Welcome to the second article in the Prepping with an EMT series where we will cover water storage, filtration, and purification. Once you have identified the biggest threats to you in your area, one of the very first items you should be prepping is water storage and water filters. The human body can survive for weeks without food, but only a couple days without water. If you are just starting prepping and you are trying to figure out what you should prep first, start with water.
I recommend you store at least 1 gallon of drinking water per person, per day. That does not include water for cooking, cleaning, flushing toilets, or for any other use. This is just clean drinking water. Factor in at least two more gallons of water per person per day for cooking, cleaning, and other uses listed above if you have the space. If you don't have the space for two addition gallons, store one additional gallon per person for a total of two gallons per person per day. Keep in mind this is just the bare minimum needed and I suggest you stock more water than this. You might be thinking, “I don’t drink a gallon of water per day now. Why should I store that much water?”
You might not drink one gallon of just water per day, but how much coffee do you drink a day? How many sodas per day do you drink? How many energy drinks and other beverages combined do you drink per day? If you factor in all the different beverages that you consume every day, it will be close to one gallon, with some people it will be more and others it will be less. I know not everyone drinks every beverage listed above, but the vast majority of Americans do. If there is ever an emergency situation where you are stranded somewhere, or even at home for days or weeks, or even longer, the coffee, sodas, energy drinks, and all other beverages will not be available. All you will have is water if you have stored it.
Take a look at all the other activities you do in a day that requires water; Cooking, washing dishes, washing clothes, baths/showers, and flushing toilets. Those are just some of the things we do every day that requires water that we don’t have a second thought about. We flush the toilet, and it fills back up with water. We turn on the faucet and water comes out. We turn the shower on and we have water flowing. What would you do if tomorrow you went to the sink and nothing came out of the faucet?
Take a look out how much water you and your family use on a daily basis and use that as a starting point for your water storage. Now keep in mind in an emergency situation, you will not be taking a shower every day, nor will you be flushing the toilet after every visit. That is far too much valuable water wasted. You will only bathe when absolutely necessary and your more than likely will not have access to a shower. You should plan on doing a sink bath to conserve water and only use a regular bath when necessary and you have adequate water to spare.
Also you should only flush toilets after they are full to conserve water. You could look into a compost toilet to save even more water. Just remember, in an emergency situation when you have no more fresh water coming in, do you want to use what water you have to drink or to take your daily shower? In an emergency situation when you have a limited or no water supply, you should conserve every ounce of water you have until a water supply can be found.
If the situation you are in is long term, eventually you will run out of water. Your next step will be to find a water source you can collect water from. Water sources can be rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, pools, wells, ect. In most of those water sources, especially in emergency situations, they are not safe to drink directly from that source. Some of the things you will have to worry about includes but not limited to; bacteria, protozoa, or cysts like E. coli, Giradia, Vibrio cholerae and Salmonella typhi (which cause Cholera and Typhoid). Any one of these could cause serious problems for you including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Currently in North America, in most areas we do not have to worry about viruses in our water. However, depending on your water source and location, and changing conditions, there could be a chance for viruses in your water supply. Those chances are slim but there are no absolute guarantees you won't have some chance for a virus in your water. If you are ever in doubt, boil the water before consuming. These ailments could be a death sentence from dehydration or other complications if not properly treated. The best treatment for these medical problems is prevention.
We want to be able to protect ourselves from all the bacteria, protozoa, and cysts to prevent any medical complications while in an emergency survival situation. How do we protect ourselves from all those things in the water to keep from getting sick? We have a few different options. We can filter our water, we can treat the water with tablets or drops, or we can boil it. In most situations using one of those options are sufficient; however in certain situations all 3 may be needed. In most situations here in North America, filtration will be adequate in ensuring you have safe drinking water and is the method I personally I recommend.
The source of your water will dictate which method you use. If you are obtaining water from a clear, running stream, filtration will be more than adequate in most cases. If you are obtaining water from a small stagnant pond, that is dark, murky or has a odd color to it along with a bad odor, I would recommend a pre filtration (removing larger particles with a bandana, rag, or coffee filters prior to using your filter), filtration, and then boiling the water. Water treatment tablets can also be used. This method would also be needed if you have reason to believe that sewage or other waste is being leaked into your water source.
If you can, always choose a water source that is clean, clear, and is moving. A water source that has fresh water flowing into it, and is flowing somewhere will be much safer than a water source that is stagnant and collecting water without flowing anywhere. How you choose your water source can greatly impact your survival. However, in some situations you may not have any choice in your water source. Just remember, the dirtier the water, and the worse the smell, the more you will need to treat your water before consuming. When in doubt, boil the water.
