The complete guide to purifying water while camping

It’s easy to take for granted how much water you need when you’re used to turning on the tap for water, but now you may need to do some math. For backpacking and camping, a person can consume up to 1 gallon of water per day, depending on the temperature and environment. In a hot, dry climate, that number can easily double. However, for a truly comfortable car camping or glamping trip, we should also consider water for cooking, washing dishes, and the occasional refreshing shower. This brings our number up to at least 2 gallons per person per day, which means that four people should carry 24 gallons of water on a 3-day weekend trip, weighing 192 pounds – enough to crush the bumper!

Can I drink straight from the river?  It looks clear and clean

Can you drink a glass of rainwater? Can you drink directly from a stream in a secret camp that has been invisible to the human eye for more than a century?

The short answer is no. The long answer is a bit complicated, but let’s first focus on the difference between filtration and purification. Depending on your location in the country, scooping up a cup of creek water may produce anything from clear, clear water to water that will make your car dirtier if you use it to wash your car. A strainer ripped from your favorite tablecloth won’t necessarily make the water safe to drink, even if it removes most of the cloudiness. In fact, it’s not the turbidity of the water you need to worry about; It’s what lives in it, and it’s nothing to do with clouds. On the most primitive level, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), water boiled at “158°F (70°C)” will kill 99.999 percent of bacteria, protozoa, and viruses in less than 1 minute. It’s that simple. You can now pour hazel, faintly copper-flavored turbid water into your guests’ wine glasses and assure them that it is “safe” to drink.

How about that cloudy, coppery smell?

For most national forest camping trips, the basic hand-pumped filter used by backpackers will produce sparkling clear water that may not need to be boiled. That said, the tiny manual devices will wear everyone out at the camp, trying to produce 8-10 gallons a day. Companies that make hand-held devices for backpackers often make larger devices for groups, including both pump and gravity types. However, if you are in an urban area such as a state park, chemicals in local creeks may be a legitimate concern. It’s an often overlooked topic in the backpacker community. Purifying water on the backpack market rarely removes chemicals and heavy metals, which brings us to the final topic;

Does my purifying water filter work

More advanced portable purifying water filters, such as the detachable water filter, remove 99.99% of all bacteria, viruses, and protozoa (as well as turbidity) from water using filtration alone, which is very impressive. For those wondering about the other 1%, the short answer is yes. Relatively rare viruses such as rotavirus, Norwalk virus, and even hepatitis A virus are so tiny that they can sneak into these filters, leading at least 2 US states to ban the sale of any product under the term “water purifier”, as many of them are really just “filters”. How likely are you to encounter these viruses on a weekend camping trip? It’s incredibly small.

Well, your water is now clear and devoid of life. Those of us with paranoid tendencies know that we can boil after filtration and make it 99 to 99.999 percent safe, but what can we do to eliminate the smell of copper or sulfur? This is actually the trickiest part. Commonly referred to as “bad taste,” chemicals and heavy metals are difficult to remove from water. Keep in mind that substances like mercury, arsenic, cadmium, lithium, and lead actually occur naturally in water (at non-toxic levels), and those of us who want to make sure we’re not exposed to toxic levels need a special piece of kit that can’t fit in a backpack. Such purifiers typically use a gravity feed and have multiple stages of filtration, which may include activated carbon, reverse osmosis, ion exchange resin, or KDF (kinetic degradation flow).


Given that it is legal to sell purifying water filters as water purifiers in most places, we can only recommend that you do your due diligence when looking for the perfect filter or water purifier. Shocked? You should. At the beginning of this article, you might have thought that we could provide you with a simple answer to a simple question. It turns out that the toxic levels of heavy metals, chlorine, hormones, pesticides and other volatile organic compounds in water are a very serious problem for all of us, and there are no easy answers. However, for your perfect camping trip, the easiest and safest thing to do is to pack at least 2 gallons of water per person per day in sturdy travel containers and fill them with water from your home faucet.



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