Fire and Water in an Urban Survival Situation

Welcome to this week’s Urban Survival Newsletter, brought to you by the Urban Survival Course.

This week, we’re going to talk about two essentials of survival…fire and water.

Smores as a survival training tool

Some of you might be VERY excited at the thought that Smores are a vital for long term survival item.  I’m sorry to disappoint you, but they STILL aren’t part of a balanced diet. 🙂

Even so, my wife and I and our oldest son enjoy having smores together in the back yard.  Sometimes it’s just us, but a lot of the time it ends up being a social event with other families.

I decided last summer that making smores was a perfectly good opportunity to practice my fire making skills.  I do cheat a little…I use flint and steel instead of a bow drill or a hand drill, but it does cover most of the essentials of primitive fire making.

We don’t get as many bag nights camping as we’d like anymore, and this is a simple way to practice a vital survival skill in our own back yard several times a month.  And, like any skill, the more often you use it, the easier it gets.

Why practice?  Because fire isn’t always easy to make.  Wood gets wet, the wind blows, you don’t make enough tinder/kindling, or your tinder just won’t take a spark like it should.  The more you practice making fire under various conditions, the easier it becomes.  It’s still possible to strike out, but it becomes less and less likely as you get more experience.

So, this week, have some smores…but make them a reward for having used one of the fire starters in your 72 hour kits or GO Bags.

I alluded to this, but one lesson you’ll quickly learn is just how much tinder and kindling it can take to get a healthy fire going.  Fire is amazingly fragile in the early stages and the more small stuff you’ve got, the better.

Quick and simple water purification.

One of the things you’re going to want to use fire in a survival situation for is purifying water.  In the woods, you can heat water up to boiling, let it sit a little bit, and it’s safe to drink.

In urban areas, you’ve still got to take care of the same creepy crawlies that you’ve got in the wilderness, but you’ve also got herbicides, pesticides, fuel runoff, road debris, possibly roof debris, and other urban pollutants.  So, in addition to killing off the creepy crawlies, you need to take another step to get rid of the junk.

One of the simplest, easiest, cheapest ways to do this is with a bucket filter.  I detailed how to make one in my Advanced Urban Water Purification book and it was used on the first episode of The Colony:Season 2 this week.  (You can see my review of the first episode at: )

This method of filtration has been around since 2000 BC and is still in use around the globe.  It’s simple, cheap, reliable and durable.  To make it, you need a container like a 3 liter bottle or a 5 gallon bucket, crushed charcoal, sand (chemical free), pea gravel, large gravel, and a few other items like lengths of pipe, fittings, and valves, depending on how complex you get.

Here is an example setup from

It is only an example…you can easily make the setup more or less complex.

This setup uses 1.83 kg of activated charcoal, which will (very) conservatively purify 1830 liters of relatively clean water, like rain water or water that has gone through a solar still. 1830 liters will last a five person household 6 months at a rate of 2 liters per person per day.  Estimates are that activated charcoal will purify up to 10 times this amount, but since it is so cheap, it is smart to replace the activated charcoal every 1800-2000 liters.

Your imagination is the limit on altering the design.  Instead of using a bucket, you can use a length of PVC pipe, a 2 liter bottle, or any other container that will hold the aggregate and allow you to get water in one end and out the other.

Where do I get the charcoal?

Great question.  Here’s one place NOT to get it.  DO NOT USE INSTANT BRIQUETTES or briquettes with accelerants, chemical binders, coal, or fillers.

Three places to get your charcoal from easiest to hardest:

1.            You can buy bulk activated granular charcoal online or in pet/aquarium stores.  The activated granular charcoal will be approximately 5 times more effective than low grade charcoal, but they will both work.  Any charcoal that doesn’t say “activated” is low grade charcoal.

2.            You can buy chemical free charcoal at Wild Oats and other stores.  They sell an “all natural” charcoal that is free from all of the additives mentioned.

3.            You can also make your own charcoal.  One benefits of making your own is that you essentially create a gasifier when you make your charcoal setup.  If you’re not familiar with gasifiers, they generate wood gas, which can be used to power an internal combustion engine, like a generator.

If you buy or make your own low grade charcoal, you simply need to pulverize it so that it is roughly the size of a grain of rice.  A little bigger is fine, but you don’t want the dust.  An easy way to do this is to put it in a burlap sack and hit the lumps with a sledge hammer.  When you’re done, spray down the entire bag or dip it in water repeatedly to rinse off the charcoal powder.

Keep in mind that it takes approximately 5 grams of charcoal (and approximately 1 gram of activated charcoal) to purify one liter of water.  When you’ve run that much water through your filter, you need to replace it.

