filter, and the pump lets you know when the filter needs replacing (each cartridge filters up to 200 gallons of water). An added bonus is the lightweight design -- just 11 oz. Cost is $69.95.
You can't get much simpler than the McNett Frontier Water Filter Straw. Put one end of the straw in the water source and drink -- it's that easy. I have carried this item since I found it a few years ago. It fits in the palm of your hand and weighs a couple of ounces. It filters contaminants down to two microns in size, including Giardia and Cryptosporidium. It will fit into the smallest daypack, fanny pack, or survival kit. Maybe its best quality is the price -- $9.99.
Katadyn Exstream Bottle
This system integrates a filter and a water bottle into one. I love the simplicity -- just fill it up and drink through the nozzle. No pumping, no waiting. The model I have holds 28 oz. and is about 11'' long. It can process approximately 28 gallons before the filter needs to be replaced. It eliminates bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. It also improves the taste of funky water. It's perfect for fast-paced hunts, and it's economical at $44.99 — $49.99, depending on the model.
The Katadyn Hiker is lightweight and easy to use. I've had one for years and love it for backpacking. It is compatible with hydration bladders, is less than 7'' long, and weighs only 11 oz. My favorite feature is the adapter that connects the hose to most water bottles for easy one-person use. It sells for $59.99.
This is the essence of ultra-light -- a sheet of tablets weighs a couple of ounces. One tablet can treat one liter of water; however, the water needs to be clear, and the tablets need about two hours to take effect. I pack these as a backup. They are solid peace-of-mind survival-kit items. Retail price is $14.99.
I don't watch much television, but I saw a survival program recently that convinced me to do away with the remote altogether. The survivor was stranded in a southern swamp during the summer, surrounded by water. In fact, he had difficulty finding a dry spot. He was thirsty, but the water all around him looked "nasty." Mind you, he had the provisions to filter and purify the water but elected to get seriously dehydrated instead. This survivor likely had a "safety net" so he wouldn't actually die of dehydration on television.
The rest of us don't have that luxury. Here are a few tips you probably won't see on television, but they work:
- Conserve your sweat, not your water. Work in the early morning or at night, when temperatures are cool.
- Avoid the temptation to ration your water. The best storage device you have is your stomach.
- Boil water for 10 minutes to kill bacteria and make water suitable for drinking (a full, rolling boil). Boiling also oxygenates the water, which can improve the taste. Filter out particles by straining through a T-shirt or other porous cloth.
- Don't eat snow. It lowers your body's core temperature, and you waste energy melting the snow in your body. Instead, melt it first (use ice if you can, because it will give you more bang for your buck). If you don't have a metal vessel, wrap a big snowball in a shirt or handkerchief, hang it near your fire, and put a catch device underneath.
- Carry a 2-foot-long piece of rubber surgical tubing. With it you can siphon water from small, bubbling springs or bowls in rock formations where water collects.
- Dig for water. Look for damp soil in the bends of dry creek beds or the bottoms of ravines. If, after you dig down a foot or so, you hit muddy or soupy soil, dig a little farther and then stop. Give the well time to allow sediment to settle out of the water. Then you can skim the clearer water off the top or siphon it with your rubber tubing.
The author teaches survival skills and hunter education in Albuqerque, New Mexico.