Leave No Trace Ethics

In the previous blog,  you heard me mention Leave No Trace quit a bit. Leave No Trace refers to a set of outdoor ethics promoting conservation in the outdoors. This description comes straight from www.lnt.org.

Leave No Trace is built on seven core principles that are used to communicate the best available minimum impact guidance for enjoying the outdoors responsibly. The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace were developed to help educate and guide recreationists in sustainable minimum impact practices that mitigate or avoid recreation-related impacts. These Principles are the most robust and widely utilized minimum impact outdoor practices. Although Leave No Trace has its roots in backcountry and wilderness, the practices have been adapted so that they can be applied anywhere – from the backcountry, to local parks, to your backyard – and for any recreational activity. Each Principle covers a specific topic and provides detailed information for minimizing impacts.

It is important for hikers to learn about these ethics before they set foot on the trail. While some of the principles are more obvious (don’t throw trash on the trail), other principles people might not realize they should be doing. Below we give details and examples of each of the principles.

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1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
This ethic is vital to being in the outdoors. Planning can deter you from dangerous encounters on the trail. Here are examples of planning ahead.

  • Plan out your route as well as alternate routes in case of emergencies. Also take the map with you to refer you if you need it.
  • Check the weather. This will help you decide what clothing and gear to bring. Even if there is a slight chance of rain, packing rain gear will be important. Also remember that for every 1000 ft elevation gain, you will lose between 3-5 degrees in temperature.
  • Look at the regulations for the area you are planning on hiking and camping.
  • Plan according to your group. If others aren’t in very good shape, consider an easier hike.
  • Bring appropriate gear and a first aid kit
  • Bring enough food and water, but don’t go overboard!
  • Lastly, check Leave No Trace ethics so you can be sure you are minimizing your impact in the outdoors.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Trails and campsites exist for a reason, to concentrate people in certain areas and to preserve most of the land and vegetation. Here are some examples of traveling and camping on durable surfaces.

  • Hike on the trail! The trail is built a certain way to make the hike easier for you and scenic! Switchbacks exist to prevent erosion, when you cut a switchback it causes rocks and soil to tumble down the hill, and it destroys vegetation. Be sure to follow blazes or cairns to make sure you are following the right trail
  • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
  • Camp in existing campsites. Planning ahead can help you figure out where you will want to camp. Check where established campsites are and camp on designated sites or tent pads. If the vegetation is cleared and the area is flattened, it can be safe to say that it is a campsite.
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • If the area you are camping allows you to camp wherever you want, it’s ok to camp off trail as long as you are at least 200 yds off the trail, and you scatter your your camping area when you are finished. When camping, disperse tents and cooking activities. Avoid places where impacts are just beginning to show.
  • Always choose the most durable surfaces available: rock, gravel, sand, compacted soil, dry grasses, or snow.

3. Dispose of waste properly
This is probably the most well known ethic because people usually hear “pack it in, pack it out” which refers to trash and other items you carry. There are other forms of waste this principle encompasses. Here are some examples.

  • Pack it in, pack it out! Do not leave your trash anywhere in the outdoors. Carry wrappers, unwanted food, wipes, and anything else you plan to throw in the trash with you till you get to civilization that has garbage cans. Check campsites and break areas for accidental garbage.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. The AT has privies along the trail that act as outhouses. only human waste and toilet paper should be in these privies. Read signage at privies to know if you should throw in a handful of mulch to help the decomposition process.
  • Pack out wipes and feminine hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater. Another great method to clean dishes is to pour clean water into the dish and wipe around with your finger. When finished, drink the leftover water. This prevents you from having to use soap and from packing out small food scraps.

4. Leave What You Find
We want to keep the outdoors in the state we experienced so others can enjoy it and it helps preserve it in its natural state.

  • Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
  • Don’t graffiti the shelters or any other rocks or trees.

5. Minimize Campfire Impact
Campfires cause a lasting impact in the backcountry. Wherever a fire is build, the vegetation will never be the same in that spot. Fires serve three purposes; heat, cooking food, and bringing people together. If you planned ahead and prepared, you should not get cold and you should be carrying a stove for cooking. The social aspects of a fire are the main reasons fires are built. Some people don’t want to go camping unless they can have a fire. Follow these tips for minimizing your campfire impact.

