Welcome to Day #27 of 100 Days of Travel. Growing up in Vermont, I was taught that you boil or treat any water that you want to drink in the wilderness. But what about here in Europe where every village seems to have its own spring or fountains. Is it safe to drink?
The Short Answer: While most likely safe if high up in the mountains, you do run the risk of catching debilitating diarrhea. It’s up to you.
The Longer Answer: There’s nothing like the crisp and refreshing taste of mountain spring water as it pours forth from the Earth itself. But when it comes to backpacking safety, you should make a few considerations or you could be in for a very long (and potentially dangerous) night.
While untreated water from springs can be safe, the one thing you can’t count on is what’s happening upstream. There’s the potential that local wildlife has shit, bled, or outright died in the water so while you’re hydrating down the stream, you may also be ingesting bacteria from the local wildlife (or at least you would hope its from the local wildlife).
What Can You Catch? The most common of the water ailments is giardiasis, also called “beaver fever.” This is an intestinal bowel illness that feels about as pleasant as the phrase “intestinal bowel illness”. While typically not life-threatening, shitting your pants on a hike is not a fun experience, especially if you’re camping, staying in a hostel, or hiking with a potential romantic interest.
But I Read Online… Slate Magazine loudly announced in 2018 that “filtering stream water or fresh water is medically unnecessary“. It was immediately denounced by Outside Magazine and Discover Magazine. The CDC also recommends that you treat your water in the backcountry.
Best Ways to Treat Water: For camping, it’s simple enough to boil the water before use. For day-hiking, I like to bring along iodine/chlorine tablets and a water bottle with a water filter built into it.
Where Can I Buy These Items in Macedonia? That’s a great question and one I’ve been trying to solve for the last 25 days. If you find out, can you let me know because I’ve totally been drinking untreated water from the springs in villages. When else am I going to have a chance to drink out of the same springs as Greek Gods?
What If I Can’t Treat the Water? As you guessed from the previous paragraph, I’m having some issues in Macedonia tracking down water filtration. I tend to stock up quite a bit on my own water supplies before heading on a hike. If I do drink from a mountain spring, I try to hit it up as high up on the mountain as possible.