How to Make A Water Filter: Learning to Survive

Make water filter in the wild
Jerry Mueller
Written by Jerry Mueller

As an outdoor creature, knowing how to create a water filter can be a lifesaving skill in a dire situation. This is because, as we all know, water is absolutely essential for our wellbeing as we live through both the simple and challenging days of our lives.

It is in fact an invaluable necessity for our existence. It might just interest you to know that about 75% of the human brain is made up of water, so you can imagine how important water can be, besides its popular function of quenching our thirst.

For that reason, we would need a good tasting and fairly clean water to drink in order to remain safe and healthy enough to complete our expedition, and we do that by learning how to make a water filter.

So, in order to create our filter we would be required to have some basic tools. These tools include:

  • A container to collect the water to be filtered
  • A container to collect the water filter materials
  • A container to hold the already-filtered water
  • The means to filter your water

The 3-Step Sand Filtration Process

The 3-Step Sand Filtration Process, is a simple easy to follow, homemade water filtration method that can save the day, by cleaning up most water bodies that we may find in our outdoor ‘water lack situation’, using modest natural means.

Step 1:

Firstly, getting a container of some sort is necessary. It should be big enough to contain ample materials that would be used as your filtration components. In a natural environment where you are not likely to have any plastic cans, you should aim for the bark of a tree. This can be used to form a cone.

The 3-Step Sand Filtration Process

The natural cone should have a small hole at the bottom to release the filtered fluids and channel it into your collecting vessel. The cone should be held together with string or something to keep it from opening up; the last thing you need is for debris to get into your water. It should also be kept in a position that faces the smaller end downwards, like a funnel.

Step 2:

The cone should then be filled with the separation materials. These are:

  • A few pebbles.
  • Some non-poisonous grass (to form a mesh).
  • Or, if found, some cotton materials (to enhance the mesh).

Carefully place the mesh and the pebbles at the bottom of your cone. You may wish to add a stratum of gravel, which is meant to strengthen the filter material and to prevent the various materials from mixing up. After that, you can add the next level of filtration material: sand. Collect some sand material, and top-up the space on the other filter materials, until you get to  a reasonable height in the cone or can, that can allow you pour-in the water you intend to filter.

Step 3:

Using your first container, collect some water from the source. Gently pour this water into your cone, and allow it to sip through the filter materials in the cone to pass out through the small opening into your receiving can. Congratulations! If you have done this while reading through this easy 3-Step DIY, you have successfully filtered your water and it should be ready to use.

In any case, if the filtered water isn’t very clear, you may want go through the steps again until you are satisfied with the outcome. Be sure to change the filter material every now and again in order to improve the filtration process.

Going for The Natural

You can now see that knowing how to make a water filter is so easy. But you could do with a little bit of practice to get better in applying this DIY homemade skill, so that you are confident in handling such a situation where you find yourself dire need of clean water.

Do not forget, there are a number of different ways to clean up your water in the jungle or an outdoor adventure, and nature’s ways are simply the best. That is why the sand experiment is actually fantastic.

Natural water filter

Sand is a natural and free component, as are the bark, pebbles, gravels, and grass. All you need to do is to ensure that you do it carefully enough to avoid unnecessary particles from falling into the filtered water while you are collecting it. But you may also want to watch out for the quality of water that is found, depending on what you need the water for. Water that you intend to drink needs to be much cleaner than water you intend to bathe in or wash your clothes with.

Choosing your Method of Filtration

In many cases, the water you will find in the distant outdoors may be somewhat dirty and perhaps muddy. If that is the case, then applying the 3-Step Sand Filtration Process may be all you need. However, you may want to be much more cautious by applying another process of filtering to your water to make it even cleaner.

If you think that the water may be contaminated by pathogens such as ‘Giardia lamblia’ a common protozoan parasite that is known for its wide spread water-borne disease, it is better to apply another method of filtration that has been proven to be much safer than simply using sand.

