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Everyone knows that it’s important to stay hydrated while camping. You exert yourself physically lugging gear around. Hot temperatures (or even low temperatures) can suck the moisture out of your body. It’s not always practical to carry a reservoir of potable water with you. Hiking out in the wilderness, you’ll want to keep lightweight and minimal to save calories. Or, take for instance a campground situation, where there is a spigot or common campground tap. It may look crystal clear and clean, but it can contain microscopic bacteria. So how can you be sure what you’re drinking is safe?
Here, we’ll explore the various ways you can treat your water sources, and obtain some peace of mind about what you put into your body.
Water filters mechanically filter out bacteria and other little nasties by a micron thin mesh. They are portable, durable, and do not require a fuel or energy source. Filters range in the one micron and less range. Ideally, you want to choose one with the smallest sized mesh you can find. We recommend a .2 micron size to remove bacteria, and algae. Don’t risk your health by getting a cheap filter. Chose one that’s durable and portable; at the minimum chose one that is .4 micron in size. Look for a pore size efficiency rating. They’re handy to have on a hike when the amenities of a campground aren’t accessible.
Keep in mind that mechanical filters can get clogged over time. It’s a sign that they have been working properly and doing their job. Be mindful to not force water through the filter, as you could inadvertently contaminate your bottle with all sorts of bad stuff. Filters do have a lifespan, and using the same filter over and over again will reduce its effectiveness. Be sure to check the documentation that came with the filter or the manufacturer’s website to find specific care instructions.
Chemical treatment solutions for water offer a great alternative to water filters. They are portable enough to be put into a pouch or first aid kit. They won’t add much noticeable weight to your gear. The most common chemical treatment option is Iodine or chlorine. You can purchase these in tablet or eye-dropper form. One downside of chemical treatment options is that you have to wait some time for the process to complete.
Also, there is the taste aspect, as iodine and chlorine treatment options can leave your water tasting funny. So if you prefer a cleaner taste, you may want to consider the other options. Some chemical treatment solutions come with a taste neutralizer, or a second part chemical to off-set the taste.
We recommend consulting a doctor or health professional before choosing a chemical treatment option. Iodine can interact with some medications, and pregnant women should not use iodine treated water for over a week’s time.
Boiling water is the old standard for water purification. It’s very effective for killing bacteria and even viruses. It is, however, time and fuel intensive. It takes time for water to boil, and campfires aren’t always the most accessible while hiking. It’s also not the most pleasant thing to drink warm or even hot water on a hot day. It is, however, a relatively reliable method. Be mindful of your elevation; boil the water for at least one minute if you are below two thousand meters in elevation or two to three minutes if you are above two thousand meters.
Remember that even if your water source looks absolutely crystal clear, it can contain microscopic bacteria and viruses. Always try to use a known good source of water, you don’t want bad bowel movements or vomiting to ruin your camping trip. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s cleaning and maintenance schedule if you are using a mechanical filter. As always, stay safe and happy camping!