10 Ways to Purify Water While Orienteering: Essential Methods for Safe Hydration

July 01, 2024 10 min read

Exploring the wilderness through orienteering can be an exhilarating experience, but ensuring access to clean water is crucial for your safety and well-being. Unexpected circumstances may arise, making established water sources unavailable or unsuitable for drinking.

Clear stream flows over rocks, sunlight filters through trees, a small fire heats a pot, a solar still collects condensation, a hand pump draws from a well, iodine tablets dissolve in a canteen, a water filter attaches to a bottle

Knowing how to purify water in various situations can be a lifesaver. It's essential to familiarize yourself with different methods that can help you secure safe drinking water on your journey. This article will guide you through practical ways to purify water while orienteering.

1) Boil the Water

Boiling water is one of the most effective methods to purify it. This process kills harmful pathogens, bacteria, and viruses that may be present. To boil water, place it in a pot or another suitable container.

Heat the water until it reaches a rolling boil. Once boiling, maintain it for at least one minute. At higher altitudes, boil for three minutes due to lower boiling points.

After boiling, let the water cool before using. Ensure the container you use for boiling is clean to prevent recontamination. This method is simple and reliable if you have the means to heat the water.

2) Use Portable Water Filters

Portable water filters are a popular choice among orienteers. They remove bacteria, protozoa, and often reduce chemicals and heavy metals. These filters are compact and lightweight, making them ideal for backpacking and wilderness activities.

There are different types of portable filters. Pump filters are manual and work by pumping water through a filter cartridge. Some models also include a carbon element to improve taste.

Gravity filters use the force of gravity to pull water through the filter. They are convenient for setting up a base camp. You fill a bag with water, hang it up, and let gravity do the work.

Squeeze filters are easy to use. You fill a soft bottle or pouch with unfiltered water and then squeeze it through the filter into a clean container. These are great for quick hydration stops.

Ultralight options, such as straw filters, allow you to drink directly from a water source. While they are extremely portable, they are best for emergency use due to limited filtration capabilities.

When using portable water filters, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Regular maintenance, such as cleaning the filter and replacing cartridges, ensures effective purification. Be aware that some contaminants, like viruses, may require additional treatment. Carry purification tablets as a backup. Portable filters provide a reliable way to access safe drinking water, enhancing your orienteering experience.

3) Chemical Water Purification Tablets

Chemical water purification tablets are a reliable and lightweight method for making water safe to drink. These tablets usually contain chlorine, iodine, or chlorine dioxide, which are effective at killing bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.

To use chemical tablets, collect water from a natural source and filter out large debris. Drop the recommended number of tablets into your water container and mix them thoroughly.

Let the water sit for the specified amount of time, usually between 30 minutes to 4 hours, depending on the type of tablet used. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for the best results.

Some tablets may leave an aftertaste, although this can often be minimized by exposing the water to air for a while before drinking. You might want to carry a secondary container for purifying larger amounts of water at once.

Chemical tablets are compact and easy to pack, making them ideal for orienteering. They're also a great backup to have, should other purification methods fail. Ensure you store the tablets in a dry, cool place to maintain their effectiveness.

4) Solar Water Disinfection (SODIS)

Solar Water Disinfection (SODIS) is a simple and effective method to purify water using sunlight.

To start, fill a clear plastic or glass bottle with water. Ensure the container is clean and free of any cracks.

Place the bottle on a reflective surface, such as aluminum foil, to maximize sunlight exposure. Expose the bottle to direct sunlight for at least six hours.

SODIS is most effective in sunny areas. Cloudy conditions may require up to two days of exposure. This method relies on UV radiation and heat to kill pathogens.

Make sure to use bottles that are less than three liters in capacity for optimal results. Larger containers may not heat evenly.

Avoid using colored or opaque bottles as they block UV rays, reducing the effectiveness of the disinfection process.

SODIS works best with relatively clear water. If the water is turbid, filter it through cloth before placing it in the bottle.

The method is cost-effective and doesn't require any special equipment. This makes it useful for orienteering when carrying limited supplies.

After exposure, the water is safe for drinking. It's a reliable method when chemical treatments or advanced filtration systems are not available.

5) UV Light Water Purifiers

UV light water purifiers are an efficient way to sterilize water. They use ultraviolet light to kill harmful microorganisms, bacteria, and viruses. The purification process is quick and straightforward.