Always remember that the dirtier your water, the faster your filter will clog and will require cleaning. The more pre filtration you do, the longer your filter will go before it needs cleaning and the more efficient it will be. When you notice the flow of the water coming out of the filter slowing down, it's time to clean your filter. Depending on the filter you have, some can easily be cleaned in the field. Just remember not to contaminate your filter with dirty water. Always use filtered water when cleaning your filter to prevent contaminating your water when you start filtering again.
What filter should I get?
I have used many different filters over the years while camping and backpacking. Every filter on the market has its pro and cons and there is no perfect filter. With that said, I am going to recommend a line of filters based on what I have in my personal emergency Kit, what my family uses, and feedback from my customers.
I personally recommend Sawyer Products to use in your emergency kits and in your homes for water filtration. Sawyer has many different filter options, and we carry most of their products which you can find here. If there is a Sawyer filter you would like, and you do not see it on our website, please contact us. We have access to the entire sawyer line of products and can order any Sawyer filter you would like.
Why do we recommend Sawyer Filters? I recommend Sawyer filters for several reasons. They are easy to use, easy to clean, extremely reliable, and the most versatile filters on the market. I can use the included collapsible water pouch, attach it to any standard soda bottle include 2 liters, attach them in line to hydration systems, turn them into bucket filters, filter my faucet water, use them as gravity filters, and they come with either a 100,000 gallon or lifetime guarantee. Not every sawyer filter will perform all those features, however with just 2 of their filters you can perform all those and more. Because of those features, they are the filters I trust for my family and myself. Which filter is right for you? Let’s take a look at each situation and see which filter is right for you.
Emergency Kits/Bug out Bags/ Get Home Bags
For your emergency kits, bug out bags or get home bags, you want a filter that is small, lightweight, and versatile for when you are on the move. For this reason, I recommend the Sawyer Mini Water Filter. I personally carry this filter in my emergency kit, as does members of my family. So what makes this filter so great? First, it’s lightweight with the complete system weighing in at .25 pounds with the filter itself weighing in at just 2 ounces. It has a filtration capacity of up to 100,000 gallons. It filters to .1 micron which will filter out 99.99% of all bacteria such as salmonella cholera, and E. coli. It also filters out 99.99% of all protozoa such as giardia and cryptosporidium.
The Sawyer Mini will be able to filter almost any water you find in North America. The Sawyer Mini also has some of the best versatility on the market. Included with the filter, is a 16 ounce water pouch, straw, and back flush syringe. You can fill up the included water pouch with water from your water source, attach it to the bottom of the filter with the threads, and drink while on the go. You can also use the included straw to drink direct from a water source.
The threads on the Sawyer Mini will also attach to most disposable water and soda bottles you find at any grocery and convenience store including 2 liter bottles. Even in remote places deep in the forest, you can find empty plastic bottles that will attach to the Sawyer Mini allowing you to increase the amount of water you can carry from the water source. The filter will also attach inline to your hydration system allowing you to fill the hydration bladder with dirty water from a water source and filters while you drink.
It is impossible for any filter to go 100,000 gallons of filtration without stopping or slowing down due to the particles the filter catches. Eventually the filter will slow down and even stop. How dirty the water you’re filtering will determine how quickly your filter clogs. Sawyer has made cleaning their filters very easy. Simply use the included syringe and fill it will clean filtered water. Attach the syringe to the drinking end of the filter, and then force the water backwards through the filter. This will push all the particles and trash out of the filter and restore the flow of the filter.
For all the above stated reasons, I recommend using the Sawyer Mini in your emergency, bug out bag, and get home bag kits. Other sawyers filters will also work in bugout bags including the Point One All In One Filter, Gravity Filters, and Filter Bottles.
Home Water Filtration
For a home or family water filtration system, you will want a slightly bigger filter to produce enough water for your family or a group of people than what the Sawyer Mini will produce. I recommend the Sawyer Point One All In One Filter for your home filter. It filters twice the amount of the Sawyer Mini in the same amount of time, attaches to most standard water and soda bottles, plus it comes with a bucket and faucet adapter. The All In One Filter, filters at .1 micron and can produce up to 540 gallons of clean filtered water per day. With the bucket adapter, you can use a 5 gallon buck with the adapter attached at the bottom, with a clean collection bucket underneath. This system will use the gravity of the water to continually filter water into the collection bucket as long as there is water in the filter bucket and the filter remains unclogged.
