Campers should prioritize drinking water

water bottles

Drinking water is the top priority on any outdoor adventure, especially for hunters, fishers, and hikers heading into the backcountry. Or it should be. Fortunately, it’s not all that hard to come by these days for persons who plan well.

Iodine and flavoring

A good friend and I made our first Alaska hunting trip some 30 years ago. We were flown by floatplane to a remote lake on the south-western peninsula with a windproof tent and enough grub for a week.

From our campsite, we looked out across a picturesque lake and on to a vista of rolling, barren hills. Our plan for drinking and cooking water included little more than a bottle of iodine tablets and some powdered flavoring.

We knew from reading and conversations with experienced wilderness hunters simply dissolving iodine in stream or lake water would indeed make it safe, but without flavoring it would test our taste buds and tolerance one canteen at a time. We survived and, in fact, felt no after-effects.

A dry year

A couple years later we returned to the area, but this time our flying service packed a five-gallon, plastic container of safe water for us, explaining the tundra was especially dry that summer and water would be hard to come by.

That proved to be an understatement when we found the container had a leak and we had no water. We had done our homework and did not want to do the iodine thing unless we were really stuck.

We had packed a new pump-style water filter, a just-in-case piece of gear. And yes, we did, in fact, find a small water hole, which we shared with a grizzly sow and her cubs. Perhaps that should be the bear reluctantly shared with us.

Recent trips

On more recent horseback trips into the backcountry of the Colorado Rockies, we’ve equipped ourselves with more up-to-date filtration systems we use to refill water bottles and the coffee pot from running creeks.

One lesson learned by experience is to take advantage of every available space in gear hauled on the pack mules by using water bottles to fill them and to balance the load. During our days in camp we refill the bottles with filtered water for day-long hunts.

The types of filter and purifying systems today range from personal straws to larger pumps and gravity feed bags that can purify and/or filter water in larger quantities for cooking, washing cookware, etc.

Avoiding illness

And yes, there is a difference between filtering water and purifying it. Technology is welcomed in this case because on the trail and in camp, gastric illness is a real bummer.

Giardia is the most common backcountry illness. It falls in the Cryptosporidium category, which includes other unpleasant maladies. Let it suffice to say there are a list of water-born viral and bacterial bugs in the wilds. In fact, one should not consider any found surface water source as safe to drink.

Heading for the backcountry this fall? Do your homework and visit knowledgeable vendors who can help explain the differences in systems as well as the importance of staying hydrated while afield.


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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.



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