Tag: Grayl

Safe to drink in an emergency?

Drinking water from puddles in an emergency

OK, we know. Get your flu shot. Wash your hands. Cook meat thoroughly. Only drink water you are sure is safe.

But no matter how careful we are, people get sick.

Once we were camping when my son – then in his 20s, tall, strong, healthy – started violently throwing up. We decided to cut our trip short. We had to stop a couple of times along the road because he was still throwing up.

At home, he lay quietly on the couch but couldn’t keep anything down, not even water. His voice became hoarse and his eyes seemed sunken.

Finally, we took him to the emergency room. They whisked him into the hospital where he stayed for 4 days! Test after test was unable to identify a clear-cut villain. Finally, the doctors treated him for giardia because he’d inadvertently swallowed some mountain stream water!

When I was a child, we purposefully drank water from mountain streams. But that was long ago. These days, we know to stick to water from a reliable source. The problem?

In an emergency there may be no immediately reliable sources.

In an emergency, it will be up to you to be sure your water is safe. If you can, you’ll turn to water you’ve stored. But even without that, if you are prepared, you’ll be able to make “found” water safe.

Look again at the photo. Imagine you have no other water and are desperately thirsty. Would it be safe to bring that cup to your lips?

The answer? Probably not. Let’s take a look at ways to make water safe to drink in an emergency.

Before we begin, please note this warning: water contaminated with fuel or toxic chemicals will not be made safe by boiling or disinfecting. You’ll have to filter out these contaminants. So as you consider the following recommendations, think about what kind of “contamination” you are likely to encounter in an emergency: dust and dirt, sewage, fuels, agricultural runoff, etc. It will help you decide on what equipment you need.

Boil water – For how long?

As I am writing this, people in a community in San Diego county are operating under a Boil Water Advisory. (It’s already lasted 6 days!) Why? During recent heavy rains an overflow drain in the city water system didn’t operate as planned, and dirty water flowed into the clean water reservoir.

In a disaster you may not receive an official Advisory. But if your water is green or yellow, smells bad, has visible particulates or a colored sheen, it is likely contaminated. And drinking it could lead to serious stomach problems!

So your first thought regarding water probably ought to be to consider boiling it — keeping in mind the warning in the green box above.

You can pre-filter the water by pouring it through a paper towel or even a clean shirt. Then pour the clear water into a clean pan and bring it to a rolling boil for 1 minute. (Let it cool before you drink or store, of course.)

If you’re at higher elevations, say over 6,000 ft., boil for 3 minutes.

A nuisance? Maybe. But it could keep you healthy.

Disinfect water so it’s safe to drink – But what with?

After boiling, or if boiling isn’t feasible, a second option for cleaning questionable water is to disinfect it. There are a couple of common disinfecting agents designed to make water safe to drink.

Household bleach – the right amount of the right kind

You know to use only liquid unscented plain bleach, right? The amount of bleach to use depends on how much sodium hypochlorite it contains.

I just checked in my own cupboard. I have “regular” blue-label Clorox bleach – with 6.25% sodium hypochlorite. There’s another bottle from Clorox there, looks very similar but has a green label and is called “Cleaner and Bleach.” It has only 1% sodium hypochlorite – and who knows what else?! 

So you have to look carefully.  Then, add plain bleach (with 6.25%) to your water as follows:

  • For one quart water: 2 drops
  • For one gallon: 8 drops or 1/8 teaspoon
  • For 5 gallons: 40 drops or ½ teaspoon

Stir, then let it sit for a half hour before you use it for drinking or cooking. (If you pour it back and forth between clean glasses the chlorine taste will lessen.)

Tip: When using Clorox to disinfect water: write on the bottle with permanent marker how many drops you used and the date they were added. Use and refresh as appropriate.

Water purification tablets or drops

Tablets and drops are convenient and relatively inexpensive (some less than $10) and can last for several years. They work against bacteria, viruses, and parasites, although they may not protect against a particularly nasty parasite called cryptosporidium. I’d recommend having a bottle or two of disinfectant in every Survival Kit, as a back-up to whatever other method you’re using to make your water safe to drink. (Click on the links in the next paragraph for details.)

The disinfecting agent typically comes as tablets with iodine or as drops that contain chlorine. CLOSELY follow the instructions as to how much to use, how long to wait for them to work, etc.  (I’ve read horror stories of people practically popping the tablets like pills, which of course makes them very sick.)

