Potable, Portable, Totable: How to Safely Drink from a River

Giardia may sound like a celebrity chef on The Food Network but it’s really an intestinal infection caused by a parasite found in rivers and streams.

And it’s out there…waiting. Waiting for an inexperienced camper to dip a tumbler into a sparkling river and drink in a big old gulp of…parasites.

Yes, parasites.

Our rivers and streams may look clean to the naked eye, but most waterways are teeming with viruses, protozoa, bacteria and parasites. (Try saying that ten times fast.)

Not prepping your water before drinking will turn a hike into a stationary event and your vacation into a staycation at the hospital.

So, what’s a camper to do?

Hiking 20 miles with three cases of Evian strapped to your back is not the solution. Treating the natural water around you would be much more practical.

What are your options?

1. Boil the water

Boiling is the best way to rid your water of all the icky things trying to kill you. There seems to be some debate, however, over how long water should be boiled before it is considered safe.

Some experts say one minute of boiling is long enough. Other experts say five minutes is ideal. Still more experts will adhere to the 20-minute rule.

There are also survivalists who claim water is safe just before it reaches the boiling point so you should just turn it off as soon as it reaches the boiling point then let it sit for a few minutes.

And then there’s altitude to consider. The higher up you are, the longer you need to boil your water.

Boiling uses precious fuel so the arguments against longer boiling times are reasonable and sound. But, if your life isn’t in immediate danger, you may consider erring on the side of caution.

Regardless of what boiling time you choose, put a lid on your pot. The water will heat faster and you won’t lose any H2O to condensation.

2. Chemical Tablets

Halogens are elements –like iodine and chlorine –that are useful in disinfecting water.

Iodine will kill most pathogens found in fresh water but it won’t destroy the dreaded cryptosporidium, not unless you let the iodine sit in the water for 15 hours. Even with this inconvenience, iodine is still used by the military and folks who parachute into disaster areas to help victims.

Iodine is cheap and easy to obtain which are good reasons for its popularity. Don’t use iodine if you are pregnant or have a thyroid condition.

Chlorine, unlike iodine, won’t change the taste of the water. Plus, it has the added benefit of killing the cryptosporidium. But you must wait four hours for the chlorine to work its magic, so it’s not a good option if you need water pronto.

Buy chlorine tablets if you choose this option. Don’t carry a gallon of Clorox into the woods. It’s heavy, it won’t work as effectively as the tablets, plus you might ruin your good hiking jeans in the event of a spill.

3. Filters

Filters can remove most of what will make you sick in North America but they may not be as effective in other parts of the world.

While filters can filter out large organisms they, most likely, will leave you vulnerable to viruses. Some people add iodine to the filtered water just as an added layer of protection.

Filters are sold in sporting goods stores, online and everywhere campers shop. This may not be a good time to look for a bargain. Make sure you buy a filter from a reputable company.

4. Purifiers

If you sweat the small stuff, a purifier is a better option than a filter. Purifiers will knock out viruses such as rotavirus and norovirus.

Some use pump action, others rely on gravity. There’s even a straw version called the LifeStraw, which allows you to drink right from the river making you the envy of all the feral pigs in the area who must use their tongues.

5. DIY

Type “How to Make a Filter Out of a 2 Liter Bottle” into the YouTube search bar and you will be treated to a host of videos--mostly by men--wielding large knives and layering charcoal, rocks and grass into former soda bottles like they are making a dirt parfait.

They’re worth watching just to see if anybody loses a finger. 

Regardless of which method you use to filter your water while camping, store your clean water in an Arctica tumbler.

Arctica Tumblers will keep your cold water cold and your hot water hot. The rugged stainless steel construction means you won’t break your tumbler if you take a tumble during a hike.


Be safe. Stay hydrated. Enjoy the outdoors.

October 16, 2017 by Arctica News Crew

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