The Stuff of Life

Water, or specifically clean water, is essential to your health. Water management is an actual discipline in its own right, but most of what you need to know is common sense.

Simply put, you should only drink water that is safe to drink, by ensuring that is has been filtered, chemically treated, or boiled (5 minutes minimum), and has not been re-contaminated since then.

How you manage your water will depend on how much you are prepared to spend – at the cheap end of the scale our 20 litre plastic MOD issue water containers are robust enough for anything, but will need to be manhandled to and from water sources.

A fixed tank offers you the option of in-car plumbing for convenience, and can be fitted low in the load-space without access being an issue, as it will be filled via a pipe.

Dirty or Clean?

Assume any water from wells or pump is ‘dirty’ – the same may go for municipal supplies depending upon where you are. Even if the locals are drinking it may still make you ill as you won’t have the resistance that they’ve been able to build up.

Work on a principle of permanently separating clean (filtered) water from ‘dirty’ water, for example by filling jerricans with dirty water which is then filtered into another clean water container for drinking and cooking – make sure you never put clean water into a container that was used for dirty water, unless it is first sterilised.

Typically you’ll take 2 dirty water jerricans (20litre black plastic MOD pattern). These are for filtering, showering in, washing up in, or boiling, but not drinking directly. Get into a routine of using them in the same order each time, and emptying each one completely as you go; that way you will always know how much water you have left.

The Brownchurch Water Filter/Shower unit includes a siphon with a non-return valve; this hose consists of a rigid plastic pipe incorporating a bung, and two hoses incorporating the valve. Put the rigid pipe into a dirty water jerrican and the bung seals the top. Suck on the hose end and water comes out. But the clever bit is that it can’t drain backwards because of the valve, so once you’ve stopped for the night to camp you simply leave it stuck into a slot on a sand ladder (or anywhere high) and you can use it without having to re-siphon each time you want (dirty) water.

In hot countries expect to filter five litres per person per day, and keep this water in the passenger compartment where it is easily accessible.

Water Checklist:

  • Personal Water Bottles
  • Drinking water jerrican – preferably plastic with a tap, for filling personal water bottles.
  • 50 litre+ vehicle water tank, and hose for filling or:
  • 2 x Dirty water jerricans – 20 litre black plastic MOD pattern
  • Micropur tablets. Available in 1 or 20 litre tables. No bad taste, good for hiking away from the vehicle.
  • Brownchurch Water Filter/Shower
  • Siphon with non-return valve


Filtering Water

ShowerIf you are travelling in a Land Rover you have the benefit of a high payload and a considerable amount of load space. You can use this to your advantage by carrying more water than you need, and then enjoy the luxury of showering at the end of each day. It also allows you flexibility in your choice of filter system.
We recommend using the Brownchurch Water Filter/Shower -this runs off 12v, and has changeable Doulton Ultracarb filters which get rid of pretty much everything possible. You can also use the pump to drive the shower (not filtered). This unit comes packed in a storage case, with the necessary fittings to draw water directly from a jerrican. If you are using a fixed water tank it can be mounted in the vehicle to provide filtered water on demand. Whichever filter system you choose be sure to take enough filter elements for your needs plus an extra one in case of breakages.

A lot of the bikers use Katadyn manual pumps which are light and compact, and form part of a high-tech water system – if you are looking to save weight and space and don’t mind the tedium of pumping for a while these might be worth looking at.

Finding Water

It’s good practice to try to carry as much water as you have capacity for when you are in the more arid countries, but this becomes less important where there is more surface water available. You’ll get water from the following sources (in order of preference):

  • In the larger cities, and in most places in the more developed countries you will probably find drinkable tap water, and taps make life so easy…
  • In the countryside where you are away from municipal supplies most water come from wells with pumps. Ask permission before using a pump – wheel pumps are the easiest to use followed by hand, then foot pumps. You will often get help with drawing water, and may also be invited to the head of any queue – we give empty plastic water bottles (bidons) as a thank you for this. Filling from well was almost always a great way to meet the local villagers.
  • In more rural areas open wells are the only option – take local advice on which are drinkable, as some are only used for livestock. You will also need to borrow a bucket and rope. In desert regions you will often be using brackish water as the only option.
  • River and lake water should again be taken on local advice only – don’t take the danger from crocodiles or hippos for granted, and remember that this is a last option as this water will probably contain silt (rivers) or micro organisms (lakes) – either way your filter will be earning its money. If the filter element gets clogged up (very slow water throughput) you can remove it and scrub it with a stiff brush.
  • If you want to get into survival mode there are lots of other sources of water in the wild; the internet is full of all sorts of survivalist sites, some of which are actually useful resources.

One piece of kit that is very useful, especially at pumps, is a large funnel and a short length of large diameter plastic hose. It saves you having to lift jerricans to the spout of the pump.

Water Tanks

If you have the time and resources you can make life much simpler by getting rid of the jerricans and using a custom made plastic (polyethyline) or stainless steel tank which you can permanently plumb in to a filter unit. Look for a capacity of at least 50 litres. The tank should be fitted as low as possible, and preferably between the two axles.

You will need a hose, or another water container to fill this, but it is less hard work than removing the two dirty water jerricans each time you want to fill up, and there are obvious advantages to having the filter set up all the time for drinking water on demand.

The only disadvantage is that you cannot transport the water separately (say in case of a breakdown in the desert, where you are close enough to hike to a well). Consider carrying a collapsible 15 litre plastic water carrier, or using a dry bag instead.

Other Uses

Apart from drinking, you’ll also use water for:

  • Washing: From the dirty water cans or your water tank – you can bucket shower with a sponge with 5 litres, or shower with about 8 litres; the trick is to wet yourself all over, then turn off the water. Next lather your body, followed by your hair (do it the other way round and you’ll get shampoo in your eyes), before rinsing off for as long as it takes.
  • Brushing your teeth: You only really need water for rinsing the brush afterwards – use your water bottle, never dirty water.
  • Cooking: As long as you are going to boil the water – for ten minutes to be safe – then dirty water is fine.
  • Washing Dishes: For this you first need a small plastic washing bowl – which will have many other uses. The method will vary according to how clean your ‘dirty’ water actually is. The most economical method is to get the crud off everything using dirty water, and then rinse using dirty water that’s not too bad; otherwise you can add a Milton Tablet to the rinsing bowl.
  • Washing clothes: You can usually pay somebody to do this for you in Africa – just ask anybody you see washing clothes, and negotiate a price (usually £1-£1.50). Make sure you agree whether soap power is included or not, and count everything before you start to make sure you get it all back. Other more original methods include filling a large (preferably black) dry bag (from any camping shop) with water, soap powder and laundry, and strap it to the roof for a day’s driving. The vibration does a great job of agitating the wash, and the only problem you are likely to encounter is if it gets too hot and colours run.