Safe Drinking Water - Six Tips for Backpacking
By Steven Gillman
On a day hike, safe drinking water isn't an issue.
You can carry what you need. But when backpacking, you will most
likely be using chemical water purification or filters to resupply
yourself using natural sources of water. Both of these can fail at
times. A filter can break or get clogged, and pills can be lost,
damaged, or just not effective if the water you start with is too
What you need then, if you want to be fully
prepared when entering the wilderness, is a little knowledge, just
in case. You need to know how to find safe drinking water, or make
it. Here are some tips to remember.
Safe Drinking Water Tips
1. Use your
map. See if
there are farms or grazing lands or campgrounds upstream from where
you are collecting your water. If so, be sure to boil it or use a
heavier-than-normal dose of whatever chemical disinfectant you are
using. Better yet, collect water somewhere else.
2. Use glacial melt water. If you collect water
that is running out from under a glacier or is still near the
glacier that it melted from, it is more likely to be safe. No
guarantee, but in an emergency, it is likely better than the water
from a cow pasture. If you have chemical purification tablets or a
filter, it is more easily purified than muddy water (but allow lots
of time for chemical purification of cold water).
3. Look at the surface. If there is a
rainbow-colored sheen to the water, it may be toxic. If the color is
from natural bacteria which are generally harmless, it will usually
break apart when you poke a stick into it. If it doesn't, it may be
petroleum-based, and should be avoided.
4. Smell the foam. Foam on water can be from
industrial pollution or detergents, in which case it isn't really
safe drinking water. But if the foam separates easily when disturbed
and smells earthy, it is probably natural foam created by the plants
in the water and the agitation of the current or waterfalls. In that
case it does not indicate toxicity.
5. Look around. If you are near trail crossings or
places where people camp, try to collect your water upstream of
these areas. If it is a short walk, you may also want to get above
any meadow where animals graze.
6. Treat clear water. If the water is murky, your
filter may clog or your chemical treatment may not be effective. To
solve this problem, let the water settle for a while in any
container you have, and then pour off the clearer water after the
dirt settles out. You can also strain water through a bandana or
t-shirt to get the big stuff out.
In any case, look for the clearest water that is
furthest from sources of contamination.
treat with chemicals, boil, or take your chances. Safe drinking
water is a necessity, so plan ahead.
Water Filtration Discussion
Copyright Steve Gillman. To get the ebook "Ultralight
Backpacking Secrets (And Wilderness Survival Tips)" for FREE, as
well as photos, gear recommendations, and a new wilderness survival
section, visit: http://www.The-Ultralight-Site.com
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