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Micro Ventures: How to Filter Water

Updated: Jul 12, 2022

Water is refreshing! What if you’re in a remote area with a dry mouth begging for water but you're miles away from the trailhead with an empty water bottle? It’s important to know when you can drink straight from the source or when you think you need to treat the water to avoid getting sick.

Getting used to hydration basics and knowing when to filter or purify your water doesn't have to be overly complicated. Below, we share some tips for staying hydrated, along with how to find water sources, and what type of water filtration to use. To make it even more fun, do the fun activity of making your own filter.

In an earlier Micro Ventures lesson, we share the importance of leave-no-trace practices for peeing and pooping outside to avoid contaminating water sources that you or others may need to stay hydrated when out in the backcountry.

Adventure Ready Brands is committed to foundational outdoor education and empowerment for young girls through donations to the SheJumps Wild Skills programs. We’re excited they are collaborating on our weekly Micro Ventures content.

Hydration basics

Hydration is the key to staying healthy on the trail. Being able to find water sources AND drink from them can make or break a trip. Water for a long trip without water sources may be the most weight you’re carrying in your pack. Consider bringing a filter along and plan stops to refill your water supply.

Avoid dehydration by drinking water every so often and keeping your water in an easy-to-access place, especially when you’re exposed to sun and heat. You can definitely still get dehydrated even in the cold, so it’s important to make sure you’re drinking enough water to keep your body functioning properly. Set a timer and try to drink a certain amount of water during each water break. Don’t be afraid to make your friends stop if you want to hydrate, it will make you a better partner and chances are they may need some too.

Before a trip, try to pre-hydrate and be ready to sweat! Electrolytes can be added to water if you’re on a long trip or drinking lots of water. Replenishing the electrolytes in your body will help keep up and last longer.

Water sources

Water sources can be found from surface water, like lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers–the more water flow, the better. Groundwater comes from springs or water, which are harder to locate and know it’s available. Rainwater also can be a source but should be avoided if it is stagnant in muddy puddles. Snow makes tasty water after you collect and boil it in a backpacking stove, which many mountaineers or winter recreationalists do.

Planning your route will help you know what water sources you’ll have access to or how much water you’ll need to carry. Look at a topographic map and find the water sources indicated in blue. Consider reading local trip reports to see if the water sources are still available as some dry up in the summer months.

Why filter your water?

Although it may seem logical to fill up your water bottle straight from an outdoor water source, drinking water that isn’t treated can make you sick. Why? Humans are now used to drinking filtered and treated water. With people and animals needing water to survive, water can become contaminated from bacteria or protozoan cysts that our bodies have evolved from digesting.

If you’re new to resupplying your water on outdoor adventures, it’s important to understand and research the difference between water filters and purifiers. Water filters work to strain out the microorganisms that will make your stomach upset, which work well in the U.S. and Canada. In addition to microorganisms, like bacteria, water purifiers remove viruses found in the water as well. Such viruses are found in less-developed areas of the world. Learn more about our partner RapidPure water purifiers.

When treating water, designate clean and dirty water containers and keep them separate. Find clean water. When possible target moving water and filter away from sediment or cloudy water, which will help keep your water filter working longer. Oh, and don’t forget to sanitize or wash your hands.

There are many ways to treat your water, here’s a few of our favorites explained:

Water filter

Filtration pumps use thin filtration sheets and thick porous materials such as carbon or ceramic to trap particles while the person pumps water through the filter. Some of the more common filters include: Pump, Squeeze, or Gravity filters.

A pump filter works when you use the mechanism to pull water through a tube or from the water source and then push the water through the filter and into your water container.

A squeeze filter works by filling up a water container from a water source and squeezing it through the filter into your separate container.

A gravity filter takes a little more patience but it’s when you fill up a reservoir of water and hang it above the filter and let gravity do the work compared to the pump or squeeze filters.

Chemical treatment

Place an iodine tablet or water purification tablet in the water and watch it dissolve. After the tablet has dissolved, wait for 30 minutes before drinking. Iodine tablets make your water a different color and can have an off-taste but your stomach will thank you later.

Heat - Boiling Water

Boil water for a full minute once it is a rolling boil at 0-6500 ft elevation. Above 6500 ft elevation you should boil water at a rolling boil for 3 minutes. This ensures destruction of most all microorganisms.

UV Light

UV (ultraviolet) pens are used to disinfect water. It can only be used on small containers of water at a time. The nice thing about UV pens is that it does not change the taste of the water.

Make a water filter

Now, it’s time to understand how water filters work with an activity! Grab your supplies from the gear list and follow the instructions. Fun for all ages, but even better when doing it with friends or family.

Gear list

  • 2 glass jars

  • Sand

  • Gravel

  • 3 coffee filters

  • Dirt

  • Water

  • Plastic cup


  1. Begin by making a jar full of dirty water by adding dirt, grass, twigs, etc. Set aside.

  2. Take the plastic cup and cut a 1/2 inch hole in the bottom.

  3. In the plastic cup, line the bottom with the coffee filters.

  4. Then place a layer of clean sand, followed by a layer of gravel.

  5. Place the plastic cup into the empty glass jar.

  6. Pour the ½ the dirty water into the plastic cup so it will filter down through the gravel, sand and coffee filters.

  7. Compare the dirty water to the filtered water. The filter collects much of the dirt and particles making it much cleaner.

Micro Ventures, a free digital program to engage all ages in outdoor-related activities. Stay tuned for a different "Micro Venture" each week.

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