This is because pathogens such as Giardia are neither viruses nor bacteria, but have been classified as protozoans with very intricate life phases. As long as they remain in the water body that you have found, they are in what is called the cystic stage.

They cannot be detected since they range in size from about 8 to about 14 micrometre (µm). For reference, one micron (µ) is equal to 0.001 millimetre (mm), which is impossible to be seen with the naked eye. So if you need to purify your water of pathogens, then you will need to apply the 3-Step Charcoal Process. It can be applied either directly or after using the 3-step sand process.

The 3-Step Charcoal Process

Charcoal is a light, and porous black solid. Scientists believe it consists of an amorphous form of carbon, since it is basically obtained as a residue when wood, bone, or other organic matter that has been heated in the absence of air.

3-Step Charcoal Process

During many outdoor adventures that go on till night time, we mainly burn wood to make a burn-fire, which is how charcoal is made. What you need to do is to let the woods burn into a hot bed of coals, then cover the coals with dirt and allow it to cool. That is it! You have your coal.

Step 1:

Make a fire, burn woods, and create charcoal.

Step 2:

Get your cone, or your filtration container set. Insert a mesh and push it down towards the outlet end. Ensure that it prevents the upper layers of materials from passing through, then add a layer of charcoal balls. After that, you can now top the container with some sand and allow some space to pour in your water.

Step 3:

This is where you use a clean container, preferably your water bottle or a flax top and collect the water for use as it flows out purified, passing through the filter materials in the cone. The charcoal filtration is also an interesting 3-Step DIY, and you should have filtered water if you’ve followed the steps correctly.

Trusting your Charcoal’s Aptitude

Using the common charcoal as a major filtration component in a DIY water filter task is a phenomenal idea, although activated coal from recent research proves to be much more amazing. So, if you have some activated charcoal in your rucksack before stepping out, that is very cool. If not, however, regular charcoal from your burn fire will very well do the job.

Guide to Charcoal Water Filters

Regular charcoals over centuries have been used in water purification and also in controlling odor. From the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries, regular charcoal had been crushed into fine particles and used in the prevention of foul odor from putrefying fishes.

Discussing the Natural Processes

You can see that both processes of water filtration are done with natural tools and components. The other tools, however, could be anything that can work. This could be an empty can, if it can be found, or the bark of a tree. So long as you fill it with the right components and in the proper manner, it would do the job.

If you have a can, you could do the following;

Drill some holes at the end of the container, and place the filter materials into it, in the order that have been described above, either by following the 3-step sand process alone or by following the 3-step charcoal process. Just make sure that the holes are big enough to let the water out freely, but not too big so as to let out particles with the filtered water.

If you have a plastic bottle, it can still work when filtering your water. Just cut the bottom of the plastic bottle off as evenly as possible. Turn it upside down, and it becomes a cone. Insert the components of the filter material into the plastic bottle in the right order and pour the water into the cone.

Making it naturally

Some tree barks are more suitable than others. If you have to make a choice from a few or many different trees around you, make sure you go for the trees that are pliable enough to make you a good cone. That is important for the experiment to work properly.

Trees such as elm, pine, birch, cedar, and basswood are a few that work pretty well.  Know that the bark you choose does not have to be a perfect piece, so long as it is one that can be flexible enough to be shaped into a cone.

Exploring Nature’s Gifts

Apart from using the tree bark as mentioned above, it is possible to invent many more different containers to make a water filter from natural materials. Interestingly, nature sometimes also offers some seamless water filter containers out in the wide. An example of such an offer is the plant called the ‘agave stalks’, and another is using a ‘cork’ from a tree branch.

The agave plant has stalks that are spongy inside, and they are suitable to use as containers for your water filter if you find them around you in the wild. While some tree branches, such as the white pines, can be shaped into a cork and then used as an effective filter tool.

As an outdoor creature, you ought to be willing to explore nature’s gifts, and try to be an inventor as much possible in order to survive your wilderness adventures. Now let us try some more instructive experiment using the agave stalk and a tree branch.

