When you’re out on a long day hike or a backpacking trip, you will eventually run out of water and need to resupply. When that happens, it helps to understand what’s a good water source and what’s an iffy one.
Water Sources to Avoid
Here are some general rules of thumb that I use across the board, regardless of the water filter or purification system I’m using.
- Don’t drink from puddles or other standing sources where there is no inflow and outflow.
- Avoid taking water from beaver ponds. Beavers are associated with the spread of giardia.
- Don’t refill your water reservoir under a water fall or cascade because it will have more suspended solids in it that can interfere with water purification.
- Avoid taking water from a large river that is downstream from a town, industrial or mining activity.
- Avoid taking water that’s running down a treadway or water bar because it is also likely to have a lot of sediment in it.
- Avoid standing water sources, particularly cattle or horse troughs, that animals drink from.
- Avoid drinking a lot of orange or red colored water that has dissolved tannins in it. You’re likely to encounter this in heavily forested areas, in late autumn.
- Avoid drinking water from a stream that runs though cultivated fields or animal pastures.
That said, I’ve taken water from each one of these backcountry sources and lived to tell the tale. Still, I try to avoid them.
Good Water Sources
While you can’t see what the quality of a water source is, you can hear it, and the sound of trickling water is what I look for when I refill my water reservoir. It doesn’t matter if it’s a larger stream like the one above, or a very small one, trickling it’s way down a slope through a maze of roots and rocks. As long as there’s an steady stream, and none of the other red flags listed above are present, I’m likely to trust it. After that, I’ll purify it before consumption.