Boiling Water in an Emergency Situation
Whether you’re backpacking the Appalachian Trail, camping with family or in a place where the water is un-sanitized, it is important to know how to make it safe to drink. There are various ways to purify water in the wilderness (filters and chemicals) but boiling water has been used by our ancestors for centuries. The first question you'll need to ask yourself when trying to stay hydrated in the wilderness is - where can I find water?
Water Sources in the Wilderness
Clear, flowing springs or streams away from people and manmade things is the most ideal place to find water. Lakes, ponds and rivers is the next best thing. Try to avoid stagnant water, there will be increased levels of bacteria, parasites and other contaminates. If you’re high in the mountains close to snow, this is another great alternative (as long as it is not black, yellow or brown). Always melt it down; this will prevent your bodies’ temperature from dropping. If you still can’t find water, start walking downhill and look for any vegetation.
How Long Should I Boil Water For?
A great rule of thumb to follow, regardless of where you find water is to boil it down. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that you boil water vigorously for 3 minutes if above 6,562 feet. Anything lower, boil it for 1 minute. 1 The Wilderness Medical Society also came out with a great recommendation that breaks it down even more.
160 ℉ - kill all pathogens in 30 minutes
185 ℉ - kill all pathogens in 3 minutes
In the time that it takes for water to reach the boiling point (212 ℉) all pathogens will be killed at any elevation level. The moment your water reaches a rolling boil, the water has already become safe to drink.
Very dirty water should be filtered with a cloth or material to remove extra sediments. You can also let the water settle and then pour off the clearer water on top.