To use a UV purifier, you typically treat water in a clear container. The UV light source, often a pen-like device, gets immersed in the water. Follow the device's instructions for duration, usually around 60 seconds.

Ensure the water is relatively clear before using a UV purifier. Sediments or murkiness can block the UV light, reducing effectiveness. If the water is cloudy, pre-filtering it with a cloth or filter is recommended.

UV purifiers are portable and battery-operated. They are lightweight, making them convenient for orienteering and other outdoor activities. Many models use rechargeable batteries, adding to their practicality.

While UV light purifiers are effective, they do not remove chemical contaminants or particulates. Their primary function is to sterilize the water. Always consider the source of your water and pre-filter if necessary.

Many hikers and adventurers favor UV purifiers due to their ease of use and quick results. The technology has proven reliable over years of testing and use in various environments.

Using these devices involves minimal skill. They offer a modern solution that fits well into any outdoor survival kit.

6) Gravity-fed Water Filters

Gravity-fed water filters offer a simple yet effective way to purify water while orienteering.

These filters use gravity to pull water through a filtration system. You fill a reservoir with water and hang it, allowing gravity to do the work.

This type of filter often removes bacteria, protozoa, and some other contaminants. Always check the filter's specifications for details on what it can remove.

To use, fill the reservoir with untreated water. Hang it from a tree or other elevated object. The clean water flows into a separate container.

Most gravity-fed filters are lightweight and easy to pack, making them convenient for long treks. They require minimal effort, unlike pump filters.

Some models have replaceable cartridges, ensuring long-term usability. Always carry spare filter cartridges to maintain optimal performance.

Gravity-fed filters are ideal for groups, as they can filter large amounts of water at once. This makes them efficient and practical for shared use.

Keep in mind that gravity-fed systems can be slower than other methods. Patience is key when relying on gravity to provide clean water.

Cleaning and maintaining the filter is crucial. Ensure you backflush or clean it according to the manufacturer's instructions. This prevents clogging and maintains flow rate.

Remember, like all water purification systems, gravity-fed filters are only as good as their care and maintenance. Regularly inspect for wear and tear.

Using a gravity-fed filter can make your orienteering experience smoother and safer, providing you with clean drinking water without much hassle.

7) Activated Charcoal

Dark water bottle with activated charcoal sticks inside, surrounded by various natural elements like rocks, leaves, and branches. A compass and map are nearby, suggesting orienteering

Activated charcoal is a highly effective method for purifying water while orienteering. You can use it to remove contaminants, impurities, and toxins.

To use activated charcoal, you'll need a container, such as a clean sock or cloth, and place the charcoal inside. Pour the water through the charcoal-filled container.

This process helps to absorb chemicals, improving the taste and safety of the water. Ensure the charcoal is properly cleaned and prepared before use. This simple method can make a significant difference in the quality of your drinking water while on your journey.

8) Distillation

Distillation is a reliable method to purify water. It involves boiling water to produce steam and then condensing the steam back into liquid form. This process effectively separates water from contaminants.

To distill water in the wild, you need basic equipment. A metal container for boiling water and a larger container to catch the condensed steam are crucial. Additionally, plastic or metal tubing helps direct the steam.

Begin by heating water in the metal container. As the water boils, it turns into steam. The steam should travel through the tubing into the larger container.

Cool the steam to turn it back into liquid. Use a cloth or natural cooling elements like cold water. Once the steam condenses, it drips into the larger container as purified water.

This method removes most impurities. It can eliminate bacteria, viruses, and many chemicals. However, some contaminants with lower boiling points may not be removed.

Distilling water takes time and fuel. These resources may be scarce while orienteering. Always evaluate the availability of resources before opting for distillation.

Carry portable distillation kits if possible. These kits simplify the process and ensure you have the necessary tools at hand.

Practice this method before going into the wild. It will help you become efficient and improve your chances of success in a real scenario.

9) Portable Bottle Filters

A portable bottle filters water in 10 ways while surrounded by orienteering gear and a natural setting

Portable bottle filters are among the most convenient water purification tools you can carry while orienteering. These bottles come with built-in filtration systems that can remove bacteria, protozoa, and even some chemicals from water sources.

You simply fill the bottle with available water, and the filter does the hard work as you sip. Many portable bottle filters use activated carbon, which helps in removing bad tastes and odors from the water.

They are lightweight and easy to carry. Plus, they don’t require any complex setup or additional components. This makes them ideal for situations where you need to quickly and efficiently purify water on the go.

