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How to make water safe from germs you can't see

By Gita M. Smith

Photo Courtesy USFWS
Photo Courtesy USFWS

If you are hiking or camping, you know you should avoid drinking muddy water. Yuck!

But what about that nice, cold stream that looks good to drink? Don't take chances. Even clear running water can have dangerous germs in it.

One of the most common biologic contaminants is the Giardia (gee-ar-dee-a) cyst, a one-celled animal that can give you trouble long after the camping trip is over. Smart campers learn ways to make the water pure and safe.

If you have a campfire or stove, the best way to purify water is to boil it for 10 minutes. Bring the water to a boil with rolling bubbles and steam coming off the surface. After 10 minutes let the water cool. It might mean that you'll stay thirsty while you wait, but it's worth it to have water that won't make you sick.

But what if you don't have a campfire? You need to add iodine tablets to the water and wait at least one hour before you drink. You can buy the iodine tabs at most camping stores. Read the directions so you know how many to add to the amount of water you have.

Back ToYBO Home PageYou can also buy filter pumps at camping stores. You draw water up into the filter from the stream or lake, and let it flow through the filter. Make sure the cup or bottle you are using to drink is clean, too. You may want to talk to people who have been camping in the area where you plan to go to see which filters they prefer and why because there are many, many available.

You can also find more information about purifying water outdoors at

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