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Ask Outdoors: How Do I Filter Natural Water Sources Before Drinking?

One of the most important skills you need for a longer camping or backpacking trip is how to filter water from natural sources, whether it’s from a lake, a river, or something else. Making sure water is safe to drink can save your life, so if you’re wondering “how can I purify my water naturally?” or “is it safe to drink rainwater?”, you’re in the right place. These simple steps will keep you hydrated, keep your stomach happy, and keep you hiking for miles.

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Filtering Your Water

Even at high elevations and far from human-made toxins, rivers and lakes can carry diseases from animal feces, which can turn water toxic. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says parasites like giardia are prevalent in water and spread from animals. People who contract giardia are likely to have digestive issues and diarrhea—all things you’ll want to avoid.

The CDC says the most foolproof way to filter natural water sources is to boil it. Boiling should remove germs, viruses, and parasites like giardia. While this method works great at home or when you can access a fire, it’s not always easy outdoors, especially if you’re backpacking. Not to mention, boiling won’t remove sentiment or other objects floating in the water.

The best option may be a water filtration system. Popular brands like Sawyer and Katadyn offer multiple products that can remove toxins and sediment from your drinking supply. 

Finally, in an emergency, you should carry iodine tablets or drops. While this isn’t as guaranteed of a way to purify your water as other products, it’s far better than nothing when you’re out of options.

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The CDC’s water filter guide. (Source: Centers for Disease Control)

Can You Drink Rainwater?

While rainwater may seem like the safest option to get fluids in a pinch, it’s essential to consider what’s in the air. The CDC says dust, smoke, and particles can contaminate rainwater before it lands on the ground. Also, unless you’re directly catching the rainwater, water on the ground can become easily contaminated. 

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