It was perhaps inevitable that after people mocked raw waterers, that someone would issue a Well Actually. The rebuttal to campers — and everyone else — who said drinking untreated water is a very stupid idea goes a bit like this:
- Some studies show you’re unlikely to catch a disease that gives you firehose poop from drinking untreated water, provided you are in a sufficiently remote area, and a dead elk isn’t decomposing in the water upstream.
- Some portable water purification or filtration systems are pricey.
- Something something something.
- Hikers who decline to drink untreated water are overreacting.
- Next week: Very few mushrooms that grow in the wild will kill you stone dead. Bon appetit!
Even in an industry known for tone-deaf excess, Silicon Valley’s “raw water” trend resonated as especially contemptible—selling unfiltered spring water as a luxury good while other American citizens continue to lack access to fresh water following a natural disaster certainly embodies the worst of American capitalism. But what really seemed to set people off was not simply the bad optics. It was the idea that it was also stupid. As Twitter’s hikers and campers were quick to smugly point out, unfiltered water can be dangerous to human health. That’s why treating backcountry water sources for contamination is a fundamental tenet of outdoor recreation education, ignored at the peril of contracting giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis, or worse. In this case, however, popular opinion is wrong: The idea that most wilderness water sources are inherently unsafe is baseless dogma, unsupported by any epidemiological evidence.
The idea that people should risk ruining their vacations, and their pants and possibly their lives, by drinking untreated water is exactly the sort of idea one would expect to find in Slate.
Another thing that makes this article so perfectly Slatey is the way the author identifies a key dilemma for the thirsty outdoorsperson by not addressing it: Water that is safe to drink often looks identical to water that is aswarm with cooties. This makes drinking untested and untreated water a crap shoot, sorry not sorry.
What has the author so upset, apparently, is that some portable water treatment systems are very expensive, and the manufacturers use a devious stratagem known as writing about their products to get people to buy them.
Looking at the outdoor industry, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. The online retailer Backcountry.com, for instance, lists 52 purification devices from six different brands, whose rhetoric underscores the urgent necessity of their own products: LifeStraw is “committed to redefining the safe drinking water space,” while Washington state’s MSR provides equipment for “anywhere you need to water away from home.” Hydrating while in nature, it would seem, is a risky proposition best mediated by expensive modern technology.
A LifeStraw costs about $20. Iodine tablets, which are not modern, cost about $8. Perhaps the author deals with the threat of unsafe water the old fashioned way: By drinking a lot of booze.