On a backpack camping trip it is our preference to find a site with natural water source nearby so that we don’t have to carry in our water. Water is heavy and doesn't pack down too well… We need lots of water too. We only drink water and we need about 150 ounces (combined) per day (maybe more if the temperature is up) and we cook with water (oatmeal, mac and cheese, etc.). We generally carry some water in with us but we seek out a supply almost immediately when we get to the site and begin collecting.
We of course prefer a moving water source like a creek or stream, because this water is continually flowing algae and bacteria have less opportunity to grow and we like to gather from a pool created within the moving water, if that makes sense. We want a moving water source but a still spot within the stream as many particles will settle and we can avoid them all together. Standing, still water sources are typically stagnant, unclean and laden with bacteria.
The majority of the places we have camped the water source has been identified on a map. In the event you are camping without a source identified or get lost here are a few tips to finding water:
- Quite simply stand still and listen for it. Stand still and be quiet and listen to your surroundings. Listen for sounds that could be water moving in a nearby stream.
- Look for animal tracks, animals know where the water is, if you see a collection of tracks (more than one set) follow them, you will likely find water.
- Look for swarming insects, insects also depend on water. If there are a large amount of insect’s water is also probably nearby.
- Walk down hill, streams and creeks naturally flow downward, as you move to lower elevations you may find a water source.
- As a final (survival) resort you can dig for a ground water supply. This should be your last result and only used if necessary for survival because the ground water will be very dirty.
Once you have found your water source and even if the source is moving you will still want to purify it prior to drinking unless of course you are in a survival situation. The three common options used for purifying water are:
- Boiling the water – Boiling won’t clean the water but it will kill the bacteria and viruses. This water won’t be pretty but it also won’t make you sick! The water is also going to take a while to cool down so that it's drinkable.
- Treatments – There are several water treatment options such as tablets that can be used to drop into the water. These claim to kill most protozoa, bacteria and viruses. They don’t leave the water tasting like the fresh spring water you just found but more like a Band-Aid (yuck). They do have neutralizers so if you go with this option you may want to pick a pack of neutralizing tablets to use after the treatment.
- Filtering the water – This is our preferred method and there are various options for filtering too! We use both the MSR MiniWorks EX Water Filter and a SteriPEN.
We locate the water source pretty quickly after we set up camp and we located the right spot where we plan to gather from. Look around and make sure previous campers haven't over used the area, we saw one spot recently where a camper had dumped a large amount of left over food in to the creek... Not very nice... They might have benefited from our post about what to pack to eat and leaving no trace...
James is the hunter gatherer and he works to get us the water we need. He finds the right spot and begins to collect into our bottles using the MSR MiniWorks EX Water Filter. This filter uses a Ceramic plus Carbon filter to remove protozoa, bacteria, particulates and chemicals and toxins from the water. The filter does not effectively remove viruses. Viruses are too small for these filters to catch. In most protected wilderness areas in North America viruses in creeks and streams are not as serious of a concern.
As an added precaution however, once he has gathered all of the water we need we head back to the camp site where he will use the SteriPEN which uses UV purification to remove bacteria, viruses and protozoa.
The water we then enjoy is the coolest, freshest most wonderful tasting water you will ever drink! We love drinking the water the earth provides. On our backpacking trips we not only breath in the fresh air but also drink up the fresh water!!!