With this setup, and continuous filtration, you will be able to provide enough clean filtered water to your family or a large group of people. You can use the faucet adapter to filter water coming out of the faucet if you believe the tap water has become contaminated. Cleaning the All In One Filter is just as easy as cleaning the Mini. Back flushing with clean water with the included syringe will return the flow of water back to normal.
If you are traveling outside of North America, or in an area of North America where you are concerned for water born viruses, then I recommend using the Sawyer Point Zero Two Filter. The Point Zero Two filter will filter to .02 microns and will filter out water born viruses including Hepatitis A (HAV), Poliovirus, Norwalk, Rotavirus, Adenvirus, Hepatitis E (HEV), Coxsackievirus, Echovirus, Reovirus, Astrovirus, Coronavirus (SARS).
The Point Zero Two has a lifetime warranty and can filter up to 170 gallons of water per day. The Point Zero Two kit also comes with a bucket adapter for continuous water purification. Keep in mind that in the majority of places in North America, we do not have to worry about viruses in the water as they are unable to survive. Viruses in the water come from water that has been contaminated by human sewage. In water that has not been contaminated, viruses cannot survive.
Water Treatment Tablets
Another option for purifying your water is with water treatment tablets. Treatment tablets are not my first choice at water purification; however tablets can be useful and used if you have no other means of filtration or purification. Some of the downsides to tablets are that you must make sure you add the correct amount of tablets for the amount of water you are purifying. If you do not use enough tablets for the amount of water, you can still become sick.
Time is another drawback to tablets. For most tablets, you must wait about 30 minutes for the tablets to dissolve and purify the water. If you do not wait the amount of time instructed by the manufacture of the tablets, the water will not be purified and you can become sick. For those reasons, water filtration with a filter such as the Sawyer Mini is my preferred method. With that said, having tablets in your emergency supplies can be a great backup if you were to lose your filter or have some other complication that prevents use of the filter.
For tablets, I recommend Aquatabs. Aquatabs are an American made water treatment tablets that have been used all over the world. Aquatabs purify water in 30 minutes and can improve the taste of the water. The active ingredient in Aquatabs is Sodium Dichloroisocyanurate which is used in many water treatment and purification products. Again, I prefer a filter first, and then tablets as a last resort. However Aquatabs will provide safe purified drinking water if you follow the directions correctly. Auqatabs will make a great addition to your filter in you emergency kits.
The safest method of purifying water to ensure there are zero viruses and bacteria in your water is to boil it. If you have lost your filter, or are just unsure if your filter is able to adequately purify your water, then boiling is the best way to ensure you have safe drinking water. Simply fill a pot full of water and place over any heat source hot enough to bring the water to a boil. A stove, grill, or campfires are great sources of heat to boil water. Once the water has started to boil, allow it to boil for at least 1 full minute.
FEMA and The American Red Cross state that boiling water is the safest method for water purification. Both organizations suggest that after boiling the water to pour the water back and forth between two clean bowls to return more oxygen to the water. This can help to improve the taste of the water. You can also do this with water that you have stored and have been sitting for a long period of time.
Always remember, if you ever doubt your water source, boil it. You can also use your filter and boiling water together. If you have murky water, or water that has lots of sediment and debris, you can remove the particles first by filtration, and then boil the water to ensure there are no bacteria or viruses in your water.
The last method of water purification we will cover for this article is by using a common household item that you might have in your home right now. You can use bleach to purify your water. If you are ever in a situation at home, or on the road where you need to purify water but have no filter and no way to boil the water and you have liquid bleach on hand, you can use it to make your drinking water safe.
You only want to use standard home bleach that has a 5.25 to 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite level. You do not want to use any scented bleaches, dyed bleaches, or bleaches with any added chemicals or cleaners. Also remember that over time bleach loses its potency so try and use bleach that has been manufactured the most recent if possible.
FEMA and the American Red Cross recommend using 16 drops or 1/8th a teaspoon of bleach per 1 gallon of water. Let the water sit for at least 30 minutes. You should notice a slight bleach smell to the water. If not, repeat the process and let it sit for another 30 minutes.
There are many other filters and purifiers on the market that I did not cover. Many of them are great and will be great additions to your emergency kits and supplies. I chose to cover the methods and filters I use and I believe to be the most reliable, longest lasting, and cost efficient on the market.
I hope you have learned a few things you did not know about water storage and water purification and filtration. If you have any questions please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org For more water filter products visit our website here. For more information on FEMA and the American Red Cross’s information on water treatment and disaster preparedness, click here.
About the Author:
Josh is the owner of North Star Tactical and General Store, LLC. He is an Eagle Scout with over 15 years of camping and backpacking experience. He is an EMT with over 4 years of running emergency calls.