Everything You Need to Know About Clean Drinking Water on the Trail

The Ozark Highlands Trail has given me a fast track education on managing water supplies and storage while hiking. A water bottle alone is not going to do it on a strenuous trail and even a purifier might not be enough on a trail like the OHT when the water sources are dried up.

The purpose of this post is to educate you to everything you need to know and own for having a good and safe water supply on the trail.

Boiling Water

This is the cheapest, and one of the more effect methods of keeping your water clean on the trail. It is pretty self explanatory. Put a pot of water on the fire and let it heat to boiling thereby eliminating any harmful bacteria. Pros, it’s easy and cheap. Cons, the water will still taste bad if there is a lot of debris in it and it’s not a good option if you are wanting to cook or drink it. Also, you have to wait for it to cool down before putting it into your Camelbak if you do decide to drink it.


This is another easy one and pretty popular too. Basically, just drop one of these tablets into your water bottle, let it hang out there for four hours and voila you have clean drinking water free of bacteria. You can scoop up water from just about any creek or water source on the trail. No matter which of these tools you use, always use running water and not still water and never use water that has a sticky film over it.

The downside of tablets are that they take four hours, they are not a filter so debris still remains in your water, albeit bacteria free debris. You can purchase iodine as well to eliminate viruses but it is not really necessary on most of the trails in the midsouth.

The four hour wait is a big deal to me. That’s basically three refills a day at best. It is easy to run short on drinking water that way. If you choose this route, camp by water and let your tablets do their work overnight so you can fill up your Camelbak.


Things get a bit more complicated here but if you are going to be doing any degree of serious hiking this is the route you will want to go to keep your water clean. There are a few options to choose from and I will cover all of them.

First there is the water purifier bottle. This is what I use currently but I have considered upgrading to a pump. The water purifier bottle is pretty simple. For about $20 you get a water bottle with a charcoal filter installed that kills 99% of all bacteria. This does not do anything with viruses. While I don’t think there is a lot of need for that on trails in the midsouth we will cover that in just a bit. Each filter gives you about 200 refills then you can replace the filter pretty cheaply. I keep my purifier bottle filled while on the trail and then also use it to fill up my camelbak whenever I find a good water source.

The pros are price and simplicity. This is the cheapest and easiest route to go. Cons, it is not the fastest drink of water. What I mean by that is, the filter cloggs up the flow of water pretty good so if you are looking for a gush of drinking water when you are dried out you need to fill up a cup or use a Camelbak. That seems like not a big deal but on a hot day you might be surprised how big a difference this makes.


The next option is a step up from this. It is basically the same thing in principle but the Katadyn purifier is a bit more thorough. It offers an ultraviolet element to eliminate viruses to go along with the filter. This is another cheap route for the cleanest form of drinking water on the trail.





Last up is the pump. You are looking at about $100 in cost on this and if you are hiking with a group it’s probably a good idea to go this route. It purifies the water but overcomes the weakness of the bottle because a hand pump pushes the water through the filter faster. If are needing to fill up more than one Camelbak’s worth supply of water a day then you will be glad you have the pump. It is also really light weight and easy to carry and the filter cheap to replace.




I did not get the value of these until I was without a good supply of water on the trail. They are more than just a good water supply storage device for your backpack though. They are made to carry the water inside your backpack without adding a lot of weight. The Camelbak evenly distributes the weight. There is a 70 oz and a 100 oz option. I really recommend getting the 100 oz option. It’s only $5 more. What I found really nice about the Camelbak was that not only does it store the water for you throughout the hike but it keeps it cool no matter how warm it is on the trail.

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