Want to learn more about water in survival situations?  My book, Urban Disaster Water Purification will teach you multiple ways to know to make 99.99% of all water you’ll encounter drinkable–even how to quickly convert urine into crisp, clean, clear drinking water.  Learn more by going >HERE<

There’s a lot going on on both the national and global levels that are making it more and more likely that we’ll see serious disruptions in the near future.  As a result, I’m going to be adding articles to the blog throughout the week in addition to the weekly newsletters.  I’ll announce the new articles on Twitter, RSS, and Facebook, but not by email, so make sure to follow me on Twitter or Facebook, subscribe to our RSS feed, or check back often.  You can get to it by going to either or  They’re the same site so either one will work.

Until next week, God Bless and stay safe!

David Morristeach you e < for early access to newsletters < for early access to newsletters
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About David Morris

David Morris is the creator of the Survive In Place Urban Survival Course, the Fastest Way To Prepare Course, Urban Survival Playing Cards, Tactical Firearms Training Secrets, and other books, courses, and articles on preparedness, survival, firearms, and other tactical topics. He lives with his wife, 2 boys, and 2 dogs.


  1. deanbob says:

    A few years back, I went to the Walmart bakery and asked for and was given 4 5 gallon ‘icing’ buckets with lids. Then I purchased 2 (Doulton W9121709 SuperSterasyl 10 inch Candle with 1.25 inch Long Mount) filters for $25 each from I have since seen them on sale for as low as $15 each. These are very similar to those used in the Berkey water filters (that used to sell for $250). This allows me to have 1 setup at my home and a second at my bugout location.

    • Survival Diva says:


      Being on a budget, I’m checking on the water filters in particular. This is a huge difference in price!

  2. I like the DIY bucket and keep seeing different versions. But do we really need to argue about everyone needing to know the metric system, should that be the focus?

    Believe it or not many educated people have graduate degrees and specialties that do not use it.

  3. Bucket Filter – “When you’re done, spray down the entire bag or dip it in water repeatedly to rinse off the charcoal powder.” Other sites recommend washing the gravel and sand as well. No one makes mention of the purity of the wash water. So if you don’t have safe water to start with, how can you assure the water you put through the system is safe???

  4. Great info, Dave.

    I understand that different units of measure can be confusing, but going between basic units, such as quarts to liters is really not hard, as long as you don’t need an absolute result. (And if you do, google “quarts to liters” or whatever, and you’ll have exact conversion info. After all — if you’re reading Dave’s blog, you obviously have access to the internet.)

    1SG was right with his rule-of-thumb conversions. They’re generally “close enough for government work.” However, it’s important to watch out for typos — obviously, 1 liter is NOT precisely 1.0567 gallons. (Quarts, anyone?) Same for Pat Murray’s statement that a gallon equals 5 liters. A liter is greater than a quart, so that should be 4 liters, as 1SG wrote. (Or, 3.785 if you’re picky.) We need to do everything we can to reduce confusion, not add to it by making little errors.

    I think we hijacked the thread by getting into this whole discussion of metric VS “American.” Back on topic, the water filter is a great idea that should be easy to fabricate, and I don’t believe the exact measurements are critical. As for storage, I’ll use soap when washing my bottles, thank you very much!

    I like the Kindle idea to store a mutitude of knowledge. I dodn’t have one, as I really like paper books, and have always used the counter argument, that with paper you don’t need electricity. But, a good idea, with valid arguments. Maybe an iPad for even more flexibility?

  5. Activated Charcoal is good for upset stomach as well. It’s good to buy some in capsule form it works as good as the pink stuff with out plugging you up.

  6. DO NOT rinse out your soda bottles with soap and water… all you’ll get is a soaping tasting water. Just rinse it ONCE with water and FILL IT UP. DO NOT NOT NOT put chlorine in it, let alone Dave did not even tell you how much to put in, I’ll tell you, PUT NONE IN. The water does not need it, it’ll just make it taste horrible, the water won’t go bad, there is nothing in it to go bad. Tap water from the TAP or the WELL is 100% PERFECT to store for decades in soda bottles.

    Rinse ONCE – hot or cold does not matter

    I have 15 year old tap water in soda bottles. Its FINE. Yes I’ve tested it and drank it.

    Get ‘er done.
    More Family Preparedness at


    • Hey Steven,

      Thanks for your input on this. We’ve gone two different routes…you’ve had good success with yours and I’ve had good success with mine, but I do have to fundamentally disagree with the idea of storing water in a container that contains food for bacteria (sugar).

      I use soap to clean bottles and don’t get soapy tasting water. I guess you could make it taste soapy if you used too much soap or didn’t rinse it, but it just hasn’t been an issue for us.

      I also use chlorine to make sure that I’m starting out with a container/water that doesn’t have creepy crawlies in it and don’t have a problem with the taste of chlorine in water after a year or two.

