Water Safety In Camp: The Six Pillars

posted: Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Maintaining good hygiene is an important part of outdoor life. Being ill while camping or travelling is a very unpleasant ordeal, particularly if it involves vomiting or diarrhoea.

Good drinking water safety is a key part of staying free of stomach bugs while camping.

Unless you are undertaking a solo trip, multiple people will be using the water-based facilities around camp.

Therefore, in order to maintain good water safety discipline, there needs to be a system. The system should be explained to all parties in camp. Everyone needs to understand the system and everyone needs to stick to the system.

In camping situations involving children and adults, some element of oversight or supervision may be required to ensure junior members of the party stick to the rules.

Here are my six S’s of water safety in camp. If your camp follows these rules, you should all have a healthy, bug-free adventure.

The 6 Pillars Of Water Safety

1. Source

Water safety starts with the source. Ensure water is safe to drink in the first place, either by securing a clean source or treating water to make it potable.

Potential pathogenic problems include protozoa, bacteria and viruses – but solutions can be found in the form of filtration, chemical sterilisation and boiling.

2. Store

Segregate clean water from dirty water. In camps, water is often stored in jerry cans or collapsible water bags. Whichever type you are using, it is generally best not to store clean water in the same type of container as you collect dirty water.

An exception to this is if you’re using chemical sterilisation; here you’ll be adding the chemicals to collected water and allowing for the correct contact time to produce drinkable water – in the same container. In this case, I’d recommend a separate area for containers that are not yet ready, only releasing containers for general use when they have been treated. Untreated water should be stored separately and preferably supervised when young people are in camp.

3. Sterilise

If you are sterilising water by boiling, pour visibly clean water into metal vessels, then bring to the boil. This process should always be supervised, with someone ensuring that each vessel comes to a rolling boil for several minutes before the water is decanted into a storage vessel.

Take extra care with young people in camp – both when around boiling water and while storing hot water in containers. Allow storage containers to cool down in a safe place before putting them out for general use around camp.

4. Sanitise

Keep your storage containers clean. Following this system should ensure you only ever have water that is safe to drink. Bugs, however, can be accidentally introduced to water after it’s been purified.

This contamination is often caused when dirty hands come in contact with storage containers; particularly caps, nozzles and threads. Put procedures in place to prevent this. For example, pour water out into hand-washing basins before toilet visits; or get someone else to pour water for the visitor.

Similarly, if someone has been handling raw meat or fish, they should not touch water containers until they’ve washed their hands thoroughly.

5. Separate

Another cross-contamination culprit is bringing personal drinking bottles into direct contact with the openings of camp storage containers, thus passing bacteria from personal to group kit. Avoid such direct contact.

People should not wash directly from camp storage containers, as there is potential for splashes into the containers. This includes pouring water on hands, feet, toothbrushes or face flannels. Use a separate basin or bucket if possible.

6. Seal

Finally, the tops of water containers should be replaced immediately after use. This minimises dirt, flies and other nasties getting into the water.

It may not be the most fun part of planning a camp or venturing into the outdoors, but good water hygiene can make the difference between a camp to remember and one to forget!

Paul Kirtley is an award-winning professional bushcraft instructor. He is passionate about nature and wilderness travel. In addition to writing this blog Paul owns and runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions.