Water is your most precious commodity when camping. You simply must have it for staying hydrated, for cleaning yourself, brushing your teeth, and for washing cookware and utensils. There are many ways to carry and store water for your excursion. It is also important to know how to make use of natural water supplies, such as creeks, rivers, and freshwater lakes.
Bringing Water with You
If you have the luxury of a vehicle, then just fill jugs with tap water and bring them along. Also, freeze some water to use for your cooler, as mentioned above. You can purchase spring water in 3 to 5-gallon dispensing jugs with spouts that work nicely perched on the edge of a picnic table.
If you are backpacking, you will do well with a pack that has a bladder or reservoir built into it to carry water. This device comes with a tube that you can place in your mouth to hydrate while hiking without having to stop to unpack your bag. You will need to refill this frequently, as it doesn’t hold more than approximately 50 ounces of water.
Dealing with Fresh Water Sources
It is imperative that you know the condition of any fresh water source before attempting to drink it. Fresh water can have bacteria, acid rain, and agricultural runoff in it. The bacteria can be dealt with by boiling the water properly - bring the water to rolling boil for a minute or two.
Acid rain and pesticides are not so easy to get rid of. The CDC recommends purifying water with common chlorine bleach. A ratio of two drops of bleach (5-6% Sodium Hypochlorite) per quart of water should do the trick (make sure and use an unscented variety). Simply mix the bleach in the water, mix and wait for about 30 minutes.
There are purification and filtration systems that you can bring along on your trip. The top choices include gravity flow filters and water treatment drops. Gravity flow filters seem to be the filter of choice for both car campers and backpackers. Some compact models fold up neatly to fit in a pack. Potable water treatment drops are easy to use and to carry. They come in tiny bottles and can treat large quantities of water.
Water for Personal Hygiene
There is nothing more arresting than dunking yourself in a freezing cold stream or lake to get cleaned up in the morning. Yes, you likely smell of campfire smoke or you are dirty from hiking. But, staying stinky and dirty might be better than dealing with bracingly cold water. You may just opt to go with the funkiness and clean up when you get home. That works if everyone is on the same page.
Or, you could bring along a solar shower bag and some microfiber travel towels. A solar shower bag works by absorbing the heat from the sun to warm the water. Once warmed, the water is released by gravity to give you a shower, albeit a short one. These bags are small enough to fit in a backpack but might take up more space than you want. Remember to pack a bathing suit, or similar, as there won’t be any shower door to hide you from your neighbors.
For brushing your teeth and daily face washing, just use your bottled or backpack water. Don’t rinse your mouth with stream or lake water and risk the chance of ingesting harmful bacteria, acids, or pesticides.
To prevent losing your whole bar of soap while washing, consider shaving it into small strips with a regular potato peeler, meaning you have one strip per wash. Even better, bring along some biodegradable soap specifically made for camping.
Nature will call, so bring some biodegradable toilet paper and a cathole trowel. Make a small hole in the ground first, go, and bury the evidence. Always be mindful of poison ivy when doing this and always be mindful "to go" at least 200 feet away from any standing water.