We see the labels on bottled water with the words ‘fresh spring,’ ‘mountain spring,’ etc, and we drink it with complete abandon. We can almost taste the fresh air rippling over the crystal clear water, the birds singing, as the leaves rustle in the trees. Just sipping it transports you to the wilderness, as you quench your thirst in more ways than one.
But then, your mind begins to work again as the water hydrates your brain. Is this water really that safe, and is it safer than the water coming out of your faucet?
If Michael Landon and his family were living in their little house on the prairie in 2017, would the water from the nearby brook be fresh enough to sustain them, and not make them sick, or even worse, kill them? Today a camper, who uses the brook as a bathroom, could be filling your water jug with his excrement. We just really never know, and while, back in the day, a bear lying dead upstream could make you sick, there are far more chemicals and human interference that make the odds so much higher that the water you are getting in the fresh open wilderness could be tainted.
People hiking through the wilderness today carry water with them, and while it’s inconvenient and heavy, it is necessary to ensure that they are drinking clean water. It goes against everything you’ve expected from nature. Vast amounts of water being cleansed over rocks, where hikers in the past could stop to drink, are now contaminated from pollution, exposed mineral deposits due to erosion, and irresponsible hikers and campers.
The two main dangers in open water are natural chemicals and microscopic pathogens, like viruses, bacteria, and protozoa.
Pathogens pose the biggest threat to people and easily contaminate water when animals die in it or when humans urinate or defecate in it. Illness from these kinds of pathogens can be fatal. One of the first signs can be diarrhea, and then it becomes a vicious circle. You need to drink plenty of water to make sure you don’t dehydrate from diarrhea, but then you are consuming more deadly water. Any time you become ill when secluded in the wilderness, it is more cause for concern, and you have to get yourself better quickly as there are no hospitals out there. Drinking a pathogen can become critical within a 24 to 36 hour period.
That’s why today, many hikers and campers carry a Paratrooper’s Water Filter in their backpacks. It’s small and light weight, and removes the need to carry heavy bottles of water. It filters the mountain water for you to safely drink. This beats older forms of purifying water by heating it or using chemicals, which change the flavor of the water. In order to kill pathogens, water has to be heated to 158 degrees Fahrenheit. This is not hot enough to boil, which is 189.7 degrees Fahrenheit at 12,000 feet above sea level, and 212 degrees at sea level, which is usually how hot water gets at home when it’s boiling.
The method of heating water was discovered by Louis Pasteur, an infamous French chemist and microbiologist, and that’s where we get the name pasteurization. We are familiar with that term when it comes to milk, but it applies to any liquid that’s been heated enough to kill pathogens. In third world countries, they use a small device called the Water Pasteurization Indicator, better known as a WAPI. The inexpensive plastic capsule has a wax pellet inside, and when inserted into the hole at the bottom of a water container, the capsule floats as the water heats up. When the water reaches 158 degrees Fahrenheit, the wax pellet will melt, sinking to the bottom of the capsule, letting people know that their water is now drinkable. The WAPI can be reused once cooled off.
Another method of filtering water, that has become wildly popular, is the Life Straw, where you can actually insert the steel straw capsule into a stream or brook and drink, as the 2 stage filtration process works to remove pathogens, while reducing organic chemicals, as well as chlorine content.
No matter which method you choose … carrying your own bottled water, your own water filtration, or heating up your water, the most important thing is that you drink safe and clean water. It is essential that you are prepared and that you embrace a way to purify your water in the wilderness. Never drink directly from a stream or brook without having a way to filter out pathogens. You never know what is in that water, no matter how clear and clean it actually appears. Brooks and streams go on for miles and miles and miles, and you never know what is going on upstream from you. It could be just around the bend, or hundreds of miles upstream, but if it reaches the water you are drinking you may become ill, or even die.
So stay safe by drinking safe. Friends don’t let friends drink in the wilderness without a water filter.