  • Only use existing fire rings. If there is no fire ring, do not build one but maybe find a site that has one nearby you can share with other campers.
  • Follow the four D’s – dead, dinky, down, and distant. You don’t want to gather all the wood right around your site but try to spread out. Make sure the wood is dead and down, don’t go picking stuff off the trees. It should also be small. I say if you can break it easily over your knee, then that is a good size.
  • The reason the wood should be small is you want to keep the fire small. There is no reason to have a roaring fire burning all night long.  Letting a fire burn up all the way to ash is the best. The fire should be cold to the touch before you go to sleep. If there are a lot of ashes in the ring, consider spreading those into the forest to keep from building up.
  • If you’ve gathered extra wood, scatter it in the woods before you leave to discourage others from building a fire.
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Small fire in designated fire ring

 

6. Respect Wildlife
Nature doesn’t exist just for humans. When we are in the backcountry,  we are entering other creatures homes. We need to respect the habitats of these animals  so we don’t alter their lives. Animals can get distressed from humans or  become dependent on them. We want to keep what’s wild, wild. Here are some tips for respecting wildlife.

  • Do not feed any animals! Don’t make the animals dependent on human food. Even one or two occasions can habituate animals. Some attention animals receive during the summer will dwindle in the winter and animals could die from starvation.
  • Use the rule of thumb. If you stick out your thumb straight in front of you, it should completely cover up the animal. If you can still see the animal, you are too close.
  • Be sure to hang your food on a tree limb at least 10 ft off the ground and 6 ft from the trunk. Storing your food in bear canisters is also convenient. The canister can be placed on the ground away from camp. Store all food, trash, and any other smelly items such as lotions or sprays.
  • Keep dogs on leashes. Even if the dog is well behaved, if they see an animal they could run off. Other hikers may also be afraid of dogs so it helps mitigate encounters.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

7. Be Considerate of Others
This encompasses everything on the trail. Treat others with respect and everyone can enjoy the trail! Use your best judgment. Here are some examples of treating others with respect.

  • Uphill has the right of way. If you’re coming downhill, step aside for those who have their momentum going uphill. If they say to come on by because they need a break then go for it, but give them the option to go first.
  • Try to keep your group size down. Larger groups can take over a camping area or be loud on the trail.
  • Use earbuds. If you want to listen to music, don’t play it on your speaker phone. Not everyone wants to listen to your music.
  • Keep your pets on leashes. This was addressed in respect wildlife but it is respecting other hikers as well.
  • Keep quiet hours from when the sun goes down till it comes up. Most hikers sleep during this time so if you like to stay up late with your friends, keep the noise level down.

If everyone is friendly and courteous of others, we can all have a great time on the trail! For more information, visit http://www.lnt.org. You can also come by the store this Saturday February 25th an hear a talk about Leave No Trace from one of our certified employees.

Ridge Runners and Trail Ambassadors

We are gearing up for thru hiker season, and so is everyone else! Georgia definitely sees some of the most impact on the Appalachian Trail. There are many who attempt a thru hike, but do not make it out of Georgia. There are also many section hikers who start here in Georgia in the Spring but they may not make it farther North in the coming years. All in all, it is the mission of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club to try to help improve the AT hiking experience and lessen the impact on the trail. On trail resources are the main method to help others on the trail. This is in the form of five full time Ridge Runners, and volunteer Trail Ambassadors to fill in for the Ridge Runners on their days off. Last year was the first year there were this many Ridge Runners and Trail Ambassadors and it definitely made a difference. This post will cover what the goals of these positions are as well as the importance of partnership between other organizations here in Georgia, including Mountain Crossings.

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Ridge Running has its perks

Ridge Runners
Ridge Runners are hired by the ATC and serve as an on trail resource for hikers. They aim to educate hikers on Leave No Trace ethics and help them in any way they can. They provide information about the A.T. and its intended primitive experience, its location, regulations, and traditions. They work to encourage the best behavior on the part of hikers, to facilitate a positive Trail experience (particularly for those who are poorly prepared). They discourage and mitigate misuse of the Appalachian Trail and its environment.

