Survivalist Vandweller: How to Find, Carry and Treat water
We are continuing to look at the similarities of vandwelling to survivalists. Many of the things survivalist do are helpful for us vandwellers and many things we do as vandwellers are equally preparing us for a disaster without our knowing or intending to. My thinking is that no matter what your view of the future might be, one thing we can all be certain of is that the possibility of extreme weather is increasing. In the last 5 years we’ve seen a record setting number of weather disasters and many of them have set new records for size, intensity and destruction.
No matter what your politics, the simple truth is that the planet is warming. I strongly encourage you to go this page from the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) website; you’ll find numerous, simple graphs leaving no doubt that the planet is warming. I’m including one graph from it. http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-references/faq/indicators.php
If you go to this page in the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) website, you’ll find many graphs showing that it is caused by humans. The historic carbon graph is absolutely conclusive to me. The gloabl pre-historic average of carbon was an average of 280 Parts-Per-Million (PPM). Since the beginning of the inndustrail age the global average has steadily risen till we broke 400 PPMfor the first time just this year. http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-references/faq/indicators.php
The fact that the planet is warming is undeniable and the inevitable result is extreme weather events. Here is a web page from wunderground.com that claims that the year 2010-11 saw the most extreme global weather events since 1816: http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/2010–2011-earths-most-extreme-weather-since-1816. But that year was nothing compared to 2013 when there was a record-shattering 41 weather events that exceeded a billion dollars: http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/earths-record-41-billiondollar-weather-disasters-of-2013. And look how 2014 is starting out: half the country is having one of the worst winters in anyone’s memories, the southwest is in one of its worst droughts ever, and California is in the middle of the single worst drought since records have been kept, and it’s just February. At the same time, much of Europe is literally under water with the worst flooding since the Middle Ages.
Reasonable people should be afraid and preparing for extreme weather events like:
- Extreme heat waves
- Extreme winter storms
I’m a vandweller because I love the freedom and adventure it offers me and not because I am a survivalist. But at the same time I am well aware that living in a van offers a huge advantage to us when it comes to extreme weather events and disasters. Many of them come with advanced warning and when you live on wheels you can just turn the key and drive away. If weather disasters are only going to keep increasing we should take advantage of our mobility and be as prepared as we can.
One thing that happens in nearly all extreme weather events is a lack of clean, drinkable water so the single most important thing anyone can do is to prepare for water shortages. Because finding and carry water is something every new vandweller has to figure out, in this post we are going to look at water: where to get it, how to carry it, and how to treat questionable water.
Where To Get Water: When you first move into a van one of the first things you have to do is find a place to fill your water bottles. Here is a list of where I’ve gotten water
- Convenience stores will almost always let you fill a small container of water. I take in a couple of quart bottles or even a 1 gallon bottle and ask the clerk if I can fill them. That is a very normal thing so I’ve never been refused.
- Gas Stations— many will have spigots for you to use.
- Parks—Most city, state and federal parks and campgrounds will have a water spigot that are available for public use.
- Laundromats—whenever I do my laundry I fill up my jugs.
- Public Restrooms—Most have a sink and you can take in small jugs and fill them. I carry a “Water Bandit” that lets me hook up a hose to the faucet sink.
- National Forest, National Park and BLM Ranger Station almost always have water and trash for the public.
- Water Vending Machines—In some places (especially the desert Southwest) there are vending machines that dispense water, usually for .25 cents a gallon. Many Walmarts across the country have them.
- Fire Stations–Often you can fill your RV tanks or just a few jugs at a Fire House.
How To Carry It: All vandwellers need to carry some water, just how much will vary with your circumstances. Even for those who live in cities and have water all around them they still need to have a gallon or two for overnight. Some boondockers go 2 weeks or more between trips into town so they need to carry around 20 gallons.
Reliance Products Aqua-Pak 5 Gallon Rigid Water Container
Reliance Products Desert Patrol 6 Gallon Traditional Jeep Style Rigid Water Container
- 1-2 Quart Bottles—I actually prefer bladders because they fold down flat as they are emptied. But they are difficult to clean. There are tons of 1 quart bottles that are very strong and will last forever. The Nalgene bottle is most famous and its mouth is a universal standard for many things.
- One Gallon Jugs– Many vandwellers keep things simple and buy a few gallon jugs of water and after they’re empty just refill them. Most of us are in town often enough that 5, one gallon jugs is enough.
- 5-7 Gallon Jugs—These are the workhorse for most of us and probably all you need. They come in all sizes and shapes and I carry one of each because different shapes fit in different areas of the van. I’m able to tuck the tall slender jugs in front of the passenger seat, in front of one of my 4-drawer plastic shelf units and even in the step under the side door of my cargo van. They’re available in white but I don’t recommend them. Sunlight can get through it and they will grow algae. You’ll know because you will see green stuff start growing. Not to worry, just soak it with a bleach solution and it will be totally safe again. It’s very important to never store your bottles (with or without water in them) in the sun. The sun will damage the plastic and the water. The cooler you can keep the water, the better.
