Again, I’m going to deal with the simple stuff here. I won’t cover things like rainwater catchment systems, homemade water towers, or underground cisterns. Once again, I’m just sticking with things anybody could do simply.
The most basic thing
Everybody should have a few days supply of water in every vehicle and every bug-out bag. The “official” recommendation is a three-day supply. A week is better, but water is heavy and three days supply will get you through most mobile emergencies.
As with everything else, we need to evaluate our own circumstances and needs. Do you live in a wet or dry climate? A cool one or a hot one? Is your typical vehicle trip across town, across country, or into the back country where you could get stuck and die? Might you have to live in your vehicle without outside assistance for a few days or a week after a natural disaster? Is there a chance you’ll have to exert yourself and therefore require more water than average?
The very, very easiest, no-brainer thing to do is buy Coast Guard approved pre-sealed emergency water packets.
They’re handy. They store and carry well. They can be tucked into little spots here and there without taking up one big mass of space. They can last years without attention. They’re designed to prevent nasties from getting inside. They’re even cheap as survival preps go, only about $8 for a three-day supply for one person.
But they’re expensive as water goes.
In other words, they’re a good solution if you might have to carry your water in a bug-out kit or tuck it under the seats of your vehicle. For home storage there are better ways to go. Ditto if your vehicle has plenty of good storage space.
Other portable or semi-portable water storage
Hydration packs range in price from $15 hardware-store crap (which I guarantee you’ll regret once you’re sucking desperately on their slow & faulty valves) to … well, GeigerRigs and CamelBaks.
There are also old-fashioned canteens and more newfangled totes. I’m always on the lookout for these at garage sales (more about safety aspects of buying used containers next time). They’re not ideal solutions, but I currently have things like these with my bug-out bag and in my vehicles:
They cost me $1 apiece and the time it took to clean and fill them.
For your vehicle, there are also the various five-gallon containers you might carry to a picnic or on an off-road trek.
Any containers that you fill yourself, or for that matter, any containers of liquid you store in a vehicle, should be checked every six months or so for damage. Extremes of cold, heat, and sunlight can play havoc with even well-built containers.
The water in self-filled containers should be replaced once or twice a year. That helps ensure that you won’t get “growy things” in your water supply. (More about that next time, also.)
Always fill with clean tap water. If you must use any dubious water source, or if your container itself might not be entirely pristine, you’ll need to filter or purify. (Yes, that’s for next time, but we’ve covered that topic before.)
Seven-day home storage
Besides having at least a three-day supply of water with every bug-out bag or vehicle, we should have a minimum seven-day supply at home.
A lot can happen to our household water supplies, and this is one area where there’s little excuse for being unprepared, since water storage can be as simple as washing out and filling up containers we already have.
The very, very easiest solution for a lot of us is just to take those thick plastic juice or two-liter soda bottles we have around, wash them well with hot, soapy water, fill them with tap water, and stash them. (Depending on what was originally in them, our water might pick up a slight taste, but that’s a small issue.) Do that every time you empty a bottle, and pretty soon you have a good stash. And no hassle.
Another favorite is five gallon hard-plastic bottles like you see atop water coolers.
They can be clunky to lug around or pour from, though (always look for the ones with molded-in handles). So even better might be one of those bottles with a battery-operated pump installed on it or one with a valve built into it.
Down in the desert where the well water was undrinkable, all the grocery stores sold these for less-than-Amazon prices. Here in the northwest I see them only from water-delivery services or at garage sales.
In the desert, too, grocery stores carried the same hard blue bottles in the three-gallon size. That was a mercy for female arms (have I mentioned that water is not only heavy, but gets heavier every second?). Amazon has them, too. But I’ve never seen such a thing here.
Nearly every grocery store sells drinking water in 2-1/2 gallon squarish containers with valves near the bottom. I have a couple of these that I’ve stashed for several years without problems. But the plastic they’re made from is not meant for long-term use. So I’d consider those a handy solution for stocking up on water before a storm, but not an ideal vessel for long-term storage.
Really, there are all kinds of containers that will serve for home storage. Here are just a few I pulled from various closets and shelves around my house.
(BTW, that one-gallon Arrowhead water jug has been banging around the back of my vehicle or in my garage for four years as a dog-water bottle. It’s scuffed and discolored and dented, but it’s never leaked a drop.)
If you live somewhere where you might get advance warning of a water-wrecking disaster, you of course know the old trick of filling up the bathtub. If you might have to use bathtub water for more than a day or two, you can buy bladders like this one and this one that let you store a lot of water, debris-free. (This is the only storage method in this article that I have no personal experience with; it’s also obviously not a long-term storage method.)
How and where to store at home
This is also simple but important. Water should be stored:
1. In a dim, or better yet dark, place.
2. A location where the temperature stays cool (but above freezing) and relatively constant.
This could be a closet, a basement, a foundation crawl space, a root cellar, or even just a little-used room with blinds on the windows. (Even when I lived in pretty crude conditions in the high desert, we were able to do this; we used the insulated power shed. There’s always someplace.)
Less satisfactory storage containers
… and how to make do with them.
Milk jugs: Everybody will tell you that you shouldn’t store water in plastic grocery-store milk jugs. Indeed, those jugs are designed for one-time use. But doesn’t it pain you to throw out something so screamingly useful?
The fact is that you can use them if you do it judiciously.
Take those empty milk jugs and do this:
1. Wash the jugs and caps very well with hot, soapy water.
2. Fill the jugs with warm water and add a teaspoon or so of bleach, then let them sit a few hours.
3. Empty out the bleach solution, rinse well, fill with clean tap water, and seal.
4. Write the date on the jug with an indelible marker
5. Store in a dim, cool place. With these jugs it is especially important to avoid sunlight and temperature fluxuations.
6. After six months rotate the old jugs into the recycler and replace with newer ones.
Flats of storebought drinking water: Every grocery store sells flats of bottled drinking water. You know the ones. The flats hold 32 or so bottles of take-it-along size drinking water. And they sell for really cheap — $3.99 on sale.
And boy, talk about no-hassle storage. Just stick ’em someplace and you’re good.
Well, you’re good for a few months. Maybe up to a year. But again, store these very long or in the wrong conditions and they leak. They’re also flimsy and very easily crushed. So buy ’em happily, but keep ’em in the cool dark, buy a new flat every couple of months, and use up the oldest one.
That’s it for now. Next time:
How much water should you store per person/per animal
How to keep it safe
Plastics and stored water
Filters and purifiers
Longer-term storage (without major hassle)