Even in cool weather, you need two to four quarts of water a day. Under most conditions, humans can only last about three days without water.
When you hunt in Alaska, you may find yourself far away from villages, towns, and cities. This distance from civilization does not mean the waters in the ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers are pure. Almost every natural source of water in Alaska has one or more bad “bugs” that can make you sick and ruin a hunting trip.
The most common “bug” is the tiny, microscopic, single-celled, parasite called Giardia lamblia. Giardia lamblia is spread in the water from the feces of common Alaska mammals such as beavers, muskrats, moose, and caribou.
- You can get giardiasis, commonly called “beaver fever,” by drinking water contaminated with Giardia lamblia or even by using forks, knives, or other utensils that have been washed in contaminated water.
- Symptoms of giardiasis include diarrhea, stomach cramps, gas, fatigue, and weight loss. These symptoms begin within five to seven days and can ruin a long hunting trip. Giardiasis can be cured with antibiotics prescribed by a doctor but this happens too late to save a hunting trip.
The other common “bug” is named Cryptosporidium. Cryptosporidium also is a single-celled, microscopic parasite causing an illness called cryptosporidiosis. Symptoms of cryptosporidiosis show up in two to ten days and are very similar to giardiasis except that you also may have a fever.
Boiling water before you drink it is the most reliable method to kill Giardia lamblia, Cryptosporidium, and almost any other “bug” that can hurt you. Washing dishes with soap and drying them does not kill these tiny parasites. Iodine or chlorine added to water will kill Giardia lamblia but not Cryptosporidium.
- Bring the water to a full rolling boil and then let it cool slowly. If you boil the water for a full three minutes, you will kill both the parasites and all the viruses in the water.
- Boiling all your drinking water takes a lot of time and fuel. If you are backpacking or float hunting and cannot take enough fuel to boil all your water, then use a quality water filter. The best filters have a system that screens out the larger “bugs” and a purifier that chemically destroys the tiniest bacteria and viruses. Read the labels before you purchase a water filter. The best will say “EPA approved” and will remove 99.9% of all the “bugs” found in water. Read and follow the instructions carefully when you use a filter.
In Alaska’s glacial-fed streams and rivers, most of the time it will be necessary to take water from the stream or river and let it set for a full hour before filtering. This is needed to let the larger particles in the water settle to the bottom. If you do not wait, then your filter may get clogged up quickly. If you hunt in below-freezing weather, you also must keep the filter mechanism from freezing by carrying the filter inside your clothes or tucked inside your sleeping bag.