One thing’s for sure though—don’t be a daredevil with your drinking water. For both overnight camping and longer treks, it’s important to know how to treat your water so it’s safe to drink.
First off, do you have a convenient source of water nearby? If you’ve really gone off the grid, you might need to get a little creative with how you collect water. Knowing how to find water is key in these scenarios. Check out this in-depth guide on Finding and Purifying Water to brush up on your survivalist skills.
More likely than not, you’ll have some sort of water nearby. But while lakes, springs, and streams may look like they have clean and clear water, they’re bound to have bacteria. Drinking from these water sources can increase your risk of disease from germs like Cryptosporidium, Giardia, and norovirus.
Untreated water simply isn’t safe and can make you and your family sick. (Nausea and vomiting are really good at ruining a camping trip!)
Fortunately, there are a few different tactics for purifying your drinking water while roughing it outdoors. Some methods are better than others, but following any of these steps below would be better than not treating your water at all.
1. Boiling Water
Getting your water to a rolling boil for one minute or more is the time-honored water treatment method for campers. It works especially well if your only water option is cloudy and full of silt. As water bubbles, the water’s sediments will settle at the bottom of your pot.
Boiling can kill bacteria, viruses, and protozoa floating around your water, but it also has some downsides.
Boiling water for purification takes a lot of time and requires a lot of fuel. And while it works for destroying some contaminants, boiling alone won’t take care of heavy metals or most other chemicals that are dissolved in water.
2. Chemical Treatments
A chemical tablet offers a quick way to treat water if you’re in a pinch. Chlorine dioxide tablets can eliminate certain bacteria if you’re short on time, but they won’t be able to handle more serious contaminants. They need 30 minutes to tackle Giardia, and up to four hours for Cryptosporidium.
Another tablet option is iodine. It won’t work against some protozoa (like crypto) and can leave a bad aftertaste, but will treat most harmful bacteria. People with thyroid issues or immune deficiencies shouldn’t use iodine though, and pregnant women shouldn’t use it for more than one week. Despite their issues, chemical tablets still remain a viable option for basic water treatment in the wild.
3. Water Filtration
Using a travel filter lets you treat water as you pump it into your bottle. Standard systems use carbon to remove basic protozoa and bacteria contaminants, but can also filter chlorine and heavy metals, too. If you’re camping in a big group, you might consider using a gravity filter to handle filtration for your larger volumes of water.
Some reusable water bottles even come with their own filter built inside. If you’re concerned about viruses, though, or if you think sewage is contaminating your water source, it’s better to reexamine your water treatment method. Carbon filters can clog, so more questionable water might also need to be treated with iodine.
Ideally, you’d be able to take your home-filtered water or tanks of RO water on your camping trip. That’s the only way to really ensure purified drinking water. But these water treatment methods have enough merit to safely get you settled into camp life. When the great outdoors is calling, just be sure to take the time to plan out how you’ll treat your water. Then pack your bags, hit the road, and pitch a tent—there are plenty of fun trips to take around Indy!