In a survival situation, boiling water for purification purposes is often the only option available to you unless you want to be doubled up in agony after drinking from a contaminated source.
I’ve made burn bowls and even boiled water in a leaf before, but I’ve recently discovered a few other ways to boil water without a pot, all of which appear to be extremely effective, even though some of them sound highly impractical.
I admit I did spend way too much time watching YouTube videos, but who wouldn’t find boiling water in unlikely vessels like plastic bottles and paper cups fascinating?
A survival canteen is the easiest and safest way to boil water in the wild, but what if you don’t have one to hand?
Check out these eight different ways of boiling water without a pot.
#1 How to Make a Bamboo Cup To Boil Water
Bamboo is relatively widespread in the southern parts of the US and provides one of the simplest ways of boiling water without a pot.
To make a basic bamboo cup, cut off a short piece of bamboo just below one of the plant’s natural notches. This notch will form the base of your cup.
Now all you have to do is fill your cup with water and place it carefully in the fire to heat up.
Make sure you position your bamboo cup so that the water heats from the sides rather than the bottom, as the sides are thicker and less likely to catch fire.
Extracting your hot water from the fire is the trickiest part of this method, and caution is required. You could use a couple of sticks to extract the burning cup, being careful not to spill the water all over the fire in the process, but a pair of survival gloves will make the process easier and safer.
Once you’ve safely extracted your bamboo cup and its contents, leave it to cool for a moment or two before drinking. Don’t forget that bamboo is only wood so, it’s likely to be burning hot when you remove it.
#2 How to Make a Wooden Burn Bowl
You can quite easily carve any softwood, like fir or pine, into a cup using a bush or pocket knife. As I don’t generally trust myself with sharp implements, I prefer to use a slightly different technique known as the burn bowl.
Having split off a chunk of wood, place a few hot coals on top of it, and blow on them to get them hot. After a few minutes, the lump of wood will begin to burn wherever it’s in contact with the coals. Be sure not to let them get too hot, as this could cause the wood to crack.
Once the wood has burned enough that there’s now a hollow in it, take a shell or stone and scrape away the rest of the blackened, charred wood.
Repeat the process until the hollow is deep enough to contain enough water for your needs.
If possible, use sand or a similar abrasive to smooth the sides and inside of your bowl and reduce the risk of getting splinters in your lips when drinking.
This process could take hours if you only have hardwoods, like oak or maple, to choose from, which is why a leaf cup is often a quicker and simpler option.
#3 How to Boil Water Using a Leaf
If you happen to be in the Philippines fighting for survival, banana leaves are the answer to your water purification problems.
These large, non-toxic leaves are perfect for boiling water over a fire, but they’re not easy to find in a forest in North America, for instance. Fortunately, you can use any large, flat leaf as long as you can positively identify the plant as being non-toxic.
Once you’ve selected your leaf, it’s time to practice your origami, folding and shaping your chosen frond into a type of cup, as demonstrated above.
If you’re impervious to pain or have fire-resistant superpowers, you could just pinch the corners of the leaf together with your finger and thumb, but where’s the fun in that?
Fill your leaf cup with water and place it carefully on the fire, making sure the flames only lick the leaf in those places where it contains water.
This will ensure that, while the water heats to its boiling point, the leaf doesn’t burn.
#4 How To Use Birch Bark To Purify Water
If your sewing skills are better than your paper-folding capabilities, you could make a waterproof basket out of birch bark. You could even harvest birch water or sap from the same tree using a spile and hook and enjoy a refreshing drink rich in antioxidants, amino acids, minerals, and vitamins.
May and June are the best times to collect bark from trees like the poplar and birch, or even hickory, all of which have a thin, flexible bark when young.
Look for a young tree less than six inches in diameter, and then use a bushcraft knife to cut a sizeable piece of bark from your chosen tree, as demonstrated in the video above. This will ensure that the tree survives the experience and is still around to help you out in years to come.
Pinch the corners together to create the basis for your basket, securing them with cordage. You can also add a little beeswax to the joins to improve the basket’s water resistance. Short sticks or twigs can also be added to improve stability.
Once complete, place the water-filled basket on the edge of the fire, being sure to keep it away from flames. While parts of the basket may become singed or charred, the water should stop it from catching fire.
#5 Can You Boil Water With Nothing More Than Soil?
If your origami fails and your birch bark basket goes up in flames, you’ll dig this simple approach which uses a hole in the ground to boil water.
Much of the US is covered with heavy soils that contain a high percentage of clay, making them ideal for creating a sealed, waterproof hollow. Ideally, your hole should be not too far from a water source and situated close to the fire you’re going to use to heat the rocks that will, in turn, boil the water.
Start by creating a hollow using a digging stick or survival shovel, putting the clay that you scrape out to one side. Once you’ve got the hollow to the size you need it, use that same clay to line the hole, making it more waterproof and preventing any contamination.
Now you’re ready to add water to the hollow, which you can heat using rocks already hot from the fire you made earlier. This will inevitably dirty the water as the rocks will have dirt and ash on them.
If you intend to purify the water through boiling, however, you will have achieved your goal, and, while dirty, the water should now be free of bacteria and can be cooled and put through a DIY water filter to get rid of any remaining dirt.
#6 How To Boil Water In a Plastic Bottle
This may sound like an impractical way of trying to sterilize or heat water, but it works better than you might expect.
It doesn’t seem to matter whether you throw the plastic bottle on the fire or place it carefully between two burning branches – it still boils, and the bottle still refuses to melt.
There is a chance that this method leaches toxic and nasty-tasting chemicals into the water, but in an emergency, most of us would probably opt for a slow death from plastic toxins over convulsive diarrhea caused by drinking contaminated water.
If you decide to try this method, be sure to loosen the lid of the plastic bottle, or remove it completely, before heating, as this will allow the steam to escape.
The downside of this approach is that the bottle will become deformed and discolored after a couple of uses, so can’t be used repeatedly. A bamboo cup or wooden burn bowl is a better and more sustainable option, although you could suspend the bottle over the fire using some kind of tripod and get a few more uses out of your bottle that way.
#7 Can You Boil Water In a Plastic Bag?
We’ve all heard of boil-in-a-bag meals, so presumably, we can use a plastic bag to boil water as well. I tend to keep plastic items away from fires at all costs, probably because I’ve eaten sandwiches from a melted plastic container before, and it put me off for life.
Some people aren’t so fussy, however, and have used plastic bags to boil eggs as well as water.
Unlike the plastic bottle, a plastic bag will melt if you throw it onto the fire, even if it’s full of water, so you will need to devise a way to suspend it over the fire. That could mean using three sticks to create a tripod or just a V-shaped branch like the one the gray-bearded green beret utilizes in the video below.
While this method does work, it also leaves the water tasting of plastic which, I can assure you, isn’t a mouthwatering experience at all!
#8 How To Use a Paper Cup To Boil Water
I realize it’s highly unlikely you’ll take a selection of paper cups with you when the SHTF but let’s just pretend for a moment. Just as you can boil water in a plastic bottle, so you can heat it in a paper cup.
Using the standard pliers on your survival multi-tool, place the paper cup with its watery contents on the fire.
While an empty cup will burn almost immediately, the heat-conducting capability of water means it absorbs the heat from the sides of the cup almost instantly, stopping it from burning.
The edges of the cup above the water level will burn, however, giving the water an unpleasant charred flavor.
You can boil water in almost any container, whether it’s something you’ve created yourself out of a cleverly folded leaf or something you found along the way, like a paper cup or plastic bag.
Given the choice, however, containers made from natural materials, like a leaf or section of bamboo, will give you a much safer and more pleasantly flavored experience.