Clean Water for a Camping: Contaminants in Remote Water Sources

Enjoy a good camping trip? Don’t let an upset stomach ruin it for you. Remote water sources can contain illness-causing contaminants – hence the need to bring clean water, or at least a means to filter water, when camping or hiking.

Here’s what you need to know about waterborne contaminants and how you can eliminate them from your drinking water.

What’s in your water? Common waterborne contaminants

Water-borne diseases are infections caused by drinking water that contains chemicals and pathogenic microorganisms. These contaminants fall into three main categories:

  • Chemicals
  • Algal blooms
  • Pathogens

Examples of pathogens include:

  • Bacteria
  • Protozoa
  • Viruses
  • Parasites

Suspicious odours or and tiny flecks in your drinking water could alert you to the possibility of contamination. However, harmful microorganisms are undetectable to the human eye, making them all the more dangerous.

So even if the water in a stream or river may seem clear and refreshing, it’s important to take the entire catchment into consideration – if the water flows downstream from a camping area or human settlements like towns and cities, it might be contaminated with sewage and street overflow.

Likewise, run-offs from farms and mining sites can enter the soil and make their way into distant bodies of water.

Certain farming and mining methods can introduce sediments, chemicals, and heavy metals to water sources.

The effects of drinking contaminated water

Drinking water tainted with trace amounts of chemicals won’t normally cause significant harm after a single exposure. It is long-term and repeated exposure to chemicals that truly make them dangerous.  

But water containing algae is another story – the blue-green algae normally found in stagnant, warm, and nutrient-rich water sources produce toxins that are poisonous and which pose serious health risks to anyone who ingests them.

Symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Rashes
  • Kidney damage
  • Respiratory paralysis
  • Liver swelling

A natural water source is more likely to contain viruses like hepatitis and enterovirus if there’s a septic tank upstream.

It’s also more likely to contain bacteria if faecal matter, either from humans or animals, contaminates the water supply. Bacteria from dead animals near a water source can also cause waterborne illness.

Drinking, cooking with, and swimming in water with bacteria in it can cause gastroenteritis. Common symptoms include:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Cramps
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Headache

Needless to say, you’re exposing yourself to a wide range of waterborne illnesses when drinking from a remote water source – so tread with caution.

How to purify water for camping

So how do you steer clear of contaminated water? Ideally, you should bring enough drinking water for your trip – one that’s been treated and filtered.

But that may not always be practical. Some hikers and campers like to pack light. And there’s always an element of unpredictability in the great outdoors – you could end up staying longer in camp than expected or you find that you consume more water than planned during unusually warm days.

So here are a few simple tips for collecting water from remote sources:

  • Invest in portable alkaline water filters like the Waters Co Waterman and Jugs
  • Take water only from natural sources that are clear, running, and free of debris.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. If there’s a potential source of runoffs, bacteria, or faecal matter near the water source, it’s best to err on the side of caution and find another body of water.
  • After it’s been filtered, drinking water needs to be boiled, treated with chlorine, or exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation to kill microorganisms. If you’re outdoors, boiling water might be the easiest option if you haven't got a water filter with you.
Clean Water for Camping

If you’re unable to bring excess amounts of potable water on your trip, the next best thing would be to pack tools that can help you filter and treat water from natural sources.

Waters Co offers a wide range of portable jugs and personal water bottles with built-in filters that eliminate 99% of fluoride, chlorine, chemicals, heavy metals, and bacteria – visit our shop today for portable water filters.