While camping, there’s rarely a freshwater source available, causing many campers to bring their own bottled water. If it happens that the trip is extended, and the freshwater source is depleted, do not resort to drinking creek or river water, even if it appears perfectly clear.
Water from creeks, rivers, puddles, or standing pools contains bacteria, e-coli, and possibly lead aluminum, or zinc. Bacteria-infected water can cause horrible diseases such as typhoid fever, dysentery, and cholera. Even if there’s no clean water, there are still ways to have clean, safe drinking water by treating it.
Coffee filters and other such filters are good for cleaning leaves, bugs and bark from water, but they are ineffective in killing bacteria and removing metals. Specially designed filters can now be purchased for filtering drinking water while camping, but some of these filters only clean up the taste and smell of the water, so know what you’re getting before making a filtration system purchase.
Boiling water kills bacteria, and water that has been exposed to air for a length of time, usually contains bacteria. Simply heating the water then cooling it will not make it safe to drink. Water should be brought to a rapid boil for at least 10 minutes, then stirred while cooling, before drinking. Stirring puts some air back into the water to improve the taste somewhat.
If you planned ahead, you could have purchased water purifying drops. The drops contain chemicals which kill the bacteria in fresh water. Most outdoor stores carry the drops, which aren’t expensive and treat many gallons of water, and they are sometimes sold at large department stores. The best way to use the drops is to raise the water temperature above sixty degrees then add the chemical drops.
Make sure the contents are not expired, since the chemicals can become inactive if old. The problem with the drops is that some people are allergic to the chemicals, especially iodine. And, chemicals often leave the water with a bad taste. Add flavorings to the water, or add a pinch of charcoal, 50 mg vitamin C, or a pinch of salt for each half-gallon to improve the taste.
There are other chemicals that can be used to treat drinking water, such as chlorine. Check the label to make sure the chlorine bleach contains at least 5.25 % hypochlorite, or it will be ineffective towards killing bacteria.
Eight drops are the recommended amount of chlorine bleach to add to a gallon of water; sixteen if the water is particularly cloudy. If you don’t happen to have a dropper, dip a clean butter knife into the bleach, then let it drip into the water supply.
After treating water, and particularly for emergency purposes, it can be stored for up to a year, but never store water in a container that formerly held food or other items. Only beverage containers or containers designed strictly for the purpose of holding liquids should be used to hold drinking water.