traveller drinking water

Myth Busting: Safe Drinking Water

Read time - 3 minutes

Hydration: we all need it. But what’s the best way to make sure you’re always drinking enough safe water when you’re travelling?

Much as we’d like it to be otherwise, there are some places where you simply cannot drink the tap water without risking some pretty nasty side effects. So what is the best way for you to stay hydrated on your next adventure – with a clear conscience?

The Best Ways to Stay Hydrated

Steps in the right direction 

The Problem With Mineral Water

For many of us, the obvious option may be to go for the mineral water. After all, it’s sealed and safe to drink, plus it provides an income for the local shopkeepers – right? Unfortunately, things are never quite that simple. Mineral water causes a huge number of knock-on problems for rural communities.

Whilst it does provide an income to local people it also creates a phenomenal, heart-breaking amount of waste and littering. Most places simply do not have the resources to do anything with the empty plastic bottles – and they burn them, releasing toxic gases into the air, or leave them in piles just out of sight of travellers, where they take more than 450 years to decompose.

Take, for example, Everest Base Camp. The recommended amount of water intake on a high altitude trek like this is 3-4 litres a day. The trek is 13 days long. That’s more than 40 litres and 40 plastic bottles which won’t decompose until the year 2466 – per person.

For a full Exodus group of sixteen people, just one trip will result in more than 600 mineral water bottles. And the salt in the wound is that plastic doesn’t decompose at high altitudes, so those 600  or more bottles will be up there indefinitely. But what can you do? You have to drink, so how can you get around the problem?

The Alternatives

The great news is that there are actually numerous alternatives that will help you out of the bottled water trap. Here are just four of the best. All you have to do is pick which one is right for you.


This method uses exactly the same process as most mineral water undergoes before it is bottled. It’s UV filtering, exactly the same treatment as the majority of bottled water undergoes to be purified, but on the go. The technology has been around for much longer than you think, but it’s only recently been competitively priced enough to be on the market. SteriPen is an American company, other UV filters are also available.

SteriPen Classic as sold by Cotswold Outdoor 

How It Works: SteriPens have a UV bulb which you use to filter the water. It takes about 90 seconds to sterilise one litre of water – and it has a traffic light system to let you know whether your treatment has worked. If something’s gone wrong, the red light is impossible to miss and you can simply start the process again.

The pens come in a range of sizes but all do the same job.

Advantages - Quick to work – it takes 90 seconds for one litre and it’s ready to drink immediately - Tasteless – UV light does not affect the taste of the water - SteriPens are long-lasting. The classic model will sterilise 8,000 litres of water in its lifetime and are robust enough to withstand some pretty rough treatment on the mountain.

You can choose battery-powered (lithium only) or USB rechargeable options

Disadvantages - The starting price for SteriPens is comparatively high, around £40 – £80. However, it does mean you don’t need to pay for water when you travel so it pays for itself very quickly. Plus, if you get yours from our friends over at Cotswold Outdoor and tell them we sent you, you’ll get 15% off the price.

Water Purification Tablets or Liquid

Chlorine dioxide tablets or liquid is a chemical disinfectant that comes in the form of little white tablets, about the same size as an aspirin, each one sterilising a litre of water at a time, or liquid drops which function exactly the same.

Chlorine Dioxide sold by Cotswold Outdoors 

How It Works You pop a tablet into your water, give it a shake, and wait for the treatment to work – it varies depending on the tablet, but usually about 20 minutes – and it’s ready to drink. The tablet itself dissolves.

Advantages - Lightweight – the tablets hardly weigh anything and usually come in a small pouch so you can find them easily in your daypack. - Inexpensive – favoured by backpackers for this very reason.

Disadvantages - Taste and smell – whilst some people don’t notice a change at all, for others, there is a distinctive chemical flavour reminiscent of swimming pool water. This can usually be covered up with a vitamin C flavoured vitamin tablet or a neutralising tablet.

Local Boiled Water

This isn’t always an option if you’re out and about, but boiled water is an excellent option for safe drinking water on trek. Boiling the water kills any nastiness lurking there. On some of our camping treks, we will provide boiled water. On the Inca Trail, boiled water is provided at breakfast and lunchtimes for you to refill your bottles, and similarly on Kilimanjaro. In some places, such as Nepal, the teahouses will happily sell you boiled water.

Boiled water from a thermos on KilimanjaroBoiled water from a thermos on Kilimanjaro 

A surprisingly high number of people distrust this option, believing sealed mineral water to be safer. However, the boiled water is exactly the same as the water that goes into any teas, coffees or cooked meals, so in fact, it is a bit of a misnomer thinking that avoiding it will help prevent sickness.

How It Works All you have to do is ask for some hot water. The water is boiled up in huge batches, then stored in gigantic 3-litre thermos flasks until it’s requested. They’ll fill your bottle up to the brim and you’re ready to roll.

Advantages - Litre for litre it costs exactly the same as mineral water, or less, or is provided by Exodus - Provides income for local people.

Disadvantages - Comes hot. This is perfect for a homemade hot water bottle overnight, or for a nice cup of warm water on a cold night in the mountains, but not so great when you’re trekking in the daytime. The solution is to bring a second water bottle, so you can have one bottle cooling down whilst you drink from the other.

Buy Online for 15% off

Exodus has partnered up with Cotswold Outdoors to offer you a fantastic 15% off all full-price purchases so you can get kitted out for your next adventure. Cotswold Outdoors sells the products featured in this article, along with a wide range of outdoor equipment and clothing.

Traveller's Against Plastic

Exodus is proud to have taken the Travellers Against Plastic pledge!  As proud supporters of Travellers Against Plastic (TAP) we're doing all we can to prevent the use of single-use plastic on all our tours. As of 2018, we’re proud to say that 99% of Exodus group trips offer an alternative to purchasing single-use plastic mineral water bottles. 

Now that you've got safe water drinking options, take a look at some of our trips below and prepare for your adventure.

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