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Back­country Water
The ultimate guide to drinking surface water—on the trail, in the woods and in the wild!


Aurora Lake, Klapatche Park, Mount Rainier National Park
I drank this water from Aurora Lake in Klapatche Park while thru-hiking the Wonderland Trail—and I didn’t treat the water! started as an offshoot of The Soda Can Stove website. That website—as you could probably guess—was about making your own soda can stoves, but as someone who has backpacked well over 10,000 miles and thru-hiked trails around the world including the Appalachian Trail (twice!) and the Pacific Crest Trail, I have a lot of knowledge and hands-on experience about backpacking.

So over the years, I started adding other backpacking-related advice and thoughts to the soda can stove website, some of which had absolutely nothing to do with soda can stoves, but I’d put it there for lack of a better place to collect my backpacking thoughts.

One of the articles I created was about not treating backcountry surface water—at all. Yep, drinking water straight out of creeks and ponds. I do it a lot, and it always amazes people. Yeah, I know, everyone says you should always treat all backcountry water. No matter how clean or pure the water looks, it could make you sick without proper treatment. Everyone from rangers to guidebook authors agree: backcountry water is bad, and the only way to make it safe is to treat it.

But I disagree. I believe that risks of drinking untreated surface water are much smaller than most people believe—and the reliability of treatment options is often greatly exaggerated. I firmly believe that the best water treatment strategy is your brain and a little common sense.

But it’s hard to find information about how to select good water sources or managing the water you do pick up. And, it annoys the hell out of me that nobody seems willing to stand up and actually say—out loud—that sometimes, it’s okay to drink untreated water.

I don’t mean to suggest that nobody should treat backcountry water, but rather it is a viable option at times and that your brain should be your first line of defense against drinking bad water. Filters and purifiers are not 100% reliable and they can only turn bad water into something that’s less bad. If you start with backcountry water that is probably good, treating it becomes plan B—to protect yourself in case your assumptions about the water were incorrect.

And that’s what all of those water filters and purifiers should be used for: your second line of defense against bad water.

So I created a page on The Soda Can Stove website about selecting backcountry water sources with the ‘preposterous’ theory that you might not even need a plan B—but the page was largely overlooked since Google tended to send people to my website who were interested in soda can stoves rather than people interested in drinking from backcountry water sources.

So, I moved the page over to this new website. I liked the idea of creating a dedicated micro-website about drinking backcountry water. Not only can I post information about choosing which backcountry drinking sources to drink, I’d have plenty of room to expand the website with actual treatment options such as SteriPENs, Sawyer filters, chemical options, etc.—all of which I’ve used at some point over the years.

And thus, this website was born! Did I miss something you want to hear about? Do you have any suggestions or criticisms? I’d like to make this website as useful as possible for anyone who wants to drink backcountry water, so let me know your thoughts and what I can do using the Contact Us button at the bottom of every page.

(Green Tortuga)
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