How To Know Whether Water Is Drinkable?

by Jay | Updated on July 25th, 2022

When venturing outside, you should always be prepared for the worst; becoming lost or trapped is always possible. Water, food, a fire, and a place to stay are necessities for any outdoor trip.

A quart of water weighs 2 pounds, a lot of extra weight to carry on a trekking trip or a wilderness adventure.

drinking river water

Finding a source of drinkable water in the wild may be more convenient. However, there’s also a chance that campers, daytrippers, hikers, and even seasoned outdoor enthusiasts can find themselves in an unexpected scenario with no safe water.

Fortunately, getting clean water is easier than you would think, as long as you know the dangers. You might be able to find a source with little effort, but how can you know if the water is safe to drink?

How to determine whether water is contaminated

Control of purity and quality of water in nature - concept image with water of a stream seen through a magnifying glass.
  • Always keep an eye out for pollutants in the surrounding area. Dead animals decompose, releasing germs into the water.
  • Small animals defecate on rocks, and water washes over them into the stream, which may be crystal pure yet is teeming with germs or parasites.
  • Look for turbidity or cloudiness in the water to see whether it is polluted. Most outdoor water becomes muddy after a storm and eventually clears up, but it should be avoided if it is cloudy.
  • Use your senses to determine whether the water smells bad or has a chemical smell – chlorine smell, sulfur scent-metallic smells.
  • Is there a presence of insects and birds in the water’s habitat?
  • Surface algae or a slick or oily layer might be oil from a spill, highway, or foam floating on the surface.
  • Carry a testing kit. Water testing kits are available for purchase. These are usually little strips of paper. You moisten the paper, wait the requisite amount of time, then compare the color of the paper to a chart given. These will help identify common bacteria such as salmonella, but they will not catch every contaminant in the environment.

How to find the cleanest possible source

Groundwater and running water are nature’s most prevalent water sources, and you’ll find them most often in valleys, ravines, and other low spots due to gravity. Prioritize running sources above groundwater because the better the water flows.

Scan your surroundings

Always keep an eye out for pollutants in the surrounding region. For example, when dead animals decay, they release germs into the water, which spreads. So search for animal corpses, and remember that animal feces may transfer germs such as cryptosporidium, so look for obvious traces of excrement.

Avoid sources near urban areas.

Water that has passed through densely populated regions or even beneath highways is likely to have taken up toxins and should be avoided. This is also true if the water flows through factories or industrial complexes. This water may include harmful compounds to your health.

How to treat your water

Hiking bowler with water, boiling on a hiking stove, a campfire


Boiling water is one of the easiest and most efficient treatment methods. You may have a metal pan or a water container, but this is not always the case. If you have a metal tin, use it. A huge shell may also be used to boil small volumes of water.

A glass container or glass jar other can also be used. A plastic bottle can also be used. Before reinstalling the lid and heating it on the coals, ensure your plastic bottle is full of water. The lack of oxygen should keep the plastic from melting, leaving you with drinkable water.

Portable filters and purifiers

The portable water filter and purifier market are oversaturated. There are many products to pick from, but they all function similarly. Water is pushed into one end through filters and treatments before exiting the other.

Some work by suspending a bag from a tree and allowing gravity to take its course, while others use hand pumps. Some are battery-powered, while others are integrated into the center of a water bottle.

There is a distinction to be made between filters and purifiers. They both remove harmful microorganisms and serve as water filters. In addition to the standard filtering system, the cleaners use chemical agents.

Use the sun’s power

The last and most time-consuming method of treating water in nature is to use UV light from the sun. This method, also known as solar water disinfection, will necessitate the use of a clear plastic or glass bottle. In addition, the water itself should be pure and free of debris. Therefore filter it before using this method.

Collect up to two quarts of water in a jar or container and leave it in full sun for at least one day. It is effective in the right conditions. Please remember that solar water disinfection is only effective for volumes of up to 2 quarts.

Water purification tablets

Fill your backpack with water purification tablets. Ideally, you should filter any large pieces of debris from the water before using the tablets to purify it. Depending on the situation, more than one tablet may be required, and purification tablets typically take half an hour to be effective. You should also check that the bottle’s cap and rim have been purified.

Filter it

Although a sock or other clothing item can be used to filter out large particles and impurities, it will do nothing to remove germs. Instead, fill your sock with sand or grass, then run water through it, collecting it in a water bottle and drinking it. It may reduce the risk of disease while slightly improving your water quality.

Gather rainwater

Rainwater is harmless, but it may get contaminated if you live in a city or a busy area. If you have a container, place it in an open area where rainwater can accumulate.

Alternatively, you may tie a tarp or another waterproof cover to the trees, attaching it to each corner. Allow one end to hang, resulting in a torrent of rainfall that flows into your water bottle or another container below.


If you had the opportunity to prepare before being abandoned in the wilderness, you would have a way of making fire, gathering, and storing water.

In this scenario, finding the cleanest and best available water supply, boiling it, and then allowing it to cool will give the safest water.

However, if you’re stranded and don’t have time to prepare, take out large pieces of debris before putting water in the sun, or collect rainfall and plant water to survive.


Self assessed Germaphobe, specializing in everything water, water filters, health and nutrition. Diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, I've acquired immense amount of knowledge when it comes to natural, biology, and everything about human anatomy.