Can You Drink Tannic Water?

Can You Drink Tannic Water?

If you hike or backpack in areas that have large amounts of decaying vegetation, like the forests of North America, you’re going to come across natural water sources that have a sickly red, orange, or yellow color. The tea-like coloring is caused by tannins that have leached out of the trees, grasses, and leafy plants, and into the local water supply. This coloring is harmless and the water can be filtered or purified by regular means for human consumption. While it’s aesthetically displeasing and may impart a slight bitterness to the water, tannins do not pose a health or medical issue.

Some water filters can partially remove tannins from the water, particularly those with an activated carbon component like the Katadyn Hiker Pro, which can make the water more palatable. The MSR MiniWorks Ceramic Filter can also remove tannins, but must be brushed (cleaned) occasionally to restore its normal flow rate. However, tannins will reduce the lifetime of most hollow fiber filters such as the Sawyer Squeeze, the HydroBlu VersaFlow, and the Katadyn BeFree unless they are backflushed more frequently.

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About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its detailed gear reviews and educational content. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the 36th person to hike all 650 of the hiking trails in the White Mountain Guide. He is also the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. In addition, Philip volunteers as a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont's Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He lives in New Hampshire.
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8 comments

  1. I’ve been wondering about this for years. Thanks for the answer. It seemed to be more common in New York and New Jersey on the AT, but I’ve occasionally run into it in New England. Adding an electrolyte mix would help mask the flavor.

  2. I was hiking the SHT in Minnesota a couple years ago. After a heavy rain all of the rivers looked like flowing root beer. The water looked funny, but was completely fine to drink. Good article to provide some clarity on this topic.

  3. I just think if it as “free wilderness red wine” :)

    One issue with treating tannic water might be with chlorine disinfectants (apparently less so with ClO2 based ones). As the water is quite full of dissolved organics (hence the colour) and chlorine reacts with these organics to form trihalomethanes and many other long-term harmful disinfection by-products, I’d not do that regularly – the water might come out clearer, but it would be full of DBPs, which are a long-term risk.

  4. Great article, thank you!

  5. Make sure you know the coloration is from tannins. In most of In any region that is heavily mined, you will run into water affected by acid mine drainage.

  6. Thank you for this Philip ! We have a lot of this in the water in PA.

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