How to drink clean water on treks in Nepal?
While it may seem trivial, proper hydration is key for a successful trek. Research shows that as little as two percent dehydration can impair athletic performance. All systems in the body, including the brain, requires water to function optimally.
With the numerous water sources on or near the trail, access to potable water on a Himalayan trek isn’t usually very difficult. The recommended intake amount is 3-4 liters per day especially on high altitude treks. Bottled water is available in most treks in Nepal. The Everest region had banned plastic water bottles but it is still being sold along the trail and can cost upto US$ 4 per liter. On the Annapurna Base Camp trek, plastic bottled water is available upto Sinuwa (a little beyond Chomrong). It is available all along the Langtang trail. We at Crystal Mountain Treks highly discourage buying bottled water for obvious reasons; instead we highly recommend the following options which are quite easy to follow:
Boiling water is the safest and most convenient way to access clean drinking water on both lodge and camping treks in Nepal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “boiling is the surest method to kill disease-causing germs, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites”. It is important to bring the water to a rolling boil for at least 3 minutes at elevations above 6,500 feet. The lodges will provide boiled water for around US$ 2 to US$ 8 per thermos depending on elevation. (A big thermos would hold around 2.5 liters/2 quarts). On all Crystal Mountain Treks, unless otherwise specified, we provide boiled water for your bottles in the mornings and the evenings on both lodge and camping treks. Please bring at least one wide mouth water bottle even if you have a narrow-mouth bottle and/or a hydration pack. We recommend the Nalgene bottles (BPA free) as they can withstand the heat of boiled water. If you are buying in Kathmandu, make sure you don’t buy the fake ones you which will melt when you pour boiled water.
Chlorine or Iodine Tablets:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “if boiling water is not possible, a combination of filtration and chemical disinfection is the most effective pathogen reduction method in drinking water for backcountry or travel use”. So if you opt to disinfect your water with Chlorine or Iodine tablets, it is most effective if you first filter the water and then add Chlorine or Iodine tablets. Just using Chlorine or Iodine tablets will not fully rid the water of protozoa. You may also add some Vitamin C or orange juice powder to rid the unpleasant taste of Chlorine or Iodine.
An alternative to chemically treating water is to use a Steripen. The ultraviolet rays from the Steripen will destroy the viruses, bacteria and protozoa – including Giardia and Cryptosporidium – in the water. Each Steripen (depending on make) is good for around 8,000 treatments and will take between 60 to 90 seconds to treat the water. At Crystal Mountain Treks, we provide Steripens for use on the trek for no charge to you. Again, this is easy to use on a wide-mouth Nalgene bottle. To be fully confident that your water is good to drink, ask for boiled water, let it cool, and then “Steripen” the water. One thing to remember when using Steripens is that the water must be clear for the ultra-violet rays to work. And a study recommends “agitating” the water when using the Steripen. Also, the study recommends that the cap and neck of the Steripen must be clean and must not contain droplets which could be a potential source of recontamination. Read study here.
Most filtration systems are effective in filtering out bacteria and protozoa larger than 5 microns. But they seem to be less effective in filtering out bacteria such as E.Coli., that are around 1 microns. If you are using a filtration system on a trek in Nepal, it is best to use it with a combination of treatment with Chlorine/Iodine tablets or Steripen. There are several personal filtration systems available including Grayl which we can provide our clients for no charge for use on the treks.
References: CDC – A guide to drinking water treatment