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Ridge Runner Bill talking with hikers

In Georgia, there are five Ridge Runners total. Four are stationed at particular sites but also hike during the day, and one changes locations every night. This proved to be a good method as the sites and shelters the Ridge Runners stayed at were the most heavily used. One Ridge Runner stayed at Amicalola Falls and would check in thru hikers and offer pack shakedowns for those with heavier packs. This helped lessen the amount of items left on the Approach Trail and other shelters.

I was a Ridge Runner last year and was stationed at Springer Mountain for the majority of my patrols. Slightly more people seemed to start solely at Springer Mountain rather than the Approach Trail. Although you take a Forest Service Road to get to Springer Mountain, many more people are becoming aware of it and skipping the Approach Trail.  One of my tasks was to count how many thru hikers, section hikers, and day hikers I came in contact with each day. This was beneficial to me because it forced me to have conversations with most people and it was beneficial for the ATC to learn the amount of people on the trail. There were some Saturdays where I saw between 200-300 people total! I was mostly interested in talking with the thru and section hikers because I wanted to make sure they were prepared and they also knew how to respect the trail. All in all, most hikers were fairly aware of Leave No Trace methods and I had faith they would carry them out throughout the trail. It was usually just a few people each day who had no idea what they were doing that would cause a mess.

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Trash found at a shelter

Each day I would hike between 4-8 miles depending on where I felt I should go. I would clean up Stover Creek and Black Gap Shelters regularly while also interacting with hikers along the way. Having a clean shelter to begin with helps discourage others to leave their gear and trash there. I would also bury any toilet paper I saw, dismantle extra fire rings, and just let people know who I was and why I was out there! It was fun getting to hike and meet interesting people every day. At night, I would make sure to meet and talk with all the campers at the shelter and I would hang out with them. Being a former thru hiker, I could help answer their questions, while also slipping in Leave No Trace facts. People respond better to someone who they see as their friend rather than authority. I didn’t lecture people, I just had conversations with them. There were many other things I did whether I was working with GATC volunteers, the Forest Service, or local EMT. It was truly a great experience being able to help others and the trail.

I attended the Workshop for AT Partners where I was able to meet all the new Georgia Ridge Runners. They are a great group of people and I have no doubt they are going to be awesome!

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Hanging out hikers at Springer Mountain shelter

Trail Ambassadors
Trail Ambassadors serve as volunteers for Ridge Runners on their days off. Their responsibilities are the same. The difference is, they are volunteers and are not getting paid! Trail volunteers are what make the Appalachian Trail possible. The GATC in my opinion has some of the best volunteers on the Appalachian Trail. They do so much work on the trail to help improve the trail for others and lessen the impact. While I was stationed at Springer last year, the trail maintainer for the Springer Mountain Shelter came out every single week. He was always in great spirits, even if he had to clean out the privies! I saw numerous other maintainers throughout Georgia and they were always happy to help the trail. Trail Ambassadors volunteer two or three of their days a week to be out on the trail and they receive the same training as Ridge Runners.

Partnership
While the Ridge Runners and Trail Ambassadors stay on the trail, there are other organizations and people who help in many ways. The Forest Service has a Wilderness Technician who keeps track of the Ridge Runners and helps enforce some of the regulations in place on the trail, such as the bear canister requirement from Jarrard Gap to Neels Gap. Law enforcement is also very aware of the trail and available to help with any legal matters on the trail.

Local businesses such as hostels, outfitters, and shuttle drivers are also apart of this coalition. We want to help improve the trail and help hikers have a great experience. All the business that came to the Workshop this past week are willing to help the Ridge Runners and Trail Ambassadors and also help the ATC by also educating hikers on the trail and Leave No Trace Ethics. I know here at Mountain Crossings we try to inform hikers of the regulations on Blood Mountain (no fires and bear canister requirement from March – June) and we also slip in Leave No Trace ethics while giving pack shakedowns.

