What is the best way to purify water on the trail?

get more from BRO

If you are going out just for a day hike, you’ll probably carry all of the water you need from home. On overnight trips, though, you are going to depend on a source along the trail. Unfortunately, the days of slaking thirst by dipping into a clear mountain stream or sipping cold spring water are gone, most likely forever. The rising numbers of people visiting natural areas have brought an increase in Giardia, a water-borne parasite once found primarily in the Western U.S.

Is there one best way to treat the water? As with many things, personal preference comes into play, so I’ll present the pros and cons and let you decide.

Boiling has been used for centuries and is a reasonably good way to kill most bacteria, parasitic causes of diarrhea, and viruses. However, you’ll spend time and fuel boiling the water, which some people complain has a “flat” taste. Adding oxygen by pouring the water back and forth between pots or water bottles may make it a bit more palatable.

Chemical iodine or chlorine tablets, such as those made by Potable-Aqua or Coghlan’s, kill bacteria and viruses, but not Cryptosporidia, a hard-shelled protozoan cyst. In addition, you have to follow instructions exactly, wait 15 minutes or longer, and still end up with nasty tasting water. Potable-Aqua now sells tablets to neutralize the iodine taste.  Some studies seem to show that long-term use of iodine may also be harmful to certain individuals. KlearWater and Aqua Mira, a brand that has become popular with Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, contain chlorine dioxide, often used in municipal water supplies. (Thanks to an astute reader, Spaceman, for correcting me when I first posted this and mistakenly said that Aqua Mira contains iodine.)

On my next post I’ll discuss filters and purifiers.

More on this topic


in case you missed it

WanderLove Is Calling You to the Shenandoah Spirits Trail

WanderLove is about reconnecting with what you love. Experience mountainous trails, roadside stands, and all of the winding roads in between when...

Bike Salem in Virginia’s Blue Ridge

Find an adventure that fits your speed when you visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, the only IMBA Silver-Level Ride Center on the East...

Relax, Recharge, and Reset in Highland County

Wanderlove is about doing what you love with the people you love.  Experience the unspoiled views and hidden gems in our mountain...

Bike Rockingham County, VA

In the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, bounded by two magnificent mountain ranges and the impressive Shenandoah River, Rockingham County, Va. is...