Important: the length of time necessary for the disinfectant to “work” depends on the ingredients in the tablet and what you’re protecting against. For example, if you are concerned about the water containing giardia, you will have to let the tablets work for longer than if you’re only trying to protect against bacteria.

Filter water – You can do this all the time!

With a portable water bottle with built in filter, you have a valuable tool during ordinary times and during emergencies.

Today, these bottles are inexpensive and handy. The filters are made of activated charcoal that absorbs all the bad stuff. Naturally, after a number of uses the filter will be full and will need to be replaced. (Read the fine print on the bottle description. Some filters last 3-4 times as long as others.)

Even inexpensive filters can be extremely effective, but the very best ones filter out debris, bacteria, viruses, and parasites – including cryptosporidium.  Their ultimate effectiveness depends on the “pore size” of the filter. The very best are the very smallest – i.e., filters with an “absolute” pore size of 1 micron or less. (You won’t find many with a pore size that small.)

Protect yourself and the planet.

If you are carrying a filtered water bottle to make regular tap water taste better, and to avoid adding single-use plastic bottles to the environment, ordinary filter bottles are probably all you need. Get friends and colleagues to avoid single-use plastic, too!

In an emergency, where your needs may be greater, check out some of the bottles below. And remember, you can always add a disinfectant to filtered water for extra protection. (Click on the image or on the link to get current prices. There may be some holiday deals.)

Some of the best water bottles with filters.

Top of the line.

Let’s start with the bottle that seems to appear at the top of every reviewer’s list: the Grayl Geopress.

The company declares it “Safe for any adventure!”

It operates a bit differently from others you may have seen or used. I liken it to making French press coffee. That is, you pour water into the body of the bottle, then press the filter down through it. The filter “captures” the contaminants – silt, sediment, chemicals like benzene and chlorine, metals such as arsenic and lead — as it passes through the water.

Here’s a picture and link to Amazon, where we are Associates. This model comes in a couple of different colors, and you can also buy extra filters so you’ll always have a fresh one. (A filter is rated to last through 250 liters.)

GRAYL Geopress 24 oz Water Purifier for Global Travel, Backpacking, Hiking, and Survival (Coyote Amber)

If I were headed out on a serious trek, just about anywhere in the world, this would be my choice. (If you’ve ever had diarrhea while traveling, you’ll understand the intensity of my recommendation!)

Looking for something smaller?

Grayl has a second, smaller and lighter model called the Grayl Ultralight. It is more streamlined and would fit better into a backpack than the larger Geopress, but it’s still the same quality engineering. The Ultralight comes in a few different colors, so shop til you find the color you prefer. Each delivers 16 oz. of clean water with one press. Get extra filters for this one, too.

GRAYL Ultralight Water Purifier [+ Filter] Bottle (Green)

Our longtime favorites come from LifeStraw.

The personal water filter

We’ve featured the LifeStraw personal water filter for years. (That link takes you to a post I wrote a summer or two ago. It has more details about boiling water!) As the name suggests, you suck water through the “straw” to make it safe to drink. LifeStraw has an impressive history and continues to make a difference for people throughout the world.

The classic one-person  “straw” is light, easy to manage and pack, and as I write this it’s on sale at Amazon, so I am including it in this Advisory.

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter for Hiking, Camping, Travel, and Emergency Preparedness

 (There are larger models made by LifeStraw, too. For example, click to see their family-sized gravity-powered purifier.)  

Personal water bottle with filter

Over the past few years, LifeStraw has joined the movement to add replaceable filters to water bottles.  The LifeStraw Go Bottle fits comfortably into the middle price range of filtered bottles, and has one noticeable feature – two different filters. (Scroll down the sales page at Amazon to look at the diagram that shows both filters in position.)

Again, shop for the color or colors you prefer. There’s a whole selection! (These make great stocking stuffers for all your kids and grandkids!) The attached carabiner makes it easy to hook to a backpack.

LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle with 2-Stage Integrated Filter Straw for Hiking, Backpacking, and Travel, Blue

One final note. All filters will eventually get clogged and unusable. As mentioned above, if you are trying to extend your water supplies as far as possible, try pre-filtering water before running it through your carbon filter. First, let cloudy water settle. Then pour clear water through paper towels, through coffee filters, or through a clean t-shirt to remove larger particles and give your filter a chance to do its best work longer.

Gastrointestinal flu can actually be life-threatening. Of course, you can’t protect against everything, but in an emergency you must assume the risk of contaminated water to be much higher than usual. Be ready to act on the suggestions above to keep your water safe to drink.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team