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How To Filter Water In The Wild | Complete 10 Step Guide

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Tim Rhodes

Procuring clean water is an essential aspect of survival in the wild, and basic knowledge of how to filter water in the wild is essential.

The wild does not make it any easier to find clean water, so most of the time, you would have to use your knowledge, skills, and ingenuity.

Before you can do that, however, you will have to familiarize yourself with essential techniques, such as learning how to make your filter, to turn dirty mud water into clean water.

Filtration is a pretty elementary method of purifying water, that does not require much skill or material, to be effectively done.

Filtering water is the method of removing solids, rocks, debris, and other such impurities from water and making it clean.

Here is a step by step guide, on how to filter water in the wild, to turn dirty mud water, into clear water. 


Step 1: Gather The Materials

For a DIY filter, you will need the following materials; two bottles, scissors or a knife, coffee filter or cotton balls, sand or charcoal, gravel, and large rocks.

Not everything is readily available in the wild, so you will have to work with what you have.

If you don’t have these materials with you, then look around your surroundings, and try to come up with alternative objects to use instead.

Unless you’re carrying a knife, cotton balls, and activated charcoal, you won’t be finding these in the wild.

Instead, you can use substitutes for these materials, from your surrounding.

In place of a knife, or scissors, try to find sharp rocks or twigs that are strong enough, to cut through objects like a bottle cap, and a bottle.

For cotton balls or coffee filters, you can use either a cloth, moss, or other such objects from your surroundings, as substitutes during the filtering process.

For the bottle, you will need one with a bottleneck, similar to that of a funnel, while the other bottle can be of any type.

It can also be a container because all it needs do is catch water.

These are the most basic materials needed, to filter water in the wild.

Having these materials or equal substitutes, will properly filter the dirty water and leave you with a clear, or close to a clear solution.

Step 2: Preparing The Filter Body

Now you will be building the body of your filter, which will allow the dirty water to pass through the different layers and give you clean water.

To prepare the body of the filter, you need to have a bottle-neck plastic bottle and a knife or scissors.

If you don’t have a knife or scissors, use any other sharp object from your surrounding as a substitute.

Cut the bottom part of your bottle-neck plastic bottle off, to create a large opening.

Ensure you do not cut too much of the bottle, or else you won’t be able to fill it with the necessary filtering material and water.

There will be about six layers, and almost all of them will be an inch in height.

If you don’t have a second bottle with you or even a container, you can use that one bottle by balancing out how much you cut. 

For the filtering body, try to use a little more than half the bottle, while the other half can act as a container, but only do this if you have to. 

Now all you have to do is create a small but sizable hole in the cap of the bottle, using either a knife, scissors, or other tools.

This hole will allow the water to transfer from the filter bottle, into either another bottle or a container.

Make sure the cap of the bottle is attached tightly, or else there will be space for mistakes during the filtering process.

Now place the tip of the filter bottle into the second bottle or container like a funnel, to allow water flow from one container to the other.

With this, the body of the filter is ready, as well as a container for the filtered water. 

Step 3: Laying a Base Layer 

Now coming to the actual filter layers, you first need to set down your coffee filter, cotton balls, or other such filtering material.

Push the coffee filter into the bottleneck, and arrange it to fit the bottle all around.

If the coffee filter is too big and is creating folds inside the bottle, cut around the coffee filter to resize it. 

Do this until the coffee filter fits perfectly, inside the bottle.

Remember, cut little bits at a time, undercutting is never a problem, overcutting is.

For cotton balls, place them inside the bottle and cover it, try to put enough to create a layer, to cover the bottleneck and another inch.

Press the cotton balls together to eliminate any space that might hinder the filtering process, by allowing dirt to pass.

If you don’t have a coffee filter or cotton balls, you can use a cloth or even some moss

If you use cloth, make sure it’s clean, if not, then you can boil it before use.

Lastly, you can use moss by placing it like the cotton balls and creating a substantial layer from it.

Coffee filters, cotton balls, a piece of cloth, and especially moss, are great filter mediums, as they can capture small debris quite well. 

This layer is the last filter process, which the water will go through.

It will catch the smallest debris and other particles that are too small, to be caught by the other few layers.

This layer will have multiple layers on top of it, which is why it’s essential to set this layer properly so that the last part of the filtration process can happen accurately.

Step 4: A Layer Of Sand

The next layer to be put on top of the base layer is sand, and because sand is so fine, your base layer should be tight and provide full coverage.

