Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Hydration on the Trail

Spring Water Worth Bottling

Water is one of our most essential needs on the trail. We each require approximately 1 or more gallons of drinking water per day which is over 8 pounds and would certainly be a considerable load to carry. Since water is relatively plentiful on the A.T. we don't need to carry it all at once. Typically we only carry 1 quart (1 litre) or less and move between water sources where refill our bottles and "camel up" (drink as much as we can, usually a full bottle).

At the beginning of the trail, within the first mile after leaving the terminus at Springer Mountain, there is a shelter with a water source. At that spring, while filling our bottles a sign caught my attention...

Fear of Water...

The sign had the typical strong warning for hikers to treat or filter all water on the Appalachian Trail because the quality of the water can not be guaranteed. What surprised me as I looked closer was that the sign was dually endorsed by the U.S. Forest Service and by one of the largest manufacturers of water filters. Go figure.

As hikers, we have been drilled to believe that giardia is lurking at every turn, and that this life giving blessing is actually something to be fearful of.

The greatest downside for us in filtering or treating water is not the time, weight or effort required to obtain it. The greater liability is that it encourages us to drink significantly less than we normally would, which leads injuries related to dehydration.

Although we are clearly in the minority, Lauren and I choose to drink our water directly from the source - untreated and unfiltered. We are very selective about where we fill up, we hike from spring to spring and evaluate the surrounding area on our map - and if in doubt we choose to move on a few more miles. However, we do carry Aqua-Mira as a backup treatment and have used it on occasion. Namely, The Great Smoky Mountains, where horses and millions of people share the A.T., and the handful of streams where we had no alternative sources.

Obviously we are taking a risk, but it is one we are willing to take, especially since studies have pointed to poor hygiene as a greater culprit of giardia. For that we carry gel alcohol (like Purell) and use it after answering nature's call or signing the hiker register.

If planning for a hike of your own, please weigh the options for yourself and make your own decision. We just wanted to give an accurate picture of our experience on the Appalachian Trail so far.

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Thanks to The Crow for her correspondence several months ago on this topic.

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