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How to Make Stream or Pond Water Drinkable when Hiking and Camping

Updated on May 1, 2015
Waimea Falls in Oahu
Waimea Falls in Oahu | Source

First of all, there are two reasons why I’m writing this article for Hubpages. The first reason is that I just finished a hub about hiking safety and wanted to link to another hub about making water potable-but I couldn’t find one. Secondly, there may come a time when you’re hiking or camping in Hawaii (or anywhere) where you’ll need to drink water from the wilderness and you’ll want to know how to treat it and make it potable before you do.

Boiling Water method for treating water.
Boiling Water method for treating water. | Source

Why Treat Wilderness Water?

This is not an implication that all wilderness water needs to be treated before you drink it. In fact, many sources of water that you find in the wilderness may be better to drink than the tap water in your kitchen. However, there are some risks involved in areas like Hawaii.

As water runs down from higher areas (such as the Windward Mountains on Oahu) it can pick up contaminants from dead animals, fecal matter, etc.

Even if the risk of contamination is small, though, it is a risk that’s not wise or worth taking.

Tips for Making Wilderness Water Safe for Drinking

Always carry some form of water treatment

Whether that treatment method is in capsule form, liquid drop form or filters make sure that you have some method on your person in case you do need it and you run out of the water that you brought. It is recommended that you bring at least 2 liters of water per person, per day.

Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

If you’re in an elevated area that appears free of human and animals that is not frequently traveled then, in most cases, the water will be drinkable without treatment. In other words, the more remote and elevated the area then the safer the wilderness water will be to drink. When in doubt, find a water source and try to follow that source uphill before gathering to drink.

Maintain Hygiene when camping or hiking for good drinking water.
Maintain Hygiene when camping or hiking for good drinking water. | Source

Maintain Your Personal Hygiene

In many cases, water is blamed on humans that get sick simple because they’re not following common sense and simple hygiene practices. Simple things like washing hands, not urinating or bathing in the water source (no matter how fast the stream is moving!) can lead to a cleaner and healthier experience. The water may be clean but humans can often contaminate themselves.

Keep Your Distance

Activities such as cooking, urinating, defecating, and bathing should be done at least 200 feet away from water sources. We recommend 300 feet when possible. That’s equal to a football field away from your water source. Walk or hike a few extra feet for clean water and to stay healthy.

Tips for Treating Your Water When You Need To

  • Doing all that you can to keep water clean and pack enough water can sometimes not be enough. There may come a time when you will need to treat the water that you’re going to need to drink.
  • Choose water that is Calm and Clear
  • Slow moving streams, lakes and ponds are less likely to contain sediments and silt. If you’re using a water filter to treat, this water will pass more freely through it.
  • Surface water in lakes and ponds has had exposure to the sun’s UV rays that will kill much of the contaminants that could get humans sick.
  • Try to avoid gathering water after a heavy rainfall. Rain can gather and transport surface material from the surrounding area’s watershed into the water. This surface material is more likely to have harmful contaminants.
  • Seek out water that have little to no human or animal activity nearby.
  • If clear water is unavailable use a scooper or something from your mess set to scoop surface water in the cleanest area you can find.
  • Pre-filter water before treating it to take out the larger of the contaminants.
  • Pack a backup water filter treatment system. What will you do if batteries die or a filter or tablets are lost. Pack at least water treatment systems and make sure to have a different person carry the alternate.


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