The best survival water purification methods are simple, don’t require electricity or fuel and make even the most questionable water safe to drink.
Berkey has become a gold-standard in emergency water purification. Their filters meet all the above criteria and come in a variety of sizes to meet the needs of a single person, to filtering water for an entire community.
I bought the mid-size, 3 gallon capacity, Royal Berkey for just under $300. Berkey’s website claims it can purify water for a vague subset of “4-26 people”. (For best results, you’ll need to buy additional filters. More on this later.)
We have a family of five, plus a dog, so this seemed like a better choice than the travel size (max 4 people) and the Big Berkey (max of 8 people). Though the Big Berkey probably could have worked, I decided to spring for the extra gallon capacity. Better to have too much than too little.
The Royal Berkey can filter up to 4 gallons per hour, though when I
tested it, it took approximately 6 hours to filter 3 gallons, or for all
you math nuts, a half-gallon per hour. According to Berkey, filtration
rates will vary across the country due to seasonal fluctuations in water
After discovering this and testing for myself, I would definitely recommend opting for a larger model if you’re having trouble deciding.
My testing was done with brand new filters and using tap water, so I’d assume that the gallons per hour (GPH) rates will drop exponentially when filtering pond effluvia in an emergency situation.
So best-case scenario with the Royal Berkey, I could get 12 gallons per day, which, when divided by 5 people and a dog, would work out to 2 gallons each. Not bad.
Considering that the bare minimum water needed is 1 gallon per person per day, this would have us covered should we need a long-term survival water purification system in the future.
The Royal Berkey came with upper and lower chambers, 2 filters, a spigot, 2 plugs and all the applicable washers and gaskets to assemble a water-tight system.
The upper chamber is where you pour the questionable water. It has space to accommodate up to 4 filters. Berkey is quick to note that increasing the number of filters only improves GPH rates, not water quality. Or in other words, you’ll get the same quality water whether you use 1 filter or 100. More filters just means you’ll filter water faster.
If you decide to just use 2 filters, you’ll have to plug the other two holes with the provided hardware.
Each filter can purify up to 3,000 gallons. So, using the 2 filters provided, and at 12 gallons filtered per day, this system could theoretically provide clean water for 500 days.
To keep the filters going at peak performance, Berkey recommends you clean the filters with a scouring pad when you notice a drop in GPH flow rate. I keep one in the box to make sure I’ll have it if I need it. Cleaning won’t keep the filters going indefinitely, but it will help them last as long as possible.
Assembly was pretty straight forward; all the directions fit onto a
single sheet of paper, but the graphics were a bit blurry and pixelated.
Fortunately the written instructions were clear and concise.
I had no problems assembling the lid (you just screw a knob on) or fitting the filters and plugs in the upper chamber.
I did however have problems getting a good seal for the spigot in the
bottom chamber. Berkey provides a beveled white washer that is just a
bit smaller than the hole it needs to plug, so getting it to seat
properly took three tries before the leaks stopped.
My dad has the same model and he reported he had problems with this too.
There is no easy way to make sure the spigot is assembled correctly. Because the spigot design blocks the view, you can’t see from the outside that the washer is completely sealing the hole. The best I could do was just trial and error. When done correctly, the washer will be compressed evenly all the way around.
When I initially assembled everything, I began filtering water without testing the seals and came back a couple hours later to a pool of water on my counter. So, for my most obvious tip of the day, always test the seals BEFORE you walk away. There, I said it. Now I feel better.
Also, all of the hardware is plastic, with the exception of the screw for the knob on the lid, so only finger-tighten or you will strip the threads.
Berkey recommends you “prime” or flush the filters with clean water prior to use. This improves GPH flow rate and purges dust from the filters.
Berkey provides a priming washer to make it easier to fill the washers with water and it does work well. Place the washer on the outlet stem of the filter and press the opening a water bottle against it. Then gently and periodically squeeze the bottle until beads of water begin weeping out the sides of the filter. (It takes about a pint of water to fully prime each filter.) When done, run the filter under a faucet to wash off excess dust.
Berkey claims that their filters are so good at filtering viruses,
pathogenic bacteria cysts and parasites, trihalomethanes, radiologicals,
inorganic and orgainic minerals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and
heavy metals that they can actually be classified as water purifiers
rather than just filters.
When they sent their filters off to be tested by independent labs, 0% of pathogens were detected after filtration.
Berkey boasts that their filters can even remove food coloring from water. (Not that this is more impressive than removing the stuff that can kill you.) As it turns out, this is a great way to test for leaks in the upper chamber.
I combined 12 drops of food coloring and 3 gallons of water into the upper chamber. After a few hours (and once I plugged the leak around the spigot) I was able to do a side-by-side comparison.
Though it ended up looking like the liquid used in commercials advertising feminine hygiene products, the results speak for themselves. The Berkey filter lived up to its claims and filtered out all, at least from what I could see, of the food coloring.
If you get even a hint of food coloring in the filtered water, you need to tighten the seals on the filters and plugs and try again. Remember, if food coloring makes it through, so can harmful contaminates.
The filtered water had a clean appearance and fresh taste, though there was a slightly-metallic, though not disagreeable, aftertaste.
Though I have yet to put the filters through a real pressure test with clearly contaminated water (I want to save them for an actual emergency), the Royal Berkey exceeded my expectations for filter performance and ease of use.
My only complaint was the fickle spigot assembly, though the complications were probably due to my own ineptitude than anything else.
For less than $300, I have insurance that my family will have clean drinking water for about a year and a half. Money well spent.