- 15-55 Gallon Jugs—If you are serious about disaster preparation, you will want one of these. I’ve only seen one van with a 55 gallon drum in it and it fit surprisingly well. He ratchet strapped it to the driver’s seat and he had so little else in the van it wasn’t that bad. On the other hand the 15 to 25 gallon drums fit pretty easily in a van because of their shape. Because they are so large they will be too heavy to lift or pour so you will have to have a water pump (either a hand pump or 12 volt) to get water out and a hose to get water in. If you are a serious survivalist, you may want one of these.
How To Treat Questionable Water. I’ve camped in many places where I was next to a creek, river or lake and had an unlimited supply of water around me but I couldn’t drink it because I wasn’t sure it was safe. I’ve also been in places that got lots of rain and it would have been easy to catch the rain coming off my tarp awning, but again I wasn’t sure it was safe. I had a friend that did that, he hung a weight off one of the grommets and that funneled all the rain to drain off that one place. He set a 5 gallon bucket under it and caught much more water than he could possibly use. He had a water filter so he filtered it and used it, saving him a trip into town.
Wherever you get the water from, it might look clean but that doesn’t mean it is. The majority of water we find in nature is unsafe to drink. While it probably won’t kill you, it will make you sick enough to wish you were dead! There are many ways that water can be contaminated and be unsafe
- Most places have animals (either wild or domesticated) that drink at the shore of the water source and while they are there they urinate and defecate in the water. That contaminates the water source. Sometimes they die and fall into the water which makes the water terribly unsafe.
- People love to camp near water, but far too many of us don’t have the good sense to know that urinating and defecating near the water is just as bad as doing it in the water. Humans seem to love to shit in their own yards and we are the main reason we can’t trust water found in nature.
- Industrial and agricultural run-off flow downhill into the water.
- Viruses end up in the water.
- The aquifers that feed the groundwater have been polluted.
Wherever the contamination comes from, it is vital that you filter or treat the water you find in nature. I’ve been a backpacker and hiker most of my life so I’ve always carried a back-packers water filter with me. When I moved into the van I still carried one and have been in numerous situations where I’ve used it. Here are the products I carry and that you see in the photos. Highly recommended! Click on these links and you can buy them from Amazon.com:
- Boil—Boiling makes water safe but is very inconvenient: it’s slow, burns fuel, and makes the water taste bad. But as a last resort it works well, the water will be safe.
- Bleach—To use bleach, add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops; about 0.625 milliliters) of unscented liquid household chlorine (5-6%) bleach for each gallon of clear water (or 2 drops of bleach for each liter or each quart of water). It won’t taste as good, but it will be safe.
- Chemicals—There are several chemical tablets or liquids made to purify water and they are well worth keeping on hand. The two best are “Aquamira Water Treatment Drops 1oz” and “Potable Aqua Chlorine DioxideTablets.” They will both make water totally safe. Their big disadvantage is they are slow to work, taking up to 4 hours to kill everything in the water. I’ve always carried a bottle of these with me in case the filter broke.
- Filtering—In the long run you are going to want to use a filter. They work well and last a long time. There are three main types of filter: pump, gravity flow, and straw/bottle type. I have one of each on hand because they each have different advantages and disadvantages, but if I was only going to have one I would have a Sawyer Gravity flow filter. It is guaranteed to filter up to a million gallons and it is super simple to use. I like that it has no moving parts that can wear out or break. The one I have has an adapter for 5 gallon buckets so to filter water all I have to do is dip the bucket in a water source, place it on a table and let the filter hang down with another bucket underneath it. Gravity pulls the water through it and clean, safe water drips out with no effort on my part. It’s plenty fast enough for me.
- UV Rays—UV rays from the sun kills bacteria so there are filters that create UV rays and you put it in the water and the UV kills all the bacteria. They have become a huge hit among backpackers and are always highly rated. But to me they violate the Keep It Simple Stupid principle so I’ve never owned or used one.
General Recommendations and Tips:
How much should I carry? Water is heavy so you are probably not going to want to carry a lot of it at once. At 8 pounds per gallon 10 gallons of water weighs 80 pounds and 20 gallons of water weighs 160 pounds. So what I do is carry 15 gallons of water (120 pounds) with me and carry another 15 gallons of empty jugs that I will fill if I have reason to be concerned. I have a 5 and 6 gallon jug that are full and in reserve and, 4 one gallon jugs I use daily.
How should I clean my bottles so they stay safe? I bleach all my bottles twice a year (in December and June at the Solstice) by filling them with water and pouring a generous amount of bleach in them so that the water has a very strong bleach smell. Then I slosh it around vigorously and let it sit for at least an hour when I slosh it out again. After that I dump it and rinse it out? That kills anything growing in it.
What should I carry to help me with water storage?
- Chemical treatment
- Water Filter
- Unscented Liquid Household Chlorine Bleach
- Water Potable hose
- Water Bandit to fill from a faucet
- Variety of sizes of water bottle
- Battery or 12 volt pump