How to Make A Water Filter: Step By Step Guides

My two decades of outdoor exploration have taught me one vital survival skill: creating my own water filter. And I am here today to share this knowledge with you. So, let’s dive into the world of DIY water filtration.

You probably know already that if there’s one skill that can tip the balance between life and death, it’s knowing how to create a water filter.

Without water, we simply can’t survive and on most occasions, dirty water (or salt water that I talked about here) will do more harm than good.

With the human body being around 60% water, and our brain being around 80% water, it’s pretty clear that we need a lot of it to survive. And when clean drinking water is not immediately available, knowing how to create your own water filtration system is essential.

man filtering water outdoors

So let’s get started and learn how to make a water filter – a few methods that are easy to learn.

Related Post: How to Purify Water with Bleach

Before we roll up our sleeves, let’s make sure we’re armed with the essentials:

  • A container to collect the unfiltered water
  • A second container to gather water filter materials
  • A third container to store the filtered water
  • The will to create your water filter

1. The 3-Step Sand Filtration Process

drinking water from a stream

The 3-Step Sand Filtration Process is a straightforward method for filtering water that employs modest natural resources to transform murky water into a potable lifesaver.

Here is what you need to know to filter water using the 3-step sand filtration process:

Step 1: Container Craft

A sturdy container forms the cornerstone of your makeshift filter. A bark from a tree works wonders in a natural environment where plastic containers are a luxury.

Mold it into a cone, sealing a small hole at the bottom for the filtered water to trickle into your collection vessel.

To prevent your container from falling apart, secure it with a string or any other available material.

Ensure the smaller end of your cone faces downward, adopting a funnel-like structure.

Step 2: Gathering Filter Materials

Next, we need to fill our cone with the filtering components:

  • Pebbles and sand
  • Non-toxic grass (to form a mesh)
  • If available, some cotton material (to enhance the mesh)

Begin by layering the mesh and pebbles at the bottom of your cone. I like to add a layer of gravel for an extra layer of filtration and to prevent the various materials from jumbling up.

Then, it’s time for our star player – sand. Grab a handful of sand and layer it atop the other materials until you have filled a decent part of the cone.

Step 3: The Filtration Finale

In your first container, collect some water from your source. Steadily pour this water into your cone, and watch as it trickles through your layered filter materials, emerging as clean water into your receiving can.

Pat yourself on the back because you’ve just successfully filtered your water!

Should the first run leave you with less than crystal-clear water, don’t sweat it. Remember, repetition is the mother of all learning. Go through the steps again until the outcome meets your satisfaction.

A hot tip from my many expeditions – switching out the filter material regularly can significantly enhance the filtration process.

And, to make it even safer to drink, I recommend boiling it afterwards as bacteria and other microorganisms can still be present after filtering water this way.

2. How to: The 3-Step Charcoal Process

beautiful stream of water

Let’s face it. Often, the water you’ll stumble upon in the wilderness might be muddy, dirty, and rather unappetizing.

In such instances, the 3-Step Sand Filtration Process recommended above comes in handy.

But, if you suspect the presence of more dangerous elements like ‘Giardia lamblia,’ a common protozoan parasite causing waterborne diseases, or any other microorganisms (always assume they’re present!), it’s vital to take extra precautions.

Never rely on sand filtration alone, as this doesn’t kill any bacteria or parasites. Boiling the water would.

But if that it not possible, I recommend the 3-Step Charcoal Process. It can be applied either directly or after using the 3-step sand process.

The best part is that charcoal is relatively easy to produce if you don’t have it on hand. Here’s how:

  1. Make a Fire: Simply let the woods burn into a hot bed of coals. Once you’ve got that going, cover the coals with dirt and let them cool. And voila! You have your charcoal.
  2. Setup Filtration: Next, get your cone or filtration container ready. Add a layer of charcoal balls, top it with some sand, and leave space to pour in your water.
  3. Collect Water: Now comes the satisfying part. Collect the water as it flows out, having been purified by the filter materials.

You can learn more about boiling water to kill parasites here.

Charcoal vs. Activated Charcoal: Which Is Better for Filtering Water?

activated charcoal

Of course, while regular charcoal does an excellent job, activated charcoal is the real superstar here.

So if you’ve got some tucked away in your backpack before heading out, great! If not, no worries. Regular charcoal from your campfire will do just fine.

After all, regular charcoal has been a stalwart in water purification for centuries, even being used in controlling odor from putrefying fishes between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Bottom line: activated charcoal should always be your top choice, but if that is not available, any type of charcoal is acceptable. Just make your own and filter water with it.

3. Filtering Water Using the 3-Step Agave and Cork Processes

Agave Process

Cut out a section of an agave stalk, make it hollow, and fill it with charcoal and sand. Pour in the water, let it do its magic, and collect the purified water.

If you want to go more in depth, here is the step-by step how to for making an agave water filtering mechanism:

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.

Cork Process:

For the cork process, you need a hose or a plastic bottle. Cut off the broader end of the bottle, cut a tree branch to size, peel off the bark, and insert it into the bottle. Fasten it, pour the water, and collect the filtered water.

Here is the step by step guide on how to do it:

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.

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.

Wrapping up

There you have it! With a little bit of creativity and a thirst for adventure, water filtration in the wilderness can become second nature.

So next time you’re out there, remember that nature provides, and the keys to survival are all around you. Happy adventuring, folks!

To give you more options, check out our review of the mini sawyer filtration system for more information.


4 thoughts on “How to Make A Water Filter: Step By Step Guides”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.


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