Finding clean water while backpacking is not as difficult as you may think. You don’t have to be a wilderness genius to find sanitary water sources during your backpacking trip. Whether you’re backpacking for days or weeks, the same core principles apply for clean and healthy hydration as you connect with the vast outdoor world.
The Source: Natural Bodies of Water
When you’re backpacking, it’s important to consider your water source. Unlike a short hike, where you can bring a large water bottle, backpacking for multiple days requires you to rely on nature for water. Carrying all the water you need would weigh your backpack down and take up valuable space. Instead, bring a single refillable canteen and plan your route around natural water sources like streams, lakes, rivers, waterfalls or even animal basins. You can refill your canteen along the way. Don’t worry about running out of water, since wherever there is life, there is water. Unless you’re planning to backpack in the middle of an arid desert, you’ll most likely find at least one source of water.
The Purification: Fire and Filters
So now you have your water source. Unfortunately, drinking directly from these sources may not always be possible. Depending on your immune system, unfiltered and unpurified water might make you fall dangerously ill. You should always purify your freshly sourced water to avoid getting sick while backpacking. As a general sanitary practice, always try to get water from a moving source as opposed to a still one. Still bodies of water are more prone to harboring bacteria and parasites.
One simple way to clean your water is to boil it over a campfire. Depending on how high up the mountain you are, you’ll only need to boil your water for about 1 minute. If you’re higher than 6500 feet, boil your water for at least 3 minutes. You can also use purification tablets if you don’t have time to stop and start a fire. After refilling your bottle, simply drop the recommended amount of tablets in for clean water. Make sure you wait at least 30 minutes after dropping the tablets in before drinking.
Other methods of purifying water include using water bottles with built-in filters and purification straws. These methods are practical because you don’t need to stop to boil the water and wait for 30 minutes before drinking it.
The Importance of Clean Water
Do not minimize the importance of drinking clean, purified water. Even if you get your water from a clear, gushing river, it should still be purified. If you don’t purify and filter your water, you risk contracting a serious waterborne infection such as cholera or typhoid. If you get sick with these types of infections, you’ll need medical attention immediately. That can be quite tricky when you’re in the middle of the great outdoors.
Make sure to always purify your water before drinking. It doesn’t hurt to even boil your water first and then use a secondary purification method such as a UV filtration pen. Whatever you do, only drink clean water that you have purified while backpacking. By taking these precautions, you’ll ensure that you have a safe and fun time in the mountains.
Ese Agboh is a student nurse who wants to specialize in pediatric nursing and wound care. In her free time, she enjoys reading and writing articles related to medicine and the pathophysiology of communicable diseases. Ese currently lives and studies on the east coast of the United States.