Guide to Safe Outdoor Hydration & Water Purification


It’s not only times of overseas travel that we need to consider the safety of our drinking water. A family camping trip, day hike or extended trek can be spoilt by contaminated water.

This will leave you not only feeling unwell but in a potentially dangerous or life-threatening situation. For this reason, I’ve put together the top 10 facts that you need to know about safely purifying a water source so that you can hydrate safely off the beaten track.

So without further ado, here’s is the essential facts that every adventurer should know about safe hydration.

What you need to know about safe hydration

  1. All surface water, still and flowing, contains some form of viruses, bacteria or protozoa.
  2. Bacteria and protozoa can be removed by filtration.
  3. Viruses will pass through a filtration process, but are destroyed through sanitisation.
  4. Sanitisation means chemical or ultraviolet treatment i.e. Steripen, chlorine.
  5. Sanitisation effectively kills bacteria, protozoa and viruses in clear water.
  6. You cannot filter salt water to make it drinkable.
  7. Boiling water eliminates microorganisms, however, chemicals and particulate matter remain.
  8. Pollutants such as herbicides and pesticides can be removed with activated carbon (absorption).
  9. You should never assume flowing water is safe, you don’t know what is happening upstream.
  10. With the right treatment, any water can be turned into safe drinking water.

Filtering water from a waterhole

Knowledge of proper water purification is essential for a backcountry adventure. 

Which water treatment option is right for me?

All great points for consideration, but there is still a plethora of water treatment options out there, and they are not all cheap. Let’s look at three common activities and the type of water treatment you may need.

Family camping

Chances are, you are going to take water from home for these outings, but on longer trips, you will need to pick up water along the way. It is most likely that any water gathered will be from tanks or taps in caravan parks and campsites. This water is probably clear, and more than likely safe to drink straight from the source.

For peace of mind though, I would recommend a chemical treatment such as Katadyn Micropur Forte which comes in tablet and liquid form. This also contains silver ions, which eliminate the risk of re-contamination of water that is stored for long periods.

A Lifestraw is a compact choice for trekking and heading overseas. Image: Lifestraw

International Travel

The risk of viral, bacterial and protozoan infection is much higher in certain travel destinations. For travel to urban locations that present a risk, sealed bottled water is a safe way to go. However, most water from taps is clear and can be safely treated either chemically or with UV light such as Steripen.

The Steripen is useful in that you can treat a glass or bottle of water without chemical treatment. This will make it pleasant to drink. If the water sources available to you are turbid, you will need to filter the water first to make chemical and UV treatment effective.

There are now also portable and easy to use options such as the Grayl Ultralight Water Purifier and Filter Bottle. This bottle removes 99.9999% of viruses, disease-causing bacteria, and protozoan cysts as well as sediment, chemicals and heavy metals. This bottle will last you about 300 uses until you have to replace the purifier cartridge though, so keep that in mind.

A Grayl bottle is a great purification option for travel or day hikes. Image: Grayl

Extended Trekking

You may need to make the most of whatever water source you come across here, especially if you are heading off the beaten track. I would recommend a field-maintainable water filter such as the MSR TrailShot Pocket Sized Water Filter or MSR Miniworks EX filter. These devices allow you to clear filter elements that have become blocked and combined with a chemical treatment such as Micropur Forte, can make any water source safe to drink.

If you want more detail about just what is in the water you are drinking, check out Katadyn’s Safe Drinking Water Guide.

Brands like Camelbak, Lifestraw, Grayl and MSR,make a range of water filter and treatment options. All have pros and cons depending on what you need them for. There are now so many effective, compact and convenient choices for water purification.

So whether you’re a lightweight trekker, or just love getting away in your 4WD with the family – you’ll be able to find a great option for safe hydration wherever you are.


What water treatment system do you use to stay safe on your off-grid adventures? 

About the writer...

Ben Collaton

Trekker, surfer, climber, mountain biker, runner, camper. Participator in most things… master of none.

Joined back in March, 2013

Similar posts...