Gently fill the filter body with a layer of sand of about an inch or two, and pat it, to remove any existing air pockets. 

Ensure you don’t use too much sand, as this could make the filtration process longer than it should be.

On the other hand, not using enough sand, could make the filtering process ineffective.

Therefore using about an inch or two of sand will allow water to pass, as well as trap small debris and dirt.

When putting this layer in the bottle, make sure it doesn’t disturb or pass the base layer.

While the base layer is vital, it’s this layer that will trap most of the small dirt particles, that have passed the other layers.

Just like the coffee filter, cotton balls, cloth, and moss, sand can filter small particles and debris.

The small pores in the sand, allow water to pass down, while dirt particles get trapped in the sand, thus filtering the water.

Note that after a particular quantity of water, the sand will be too polluted to allow any more water, flow properly.

Therefore, only some water can be filtered from that amount of sand, if the sand is not cleaned.

When choosing the sand, use wet sand, to ensure there are no air pockets and space, for dirt particles to escape.

Don’t use beach sand, as it could contain contaminants and large amounts of salt.

Try to avoid sand that could be contaminated, by its surroundings.

Step 5: A Layer Of Activated Charcoal

Unless you have activated charcoal, you won’t be finding this in the wild, even substitutes, so this step is optional.

The main reason to use activated charcoal is, that it strips the water of many impurities, by binding the dirt particles to the surface of the activated charcoal.

The best part is, it gets rid of the dirt particles, without getting rid of essential minerals that water contains.

The activated charcoal can help with many other aspects, like making the water taste better, smell better, and getting rid of chlorine.

If you do have activated charcoal, the process for using it is quite easy.

To use activated charcoal, you’re going to have to soak it for about 15 minutes. 

Make sure that it is well soaked before use, as this will help, in binding the dirt particles to the activated charcoal.

After soaking the activated charcoal, you can transfer it to the bottle filter and place it above the sand layer.

This layer should also be about an inch high.

Make sure your layer is thick enough, because if the water doesn’t stay in contact with the activated carbon for long enough, then the process will be ineffective.

There needs to be enough time of contact between the dirt water and the activated charcoal, for the dirt particles to bind with the activated charcoal.

Again, this layer is completely optional.

If you do have this, then great, it’s a great filter media, if you don’t, then you still have many other filtering layers to clean the water.

Step 6: A Repeat Of Base Layer

If you are using a layer of activated charcoal, then to make it the most effective, you should lay down another layer of the coffee filter, cotton balls, cloth, or moss.

You should lay this layer down, just like in step 2, but rather than pressing it down, lay it down on the activated charcoal layer.

Use whichever one you have to make the next layer and put it on top of either the sand or activated charcoal.

You’re going to put this layer, to ensure that the dirty water doesn’t rush through the activated charcoal. 

With this layer in place, water will go down slowly, and the activated charcoal will be able to filter the dirty water.

If you are using cotton balls or moss, the layer doesn’t have to be as thick as your base layer.

Making this layer too thick will make the whole filtering process much slower, so a little less than an inch will do the trick.

This layer will ensure that the water goes down slowly and thus properly filtering at each subsequent layer.

Even if you aren’t using activated charcoal, you should put this layer, as it will make the filtering process more effective.

This extra layer will help the water filter through each layer properly.

It will also catch any large or medium debris, that has passed the two top layers.

It’s never bad to have extra filtering layers, that can further purify water and make it clean.

Rather than filtering water many times through fewer layers, have the water go through multiple layers one time. 

By doing this, you will be saving time and filtering the water more efficiently.

Step 7: A Layer Of Gravel

The next layer to be laid down is small gravel.

The gravel is also known as the screening filter, as it will screen out much bigger impurities from the water.

Find small gravel, as this layer will trap smaller debris, but larger than the ones stopped by the activated charcoal and sand.

Rather than dropping the gravel in, make layers, to ensure that there aren’t any large air pockets, for debris to slip through.

Arrange the first mini layer of gravel, to cover the layer underneath.

Make a circle to cover the edge of the bottle and then fill your way into the middle. 

Now start stacking and filling any space in this layer, and make sure it is tight and compact.

Don’t try to get rid of air pockets and space by shaking the bottle, this will only ruin the other layers.

All the mini layers of gravel should lead to a height of an inch or more, in total.