If you plan to go for a hike this Spring, keep an eye out for these Ridge Runners and Trail Ambassadors and be sure to say hey! Check the blog next week to learn about these Leave No Trace ethics I talked so much about!

Stoves!

Sometimes there is nothing better than getting to camp and eating a hot meal. While some people prefer to go stoveless and eat cold meals, the majority will carry some type of stove to make hot food and drinks. There are several kinds of stoves out there so which one should you get? This post is all about stoves so hopefully you can get some idea of what sounds good for you to use.

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Hot meal after a long day!

What kind of stove do you want?
Here are some questions you should ask yourself when looking for a stove.
-How easy do you want your stove to be?
-How many people do you plan to cook for?
-Do you want something that boils quickly or one that can simmer?
-How lightweight do you want it to be?
These are just a few but you should also consider what environments you will be using your stove and how easily you can get fuel.

The four main types of stoves to look for are; canister, denatured alcohol, liquid fuel, and alternative stoves. The canister method is the most popular. The canisters screw onto the stove and it is really easy to light. Denatured alcohol is designed so you can light the alcohol and place your pot on the top. Liquid fuel stoves connect to refillable fuel bottles. While most liquid-fuel stoves run on white gas, you do have other options available, which can be a particular benefit if you’re traveling internationally. The alternative stoves can be used solely as wood burning stoves or fuel pellets.

Canister stoves
Stoves designed for canisters are the most popular on the trail. They are the easiest to use and are still lightweight. The canister screws onto the stove, you turn on the gas and then light it with either you own lighter or some come with a lighting mechanism. They are designed to boil water quickly but can be harder to simmer. Most will also require a windscreen to protect the flame from going out when the weather is rough. The problem with canister stoves is the fuel will wind up costing more than regular white gas or denatured alcohol, and it is wasteful to throw away the canisters after use. It can also be difficult to determine how much fuel you have left and most people will end up carrying an extra canister just in case. But, for new backpackers, canister stoves will definitely be the easiest to use. Here are a few types of the canister stoves and our recommendations.

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Various canister stoves

JetBoil Flash Cooking Systems – This is an integrated stove system that is easy to use and has a built in windscreen. It is designed to fit the stove and canister inside the pot. This stove boils water super fast and is great if you just need to add boiling water to a dehydrated meal. You can cook in them as well but it is difficult to turn down the flame to simmer. The JetBoil pots have an insulated sleeve with a fabric handle so they are easy to hold and eat out of. Without the canister, the stove and pot system weighs 14 oz for a 1 liter pot. Boil time for 16 oz of water is 2 minutes, 30 seconds. This stove is pricey, but I used mine for my entire thru hike and my time as a Ridge Runner and I still use it today.

MSR PocketRocket 2 – This is a newer version of the original PocketRocket. It is ultralight weighing only 2.6 oz, can boil water in 3 minutes, 30 seconds, can fold up into whatever cup or mug you carry, and has a wind protection and focused burner which pushes a persistent, solid flame. This does not come with a pot so you will need to find that separately and you may also look into a small windscreen. This stove is definitely one of the more popular stoves because it is versatile and can boil water fast, but also simmer. We just got a bunch here in the store so come by for a stove demo!

Denatured alcohol stoves
This type of stove appeals the most to ultralight backpackers. It usually weighs just one or two ounces and you can carry the appropriate amount of alcohol for your trip. You carry the alcohol in your own container and have it refilled along the way. The stoves can be tricky because you need to figure out how much fuel you will need to use and pour it in the stove each time you cook. It can also spill so it’s best to do it away from others. Once you pour the correct amount of fuel into the stove, you simply use a lighter to light the fuel and either let it burn out, or cover it to put out the flame when you are done.

Toaks Alcohol Stove – This titanium alcohol stove made by Toaks weighs in at only .7oz, can hold up to 2.7oz of fuel. One ounce of fuel boils two cups of water in about five and half minutes. This stove comes with a wire pot stand.

