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Choosing a Water Source

When you’re out on a backpacking trip, you might come across a crystal clear stream, a waterfall or even a glassy, smooth lake surface. It’s quite tempting to fill up your bottle with some refreshing water especially when your mouth is dry or your throat is parched. But sometimes, the things you can’t see can be bad for you. Microorganisms in the unfiltered water can cause water-borne diseases such e-coli or amoebiasis. You may not feel the effects immediately as most bacteria and viruses take a few days to manifest itself in your system.

Aside from boiling your water to rid it of bad microorganisms, there are backpacking water filters and purifiers available in most backpacking/camping stores today. Nowadays, there are lightweight water filters and purifiers that can even fit in an average jacket pocket. But even with a water filter, choosing a water source is still important. Here are tips in choosing the best water source you can find.

It’s always better to start out with water that is most likely to be fresh.

  • Try to determine the water source. The closer the water is to its source the less chance it has to become contaminated.

  • The higher up you are in elevation the better your chances of finding fresh water closer to the source. A mountain stream fed by snow melt will start out much cleaner than a lower elevation stream.

  • Check to see how cold the water is. Water is colder near its source — the farther it travels the warmer it will get.

  • Fast-moving water is preferable to the still water of ponds and lakes. Moving water can also be filtered through trees, moss and rocks.

  • Feces are the biggest water contaminant. Never choose water found close to grazing animals — cattle, horses, sheep, etc., or below a beaver dam — if you can avoid it.

  • Try to avoid water situated below camping areas or shelters.

When you’re on a day hike, you’d usually bring enough water to last you the entire trip. But if you’re planning on an longer journey, a water filtering/purifying system should be put into consideration. With that in mind, make sure you only drink water that you can be sure that is safe. Happy trails!

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