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Water Purification 101: The Beginner’s Guide to Drinking Clean Water While Camping

When you’re at home, taking a cool sip of water from the tap is easy. You know your home’s drinking water will always be clean and cool: companies and cities work hard to make sure the water that comes through your tap is as clean as possible.

But what about when you’re away from home? When you’re trekking through the wilderness on a camping trip, clean water can be a little bit harder to come by.

Your camping vacation should be relaxing, fun, and full of adventure. However, worrying about access to clean water can produce a nxiety if you’re camping with your family and need to protect yourself and your children from dangerously dirty water.

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to purify camping water for safe consumption. Read on to learn more about keeping your family safe while quenching your nature-induced thirst!

What to Watch Out For: Common River and Lake Water Contaminants

First of all, it’s good to know what you’re up against when you’re about to wander into the woods with your family in tow. Getting t o know your enemy is a great first step to staging the perfect counterattack. Remember that even the cleanest-looking water can be tee ming with contaminants: most are much too small to see.


The two primary protozoa that can contaminate water in the wild are
Cryptosporidium and
Giardia. Thes e single-celled organisms enter and contaminate water through animal and human fecal waste. Symptoms of having ingested these para e single-celled organisms enter and contaminate water through animal and human fecal waste. Symptoms of having ingested these para sites include diarrhea, cramps, vomiting, and an upset stomach.


Lake and river water can be contaminated by
E. coli,
Campyloba cter, and more. Like protozoa, they enter water through animal and human fecal waste, and cause the same gastrointestinal distr ess when you drink them.


Viruses that contaminate water could include hepatitis A, norovirus, rotavirus, and enterovirus, among others. Most viruses in drinki ng water come from animal and human fecal waste. Depending on the virus, there can be multiple symptoms: consuming water contami nated by hepatitis A will result in hepatitis, for instance. Gastrointestinal distress is fairly common.

Drinking Without Fear: How to Beat Contaminated Water

Staying hydrated while camping is crucial-drinking clean water throughout the day is key to enjoying a fun camping trip. In spite of these contaminants, you don’t have to be afraid of drinking lake or river water while camping! You just need to take the proper steps to reduce risk and purify your water.


Boiling your water at a rolling boil for at least one minute should effectively kill all biotic contaminants in your water, from protozoa t o viruses. If you’re camping at a higher altitude, you should boil your water for longer than a minute-at over 6,562 feet, boil your water f or at least three full minutes.

Boiling’s main drawback is that it’s time-consuming: you need enough fuel to make sure you can bring your water to a rolling boil m ultiple times a day throughout your trip, and you need to wait for your water to cool in separate containers, which can take a while.

However, boiling is typically 100% effective in removing biotic contaminants from water. If you have the time, energy, and fuel, boili ng is a very safe route to ensuring clean water for your family.

Iodine Tablets

Iodine is a fairly common backcountry water-treatment chemical. Iodine is very effective in treating water for bacteria and viruses bu t not effective in treating water for protozoa.

Iodine can have negative effects on people with immunodeficiencies, thyroid disease, and iodine allergies. Pregnant women can typic al use iodine for under a week, but make sure to consult with your doctor before using.

Portable Water Filters

Filtration is a great method for removing protozoa and bacteria. Water filters work by removing microscopic contaminants. Different filters remove different contaminants, depending on the size of each filter’s pores (this is called pore-size efficiency). If your filter rates on e micron or smaller, it will remove protozoa and parasitic eggs. To remove bacteria, your filter will need a pore-size efficiency less than 0. 4 microns.

Filters are fairly easy to carry around-they typically weigh less than 20 ounces and are fairly simple to handle and use.

However, most water filters have no effect on viruses. Purchase a water filter that will remove protozoa and bacteria (some cheaper f ilters only remove protozoa).

Finally, be sure to thoroughly understand your filter’s care instructions before you leave on your trip, and always make sure your filt er stays clean and unclogged.


Purifiers are very similar to portable water filters but contain a chemical component (like iodine or chlorine) to filter out more contam inants, including viruses. Like boiling, purifiers can be very effective in treating all biotic water contaminants.

Purifiers come with the same risks as iodine tablets for the aforementioned risk groups. If people in your group suffer from any of th e above conditions, invest in a purifier that uses chlorine rather than iodine. Again, pregnant women should consult a doctor when decidi ng which purifier to invest in.

Worry-Free Camping

The next time you’re heading out for a fun-filled camping weekend with the family, go prepared with the right supplies to purify you r water. Drinking water while camping can be a fearless activity as long as you’re prepared. Find the right water filter that fits your family members’ unique circumstances and enjoy your carefree camping trip-you deserve it!

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