Did you know that you can drink water from a stream or river and not get sick? It's true. You can also fall 20,000 ft from an airplane, without a parachute, and live. Alan Magee did just that when he was blown out of his B-17 on a mission over France in 1943. What are the odds? They are way too high for me to roll the dice and take a chance. And I certainly would not tell anyone I care for to go ahead and drink that water from the stream or river without using some type of camping water filter any more than I would tell them to jump out of a plane at 20,000 feet without a parachute . According to the WHO (World Health Organization) contaminated drinking water is responsible for 80% of the diseases that travelers get.
Water contains 3 groups of bad things.
1. Bacteria: like Salmonella, Cholera, and Ecoli.
2. Viruses: like Hepatitis, Norwalk, Rotovirus and Poliovirus.
3. Protozoans: like Giardia and Cryptosporidium.
You've probably heard of Salmonella, and Ecoli. The Norwalk virus is what many people call the stomach flu. Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Giardiasis is an infection of the small intestine caused by this little microsopic protozoan Giardia lamblia.Cryptosporidiosis, we just call it crypto, is a disease caused by Cryptosporidium, another protozoan that you get by drinking contaminated water, among other sources. You acquire these by drinking water from lakes or streams where animals like beavers or muscrats or any other animals happen to spend time in the water and contaminate it. Even agricultural products such as DDT have been found in mountain lakes.
Any water can be transformed into safe drinking water. And it also depends on if the water is clear of if it is cloudy, muddy, dirty etc. There are 3 ways to reduce the risk of drinking contaminated water. The best way is to boil your water. It will kill everything. The down side is that it takes some time to boil, it takes fuel, it takes a pot or container to boil the water in, and then it takes time again for the water to cool. And the higher the elevation the longer you have to boil it. The other ways are to use a camping water filter or a water purifier.
Purifiers use chemicals to treat the water and kill the bacteria and viruses. Those could be chlorine, chlorine dioxide, iodine, silver or UV treatment. These should be used in clear water. Chlorine is the most widely used. Iodine is similar to chlorine but it tastes terrible and if you only use that while camping or hiking for an extended time it can build up in your system and cause hyperthyroidism. You can use a filter of activated charcoal to get rid of the iodine after it's done it's job. Silver works slowly but is great for storing water as it advances germ growth.
Filters will remove bacteria and protozoans. Protozoans are big, 1-15 microns but bacteria can be much smaller. To be safe I would use a filter with a pore size of 2. microns. You could get by with a pore size of 3. or 4. …. but why take the chance. With filters you will have to clean them out and replace the cartridges.
Whether you are going on a vacation, especially out of the country, camping or a short hike, it only makes sense to make sure you are drinking safe water. The fact is that drinking contaminated water can make you sick. Paradise can turn into a nightmare.