The Best Water Purification For Your Car’s Emergency Kit

A small emergency water purification kit, which can cost less than $50 to assemble and be easily stashed out of sight in your vehicle, can literally save your life. Most of us love those times when we start out on a long vacation trip by loading up our luggage and heading out on a drive. We are usually so excited that we rarely consider what happens if things go wrong. An emergency water purification kit is likely to be the furthest thing from your mind.

Rare situations like having a flat tire or breaking down in the middle of nowhere can happen to anyone. It’s always a good idea to take time once per year to sit down and think through how you typically use your vehicle and the possible problems that might happen on the road. When you do this exercise, you should come up with a list of scenarios and then come up with solutions for them. That way, you can put together a great emergency kit that you can store in your car.

Berkey Water Filters

Preparing Your Car’s Emergency Water Purification Kit

Emergency water purification kit ideal for a car or truck
Simple water purification emergency kit with water storage bag, purification tablets, filter, and water bottle

Emergency strikes as car breaks down in the desertThe most common items that people come up with are a general set of tools, flashlight, poncho, jumper cables, spare tire, jack, first aid kit, etc. However, many people often forget items that may become critical if you are stuck in the middle of nowhere for more than a few hours. In a serious emergency, a simple water purification kit is a vital lifeline. Having water in any emergency situation is critical.

You never get a chance to pick where your car breaks down. While you might be right in the heart of civilization and only a short distance from drinkable tap water, you could also wind up literally hundreds of miles from the nearest “civilized” water source. You might have to rely on contaminated water from a dirty puddle, some nasty run-off, a stagnant pond, or even a deceptively clear-looking stream.

Keep in mind that there are many things which might contaminate water including bacteria, protozoa, viruses, and chemicals that can harm you. Typically, you can find easy solutions for neutralizing or removing bacteria and protozoa, but it’s not so easy to remove viruses and chemicals given their size.

Know Your Limits


The average human can survive about three days without drinking any water. According to the Mayo Clinic , for the average person on an active day, you need to consume around a gallon of water for men and about three-quarters of a gallon for women to maintain optimal hydration. So if you break down somewhere for an extended period of time, you may find yourself in trouble if you can’t purify water.

I usually treat this situation as a classic type of survival scenario. In an article at Trek Warrior, I go into great detail about the importance and methods of purifying water when you are out in nature. It turns out that for your vehicle, you don’t need as much gear as you would if you were hiking across the wilderness.

That’s why in this article, we are going to go above and beyond what most drivers do by exploring some simple items that we can keep in our car emergency kit that will allow us to purify water in case we ever need it. A collection of containers, purification tablets, and a filter straw is the best combination of gear to have for this type of situation.

Water Bag, Bottle, or Container – The Unsung Hero of Your Car’s Emergency Kit

Water Bottle and Water Storage Bag for Car Emergency Water Purification Kit

Car Emergency Kit Inside Nalgene Bottle
You could even stuff your entire car’s emergency kit inside a 32oz Nalgene, like this clever Flickr user did.

The first item up on the list, and often the most forgotten about is simply a container for collecting and storing water.

It is highly likely that if you break down in the middle of nowhere, you won’t necessarily be right next to a water source. Therefore, a container is required to be able to gather and transport water from one place to another.

You have several great options here, from Nalgene bottles, plastic canteens, or even stainless steel water bottles. These days, you can even get some very compact collapsible water bottles as well. It comes down to what kind of storage space you have available for this part of your emergency kit.

If you want a two-for-one option which equips you with not only a bottle but also a filter, check out the guide to filtered water bottles.

(Can’t decide on which water bottle or container? Check out Best Water Bottles 2017 for some suggestions.)

The best strategy is to have one bigger container for gathering and storing water, and one or more smaller containers for purifying and consuming water. Depending on how many passengers you typically drive with, you may need to add to these numbers as necessary.

For the bigger container, one of my personal favorites is having a collapsible multi-gallon water bag in my car. Stansport makes a cheap option for this type of bag. It’s a great way to collect a lot of water from some source and then bring back the water to your vehicle site or wherever you may end up going and having plenty of water to last you a few days.

For smaller containers, I like the popular 32 ounce Nalgene Tritan containers with a wide mouth. The wide mouth version will better serve your emergency water purification needs by allowing easy access with a filter straw, or other portable filter. More on that below. First, let’s talk about disinfecting.


Water Purification Tablets – For Disinfecting Only

Portable Aqua Water Purification Tablets

Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets Before UseWhen it comes to water purification, it’s important to kill the microbes in your water to prevent infection. A very popular method for doing this is water purification tablets. These tablets come in a few different forms and chemicals.