Etowah Alcohol Stove – The Etowah Stove is the first stove to use dual burner technology. By designing a stove with a burner inside a larger burner we created the ability to achieve the maximum boil time with extended burn time using the least amount of fuel possible. It doesn’t just boil water, you can actually cookup to 35 minutes using two ounces of denatured alcohol.

Liquid fuels stoves
All liquid-fuel stoves run on white gas, which is highly refined to have few or no impurities. It burns hot and clean, performs well in below-freezing temperatures and, compared to the per-ounce cost of canister fuel, is much less expensive. These stoves are becoming less popular because they are bulkier and heavier. They are better for larger groups of 4 or more people because the fuel can last longer and boil larger amounts of water in bigger pots. The problem with liquid fuel stoves is they require priming, which involves igniting a few drips of fuel in a cup below the burner, creating a small flame that preheats the fuel line. You will need to pump your fuel bottle, too, to increase pressure.They also require periodic maintenance, such as cleaning the fuel hose or replacing O-rings (in the stove and on fuel bottles). There may be many little parts and pieces to keep track of.

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MSR Whisperlite stove

Alternative stoves
There are a few other types of stoves you can use. Wood burning stoves are for those who like doing their cooking in an old fashioned way. It’s like making a small fire in a smaller container. You just need to gather enough small sticks and make sure The fire keeps going. A popular one now is the BioLite CampStove. This wood burning stove also charges your electronics when it gets to a certain temperature. The stove is fairly heavy and you need to keep feeding the fire in order for it to charge your devices. It can be fun to use for shorter trips but is not practical for a thru hike.

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BioLite CampStove

Fuel pellets are another alternative stove method.  All you do is light the pellet, then have a stand you either make yourself, or buy to set your pot over the pellet. The pellet will take longer for water to boil, but they are lightweight and cheaper because you can make the stand yourself.

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Esbit fuel tabs

Tips and tricks for stove cooking
The easiest cooking method is to boil water, and add it to a dehydrated meal such as a Mountain House, or even a homemade meal. That way, you don’t need to worry about cleanup and you can eat straight out of the bag. These meals can be expensive and I know you can get sick of them and want something different. Cooking in your pot is a good option too. Ramen or Knorr Sides are very popular and cook fairly quickly. I made my food in my pot and when I was done scraping the sides, I would add some clean water to the pot, clean around it with my finger, and then drink the leftover water. It didn’t always taste great, but I didn’t waste the water, and I was practicing the best Leave No Trace method for food cleanup.

Bring a small spice kit! Even just a little bit of salt or black pepper can make a difference for a bland meal. Garlic powder, onion powder, and curry powder are other spices I enjoyed on the trail. I even carried a small bottle of hot sauce at some times! Anything to make the food taste a little better is definitely worth the extra weight.

Do not cook in or near your sleeping area. Even if you are careful and don’t spill, food smells can linger and attract animals. If you have leftover food, pack it out. Burying it does not practice Leave No Trace and will attract animals.

In the winter, denatured alcohol will hold up the best but if you use a canister stove, be sure to throw the canister in your sleeping bag to keep it warm. This way, it will not take as long for the water to boil.

Hope this post helped answer any stove questions you had! Give us a call or stop by the store if you have any other questions!

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Hikers enjoying dinner at the Springer Mountain shelter

Water Treatment Options

One of the biggest necessities on the trail is water. Along the Appalachian Trail, water is fairly plentiful so you usually do not need to worry about carrying vast amounts on your back. Be sure to carry a guidebook or map that shows water sources so you can plan accordingly. I personally never carried more than two liters while on the trail and most people won’t carry much more or less. Another great resource for water sources is the AT Guthook App. This app shows the reliability of water sources and comments people have made about the source.

To filter water or not to filter water?
Honestly, this should not even be a debate. Filtering water is a must! There are many mountain springs where the water could be clean coming straight from the ground, but humans and animals over time have made these unclean. Animal and human waste could be nearby, and humans also stomp, bathe, and dump dirty things into water sources. It is important to read about the Leave No Trace practices to know how far you should be from water sources and how to dispose of waste properly. Sicknesses, such as Ghiarrdea, have occurred from drinking unfiltered water and the sickness can ruin a trip and have lasting effects on the body.

