Sustainable Tourism: Accessing drinking water in wilderness

In my previous post, I wrote about how important it is to plan for drinking water during your trips/ while travelling so that you can minimise purchase of bottled water. In this post, I will be talking about access to drinking water when you are camping in wilderness.

Image: A bubbling brook or a stream next to the campsite is the best thing you can have!

When you are camping in remote locations, there are some basic protocols to follow. If you are travelling with local guides, they will ofcourse give you tips about where to drink water from.

Here are some tips and thoughts:

A camping site is chosen based on how accessible the water source is from the site. Most often, many trekking routes already have designated camping sites. However, you must always check the situation of water availability once prior to your visit. Perhaps the rains were not good that year, or the cold has not passed so the lower altitude streams may not have emerged.

The drinking water supply from the natural sources is best when you drink it without any treatments! However, a word of caution. Do check with the local guides about potability of water. While they may drink from the stream directly, they sometimes suggest that outsiders (tourists) use chlorine tablets etc.

Image: Replenishing our water bottles from streams that meander through the meadows.


Do your research well about the region you plan to visit. In many famous routes which see numerous trekkers, it is advised that you should not drink water directly from the streams owing to developing some gastro-intestinal problems. This is at times attributed to poor pooping-practices in camping sites (will discuss about this another post).

***

A completely contrasting situation was experienced when we trekking in Iceland. Being habituated to unclean waters and paying close attention to the sources of my drinking water, I regretfully asked a campsite warden a very foolish question; pointing at the tap- Can I drink this water? To which, his reply was “Miss, In Iceland, you can drink water from anywhere!”

Image: It seemed but obvious that freshly melted glacier water has to be the most “pure” water ever!

I will never forget those words. Believe it or not, during the next 5 days of the hike, we just drank water from any stream that we passed by enroute. However, in Iceland one needs to pay attention to whether the water is heavily mineralised or silted.

Image: Remember the story of my jitters while stream crossing. Well, after one such scary stream crossing in Landmannalaugar trek, we settled on the banks of this stream to make some chai and maggi noodles!

***

Some ways may help to ensure that your drinking water is safe. We try to drink from running streams as much as possible (never stagnant pools, even if it looks sparkling clean). But if our guide cautions us, we then use our portable Aquaguards* (or an equivalent if there is). Always prefer drinking water from upstream rather than downstream.

Image: Sometimes, the water source will be just a trickle down the dry mountain patch, like this place.

For the most part, we drink water straight from the mountains. Here is one of my memorable experiences of drinking water from wild water sources!

Video: One of my most memorable experiences

According to our guide, this water source is a perennial one and it never lets them down. They say that they themselves do not know where the water exactly comes from, as there is no visible stream on the surface of that steep mountain face. And they say there is no water seen for a long way up the same slope… but this stream is forever their companion in this campsite. Drinking that chilled water after a long hike that day was the most refreshing feeling ever!

How do you plan for your drinking water while travelling?Please do leave your thoughts and ideas on this topic too!

*The portable Aquaguard’s filter can be used for filtering 1000 litres of water and can replaced independently. So you do not need to buy a new aquaguard bottle each time.

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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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