How to boil water to purify when camping

Going camping can be a wonderful way to get in touch with nature and forget about some of the stresses of everyday life. But getting in touch with nature comes with a few challenges. Most people, especially if they live in metropolitan areas, are used to having clean water straight from the tap.

If you’re going camping and spending a night or more away from your home somewhere remote, there may not be amenities such as running water. So it’s essential to ensure you are prepared, ensuring that for the duration of your time there you have an adequate supply of drinking water.

Why can’t I just bring bottled water?

You might be thinking ‘why not just bring bottled water?’, but there are a few reasons why this isn’t the best idea.

First of all bringing water may be OK if you’re only going away for a night or two, but any longer than that and the amount you’d have to carry would be very heavy and uncomfortable to carry.

Secondly, in the unlikely event, you had an emergency and needed more water than you’d planned, you could find yourself in trouble if you don’t know how to purify water.

Finally, if you bring your own water, this is not only an extra expense for you, but if it’s in a plastic bottle, it’s not very good for the environment. That goes directly against the ethos of going camping and getting in touch with nature.

So in this article, I will explain how to ensure water you come across is safe to drink, and how long to boil water to purify it.

Freshwater does not mean purified water

There is a misconception that running water in streams or rivers is clean and safe to drink if it looks clear. However, this is not always the case as the water may contain various parasites and infectious diseases.

As such, any water you drink while camping should be boiled to purify it.

However, look to start with the cleanest possible water

With that being said, there are certainly some sources of water that will be more suitable to choose from if available. Anywhere that has evidence of animal traffic or feces should be avoided if possible. Similarly anywhere with signs of industrial waste nearby should be avoided.

Swamps and stagnant water sources are also more likely to be very high in bacteria and dangerous organisms.

Clear running water is a good place to look or any large bodies of water such as lakes which are in direct sunlight. The UV rays from the sunlight kill a lot of the bacteria living in the water. But to reiterate, even the water from these sources should be boiled, they are simply a safer starting point that obviously dirty water.

It is worth noting that boiling will not remove impurities such as pesticides or heavy metals, so if you are in an area where you know or suspect this to be the case, before boiling, you should pass the water through a water filter.

If you find yourself near a large body of water but it’s salt water, steer clear of drinking that too, the salt in it means you will actually end up more dehydrated than if you hadn’t had anything to drink. And neither boiling or filtering will remove the salt.

How to boil water to purify it

When boiling water to kill pathogens, most pathogens will die at 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius) within seconds. However to be on the safe side it is recommended that the water is brought to a rolling boil, 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius) for one minute at low altitudes, and three minutes at altitudes above 6562 feet (2000 meters).

However, only boiling time changes with altitude as boiling time will not change. If you were on the highest point on earth, the summit of Everest which is over 29000 feet (8000 meters) above sea level, the boiling point of water would be 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius). This temperature, as mentioned previously, would kill most bacteria in seconds. So don’t worry too much about elevation above sea level, just aim to get a rolling boil for a few minutes.

Do I need equipment to purify water while boiling?

So, what equipment do you need to boil water while camping?

First, you will need some kind of container to hold the water. Since it’s being exposed to high temperatures, it will need to be metal. Heating plastics will not only melt them but can expose you to dangerous toxins that are given off when heating it.

The most suitable container for heating will be some kind of stovetop kettle. This can be placed on top of a traditional campfire or a gas canister stove. Once the fire is going and the water starts boiling, that’s when the 1-3 minutes starts.

Leave the heat on for the duration of this time, after which you can remove the container of water and slowly let it cool to a point where it won’t burn to drink. There are also special camping products designed specifically to boil water such as bottles with a built-in heat stick which boils the water. But again, let the water cool to a safe drinking temperature after boiling it, before attempting to drink it.

Wrap up: Tips and Tricks

Camping should be fun and stress-free and there’s a lot to learn from being out in nature, so to make sure to avoid getting sick from drinking bad water! Here is our summary of the best tips and tricks:

  • Try and find a running water source
  • Stay away from water sources near lots of animal traffic or industrial waste unless absolutely necessary
  • Steer clear of stagnant bodies of water such as swamps or anywhere with algae growing.
  • And no matter where you end up having to get your water from, make sure you boil it for at least one minute for low altitudes and up to three minutes for higher altitudes, using one of the methods mentioned in this article.
  • It would also be advisable to do some research before leaving for your camping trip to see if there is water in the area in the first place, food and water preparations should always be considered before embarking on a camping trip away from home.
  • And whatever you do, don’t drink salt water!

See you at the camp site!