There are many different types of travelers, some people prefer to stay in a 5-star tropical resort, some people prefer to fly somewhere far and experience the culture, and others prefer to tough it out in the wilderness.
No matter your style of traveling, there are always safety measures to be taken in terms of drinking water. In this series, I will look at the unique considerations to be taken with different traveling styles. First, let’s look at the type of travel that involves camping, out tripping, and sometimes solitude or small groups – the adventure traveler.
This type of travel is unique for a variety of reasons; it is most often geared towards experiencing nature, it involves living off of the land (to varying degrees), and there is often little guidance/interaction with others from that area, so you’re more or less on your own.
When going on a back-country adventure you may see some beautiful, clear water that you wouldn’t think twice about filling your water bottle with.
Although freshwater may look perfectly clear and clean (which sometimes it is), there may be many risks beyond what the naked eye can see. Harmful bacteria or other organisms could be hiding amongst that crystal clear body of water, and it is likely more dangerous than any other visible water contaminant.
Of course, the likelihood of getting sick and the type of sickness you are at risk for depends on where you are. Water at high altitudes and more remote locations, for example, is generally safer to drink straight from a stream as it is less likely that there would be contaminants in it.
This is because if it is remote there is less likely to be contaminants from agriculture and other man-made phenomena. It is also harder for many bacteria to survive at higher altitudes as the strong UV rays kill more (but not all) contaminants.
However, the “better safe than sorry” approach is best observed while taking on this sort of adventure, since you cannot know for sure what is going on throughout the entire water source that you will be drinking from. “Beaver fever” (a.k.a. giardia), for example, is caused by the feces of humans, dogs, beavers or muskrats contaminating a water source. It can cause fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, and a plethora of other temporarily debilitating symptoms.
For a more complete outline of water contaminant risks, read this.
You don’t want to put the “tripping” in out tripping, so why not take a few measures to make sure that doesn’t happen? First of all, be observant; keep your eyes peeled for signs of human or animal activity near water sources – that could indicate a risk of feces in the water.
More importantly, make sure you always carry a water treatment method such as purifying, filtering or boiling tools, and a water testing method to either test the water to see if it needs to be treated, or to test if the treatment method worked. Also, make sure you keep the water source clean for yourself and others by avoiding defecating, urinating or bathing within 200m of the shore.
Since it’s usually not practical to bring your own water supplies for days on end, it’s a guarantee that you are going to face this challenge on a back-country trip. In this case, planning for drinking water safety is not an option.