As I mentioned in my article on how to pack a ruck, water is one of the 4 basic needs for survival in the field. However, water is heavy, and if you are going to be in the field for several days it is not desirable to carry all of the water that you will drink. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly possible, but if you’re carrying 50 pounds of water in addition to 40 or so pounds of your other gear, you will get fatigued very quickly. For this reason it is important to have the tools and skills necessary to disinfect water in the field. There are many ways to do this, and this video is an excellent primer on a few of these methods. Today, I will show you what I have in my water procurement kit and how I use it in the field.
My kit consists of a clean cotton rag, 1-liter nalgene, Sawyer Mini filter, Steripen Ultra UV Purifier, and a makeshift funnel that I made using some duct tape.
- Clean cotton rag: I use this to strain the water that I put into my nalgene. It doesn’t stop microscopic particles, but it will catch bigger stuff like bits of dirt and sand. This extends the life of my filter a little bit.
- 1-liter Nalgene: Used to collect water. I use my nalgene instead of canteens for this because 1) the neck is bigger, taking less time to fill, and 2) it is transparent, and I can see how clear the water is (or isn’t) to determine if I need to filter it. I also use the nalgene to store all of the rest of the items in my water kit.
- Sawyer Mini filter: I’m aware that there are larger, better filters out there. I still prefer the Sawyer mini because it is small and compact, and also because it is reusable almost indefinitely. One thing I strive for with my kit is a minimized logistics footprint. If a filter takes disposable cartridges, that is one more thing that I need to pack or stock up on to keep it working. With the Sawyer, I can backwash the filter to clean it once it starts to get clogged. Since it is good for 100,000 gallons of water (more than I will drink in my lifetime), this means that it has virtually zero logistical requirements unless I break it. And while I have the included water pouch pictured here, I can also use normal disposable water bottles that have the same thread pitch. It’s also only $20, so there’s that.
- Steripen Ultra: This is an ultraviolet (UV) purifier. It works by emitting UV light for a set amount of time to kill virtually all bacteria, protozoa, and viruses, which cannot be caught by a filter. I love this purifier because, again, it is logistically simple. It has an internal battery that can be recharged via an included USB cable. It has enough battery power to last me a week or two in the field without needing a charge. And if I will be in the field longer than that, I will have solar panels with me that I can use to recharge it along with my other batteries. In my opinion this is superior to iodine tablets because they are consumable items, and it’s far more discrete than boiling because I don’t need to build a fire or carry a stove.
- Funnel: I made this funnel out of duct tape, I use it to pour water into my canteens. I use a duct tape funnel instead of a store-bought one because I can fold it flat for compact storage.
My Water Procurement Process
Bodies of water are exposed areas, tactically speaking. Because people tend to live close to bodies of water there is a serious risk of compromise near them. For this reason, you don’t want to hang out near your water source longer than is necessary. Additionally, the more people filling up water, the higher the chance of compromise. Patrols larger than a fire team should send a 2-4 man watering party (at least 1 on security while the others fill the containers) to fill everyone’s canteens, then bring them back to be purified in the patrol base.
I have two 2-qt canteens designated as my “dirty” containers. I hand these off to the watering party to fill in the stream/swamp/lake. They are marked with black tape to keep them distinguished from my “clean” canteens.
Back in the patrol base, I get to work. I pour dirty water into the Sawyer Mini’s water pouch until it is full, straining it through the cotton rag. Then I screw the Sawyer Mini onto the pouch and squeeze the water through the filter into the Nalgene. I repeat this process until the Nalgene is filled to the 1L line. I now have 1 liter of filtered water.
The next step is to purify the water. I turn on my Steripen Ultra, insert it into the nalgene, and stir it around. The Steripen detects the water and automatically starts a 90 second countdown timer. When the time is up a smiley face appears on the display to let me know the water is now safe to drink.
Finally, I use the funnel to pour the clean water into my “clean” canteens. I repeat the process until all the water has been filtered, purified, and poured into my canteens and camelback. I stow the components back into the Nalgene and replace it into my buttpack. The “dirty” canteens get compressed and shoved back into my ruck.
This has been an overview of my water procurement kit. Bear in mind that this is simply one solution to a problem that has many possible answers. Consider also that this system works for my specific area (coastal NC forests and swamps), and that different areas may require different methods of water procurement. Do your own research and your own experiments to find what works for you and your operating environment. Feel free to share your solutions in the comments below!
Because this is such an important part of sustaining yourself in the field, I will have you filter/purify your own water during the Jäger Course. We will be covering a couple different methods using common off-the-shelf options, and you will put in enough reps that you become confident.
To quote Camelbak’s slogan; “Hydrate or die!”