While you are hiking and enjoying the outdoors, you will quickly find yourselves in need of water. In hot climates, a lack of water can quickly become a serious issue. You don’t live too long without water. Trust me.
Water sources cannot be considered to be 100% clean. That clear, mountain water in front of you is teeming with life…some of it not very friendly to your body. Contamination can come from many sources: animals, people, runoff, pollution, and others.
Even in normal water conditions, here are some possible culprits hanging out in your untreated, unfiltered water. Here are a few culprits.
1. Protozoa – Cryptosporidium- This critter can cause diarrhea (trail trots) and respiratory problems. It can cause lower stomach problems and last for up to 5 weeks. It’s generally caused by poop in your unclean water.
2. Protozoa – Giardia intestinalis (also known as Giardia lamblia) – This is a parasite that colonizes and reproduces in your small intestines. It also comes from poop in the water (see a theme here). It can survive weeks in cold water (mountains and wells). It’s called “beaver fever” due to pooled water and artificial lakes formed by beaver dams.
3. Bacteria – (for example, Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli)
4. Viruses – (for example, enterovirus, hepatitis A, norovirus, rotavirus) – These aren’t often found in the USA areas and can only be removed through water purifiers…not filters!
If you’d like to freak yourself out to a state of paranoia, read the CDC’s page on Water-related Diseases. Then, help yourself recover by reading their A Guide to Drinking Water Treatment and Sanitation for Backcountry & Travel Use. Remember, they are connected to the government so everything may be outdated. REI has a nice little guide for you, too.
The only 100% effective method in my mind of neutralizing these critters is to boil your drinking water! Besides boiling, I also carry a Sawyer Mini Water Filtration system and I hear the Potable Aqua tablets are a good backup system to have.
Now, get off your dang computer and go outside…and don’t drink the untreated water.