How should I purify my drinking water when I’m on a backpacking trip? What’s the easiest and cheapest way?
–Thirsty Tom, Dallas, Tex.
A: What’s up, Tom? You mean you don’t dig slurping down protozoans and cryptosporidium? We don’t blame you. Those are just fancy names for nasty critters that can grow in water and make you very sick.
Luckily clean water isn’t too tough to ensure.
Your best bet for short day hikes is to simply bring your drinking water from home.
For longer trips, there are a few basic ways to make sure your drinking water is always good to go. Boiling water over a stove or campfire is a simple solution. Once it comes to a roiling boil (when ½-inch bubbles are rising from the bottom of the pot) then it’s clean. Good for cooking, but it takes a while and if you plan on drinking it you’ll have to wait until it cools down.
Another good option is filtering your water with a handheld portable filter. Most require you to pump the water slowly through a series of screens and filters that remove dangerous bacteria and viruses. Basically, dirty water goes in, clean water comes out—ready to drink. These filters can be expensive (from $50 to $150) but they are reliable and simple to use.
Finally, there’s chemical treatment. Listen up, Tom, because this is probably the easiest and cheapest route to safe drinking water. Just pop a tablet or two (like Potable Aqua, $6.50 for 50; or Katadyn MicroPur, 20 tabs for $9) into your jug of water and within about 20 minutes it’ll have killed all the nasty gunk and be ready to drink. Some people complain these tablets leave a bitter taste in the water but that’s nothing a little sports drink mix can’t disguise.
Want to learn more about water purification? Check out the BSA Fieldbook, pages 124-125.