Water You Doing?

In this day and age we tend to take water for granted, at least here in the United States. We turn on the faucet and out it flows. It is immediately safe to drink and we can get it as much and as often as we’d like. On the trail though, water becomes a commodity and can be a painus in the anus (latin for pain in the ass). Stopping and refilling your water bladder or bottle takes both time and effort. Even if you have the lightest and simplest water treatment setup on Earth you still must stop, fill up and treat the water only to end up with few measly liters.

Before thru-hiking the AT in 2015 I gave water a solid 0% of my attention. After having had the experience of walking .3 to .5 miles off trail on a regular basis to get water, only to haul it back up a mountain to spend 5-10 minutes filtering it before I could take a sip made a lasting impact on me, so much so that I now work for a nonprofit organization dedicated to maintaining clean waterways and educating the public on the importance of good ol’ H2O.


Watersheds and Why They Matter:

A watershed by most basic definition is an area of land that captures rain and funnels it to a waterway, wetland or lake. This means that every drop of water that falls makes its way over each rock, dead animal and pile of bear and/or hiker crap during its flow to whatever is the nearest waterway. This is fairly obvious. What is not so obvious is that every bit of pollution that you don’t know about such as, the cow farm 10 miles off trail, the factory upstream that has a permitted point source runoff directly into the river, and all of the storm drains from the town up the road all factor into the water you are drinking.


Waterways such as all of those picturesque crystal clear mountain streams collect and concentrate pollutants, bacteria, viruses, sediments and everything else that you can image as they flow beautifully along. Just because the area you’re crossing at any given moment isn’t littered with trash, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a dump half mile upstream. No matter where you are in the world this is now simply a fact of life. With that in mind, I have one simple suggestion, FILTER, FILTER, FILTER.

The Importance of Treating Your Water:

“The water from mountain springs has minerals with special healing properties, and if you filter the water, you will not be able to absorb them.” -Random Guy on the AT.

I have witnessed firsthand two cases in which friends of mine became lazy and decided to stop treating their water for a few days. Guess who ended up running off trail to “priv” every half hour for the next week? Knowing what I know now about water and how waterways work, I am glad I held to my decision to filter, filter and filter yet again for the entirety of my 2189 mile stroll. Treating water does take extra time and effort, there is no argument here. It’s honestly kind of a pain in the butt, but a $40 water filter is a lot less expensive than the $2186 on average ER visit.


All it takes in one bad decision to end your thru-hike and to send you home. Sure, you might get away with drinking untreated water once or twice, but somewhere along the line, when you least expect it your luck will run out. Remaining healthy is just as much a part of thru-hiking as is picking out the right gear and resupplying your food every few days. I would highly recommend learning how your particular choice of water treatment works and getting into the habit, from day one of consistently checking out your filtration system or making sure you are maintaining a proper amount of your chosen chemical treatment. I also recommend using them consistently, to the point where treating your water becomes second nature.  

If you are wondering what type of water treatment systems there are and which is best for you please read the article, Water Treatments for Backpacking and Hiking by Madison Dragna. If you’re looking for some hard science on water treatment check out the article, Should You Treat Water in the Backcountry? What Science Says by Buck “Colter” Nelson.

All photographs are royalty free from pixabay.com

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Comments 3

  • Jerry Bailey, "Viking" : Mar 31st

    Great article Bronco, couldn’t agree with you more on all points. As a retired Green Beret, I have had to deal with potable water issues worldwide, and have unfortunately also been admitted to several health care facilities for the “Ragings” over the years. Very worthy quest you are on, and I begin the AT at Springer in four days! Viking

    • Paul Bronco Fuzinski : Mar 31st

      Thanks Viking! Get out there and kick some mountain ass.

  • Backpacking Enthusiast : Jun 7th

    Very impressive and informative article. Water is an essential part of living. When you are out there – wherever out there is – filtering water is super essential. Going through the process makes you realize the importance of that sip of good clean water and when you slack off of that – as you said in your article, you will eventually pay the price. Talk about ruining a perfectly good hike! As in reading other articles you have posted, mental and physical preparedness is a big priority if you are going to enjoy your time outdoors. Backpack Enthusiast


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