      It just goes to show that there are different ways to skin a cat.

  7. shipcarpenter305 says:

    Seems to me everyone already knows ‘Metric’ –
    .10 cents
    .01 penny
    We all know $1776 – $911 = $865.00
    Easy (kind of).

  8. COUNTRYGIRL says:



    David, you’ve got wisdom, knowledge, and tact – and your website is absolutely fantastic. I’ve studied preparations for over a decade, and the manner in which you deliver practical and realistic solutions is superb. I will soon be purchasing your full Survive in Place course, and I know, based on the quality of these blog posts thus far, it will be a real gem. I currently live in Honolulu, HI, so “bugging out” to a rural environment simply isn’t in the reality of our survival situation, so I am looking forward to digging into your thoughts and strategies that are specifically tailored to urban living.

    Lastly, one thought for collecting, storing, and retrieving knowledge before, during, and after an emergency: the Amazon Kindle. The Kindle can hold hundreds, if not thousands, of pdf files. Nearly every great knowledge, technical, educational, and survival manual / resource can be bought, found, or converted onto pdf. Ultra compact, you can then carry the resources of a library in the size of a standard book. Hard, crush proof and waterproof cases can be bought for it, and it’s ultra-low power consumption combined with the ability to be recharged, say from a Eton crank / solar generator radio via USB or directly from a small solar panel, means it will ‘nearly’ always be accessible. Caution must be taken to appropriately have a Faraday cage made to protect it in the event of KNOWN EMP situation, but as with all electronic devices you can never become over-reliant on electronic resources, knowing that the only knowledge you might be able to access is what’s in between your ears. Also, a small caveat is you have to pre-load what you want to read because if the electricity is out, you won’t be syncing up with your computer. True, nothing will ever replace the good old paper system, but this option does replace many, many heavy, not easily transportable books.

    Thanks David, for empowering and educating people to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.


  10. James Richardson says:

    If you aren’t going to include American measurements can you give us a site where we can get the information in American. I was in the service but that was before we became enlighten and switched. I worked in the construction industry. To this day all blueprints are given in feet, inches, etc. None of that foreign crap for me.

    • David Morris says:

      Hey James,

      I have to respectfully disagree with you and everyone who claims to be more American because they don’t use the metric system. I doubt that our troops shooting 9mm, 5.56, 40MM or 105MM rounds think of them as being “un-American.” I also doubt that anyone injured CONUS or overseas minds that a bag of saline or Ringer’s solution come in 1 liter bags or that a unit of blood is 450ml.

      Metric doesn’t mean un-American. It’s used because it is easy to remember, it’s safer in medical situations, and because it simplifies many calculations. As an example, using the metric system, 1 gram of activated charcoal has the ability to filter approximately 1 liter of water. In the camping and survival world, most water containers are deliniated using the metric system, so it makes sense to use the system that’s most widely used and accepted.

      Using the “American” system, 1.83kg of charcoal=4 pounds. 1830 liters=483 gallons. So, 1 pound of activated charcoal will filter approximately 121 gallons.

      As to teaching an old dog new tricks…if you consider yourself an old dog and you want to do well in a survival situation, you’re going to NEED to be able to learn new tricks. That’s a survival skill…improvise, adapt, & overcome.

      Besides…the metric system is MUCH easier for “feeble minded old folks” <your words, not mine 🙂 On that note, if you're only 69 and already calling yourself old, you need to talk to some of my readers who are in their late 70s and still doing martial arts. I was talking to one a couple of months ago who JUST stopped running 100 mile trail races when he hit 75. His body didn't give out…he was just too busy with other stuff to keep up the training schedule.

      Granted, most bodies don't last that well, but I wanted to mention it because if you put artificial constraints on yourself because of the year you were born, you're shorting yourself. If you have specific issues, that's one thing…but simply discounting your ability to learn because of your age isn't going to do you any good.

      As to a website where you can convert metric to other units…you can do a Google search like the following:
      convert 1830 liters to gallons
      and you'll get the result.

      Keep learning and stretching your mind, James…it will keep you young.

  11. James Richardson says:

    I’m 69 years old and don’t care anything about liters, millimeters, etc. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. For us feeble minded old folks please include the American measurements. America was a great country until we switched to the metric movement. That enabled everyone to manufacture anything we use. Such as China, Japan, India, etc…. When we converted to metrics it began the downfall of the USA. I don’t understand why you are so against the use of both measurements. That way everyone can benefit from your info. 100% American.

  12. You experienced some good points right here. I performed a research to the topic and acquired most peoples will agree with your web site.

