Boiling water is the most effective way to purify water due to biological contaminants. Getting sick at home from contaminated water, near medical help, may just be a nuisance. Out in the wild is another consideration. Dehydration is a huge concern when a clean water source may not be available. Lack of a clean water source may even be the cause of the situation. Guardia and cryptosporidium are the most notable. There are certainly others. Being in the wild, one could never tell with 100% certainty the real cause.
How serious can it be you ask? A guy I worked with ditched his bike in a ditch full of water. He doesn’t recall swallowing any water, and had a full face helmet. Shortly after ditching his bike he got REALLY sick. Lost about 30 pounds in the first week. 40 pounds in total. He was out of work for 4 months. The health department took great interest in where he wrecked. When they were done, nothing was left alive in that ditch. He was diagnosed with crypto- salmonosis. It is a water borne illness not native to north America but it was in that ditch.
Guardia and cryptosporidium are both protozoa’s. What does that mean for you and me? Water borne illnesses can be and posse a serious health risk.
Boil or filter your water!
Protozoa can be a bit resistant to chemical treatments. Boiling occurs at around 212 degrees. To give you some idea of the effectiveness of boiling. I’m not sure that anything survives with temperatures reaching 155 degrees. Raw milk is susceptible to both crypto and guardia. To pasteurize milk, they bring it up to 160-165 degrees for 15 seconds. Or bringing up to 145 for 30 minutes. This is a bit comforting considering the fact that in the wild conditions may not allow you to achieve a boil. With that said, recommendations are to ALWAYS boil drinking water for 2 to 3 minutes. This goes for water used to brush your teeth too if not sure of the water.
Another contamination source is your hands. Being in the wilds, it is inevitable that you will touch everything high and low. Your hands are the filthiest part of your body. Food and drink are obviously transported to your mouth by your hands. Also watch touching your eyes and nose. Always wash your hands when cooking and eating. At a minimum bring soap and hand sanitizer.
What are the odds of getting sick in the woods? That’s a hard question to answer. Good sanitation practices will play a big part. Having spent much time out there myself, I’ve never knowingly gotten sick from my ventures. There are stories of people hiking the length of the Appalachian trail without once treating their water and never getting sick. That’s a 4 month trek. It’s always best to be as safe as possible and make the trip memorable with GOOD memories.