Water is one of your most urgent needs in a survival situation. You can't live long without it, especially in hot areas where you lose water rapidly through perspiration. Even in cold areas, you need a minimum of 2 liters of water each day to maintain efficiency.
More than three-fourths of your body is composed of fluids. Your body loses fluid as a result of heat, cold, stress and exertion. To function effectively, you must replace the fluid your body loses. So, one of your first goals is to obtain an adequate supply of water.
Securing a dependable supply of drinking water may be your greatest challenge. Indeed, the entire world seems to be entering a crisis mode -- one-fifth of humanity has no access to safe drinking water and it's only getting worse. For most everyone reading this, however, there's still plenty of easily accessible water, but water main breaks, flooding and contamination may change things abruptly. In addition, more regions of the country are facing long-term drought conditions that may break the back of public water systems. Whatever may come, I never want end up standing in line for bottled water.
-- Water resists any ""improvement"" in portability and compactness. A gallon of water weighs just over 8 pounds and fills up a space about the size of a basketball... ALWAYS! So you'll just have to ""store, carry, or filter"".
-- Ideally, you will need a gallon of water per person per day (half a gallon for drinking, the rest for cooking and other uses). If you intend to keep using a flush toilet, you'll need to look into getting larger water containers (plastic rain barrels are ideal) or look into portable chemical toilets. Keep in mind that the water in your water heater tank is also available for drinking or flushing. At a minimum, make sure you have a toilet that only uses 1.6 gallons per flush (the capacity for most toilets made since 1982).
-- Avoid storing water in plastic containers for extended periods since they may leach toxins into the water. True, there are certain types of plastic that show no evidence of leaching, but I just avoid the whole controversy by sticking largely with non-reactive materials. FEMA says to avoid glass because of breakability and weight, but I prefer using recycled glass bottles for long-term storage rather than depending solely on suspect plastic. The weight issue doesn't concern me since I don't intend to transport the glass containers. On the other hand, if children or clumsy adults are around, you may have to use plastic. If so, just keep plastic bottles away from heat and flush them out or replace them after a year or so.
-- Try to select storage container types in order to maximize quantity and accessibility. Ask yourself, "" how can I store the most water in the least amount of space while retaining easy access?"" First off, if you can't stack the containers, you're severely limiting the amount that can be stored. Unless they are in closed cases, you can't safely stack plastic or narrow neck glass bottles. One storage option often used -- the large 5-gallon narrow-necked water bottle - is a challenge for stacking and moving. They're plastic, so I don't use them for long-term storage, but if you go with this option, by all means get the handy shelving system available from Stacks and Stacks.
As I've already said, I don't use plastic containers for long-term storage, despite the fact that everyone from the Mormons to FEMA says you should. So here's my recommendation for long-term drinking water storage:
1) Buy cases of glass-bottled, wide-mouthed, quart-size fruit juices or sports drinks in cardboard boxes or trays (preferably light-colored liquids with reduced sugar and minimal sediment). You can use larger glass bottles, but the weight may become a problem.
2) Consume the original contents at your leisure, but NEVER DRINK DIRECTLY FROM THE BOTTLES -- YOUR MOUTH IS FILTHY!
3) Wash and thoroughly rinse the bottles and tops (use the hottest water possible with biodegradable dish soap to avoid the nastier forms of soap residue -- I use heat-resistant silicon gloves during cleaning).
4) Refill with filtered tap water and place the bottles back in the original cardboard containers. You'll want to relabel the bottles as well, since mysterious clear liquids are always unwelcome. With shallow cardboard cases, wrap some clear duct tape around the bottle clusters to keep them more stable.
5) Full cases can be stacked to a stable height (about shoulder high), especially in a corner or up against a wall. Remember, you will want to be able to safely reach the upper cases.
With this method I can store 21 GALLONS in about the same space taken up by a standing, slightly obese, 6-foot human.
Bulk Water Storage: If you have the space outdoors, set up rain barrels to collect and hold water that can be used for toilet flushing, or with filtering, can serve as a backup drinking and washing supply. Rain Barrels and More has 50 to 65 gal. types with screen covered tops (water flows in, critters stay out) and bottom spigots for easy access.
Portable Toilets: Most people usually find out the hard way, but sewage can make an enclosed space -- like a shelter or your house -- uninhabitable in short order. If you lose your water supply and you don't have backup water to fill the toilets, you'd better invest in a portable chemical toilet. The simplest ones, like the Reliance Hassock, work just fine and are very inexpensive. They're basically a short barrel with a seat and chemical treatment kit. For a little more money -- but a lot more portability, eco-friendliness and less ""pooh"" fuss -- get the Philips PETT Toilet. There's even an optional custom privacy tent that essentially creates a mobile outhouse.