One of the most popular options is the iodine tablets by Potable Aqua. They are easy to use, and can purify a liter of water in as little as 35 minutes. You can get a little jar of 50 tablets that will purify 25 quarts of water for fairly cheap.

For the folks that are sensitive to taste, you can also get an additional jar that will neutralize most of the iodine taste in the purified water. The kit that has both items is relatively cheap and doesn’t take up much space.

The Potable Aqua tablets don’t have an expiration date, but it’s recommended that they are stored in a cool, dry place to keep them in good shape. If you store them in your car through long hot summers like I do, then consider replacing them every few years for safe keeping.

While a great addition to your car’s emergency water purification kit, keep in mind that purification tablets do not perform any kind of filtration. They only kill the microbes in the water. Rather than removing anything, these tablets actually add some chemicals to your water, which can affect the taste. Yet in the right situation, if your water is suitably clean, you can get away with nothing more than purification tablets. But if the water is murky, has particulates, or you suspect it to be contaminated for any reason, you’ll need some actual filtration.


Filter Straws and Portable Water Filtration

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter Straw In Package

Survivorman drinks from dirty water source with LifeStraw filter
The Discovery Channel’s Survivorman drinks from a very dirty water source purified by the LifeStraw filter.

A multiple tiered strategy for purifying water is the best approach. That’s why a filter straw is a great addition to your kit. In the past few decades, newer technology development has delivered an awesome way to remove microbes, small particles, and all kinds of nasty gunk from your water with miniature portable filters. A very fine material is weaved together in such a way as to trap anything larger than the tiny microscopic pores in the filter, removing undesirable contaminants as you suck water through the filter straw.

A filter straw is one of the easiest and most portable ways ensure access to safe drinking water. There are several brands out there to choose from with different features and performance. Having a filter straw is a great addition to your purification tablets. I always believe in having two solutions, just in case one fails.

Portable Emergency Water Filter Options

Survivor Filter Pro Emergency Water Purification KitOne very popular option is the LifeStraw. The LifeStraw personal drinking filter is an economic choice that is compact and lightweight. It can filter microbes and particulates as small as 0.2 microns, which covers bacteria and protozoan parasites. The filter works for up to 1,000 Liters of water, about 265 gallons, so you don’t have to worry about it wearing out on you in a vehicle breakdown situation. (Read the complete Hydration Anywhere review of the LifeStraw.)

Another option is the Survivor Filter. This drinking straw filter has smaller filtration at 0.05 microns, making it even more effective than the Lifestraw. One great feature that might justify its higher price tag is that it has an end that you can screw on to bottles that have a screw cap, like a disposable water bottle. (Read the complete Hydration Anywhere review of the Survivor Filter.)

If you have the extra budget and space, the Survivor Filter Pro has the ability to do all of the above and is even capable of filtering viruses with its 0.01 micron filter, one of the smallest filter pore sizes of any portable filter. In addition, the Survivor Filter Pro includes a manual pumping mechanism, letting you easily filter water for storage and later use.

Learn everything you need to know about portable water filtration in the Hydration Anywhere Guide to the Best Portable Water Filters.

Water Gallon Jugs – Stepping it Up

Coleman 1 Gallon Jug for Emergency Water StorageFor those longer trips when you have the storage space in your car, it makes a lot of sense to plan ahead and take a gallon jug of water. That way, you have the water in your vehicle if the time comes when you need it. Even if you don’t need it on the trip, you can always drink it at your destination or when you get back home. With only about a dollar or two at your local grocery store, you can save yourself a lot of problems on the road.

For me, any time I take a trip that is more than 3 hours, I always grab a gallon of water for my truck. If you are in colder climates, don’t make the mistake of leaving it in your vehicle if it has the potential to freeze, as it might bust the container and make a mess.

If you’re looking for a serious water supply to add to your truck or large vehicle, you could even opt for a large five-gallon water jug with dispenser and know for sure you have plenty of water for you or your family.

Plan Ahead Before Emergency Strikes

With the combination of a 2 gallon water bag, a few Liter containers, purification tablets, filter straw, and a gallon of water, you will be more than prepared to quench your thirst should your vehicle fail you, even if you find yourself well and truly stranded.

These items are fairly inexpensive and don’t take up much space. That’s why it makes a lot of sense to add them to your car emergency kit. While hopefully you may never need them, should an emergency arise you’ll be truly glad you had them on hand.

Thanks for reading and drive safe!

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Learn everything you need to know about how to prepare a simple and affordable water purification kit for your vehicle.

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