Hiking Tip for Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton Park Hikers: Bring a Water Filter

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Hiking Tip For Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton Park Hikers: Bring a Water Filter
Here’s a quick story….
We were sitting on our truck’s tailgate at the Jenny Lake parking lot in Grand Teton National Park several years ago, and were watching 4 backpackers getting ready for an overnight backpacking trip. These hikers were in their mid-twenties, and it looked like they knew what they were doing… that is until we watched them each place a gallon plastic milk jug full of water into their packs! They were hoping no one was watching… but we saw the whole thing, and our jaws dropped to the ground. Each of those plastic milk jugs weighed about 8 pounds! So these four hikers were carrying 32 pounds of water!!!!

Water Is Critical…. But Heavy!
While enjoying Glacier Park hikes, Yellowstone Park hikes and Grand Teton Park hikes, one the most important things all hikers need to do is to stay hydrated, and the only way to do this is to drink water, and plenty of it. Dehydration can be a serious and sometimes life-threatening situation, and it needs to be taken extremely seriously. However, the classic age-old problem with water is that it’s heavy. In fact, water is really, really heavy! One liter of water (which is the average size of a typical Nalgene bottle), weighs about 2.2 pounds, and that’s not counting the weight of the water bottle.

And during long hikes, your body might require up to 4 or 5 liters of water, or even more if it’s a super hot day. That means you’d have to carry over 11 pounds of water, which is of course ridiculous… that is unless you have your own Yak. That amount of extra weight is not only extremely tiring, but it would completely ruin the enjoyment of your day hike. And of course the water situation becomes even more of an issue during overnight backpacking trips.

“Don’t Drink the Water!”
We’ve also watched many visitors actually drink straight out of a stream or lake while hiking in Glacier Park, hiking in Yellowstone Park and hiking in Grand Teton Park. This is absolutely a “No-No” because there are parasites, viruses and bacteria that can make hikers extremely sick. One of the most common culprits is the protozoa parasite known as Giardia. No matter how crystal clear the stream or lake appears to be, there is a good chance that Giardia is in this water, and if you drink it, you could become extremely sick with horrible stomach aches, diarrhea, vomiting and more, and these symptoms can linger for months. Even though it’s usually not life-threatening, you might wish it was because you’ll be so miserable. Other dangerous particles that can be found in natural bodies of water in addition to Giardia include Salmonella and Cryptosporidia, just to name a few.

Studies indicate that Giardia has been found in much of the water in even the most remote and pristine places on earth, including Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton Park.  So “drinking the water” is NOT an option while hiking in these national parks. But if you can’t carry all the water you need, and if you can’t drink water from a stream or lake, what’s a hiker to do?

Water Purification vs. Bringing Your Own Yak
If you don’t have your own Yak to carry water for you, you really need to consider water purification to help you better enjoy your Glacier Park hikes, Yellowstone Park hikes and Grand Teton Park hikes. There are several ways of purifying your drinking water, such as chemical treatment with iodine, chlorine tablets (or the several other chemical treatments available today), or boiling your water before you drink it. We feel these techniques take an annoying amount of time in our opinion, and you are not filtering the water, so you will see debri floating in it. And if you boil your water, drinking hot or warm water is not very pleasant or refreshing. Also, many of the chemical treatments make the water taste strange.

After nearly 50 years of hiking in Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, and averaging over 1,300 miles of hiking trails each year, we have found that one of the most practical ways to safely drink water during your Glacier Park hikes, Yellowstone Park hikes and Grand Teton Park hikes, where you can enjoy great tasting, cold water without having to carry, is by using a water filter.

Water Filters
Water Filtration is super-quick and easy, and it allows you to take advantage of all of the water that is available along the trail, instead of having to carry your own water. There are dozens of really good companies that sell fantastic water filters. Right now, our favorite filter is the Hiker Pro by Katadyn. This light weight micro-filter removes particles as small as 0.3 microns in size, which includes Giardia, Salmonella and Cryptosporidia. This micro-filter also uses carbon filtration to help absorb chemicals and pesticides, which improves the taste of the water. Mechanically, the Katadyn Hiker Pro is very sound, light weight and is extremely well built and reliable.

We have been using this type of micro-filter for many years, and have had extremely good luck with it. However, there are several other excellent products on the market. We’re not here to endorse a particular company’s products, and we’re not paid to do so. We’re just telling you what we’ve done very well with throughout the years.

Make sure you read all about the proper maintenance of these filters.  In the event of a “mechanical failure” in the field (which by the way is extremely rare) we recommend that you carry a carbon straw to get you home. You can also carry chemical tablets just in case, but if you take care of your filter properly it’s highly unusual to have a problem with these filters in the field.

Additional Tip: Know Where The Water Is
Of course the only way your water filter will help you is if there is water along the trail. We strongly recommend that before you begin your hike that you get a good idea where there are permanent water sources along  the trail, such as a streams, springs, ponds or lakes. Again, make sure you do this BEFORE you head out on any Glacier Park hikes, Yellowstone Park hikes or Grand Teton Park hikes. The best way to do this is ask a ranger at a visitor center where these water sources are located. If you’re on a long hike, and there is a fairly long distance between water sources, you may have to carry a liter or two of water in a Nalgene bottle between these water sources. So the bottom line is this: know where the water sources are located along the trail, and adjust accordingly.

In summary, if you enjoy hiking, you really, really need to consider carrying a portable water filter with you during your hikes in Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.  It allows you to remain hydrated without having to carry water, which will dramatically reduce the weight of your day pack.

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