The 3-Step Agave Process

The agave plant grows stalks that are spongy inside, which has been used as fantastic filters in the wild.

3-Step Agave Process

All you have to do is get the rest of your materials.

Step 1:

Cut out a section of an agave stalk and split it down the middle in order to make it hollow. This should go all the way down, but you should leave a section of about six inches unhallowed. The plant stalk grows up to about twenty five feet, but all you need is a six-foot section for your experiment.

Step 2:

Make a fire, and fill up a section of about four feet of the stalk with your layer of charcoal, and about one foot with sand, or could just leave the top two feet free to hold your water that is to be filtered. Then tie up the stalk, realigning the hallowed sides back together in order to hold your charcoal in place.

Step 3:

Pour the water to be filtered into your agave stalk, and watch your DIY water filter do its job as the water seeps through the charcoal and permeates into your collection container.

Tree Branch Cork Filtration

Using a tree branch as a DIY filter tool has been scientifically proven to be effective. In fact, it has been called the ‘xylem filter’, as the filtration occurs when the water percolates through the pores of the tree branch. In order to see how this works, let us also go through a 3-Step Cork Filter Process.

3-Step Cork Filter Process

This process requires some preparation and tact. As you may use some non-natural components to build your natural filter.

Step 1:

Get a hose or an empty plastic bottle and cut off the broader end of the bottle.

Step 2:

Cut the branch of a tree preferably a white pine.

3-Step Cork Filter Process

Reduce the branch to the size of cork. Peel off the bark and insert the cork into one end of the hose, or the smaller end of the plastic bottle. Tightly fasten the hose unto the cork and pour your water into the filtration tool.

Step 3:

Collect the filtered water as they seep out through pores of the cork and begin to use it.

Nature’s Phenomenal Knack

Isn’t it just amazing to see how much we can do with what we have around us? The 3-Step Cork Filtration Process reveals just how much science has mimicked the processes of the natural world. Surviving outdoor in the wilderness, becomes a crucial necessity when we face certain challenges in our expedition.

Therefore, having the basic knowledge to build a reliable water filter can be a saving grace on those hot summer days.

Surviving outdoor in the wilderness, becomes a crucial necessity when we face certain challenges in our expedition. Therefore getting some basic knowledge on our finger tips, such as knowing how to make a reliable water filter can be a saving grace and doing some homemade DIY experiments could be just ideal. Good luck!

Jerry Mueller
Jerry Mueller

Jerry ‘Boy Scout’ Mueller spends 99% of his time camping or teaching others how to live in the wild. He became an Eagle Scout which is the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouting division when he was 17 and after that he still lives the scout life. Jerry always plans neatly every trip, takes leadership very seriously and if you listen to his tips and stories, you can learn tons of useful things.

  • Molly Stansfield

    I’ve tried and tested the charcoal method myself. Charcoal, like char cloth which is often used for tinder (but any charcoal will do in a pinch, especially activated), is what you get when you burn wood in a hypoxic environment. The charcoal can be left in the water for a while, but there must be a changing schedule. Remember that we’re not removing the bacteria with the charcoal; what we’re removing are the toxins that are present in the water, which were not removed by boiling.

  • Jerry Mueller

    That’s right Molly. Charcoal is indeed a good filtration tool to use. No wonder that most filters today still use the charcoal for cleaner water.

  • Liz Baldwin

    We’ve tried the sand filtration method before but not for survival, only as a way of testing it out. Luckily, there is a loose tree bark nearby which was easily made into a cone shape. Using a mix of gravel, pebbles, grass and a cotton cloth, the filtered water was good enough for washing and we needed to boil it to ensure safety for drinking.

  • Jerry Mueller

    Did you find it easy to do, Liz? My nephews used to do those filtration methods just to test how well they can do it. I think it’s a good practice to try these out for yourself prior to any difficult survival needs. I hope you will never use it for any dire situation, though.