GearCamping
Q:

Are water-borne nasties only a problem in other countries?

I've been backpacking several times borrowing other people's equipment, but now I'm getting ready for a trip in the Adirondacks and need to get some more gear of my own. Is it true that viruses are primarily a problem in the water in other countries? What viruses are potentially problematic in the U.S., and what illness do they cause? Adina Syracuse, New York

A: For years, the conventional wisdom in the United States was that while bacteria and organisms such as the giardiasis protozoa were a concern for backpackers, viruses such as the norovirus and hepatitis were not. Today, while viruses remain what is probably a low risk, it can't be said that there is no risk of contracting one from drinking backwoods water. And viruses can be nasty things. The norovirus—which has ruined many a cruise-ship vacation in recent years—causes severe diarrhea and vomiting that can last several days. Hepatitis is even worse; hepatitis B can kill you, although the more common hepatitis A usually corrects itself on its own after a few weeks.

SweetWater Purifier

@#95;gui_include name="ad_in_article"@#95;gui_include
So, what to do? Always filter water, of course. Beyond that, my policy is to consider its source. The closer I am to where the water got its start—a glacier, a snowfield, a spring—the less concerned I am about viruses. I don't think the Adirondacks area poses a particular risk, but its high usage by humans might warrant caution. If you are concerned, then it's prudent to treat the water with a virus-killing agent such as SweetWater Purifier ($9; www.msrcorp.com), a chlorine-based agent that kills just about anything that wiggles... in your water, that is.

Otherwise, you might want to consider one of Katadyn's filtration pumps, albeit a little more costly and bulky, but able to deliver quick, potable water on the go. The 11-ounce Katadyn Hiker ($60; www.katadyn.com) is a compact system that delivers about a liter a minute without too much effort—great if you're in a group or don't fancy the aftertaste of some of the chemical treatments.

Get more water-filtration advice in Outside's 2004 Buyer's Guide.

Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.
Contribute to Outside
Filed To: Filters and Purifiers
Lead Photo: courtesy, MSR
More Gear