Treating Water and Managing Hydration on the Appalachian Trail

Water is the most important resource thru-hikers must learn to manage on the Appalachian Trail. Water is typically easy to find—as hikers meander through the woods they’ll cross numerous fresh springs, streams, ponds, rivers, and lakes from which they can draw water. It is not uncommon for hikers to pass multiple water sources in a single day. Shelters and popular campsites are also usually positioned within reach of a water source. Guidebooks, apps, and some maps will mark the locations of viable water sources for hikers.

It is important to note that water sources listed on maps or guidebooks can sometimes dry out in drought conditions. Local climate and weather conditions can affect the availability of water on certain areas of the trail (we’re looking at you, Pennsylvania in July). If there is an area displaying uncommonly low water levels, local rangers and trail clubs might post alerts to keep hikers informed. Be sure to stay prepared in case of dried-up sources, and don’t rely on other people or organizations to keep you up to date.

The amount of water hikers need to carry at a time depends primarily on the number of water sources available on a given day. Crossing fewer water sources necessitates carrying greater amounts. However, if water is abundant on a section of trail, it becomes more a matter of personal preference.

With any open backcountry water source there is an inherent risk of contamination. The water found along the AT is likely not swimming with parasites, but the obvious problem with viruses and microscopic organisms is that you can’t tell if they’re there just by looking.

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