So which purification method are you going to use? There are really two types to choose from, water filters and water purifiers.The difference between a water filter and a water purifier is the size of the microorganism each combats. Water filters work by physically straining out protozoan cysts and bacteria. These biological pathogens are the main water concerns if you’re traveling in the U.S. and Canada. Water purifiers work by using chemicals to kill the viruses that may be too small for filters to extract. If traveling abroad, you may need to look into water concerns for that particular country, but in the US, you would be fine with either type of method. Below are some different types of filters a purifiers and what we recommend.

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Water source on the Appalachian Trail

Pump filters
These filters are going out of style. They filter out larger particles and can really help if you are in a dire situation and need to draw water from a puddle, but they are large and bulky and can take forever to filter! If you’re looking for a good arm workout, this filter can be perfect for you but the lighter weight filters and purifiers will definitely work on the Appalachian Trail.

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Using a pump filter at a lake

Gravity filters
These do the work for you. All you do is fill up the reservoir, and the water falls through the filter and through the hose to your own water bottle or bladder. You just need to find a tree to hang it on and then you can walk away. If a water source is shallow, you can always use your pot to gather the water and fill up the reservoir. This can be time consuming but once it is in the reservoir, you don’t need to do anymore!

Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter – 2 Liter kit – This filter is lightweight and filters two liters of water at a time. Perfect for when you are setting up camp.

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Squeeze filters
These are by far the most popular on the trail. They screw onto a bottle and you can then drink straight from the bottle by squeezing it. You will have to let the air out occasionally but it is easy and lightweight. Many people also squeeze it into another bottle and then also drink out of the bottle with the filter.

Sawyer squeeze and mini – This is a favorite on the trail. These can screw on to the Sawyer bags that come with the filter, Smart water bottles, or you can put them inline with a hose and bladder. They are versatile and easy to use. Not expensive either! As long as you backwash then fairly regularly, they should last you a long time. There is a slight weight difference between the squeeze and the mini, they both do the same work but the squeeze filters water faster and is easier to drink from.

 

Chemicals
This is another popular water treatment. The chemicals can kill some of those viruses that a regular filter might not be able to. They will not filter out larger particles so if you as at a shallow water source, or it has been disturbed recently, you could have larger particles in the water. You can easily filter these out through a small mesh bag, or even with your hands. Most of the chemical treatments nowadays are made so they do not contain a lingering taste in your water. Some of the more traditional methods such as straight Iodine will contain a taste and might not be good for your digestive system if you use it for too long. Here is what we recommend.

Aquamira – This treatment is lightweight and easy. You mix the two solutions together and let them sit for five minutes. Depending on how much water you’re treating, the amount of drops will vary. You then pour them into your water and let that sit for twenty minutes. I usually go ahead and start hiking after adding it to my water and keep an eye out on my watch so I know when I can drink. I never had a funny taste in my mouth and didn’t need to clean the chemicals or work to filter my water.

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Aquamira Drops

Boiling water
Most people know that boiling water is a method of water purification. Getting the water to heat to 212 degrees and letting it stay there for a few minutes will kill germs and bacteria in the water. If your water treatment has failed, this is a great alternative because most hikers carry a stove. Some people only boil water to purify it but this can be time consuming and requires a good amount of fuel. When I cook, I use untreated water and boil it for a minute before I add it to my meal and that is a safe way to cook, and it saves my filter or purifier from an extra use.

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Boiling water

Key tips for water treatment

  • Separate and clearly designate dirty and clean water containers.
  • Pay close attention to directions because every product has detailed steps to avoid cross contamination.
  • Seek out clean water because sediment impairs treatment effectiveness. If only murky sources are available, use a prefilter or allow sediment to settle from gathered water.
  • Keep your hands clean by packing hand sanitizer and using it often.
  • Keep camp, toilet and dishwashing areas at least 200 feet from any water source.
 Everyone prefers different water treatment methods. I would suggest testing some of them out ahead of time to see which works for you. We can show you how some of them work in the store and are happy to help answer any of your water treatment questions!