I decided to write this article after receiving the same question a few times – can I use lake water in my hydration bladder? Or any water source outdoors for that matter.
The short answer is, yes. BUT, not without filtering or purifying the water to ensure it’s safe for you to drink before filling your bladder.
Here’s everything you need to know about filling your bladder with lake, river, or any water while you’re out camping and hiking:
Staying hydrated should be among your top priorities while hiking or camping. You can go without food for days, or even weeks if needed. But denying your body of water for just a couple of days will start to have some serious health implications.
Water is heavy to carry, so I always understand when people ask if they can just fill up their bladder with water they come across while hiking. I mean, that’s the best thing about a bladder, right? Filling it up on the go and sipping from it.
Unfortunately, you can’t just fill it from any old water source. Water that has been still and in contact with the earth is not safe to drink.
The good news is that you can easily purify water so it’s safe to put in your hydration bladder.
There are three main ways to do this:
If you don’t purify water before drinking it, you are setting yourself up for some nasty stomach bugs at the very least. No matter how thirsty you are, it’s just worth risking drinking water without first purifying it.
Don’t just take my word for it, you can find a list of some of the common bacteria found in lakes and stream here. Pretty nasty.
Let’s take a look at the three main methods of purifying water you find outdoors. You’ll see how easy it is, and how you can keep refilling your hydration bladder and stay hydrated and healthy while outdoors.
Boiling Water to Purify and Make It Safe to Drink
Boiling water is easy and doesn’t take long with a good flame. It’s also one of safest methods when it comes to purifying water to drink. Here are some easy steps to follow when boiling water to fill up your hydration bladder:
Step 1 – Find Some Suitable Water
Ideally, you will be able to find some flowing water. Stagnant water will have a lot more bacteria breeding in it. Don’t scoop up the water into your bladder as it will contaminate your bladder, use another bottle or the pot you will be boiling it in.
Step 2 – Bring the Water to Boil
Fill a pot that is suitable for boiling water with the water you’ve found in a lake or from another outdoors source. Boiling water kills the harmful bacteria that’s living in the water. You can’t see all the harmful bacteria, but don’t ever doubt it’s there.
It’s not 100% safe after boiling, but you have to be pretty unlucky to still get ill from drinking water that’s been boiled. Once the water has started boiling, give it at least 5 minutes, the longer the better really so I’d boil for 10 minutes at least.
Step 3 – Let the Water Settle
After you have boiled the water for more than 5 minutes remove from the flame and let the water settle. While boiling water kills the vast majority of bacterias and other nasties, it doesn’t destroy any solid matter that’s in the water.
If you have good visibility in your pot you will see any debris sinking to the bottom. Use water from the top of the pot to fill your bladder, this is the purest and will taste the best.
There are various types of filters you can carry in your backpack for the purpose of filtering water to purify it for drinking. These filters typically work by pushing water through a filter to strain out the bacteria and other potentially harmful substances.
The downside is that most of these filters will take up a fair amount of space in your backpack, and they can be a little fiddly to operate. In poor weather conditions it can be frustrating, but check out all the available options as there are some pretty decent small filters.
The upside is that you can filter a lot of water. Some filters are good for around 1,500 liters of water. They are a better option for a large group of people as you can keep the water flowing.
Check out my review of the Lifestraw Water Filter here.
Using Chemical Tablets
Water purification tablets are handy little tablets and they take up hardly any room in your backpack, you just need to mix them with the water you’ve found to start the process. There are a lot of different types on the market but in essence they all work very similar.
Typically you will add a tablet to a bottle of water. You will need to let the table sit in the water and dissolve for around 30 minutes. A lot of these tablets will give the water a chemical-like taste, it’s not harmful in any way and is just the by-product of the convenience really.
Water purification tablets are probably the easiest and quickest way to purify water. It’s not uncommon to have some as part of an emergency outdoors survival kit. They keep for months, or sometimes years, so I always recommend always having some in case of an emergency.
So Which Method of Purifying Water Is the Best?
This really comes down to personal preference and circumstance. The chemical tablets are probably the easiest and quickest, so if you just want fast results and don’t mind a little bad taste then this method is for you.
Boiling water is generally considered to be the safest method. So, if you are one of those people who are prone to feeling ill when food or water is slightly off I’d boil the water thoroughly.
It’s not easy to boil large amounts of water for a large group of people however. Which is where the filtering option comes in. There are some good filter kits that can be set up to filter huge amounts of water.
As you can see all three methods have different pros and cons, but they are all effective ways to purify water. The important takeaway here is that you are aware of the need to purify water you scoop out of lakes, rivers, or anywhere else you find it outdoors before putting it in your hydration bladder.