Whether you plan on bugging in or bugging out the key to any survival plan is making sure the basics of food, water, shelter and safety are covered. Many people lump water in with food, but water is easily the most important and under-planned item in most survival plans. Having a water plan can mean the difference between survival and failure, so get your water plan together now to avoid problems later.
If you start with the bare-bones minimum an average person needs for survival, you’re looking at about ½ gallon of water per person per day for drinking. Ideally you need an additional ½ gallon for other necessities like cleaning and personal care. This means that 1 gallon per person per day is where you need to start your planning and go up from there.
This number can go up if you’re dealing with extremes in heat or cold, as a person can lose up to a half-gallon of water in sweat alone in very hot conditions. Since cold air has barely any moisture in it, your body needs more water in extreme cold as well.
So, if you’re planning for a 30-day survival with 4 people, you’re looking at 120 gallons of water. That is a little more than two 55-gallon drums of clean, potable water.
The CDC recommends unopened commercially purchased bottled water as the safest method for storing water. While this is true, purchased water isn’t the only way to store water for survival.
If you want to use your own containers for water storage, high-density polyethylene containers that have airtight seals are best. Your best bet is to use many smaller containers, as they are easier to transport than one large container like a 55-gallon drum. Five-gallon jerry cans meant for potable water are great, as are 3.5-gallon water bricks like these. Whatever the container, make sure it seams tightly and is not easily breakable like glass.
Label the containers as “drinking water” and the date it was bottled. Keep the containers in a place with generally cool temperatures and no direct sunlight. Never re-use a plastic container that had any other liquid in it but potable water.
Clean out containers for water with a mixture of unscented bleach and water in a 1-teaspoon bleach to one-quart water mixture. Make sure there is at least 30 seconds of contact time and pour the mixture out. Let it air-dry and you’re good to go for storage.
No matter how much water you store and prepare, you will most likely need to find water from another source. While all water is created equal, that’s where the perfect quality of water stops. Water is necessary for life as we know it, so it’s no surprise that a bevy of lower life forms make their home in it.
A brief rundown of possible organisms and diseases that can be found in water are:
- Cholera and Typhoid – Cholera is generally caused by feces in a water source and can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. Typhoid is similar and can cause death if untreated.
- Dysentery – This is one of the biggest concerns with water from an unknown source. Dysentery causes severe, prolonged diarrhea and bloody stools. Fever and weakness come along for the ride. This all causes you to become dehydrated and sick from fever. In a survival situation this is a big killer.
- Leeches – If you swallow a leech by mistake, it can hook itself onto your throat of inside your nose, causing small bloody wounds that can all become infected.
- Flukes – These little guys live in stagnant, polluted water in warmer climates. Once swallowed they will bore into your bloodstream and live as parasites, which causes an assortment of related diseases.
As you can see, contaminated water, which looks the same as fresh water, can really put off an otherwise well thought out survival plan.
How To Avoid Bad Water
Without testing water for disease, there are a few tips to follow in finding a clean water source.
- Look for running water, as it is usually cleaner than still water, but not always.
- Clean-looking water is often a good sign and discolored water is almost always bad.
- Avoid water that has algae growing in it.
- Cloudy water is never a good sign.
- Never drink water from marshes or swamps.
If you’re using tap water from a source that chlorinates their water like a public water system, you are fine to store the water as-is. The treated water kills anything bad that might be living in it. If you question the quality of the tap water, your best bet is to boil it for at least one minute at a rolling boil.
If the water is more than questionable, disinfectants are the way to go. Unscented household bleach and iodine are the most common ways to clean water for drinking. IF the water is cloudy at all, first you need to filter it through some type of medium like paper towel or coffee filter. If using bleach, use 1/8 teaspoon for each gallon of water. Make sure to stir well and leave it stand for 30 minutes before drinking.
To use iodine, you should follow the instructions on the bottle, as they change based on the strength.
You can chose to use water filters instead of disinfectants as well. These tend to be more expensive, but are great at really cleaning water for drinking. This one, for example, uses UV light powered by a hand-crank to purify water. Others use a pumping action to clean the water with a filtering medium.
No matter the way you choose to clean you water, this is a step you cannot skip. Dirty water can and does kill, especially in a survival environment where hospitals are few and far between, if available at all.
If you only take one thing away from this, let that be the drive to start a water plan of your own. You need to figure out where you water is coming from now, so you have it to drink later. This can mean storing water now for use later, or knowing of a way to get a supply of water when needed. Rain buckets, wells, and even clean lakes can be great sources of water when treated correctly, but remember, these can all be tainted with chemicals or radiological agents, so plan for more than one source to be safe.