(The information presented here is just friendly advice from a non-expert. This information is intended to make you consider certain things before going ahead on a hike. Consult a physician, scientist, or experienced hike leader if you need definitive answers or information about potential hazards of drinking water from a pond, lake, stream, river, brook, waterfall, etc.)
Bring plenty of water...
It's hard to recommend the amount of water one should bring on a hike, but a half gallon (2 liters) is a good idea if you're going out for a long day-hike (especially true in summer). Even if you're just going on a really short hike, bring too much water. You never know. Some could spill, you could drink more than you'd realize with a lot of hiking left, others with you may be out, or you may encounter a hiker in distress may need some. As far as water for a marathon hikes or overnighters, you really should ask someone who's done a lot of that and talk it out with them. Call or email a local hiking club such as the Appalachian Mountain Club (outdoors.org). Most of all, CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN since everyone is different and there really is no rule of thumb. The wise choice is to bring way too much. Aside from the fact that it's just easier to bring your own water, the biggest reason for bringing in plenty of water is that you cannot drink from nature's source anymore (not sure if you could safely in the "old days" anyway). There's just too much bacteria in the water now.
because you can't drink what's out there.
For those who are new to hiking, you may not realize that the freshest looking water (stream, brook, pond, lake) in a remote place well away from civilization, is the last place you'd want to drink from...unless of course your life depended upon it. You need to bring your own water in when you hike, unless you have the means to boil it for at least 3 minutes, have iodine tablets (taste very bitter), or have one of the new amazing water filtration systems with you that will produce perfect water from nearly the nastiest water source (more info down below). Sadly, there isn't a place in North America where you can scoop up some water and drink fresh out of a stream without worrying if you'll develop the world's worse stomach cramps, or "running waters" of your own...if you know what I mean (I think I'd rather have a frightening encounter with a bear than get diarrhea on the trial). That's especially true in the Northeast where "acid rain" from high altitude chimney stacks in the Midwest pollute the air along with pesticides and herbicides that are used in to maintain "perfect" lawns or to protect crops. Mix this in with the outdoors. org bigger problem of bacteria from animals feces (for those not familiar with that term - we're talkin' crap); a result of animals drinking, bathing, walking through a water source.
In North America, Giardia Lamblia and Cryptosporidium aren't bad guys from a science fiction movie...they're worse! If you meet up with them out on a hike you'll never actually see them...just don't drink the water and you'll be just fine. They're bacteria that now make a home in almost all water in the wilds of North American. If these get in your system, they can make you miserable for up to 10 days before leaving your system. They may not kill you, but they will make you feel as though you won't last another day. Intense cramps, diarrhea, cold sweats, and just a general miserable feeling will overcome you. This can all be avoided of course by simply bringing in your own bottled water or water from a reliable tap. However, you can use the waters that nature provide and create all the drinking water you'd like (oh yeah...make sure there's water where you're going or the these ideas are utterly useless!
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Boil it - This will take a lot of effort if you're not the type that can whip up a quick fire (in some places fires aren't allowed). But if you can boil the water, boil it for 3 minutes (The Center for Disease Control's recommendation). 5 minutes is even better but you'll lose some of it to vapor and it may have a smoky taste to it if you're using wood fires. Throw in a slice of lemon or other herb that mixes well with water.
Iodine - Using iodine (tablets, liquid or crystal form) is an easy way to ensure most bacteria will be killed off. READ THE INSTRUCTIONS carefully if you've never used iodine to treat water. You just drop in your iodine to the water source based on what the instructions tell you to do...wait a bit...and you've got a fairly good assurance that the water is safe to drink. The downside to iodine is that IT DOES NOT KILL the Cryptosporidium bacteria, which could make you very sick if it's in the water. Iodine also tastes bitter so it's not pleasant to drink. But dropping a fresh lemon squeeze into the water helps to take away the bitter taste. And it is not a good idea to use iodine all the time (day after day) to treat the water. It's perfect for a day hike or as a backup if you're too tired, or not in the mood, to boil/filter the water.
Filtration - This is most appropriate for those going on extended hikes where getting a guaranteed clean water source is a must. The day hiker in these parts (southern New England) wouldn't need one but of course you could pack one in as a backup for your group or if you encounter a hiker in distress and in need of water beyond what you've packed in. If you can afford to buy one and enjoy hiking into back country (Appalachian Trail), get a filtration unit. They're hand pumped (some have battery operated pumps) that take water right out of a source, filter it, then dump it right into your water bottle (or cooking pot). It's great for drinking water as well as cleaning up (people or pots/pans). They're small, not hard to use, and will filter the nastiest water source. They're an amazing invention. Nothing is perfect, but this is pretty close. It's one of those things that started in the military and found it's way into civilian life. Visit gorp.com or llbean.com for information on one which are the best for you. You'll want a filter that has a micron of 1 or less if hiking in North America. Other countries may need more powerful filters. Read the instructions carefully when using filters. They can clog and get dirty which could make the very water you're filtering dirty. But a little elbow grease and common sense should keep everything in order.
Here's a list of some companies that provide of filtration systems (Berkshire Hiking doesn't get any money or ad revenue via these links).
Potable Aqua: www.wpcbrands.com
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