10) Construct a DIY Sand Charcoal Filter

To build a DIY sand charcoal filter, you'll need sand, charcoal, small pebbles, and a container. Start by crushing charcoal into small pieces. Make sure you have varying sizes, from coarse to fine.

Next, layer the container with the materials. Begin with a layer of small pebbles at the bottom. This helps to trap larger debris.

Add a layer of sand over the pebbles. The sand helps to filter out finer particles and impurities.

Top it off with the crushed charcoal. The charcoal absorbs contaminants and improves the water's taste.

Pour the collected water slowly over the top layer. Let gravity filter the water through the layers.

The filtered water will collect at the bottom. Always boil or treat the water chemically after filtering to ensure safety.

This setup effectively reduces sediment and some microorganisms. It’s a practical method when you need a quick filtration option.

Understanding Water Contaminants

When purifying water while orienteering, you must watch out for various contaminants, including biological, chemical, and physical. These factors impact water safety and are important to address effectively.

Biological Contaminants

Biological contaminants include organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites. These microorganisms can cause illnesses like diarrhea, typhoid, and giardiasis. Common sources are animal feces and contaminated human waste.

Key Points:

  • Bacteria: E. coli and Salmonella are typical examples.
  • Viruses: Hepatitis A and Norovirus can be present.
  • Parasites: Giardia and Cryptosporidium are notorious for causing infections.

Boiling water is an effective method to kill these microorganisms. You can also use chemical disinfectants such as iodine tablets or chlorine drops. Filters with pore sizes less than 0.2 microns help physically remove biological contaminants.

Chemical Contaminants

Chemical contaminants include substances like heavy metals, pesticides, and industrial chemicals. These can enter water through agricultural runoff, industrial waste, or natural mineral deposits. Consuming chemically contaminated water can lead to various chronic health issues.

Key Points:

  • Heavy Metals: Lead, mercury, and arsenic can cause poisoning.
  • Pesticides: Chemicals used in farming can leach into water sources.
  • Industrial Chemicals: Benzene and other industrial by-products pose serious health risks.

Activated charcoal filters are effective at removing many chemical contaminants. Using certified portable water filters with activated charcoal components can reduce your exposure significantly. Also, avoid water sources near agriculture fields or industrial sites.

Physical Contaminants

Physical contaminants include sediment, organic material, and debris. These are usually visible and can make water appear cloudy. While not always harmful, they can harbor other dangerous contaminants and reduce the effectiveness of purification methods.

Key Points:

  • Sediments: Sand, silt, and clay particles.
  • Debris: Leaves, twigs, and other organic materials.
  • Cloudiness: Often a sign of other contaminants.

Using a cloth or portable water filter can help remove these particles. Settling and decanting are also basic methods to clear up cloudy water before further purification steps. Prioritizing clear sources helps streamline the purification process.

Essential Water Purification Techniques

When you're out orienteering, clean water is paramount. There are several reliable methods you can use to ensure water is safe for drinking.


Boiling water is one of the most effective ways to purify it. By bringing water to a rolling boil for at least one minute, you can kill bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. At higher altitudes, boil for three minutes. This method requires a heat source and a container, typically a metal pot.

To make boiling easier, consider using portable stoves or Jetboils. Always let the water cool before drinking. Boiling is straightforward but may not remove all chemical pollutants or sediments present in the water.

Chemical Treatment

Chemical treatment uses tablets or drops to kill harmful microorganisms. Common options include iodine, chlorine dioxide, and chlorine tablets. Iodine-treated water needs 30 minutes before it's safe to drink, while chlorine dioxide may require up to four hours but works against more pathogens.

Follow the instructions carefully to avoid under-dosing, which can leave you vulnerable to infections. Chemical treatment is lightweight and portable, ideal for backpackers. Be aware some chemicals may impart an unpleasant taste, and individuals with iodine allergies should seek alternatives.


Filtration devices remove impurities and pathogens through physical barriers. Portable water filters come in various forms, such as pump filters, straw filters, and gravity filters. These filters can eliminate bacteria and protozoa, and some advanced models also remove viruses.

Choose a filter based on your needs, keeping in mind flow rate and pore size. Regular maintenance, like backflushing and replacing filter cartridges, ensures optimal performance. Filtration is quick and efficient but doesn't remove dissolved chemicals and may require frequent upkeep.

Each technique has its own advantages and limitations, so understanding and choosing the right method is crucial for safe hydration on your orienteering adventures.