It is easy to forget your drinking water safety while you are out backpacking but doing so can have some nasty and potentially fatal consequences not to mention your trip might not be quite as fun as you anticipated.
Most of us should already know that not all water we find while packing is going to be safe. However it is quite surprising just how little it takes to make a water source unsafe unless properly treated so make sure you maintain water safety while you are out backpacking and enjoy the results.
Sourcing drinkable water is surprisingly simple to do by the way as the following article by Roger Caffin demonstrates…
Drinking Water Safety While Backpacking
Water in the field is not always safe to drink. We examine some of the problems that can exist, and we survey all lightweight water treatment methods for use against these problems. We also illustrate each method with at least one commercial product, but this is not meant to be a State of the Market survey of products.
Everyone needs to drink water when working. Yes, one can go for days (or weeks in some famous cases) without food, but after a few days without water, you die. However, not all water sources found in the wild are safe (and some at home are a bit questionable too!). So, in Part 1 of this series, we start by discussing what ‘stuff’ can be found in water sources and whether it is dangerous to you. While this will get a little technical in places, we will try to keep it comprehensible to all.
In Part 2 we will look at what you need to do (or can do) to make water safe. We will also cover the legal aspects of water treatment: what the USA Environmental Protection Agency allows vendors to claim. Since a lot of this touches on ‘public health’ issues, there are government regulations (set by the EPA) to consider. These specify how much reduction in contamination is required to meet the regulations. Honesty in advertising may not be found everywhere, but the EPA does try to help. And yes, the message here is ‘reduction’, not elimination. This will be explained. Things will get a little technical here.
In Part 3 we will survey the range of methods available for dealing with all that ‘stuff’. It will become immediately clear that no one method can handle all threats – short of osmotic filtering followed by triple distillation. We will illustrate the methods by looking at some commercial products, using them as examples. This is not a complete State of The Market Survey of products; rather it’s information about risks and ways to handle them.
It should be noted that a lot of the information available on the web and in the literature about water risks and treatment methods has been written by vendors, who have a vested interest in selling you their gear. They do sometime hype the risk and their products. That does not mean there is no problem – far from it. But there have been and still are some cowboys out there. Some of them may be in jail these days though, following EPA prosecution (yes, I know of cases).
The Risks – What’s in the Water?
As usual, we start with theory. It’s not that hard, so stop panicking. Broadly speaking, there are four main classes of contaminants:
- Dissolved but harmless materials like tannins and salt
- Suspended matter such as dirt, vegetable matter, clay and rock dust
- Chemicals not included above such as solvents and agri-chemicals
- Viruses, bacteria, protozoa, nematodes and the like, alias ‘bugs and wogs’
Each category requires different handling to meet the requirements of the American Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). This organisation is the largest internationally-recognised certification body for water purifiers. Please note at this point: in America the word purifier as used in the context of water treatment has a defined legal meaning. If a company tries to use the word without meeting the legal requirements, they can and have been prosecuted and potentially jailed. But there are many traps for the unwary here, and I have seen a few of them.
Check out this video of the SteriPen Water Filter, just one of the many different filtration methods you can use.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” -Edward Abbey
If you have a preferred method of keeping your drinking water safe while on your backpacking trip please comment below, its always good to have input into such an important subject