The spring in the Death Valley canyon was the only source of water for probably miles around, and my hiking partner and I had detoured to see it.
But the spring (a seep really) looked and smelled like a hog wallow, with the muddy, filthy water polluted almost beyond belief.
The over-populated feral burros in the area had dug holes, so the water would seep in. But they also relieved themselves in the water while they drank. The desert bighorn sheep wouldn’t drink that filthy slop, and I was glad we didn’t need to re-supply.
Water is critical to survival, be it in the desert or during a flood such as happened after Katrina, or last week in my hometown of Ames, Iowa.
But frequently, the only drinking water source available may be muddy, dirty and polluted — water from ponds, streams, and the like. If that’s your survival situation, then your choices are simple: Drink or die.
Or suppose you travel to a third-world country, where water quality is suspect at best. You need to be able to carry along a filtering/purification system that is compact and portable.
A dependable system for filtering and purifying water is mandatory for any emergency preparedness and/or survival kit, and it should consist of several inter-related components. One of these should be some sort of filter/purifier.
For the last couple weeks, I have been field-testing the Sport Berkey® Portable Water Purifier bottle. The size of a standard bike or running water bottle, this system could be a valuable addition to your survival kit or emergency preparedness planning. The name, Berkey, has been around for decades and is a brand I trust completely.
To quote the specs that come with the Berkey, the purifier bottle:
“Is the ideal personal protection traveling companion – featuring the IONIC ADSORPTION MICRO FILTRATION SYSTEM. The theory behind this innovation is simple. The bottle’s filter is designed to remove and/or dramatically reduce a vast array of health-threatening contaminants from questionable sources of water, including remote lakes and streams, stagnant ponds and water supplies in foreign countries where regulations may be sub-standard at best.”
If the water is really nasty, the Berkey folks recommend two drops of plain chlorinated bleach or iodine be added to each refill before filtering. This will kill minute pathogens such as viruses, according to the brochure, and the disinfectant will then be filtered from the water entirely removing its odor, color, and taste.
I could have filled the bottle from a local drainage ditch, drank the filtered water and let you know how everything came out in a couple weeks. But, dear reader, there are limits to what extent I’m willing to test any product! (I also considered filling the Berkey bottle with beer, to test how effectively the filter removes taste…)
So, until someone proves differently, we’ll assume the Berkey claims about eliminating viruses, heavy metals, toxic chemicals, microscopic pathogens, Giardia, Cryptosporidium and other nasty water-borne nasties are accurate.
Subsequently, my field testing was limited to handling, ease of use and how the Berkey sport bottle could fit into an integrated survival water system.
Here’s the good part:
- The Berkey bottle is a great size. It fits in the water bottle basket on my bicycle, in the side pockets of my fanny pack and daypack and fits my hand well. It is convenient to use and could easily be included in a suitcase or carry-on for overseas travel.
- The bottle is easily secured, because of the ring built into the top, to virtually anything. It could be carried by the top, or have a carabineer or piece of cord threaded through it.
- The bottle is soft and flexible. This allows the user to squeeze and produce more internal pressure. This, in turn, reduces the amount of suction needed to drink from the straw.
- When the bottle was full, it was possible to squeeze filtered water out of the straw. You could fill other bottles with filtered water in this way, but it would be a long, laborious process. The good news is: You could filter water for young children or old people who couldn’t muster enough suction power to operate other filter bottles.
The Berkey is easy for me to use.
- The bottle must first be “primed” before using, which amounts to squeezing the bottle until water comes out the top. I had no trouble performing this operation. For someone with weaker hands, the system could be primed by stepping very carefully on the middle of the bottle until water came out the straw. Obviously, stomping on the container would probably hurt the filter or the rest of the system!
- Filling the bottle is easy – just dip the water out of the source, put the filter in, screw on the top and drink. You don’t need another container for that.
The Berkey as Part of an Integrated Survival Water System
As far as I’m concerned the Berkey is not the do-it-all, indispensable water filtration/purification system. Nothing is. Here are some aspects of an integrated survival water system the Berkey does very well:
- For quick conversion of questionable water into something safe to drink, the Berkey Sport Water Bottle is superb. All you do is fill it and suck on the straw. With some water treatments, you frequently must wait a period of time while the chemicals work. If you or your child is dehydrated, he/she needs water ASAP. There is no waiting with the Berkey.
- If you’re traveling along a creek, near a lake or along some other water source, the Berkey is all you need to take along. You can replenish the bottle as you go, and reduce the water weight.
- There are no chemicals involved in the Berkey system, so you don’t have to be concerned about ingesting iodine, chlorine bleach or other additives.
- The bad news is that the Berkey, like any bottle or bladder system, can be affected by freezing. That could remove the Berkey from consideration as a water source during freezing situations.
The Rest of the Integrated Survival Water System
No single item can guarantee that you will be able to purify water for drinking. (I’m not sure anything could have made that vile floodwater stew after Katrina potable!)
- Polar Pure or Potable Agua: These are chemical purifiers, and require a certain time period for them to work. I used the Polar Pure system exclusively on a nine-day canoe trip in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters and the system worked really well. Potable Agua comes in capsules and is easy to carry and use. Either Polar Pure of Potable Aqua goes on every outing.
- Platypus flexible water containers. These collapsible water containers are available in various sizes as water storage units and they roll up into a small, lightweight pack when empty. I generally carry two or three extras in my daypack, since they weigh next to nothing and don’t take up much space.
- Nalgene bottle: I like the wide-mouth, and modify mine with a paracord loop and duct tape. The loop is designed so the bottle can be carried on my belt, or tied to a cord to lower into a stock tank, depression or water source that is hard to get to. Don’t think you can just tie something onto the lid retainer – chances are it will break at some point, and as these things go, probably when you need it the most.
- Tin cup for dipping water out of hard-to-reach places and/or boiling: Tin cups are great! You can use them for a multitude of tasks, including boiling water. Boiling water is probably the safest, most effective method of water purification available, providing you have a heat source.
- Six-foot piece of aquarium tubing: I got this tip from survival expert Peter Kummerfeldt. Peter recommends including the tubing in case you find water in a crack or crevice and can’t get to it. Just stick the tube in the water and suck it out.
- Coffee filter and bandana: If you can filter the mud and debris out of the water, it will make any filter last that much longer. In especially turbid, muddy water, wrap the coffee filter around the bottom of any filter and attach it with a rubber band. It will help! The bandana has many uses, including serving as a water filter. A clean one, that you haven’t used to wipe your nose, is preferable!
- Large garbage bag: Another multi-use item. Use this to catch rain, or as a reservoir for holding water. I wouldn’t waste my time or the materials to make a solar still. My experience is that solar stills don’t work well enough to justify construction.
- Water filter: Some lightweight method of filtering and purifying water can be incredibly useful. The Berkey excels in this category.
My testing so far has shown the Berkey to be a durable, very useful survival tool. In October, I’m hunting elk in Unit 16 in Idaho, and my plan is to take it along in my daypack side pocket.
I’ll be hunting several promising-looking drainages with streams in them. The plan is to move a lot and daypack weight will be an issue. Nothing is being taken along that doesn’t have a specific purpose and the idea is to cut weight wherever possible.
The Berkey Sport Bottle will allow me to hunt without carrying a lot of water, and I’ll be able to replenish it as needed. I’m betting the Berkey will handle my hydration needs without any problems!
Guest post by Leon Pantenburg, Survival Common Sense