Before using any gravel, you have to make sure it’s clean and contaminant-free, if not, then try to clean it. 

The textured surface of the gravel, and size, trap solids, light and heavy.

If this layer isn’t properly arranged, then larger debris can press into the sand.

When large pieces of debris press into the sand, it’ll be unable to properly filter the small impurities that it is supposed to trap.

At the end of the filtering process, you will have dirty water, rather than the clean water you were expecting.

Therefore take your time when setting this layer and make sure there aren’t any large gaps.

Step 8: A Layer Of Large Gravel

You’re so close to being able to filter water in the wild, with this being your last layer.

Now all you have to do is collect larger gravel than the previous layer. 

Make sure they are clean, as we emphasized in the previous step.

Just like the previous gravel layer, don’t just throw it in, arrange a base layer, and build on it.

First, lay down your base layer and then build on from that.

Arrange it so that there aren’t any large holes and air pockets, through which large debris can pass through. 

If you do have some large gaps, try to fill it with the large gravel or use the smaller gravel.

Make this layer a little more than an inch high, and there you have it, your filter in the wild.

With this final layer, you can screen out large impurities, rocks, and other debris that you would not want in your water.

This layer and the small gravel layer will take care of large pieces of debris, and the filter after these will act as a safety net.

The activated charcoal, sand, and the filter will get rid of small impurities, while the base layer will act as a safety net, and filter any last remaining particles.

After all those layers, you finally have a way to filter dirty mud water into clean water.

Hopefully, by the end of the filtering process, your water will be clear and clean.

However, the process isn’t complete even though you have your filter, you need to take care of two more things.

Step 9: Getting Water

To start filtering water in the wild, you need water.

Depending on where you are, it can either be abundant, accessible, clean or not.

The first thing to keep in mind is, what type of water source is available in your location.

You could try to find freshwater, through streams, ponds, or lakes, depending on your location. 

If these options aren’t available or accessible to you, you could try precipitation. 

This factor will depend on the climate of your location and what time of the year it is. 

However, this isn’t the most reliable water source, for constant drinking water.

If it doesn’t rain but rather snows, that could easily be your water source, along with hail.

However, make sure that the rainwater or snow water, hasn’t been in any place, where they could be polluted much.

If the rain is falling from the forest canopy, it could be harmful to your health, so stay away from this type of water.

You can also try underground sources, which are typically safe.

Other than the rain, these water sources will probably be the least contaminated.

If none of these options are available to you, look around for any other water source.

However, these will need extra precaution and proper filtration. 

Every layer of your filter will have to be perfect, to trap all impurities.

Now that you have water, you can finally start the filtering process.

Step 10: Filtering And Purifying

To start the filtering process, gently pour the water you collected into the filter. 

Do not pour all the water in one place, rather pour the water in a circular motion into the filter.

If you do this, the water will evenly go through all areas and will be filtered effectively.

If you pour it all in one place, then there will be too much pressure, in that one area. 

When this happens, water will either rush by without properly filtering or pool up and take forever to filter.

While you wait for all the water to filter, don’t shake the bottle, doing this will ruin the structure, and leave your water with bits and pieces of dirt.

You can filter more water after, however, remember the effectiveness of the filter decreases, as more water runs through it.

There you have it, you now know how to filter water in the wild, however, the process still isn’t over.

Now that you have your filtered water, all you need to do is, boil it before use.

While the filter will get rid of debris, it will not make the water safe to drink, as there may be bacteria and other microorganisms, that can make you extremely sick.

The simplest way to purify water and get rid of bacteria and microorganisms is, by boiling it.

If you still have dirt in your water, try to filter it, as those can leave impurities in your water, even after boiling.

With a pot and some fire, all you need to do is, boil your water for 10 minutes.

This amount of time is enough, to get rid of almost all bacteria and microorganisms.

Now you have filtered and purified water, which is clear and drinkable.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this step by step guide to filtering water in the wild, gave you the necessary knowledge on how to approach this, especially if you ever got stuck in any such situation.

Each layer is vital to the filtering process, so don’t forget any and make sure you attentively, set up all the layers. 

Try to remember key points, like large filtering at the stop and small filtering at the bottom.

Layers should not have air pockets and large spaces, and very importantly, you shouldn’t shake the bottle when the filtering process is taking place.

With this, your brief course on how to filter water in the wild is complete.

Feel free to send in your thoughts on this article.

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