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Wilderness Realty, Inc.

Maine Land Sales Specialists

Camping Tip – Boiling Water for Safe Drinking

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Real Estate Blog, Recreation Land

boiling-water-on-campfire-300x243In the wilderness there are very few places to find water that is certainly safe to drink.  Water coming from the ground is usually your best shot, but there is no way of telling its actual source.  Does it come form a spring, or did it come from a run off stream that started from your local beaver bog?

In order to be certain water is safe to drink you will need to boil it.  You could use water filters or iodine tablets but if those options are unavailable you must boil any water you find.  Water in nature can and often does look crystal clear, sparkling and refreshing.  Never be fooled by the clarity of the water, it almost definitively has been contaminated with the feces of warm blooded animals, most commonly beaver.  This is where the term beaver fever comes from.  This contaminated water can cause giardia and typhoid fever.

Giardia is very common in survival situations, the feeling of thirst is over powering and often times people do not have a container to boil water in.  If you become contaminated with giardia your chance of survival plummets.  It is one of the fastest ways to dehydration. You will most likely be vomiting and have diarrhea together, which will cause you to lose body water rapidly.

Giardia.. Yuck!

Boiling water kills germs, bacteria and viruses, it does not however remove chemicals from water, it can actually concentrate them.  If you have a water source like a river flowing out of a major city or other source you believe could be contaminated with chemicals, that water should be chemical filtered, then boiled.

Many times people have containers like kayak helmets or other things that will hold water but are not able to be put over an open flame.  In this case you can use the rock boiling method.  Heat rocks over an open flame and then place them in the container until the water boils.

The question often arises as to how long you should boil water in order to make it safe.  Almost all sources on this subject have a different opinion leading to much confusion, even among experienced outdoorsman.  I follow the guidelines of science and the Wilderness Medical Society which states;

According to the Wilderness Medical Society, water temperatures above 160° F (70° C) kill all pathogens within 30 minutes and above 185° F (85° C) within a few minutes. So in the time it takes for the water to reach the boiling point (212° F or 100° C) from 160° F (70° C), all pathogens will be killed, even at high altitude.

What is not well known is that contaminated water can be pasteurized at temperatures well below boiling, just like milk, which is commonly pasteurized at  160°F (71°C).

So there you have it.  Water is fully pasteurized by the time it hits its boiling temperature.  Any further boiling and you are wasting time and resources like fuel for the fire and the water itself through evaporation.

It is always good to have proper equipment for collecting clean water, but in a survival situation you need to know how to collect clean water without your gear.