  13. Is that there one bucket or two. ? Is there holes in the bottom for the water to drain thru ? Is that there bucket sitting on top of a bigger water catcher ? What keeps the water from going all over the place ? I dont know bout all them metricks, but I can tell you it dont make a bit of diffarance in how it purifies. All you need to know is the components and their location in the bucket you use. I see seven layers of materels in that there bucket and whatever size bucket you use just devide the height by seven and you will have the right amount of particles, no matter what part of the earth your a livin on. As fer as how much water you get, it depends on how much water you purrify before it gets dirty.

    • Hey James,

      You can set it up however you want. You can drill 1 hole and put a ball valve off of the bottom of the bucket, you can punch lots of holes like you suggested and catch the water in another container, or do something completely different.

      The setup can be made with an upside down plastic Coke bottle with the bottom cut out, a length of PVC pipe, a bucket, a clean 55 gallon drum, or any other configuration you can dream up.

      You’re right on the metrics…they are simply the easiest units to use. There’s nothing stopping anyone from doing things more difficultly and using “American” units…it will just require more complex math and brain power.

  14. Don’t get too wrapped around the axle about metrics. Being an old retired Army guy I’ve learned the “easy” way to convert.

    One liter = One Quart

    Four Liters = One Gallon

    Milli means 1,000 (as in 1,000 Milliliters is a Liter)

    The above conversion between Quart and Liter is fairly precise.
    A liter is precisely 1.0567 Gallons. Pretty darned close!

    Now, if you know how many Cups in a Quart…

    I hope that helps. That’s how I learned it back in ’76.

    • Almost right, but when precision counts, please let’s use the conversion table. 1 quart is 1.1 liters, and a gallon is 5 liters, and so on. The nurse is right – my father died of a guesstimate in a hospital…

  15. David-Good Info. ,although i have agree with Harley & Rob { American in parenthesis } would be much more help to some / alot of us,either way Thanks.
    PS Steven Wilgus- you have every right to disagree with the other comments , Don’t get childish & tell us “to grow up” because we don’t think just like you .

  16. Steven Wilgus says:

    I forgot to add I am also a Combat Fire Fighter and was in Iraq as a contract person. my familiarity with the metric system made transition to everywhere else easier. i figured out foreign fire fighting equipment a lot faster than others because I do know it.

  17. Harley Krager says:

    Some of old fogies can’t remember all that European / one world global measurement ( meters, metric, liter and gram stuff ) how about showing
    measurements / volume stuff in American talk ( ALSO )? All of my containers are
    55 gal drums, 5, 2 and 1 gallon buckets also quarts an pints.
    Why do we think we must learn Spanish and adopt ( furners ) way of doing


    Thanks for all this good stuff you pass along.


    • Hey Harley,

      I’m not sure what to say…I actually prefer the metric system and I’ve got an audience that is made up of a lot of international clients as well as American clients who have been stationed overseas at one point or another or who have scientific/medical backgrounds. Nalgenes and several other water storage products for camping are primarily calculated in liters, and in the case of activated charcoal, it’s easier to remember the 1kg purifies 1000 liters guideline than the “American” equivalent.

      I hope that helps,


    • Steven Wilgus says:

      hey folks, i am a pilot, nurse, certified respiratory therapist: the metric system is used the entire world over: and funny enough, ENGLISH is the international language of AVIATION and BUSINESS. i can tell you people have died needlessly in hospitals and at home due to incorrect doses [how darn big is a tablespoon? your or mine? new size spoon or really old ones -smaller I think] because the “old American measurements” failed: the medical practitioners screwed up the dose. Mom screwed up on the dose and gave too much/little. ml, liters, milligrams, kilometers all use factors of 10: the military already for decades do it. all those are SO much easier and safer to use I can not tell you how it makes life SO MUCH SAFER. please, get over it and get with it. Metric is so easy that it defies understanding why people don’t use it. i am an American, but I am also a realist. in medicine [for me, since 1974] the metric system has worked: I have had to re-learn the equivalent of an Associates Degree of NEW MATERIAL, MEDICATIONS, TREATMENTS and so on since i started. learning 10 new values [volume, distance and weight] was the easiest to do People “__itch” about it and it’s so simple that even the darn communists use it. go figure huh???? jump in and grow up. keep the best and dump the rest. God Bless and Keep You All.

    • Derek Spalla says:


      The whole world uses the metric system except the United States. It is the measurement system used in science even in America. I would not take the position that America is right and the whole world is wrong. The metric system is the universal language of measure and we’re the only country that can’t speak it. Seems a little backwards to me.


  1. […] One oft used and incredibly effective field expedient is called the bucket filter and it is made by layering sand, charcoal, and gravel in a bucket or other tube.  This is something that every school child should be taught and every adult should know how to make.  For a picture and more details, go to an article I wrote on it >HERE< […]

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