Body Cleansing: Another unpleasant development that usually blossoms in a few days is body order. Without showers or even extra water for washing, you and your mates can get pretty ripe. Having pre-moistened handiwipes around is a good start, but you should pick up few packs of Micelle's Fresh Bath's Body Wipes that feature large biodegrable pre-moistened sheets that will take care of your entire body. These are also a great friend to have during an evacuation.
If you just have to shower now and then, there's always the trusty solar shower. My favorite is Coleman's 5-Gallon Marine model. You can also go a step further and treat yourself with Coleman's Battery-Powered Shower. In the Energy section, I'll show you how to heat up bathing water and keep your batteries charged.
If you're forced to leave the comforts of plumbing -- or your reserve of stored water -- there are just a few simple, obvious guidelines. First, be certain you have enough lightweight water containers to carry about a gallon per person (if it's a vehicle evacuation aim for three gallons per person if possible). Second, be sure to have at least one high-quality portable water purifier system. Remember you're not preparing for an ultra-lightweight expedition, just trying to get the best of price, portability and performance. Of course, these same portable water purifiers and filters can be used at home if there are alternative water sources nearby.
Bottles: This is the one instance where it makes sense to use plastic bottles especially with all the Nalgene and similar types already in use. If you do, try to stick with #2, #4, #5 plastics. Avoid all others especially those made of Lexan. Sorry for sounding like a broken record, but the rap sheet on plastics is only getting longer. If you're in the market for new bottles, get some of the lightweight stainless steel types. My favorite is the Klean Kanteen made by the company of the same name, but there are other types available. Buy three or four 32 oz. or 40 oz. bottles for each person.
Water Purifiers: There are dozens or different options for water filters and purifiers (know the difference?) and doing all the research and trying figure out the best option will drive you crazy. If you want to take the course, REI has a good ""Expert Advice"" feature. Here are my picks with a slight bias for portability over output:
1. First Need Deluxe Portable Water Purifier by General Ecology: this outstanding, affordable all-around portable unit won a ""Gear of The Year"" award from Outside magazine. General Ecology's chemical free ""Structured Matrix"" purifier technology is the best around. If you like it, buy some extra filters since you'll need to change them out after 125 gallons. Yes, the filters are about half the price of the full unit, but the filters have all the magic! As an added feature, the tote bag doubles as a water sac and gravity feed kit that permits filtering without pumping. General Ecology also offers a superb upscale version, the ""Base Camp Purifier"" with a higher output rate and a filter life up to 1,000 gallons, but it's an expense that can only be justified if you need to provide for more than a small group over an extended period.
2. Katadyn Hiker PRO Water Filter: since I've used Katadyn's for quite a while, I had to add one of their great products. Except for viruses, the PRO has about the same performance as the First Need line. This sturdy, compact unit gives solid results, but, once again, if you need to provide water for a large group, you might want consider the more expensive Katadyn Expedition filter.
3. LifeStraw: this amazing little drinking water device was developed in Switzerland as an inexpensive, quick-impact remedy for the growing lack of safe drinking water in many of the world's poorer regions. It's really just a big drinking straw -- stick one end in the water and start sucking on the other. Each LifeStraw has an effective life of 700 liters, or about a year's worth of water for a single person. A combination of seven filters takes out most waterborne bacteria and viruses, but since the present version technically doesn't have the filter specs to remove Giardia, I can't rightly recommend it for use in North America. But as thousands of users on other continents can testify, the LifeStraw really does the job, but its makers are moving forward with an upgrade that will officially handle Giardia. In the meantime, I keep them on hand as a kind of ""third world"" backup. At present, there is no U.S. distributor, but you can get it from the U.K. on the web. Check out LifeStraw in action on YouTube.
While we're on the subject of straws, Aquamira Technologies makes a range of nifty no-pump water filter systems including called the straw-shaped Frontier. It's only good for 20 gallons, but the Frontier works much the same way as LifeStraw, defeats Giardia and weighs less than an ounce.
TIPS: 1)Keep some coffee filters and rubber bands handy -- when tapping turbid or muddy water, you can wrap them around the prefilters on the intake tubes to lessen the filtration load on the units; 2) It's also a good idea to keep a supply of chemical water purification tablets or liquids on hand (go with chlorine dioxide products -- they're more effective than iodine). Backpacking Light has a concise write-up about the most popular types including my favorite, Katadyn's MicroPUR 1 tablets.