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Bushcraft or BS: Condensation Saltwater Filter

What do you do when you’re on the beach, dehydrated, not a drop of fresh water in sight?  According to this survival trick, look for some garbage!  Sneak a peak at the video below to see what I mean:

I had high hopes for this “hack” but it turns out to be total bull. I should have known better.

First, let’s start with the positives. This technically works. We did manage to produce drinkable salt free water from salt water. It’s a pretty clever set up too. The problem is scale and time.

Problem Number 1, Scale: If you had the time, energy and resources to make 100 of these you could have a real solution. That’s unlikely in a survival situation.

Problem Number 2, Time: Because it seemed to take a temperature swing to get the condensation to happen you can only produce good quantities of water 1 time per day. That’s a serious drawback.

Final thoughts: There may be something we missed with the setup on this trick. As we tried later on, wrapping the base with a towel to get a good seal seemed to keep the hot moist air inside the container. That was not part of the description we read from a published survival book. We were just desperate to get this to work, so we improvised.

With some slight changes this might work (I’m not that clever, if you know what I did wrong please comment below).

A clear day with a cool breeze could really help condense the water. Coastal climates are often breezy so that is a plausible solution. Sealing the base from the outset could help too.

Overall I would keep this trick up my sleeve but use as an absolute last resort. I would not bet my life on it.

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23 thoughts on “Bushcraft or BS: Condensation Saltwater Filter”

  1. Sir,

    We’ve tried this, too. But like your, our efforts were not productive, in a timely manner. Besides we live in the high plains of N.E. Colorado and are hundreds of miles from the nearest sea shore. Our experiences have all been in the plains, deserts and Rocky Mountains.,

    Thus, we did not include this technique in out book, Survival 101-How to Bug-Out and Survive the First 72 Hours.

    A better choice would be to use that large bottle to make a “Hobo Filter” with charcoal, sand, gravel and greens. We have cleaned up murky water from the South Platte River and Prewitt Res using this type of filte. Once filtering out all the lumps, we then boiled the water to be extra sure we were clear of all the pathogen’s and the water tasted find (just little bit of smell).

    Keep up your good works

    God Bless,
    Orin M. Knutson
    Peace Officer / Search and Rescue Volunteer, Retired
    Survival Instructor and Author

  2. Well worth the try but I think the real issue is that the technique, not very helpful in a warm climate, would be pretty useless in the North. Still, keep the good work coming.

  3. You’d need at least a dozen for a day’s worth,for one adult on a hot day. A 12″ to 24″ deep 2’x2′ hole or 3 or larger if you have enough enough plastic sheeting (preferably in damp soil in a nice sunny spot), a sheet of plastic big enough to cover said hole, and GREEN VEGETATION, makes a solar still large enough to supply water enough to get by in temperant climates. (REALLY FREEZING TEMPERATURES WON’T DO)
    1. GO GETSOME GREEN STUFF
    2. DIG THE HOLE
    3. PUT THE GREEN STUFF IN THE HOLE
    4.PUT ANYTHING AVAILABLE THAT CAN HOLD WATER IN THE CENTER OF THE GREEN STUFF.
    5. LAY THE PLASTIC OUT OVER THE HOLE (leaving it loose enough to sag a bit)
    USE THE DIRT FROM THE HOLE TO COVER THE EDGES OF THE HOLE, AND THEN TOSS A ROCK BIG ENOUGH TO BRING THE SAME TO A POINT INTO THE CENTER OF THE PLASTIC, DIRECTLY OVER THE CONTAINER. Then go do something constructive or sit in the shade if you have any.
    THE CONDENSATION FORMED ON THE PLASTIC WILL DRIP INTO YOUR CONTAINER. WAIT LONG ENOUGH TO LET THE SUN DO THE REST.

  4. Good video, and Thanks, I’m with you on practicality of this, much easier to always carry a good filter in a day pack. And in your go to bag.

  5. Thinking about your ‘Water Proof Matches’ In the boy scouts we dipped strike anywhere matches in paraffin. this worked well. Try it
    Carl

  6. I knew that would never work and no one in the right mind would waste time doing this especially if they were dehydrated as they would hardly have any energy in the first place to function.

  7. Consider wrapping a damp cloth around the collection bottle to speed condensation, and once heavy droplets form on the inside surface, tap the contaner to move them into your “reservoir”, and allow to begin cycle again. (Wet your neckerchief and spin it through the air to cool)

  8. Good to know info. Keep it coming. I always write down and keep survival hacks that work. I appreciate your effort.

  9. yes i have heard of distelled water israel has been doing it for years here is my question to you and it does not have to do with the video how in the hell do i keep myself out of a feama camp i was thinkingof gettingout of dodge and roam inthe wooded areas here is my challenge i had cancer threetimes and a stem cell transplant the side affects kicked my ass i have a few of your items i have no problems taking someone down what’s your take on getting food and waterthe city is the lastplace you are going to want to be

    1. Hi Bob,
      In the short term you need something like MREs to get you by. Acquiring food takes time, as any hunter knows. For the longer term situation you need some passive food collection techniques. Traps like deadfalls and snares can catch small game. There are many passive techniques for catching fish and crawdads. Check out these two products:

      Pocket Fishing Kit
      Survival Snare Kit

  10. Survival man heated a metal can with a copper tube in it then put that in a water bottle that was inside a bigger bottle tha had water in it to cool the other water bottle

  11. Set up a regular solar still for sale like in the desert and see what kind of results you can get for drinking water

  12. You might have better luck using the bottles to rake condensate into from any vegetation & plastic bags stretch out overnight. The oceans are full of plastic. Also those credit card size silver thermal blankets work great!

  13. This is the mini version of evaporation distillation. Sure it could be used, but what if you used a larger plastic bottle like a gallon milk/tea/water jug?
    What if you use more than one bottle? Just Ideas to keep around for that just in case last resort stuff.
    When I was active duty we learned about distilling water from salt water just in case we were lost at sea in a raft or stranded on a remote island and other similar situations. What I learned a few years ago was use a upside-down pyramid of plastic with the point in the bottle. dig a shallow hole about the size of your plastic, (this allows it to fill with water but keeps it safe from waves) put a rock in the bottom of the bottle to keep it upright, and then put it in the middle of the shallow puddle. Using four long sticks to hang the plastic from. Put a small rock in the center to keep the middle of the plastic bag (sheet, etc.) just over the mouth of the bottle. The sun evaporates the water, the plastic catches the moisture and it drips into the bottle. A two foot by two foot piece of clear plastic takes a day to make a 1/2 liter of water. Not efficient, but better than nothing. The plastic can also be used to catch rain and dew, putting a small hole where the rock lays so it can drip into the bottle.
    Just my two cents worth.