Norway has completely safe tap water, but you might be tempted to drink water directly from lakes, streams or rivers when you are hiking or going on a walk in the Norwegian nature. But is it really safe to drink water from nature in Norway?
You can generally drink water from nature in Norway, but there will always be a small risk that there are bacteria or viruses in the water, so you should sterilize the water before drinking it if you want to be completely safe. You can either boil the water, use a water cleanser, or a water filter to sterilize it.
I would say that most Norwegians don’t bother with sterilizing the water if it follows a few general rules stated below, but since there are many wild animals and other living things in the nature, we can’t ever be 100 % sure that the water is free from harmful bacteria.
If you do get sick from drinking bad water in nature, the most common symptom is diarrhea and other stomach related symptoms. It is very rare to get more serious infections.
Let’s take a closer look at how you can safely drink water from Norwegian nature.
How to find water that is suited for drinking
If you don’t want to either bring equipment to sterilize the water or boil it, there are a few things you can do to increase the chances of finding safe drinking water in nature. If you follow these guidelines you will have a high probability of finding safe drinking water.
- Make sure there are no grazing animals close to the water source. Grazing animals like sheep, cows and other farm animals that shits close to the water is one of the main sources of bacteria to drinking water. So if there are many farms close to the water source, stay away from drinking from it.
- Choose a running river or stream instead of still water. Running water should always be preferred before choosing still water, because this makes it more difficult for bacteria to grow in it.
- The bigger the water source is, the better it is for drinking. The bigger the water source, the more dispersed containment will be. An animal carcass in a small lake might ruin the water quality there, but in a big lake it won’t be a problem at all.
- Make sure the water has no distinct smell. Safe water should have very little or no distinct taste at all.
- Make sure the water has no distinct color. The color does not always have to indicate that there’s something wrong with it, but it could be. So stay away from water with a dark color. Red color tend to indicate humic acid (from organic material), which can affect taste, but is fine to drink.
- Make sure the water has no distinct taste. Safe water should not have much of a taste at all, so start by taking a small sip to make sure the taste is OK. If it tastes bad, do not drink it, and spit out the taste test.
- Make sure the water is not glacier water. There is a big, ongoing debate as to whether or not glacial water is safe to drink, but stay away from it to be on the safe side. It’s unlikely that it will cause damage to your body, but it will absolutely taste terrible due to the sediments in the water. There’s a lot of suspended clay and sand in the water column.
- Make sure there are no animal carcasses near the water source. Some areas in the mountains might have a high density of mouse or lemming carcasses, which can contaminate the water source.
- Check to see that there are few water birds in the water. High densities of ducks or geese can contaminate the water source. A normal amount is fine, but a small lake with 100 ducks in it is not fine.
While it might be difficult to find a water source that fits all these 9 criteria perfectly, use your own sense of judgement. If it feels fine, it probably is as long as none of the major issues above a present. For example, you can never really be 100 % sure that there’s no dead animals near the water source, so at some point you just gotta take a bit of a risk.
You can get rid of potentially harmful bacteria from the water
If you don’t want to risk getting sick from drinking water in the nature in Norway, there are a few different things you can do in order to make sure the water is completely safe. You can sterilize the water to kill all bacteria and microorganisms, and get the water to be just as safe as tap water.
There are a few different methods of sterilizing the water, and which option is considered the best depends entirely on who you ask. Some people swear to boiling it, while others prefer water cleansing pills.
Water cleansing pills can be bough at Norwegian pharmacies, or brought with you when you travel to Norway. These are great at killing all microorganisms, but the downside is that they often give an unpleasant taste to the water. It’s not directly bad, but just a bit weird to drink.
Another option is to get a water filter that can be applied to your bottle. These filters are great, but cost a few hundred Norwegian kroner. You can buy water filters at pretty much any store that sells outdoor goods and hiking equipment.
Boil the water to make it safe for drinking
The most common method of making sure the water is completely safe is to boil it before you drink it. This can be done by bringing a kettle and making a campfire, or heating it on a camping stove. This is equipment you usually bring along with you when going on hikes or camping trips anyway, so you don’t need to bring anything extra.
Once the water is boiling, let it stay for about a minute in the lowlands or three minutes if you are in the mountains. This is enough to be absolutely sure that the bacteria is dead.
Boiling the water obviously has a few downsides. Not only does it take a long time to get the water boiling, but you also need to wait for it to cool down before it is nice to drink. It’s not a good choice for when you are already thirsty, but it can be great if you know that you will soon run out of water.
Bring a portable water filter
A portable water filter can be a great and easy method of making sure the natural water is completely safe for drinking. There are many different options you can use, but some popular solutions are the LifeStraw drinking bottle, or a small, portable water filter. You only need to let the water drain trough the filter, and it will be completely safe to drink.
These portable water filters can be pretty cheap, from around 200 NOK for the cheapest options to as much as 5 000 NOK for the best ones. They can be bough from any store that sells hiking equipment or camping gear.
You can add pills to the water to make it safe to drink
Many outdoor stores and pharmacies sell pills that will sterilize the water for you. Just add a single pill into the water bottle, wait 30 minutes, and you will have water that is guaranteed to be safe to drink.
This is a good option if you don’t want to invest in a water filter, but the annoying part is that you need to wait 30 minutes before you can drink it. Water cleansing pills are pretty cheap, and expect to pay around 250 NOK for a bottle of 100 pills.
And as mentioned above, these tend to affect the taste of the water. It will still taste OK, but not like pristine water.
Bring a refillable bottle when going on hikes
Despite the risk involved with drinking water straight from nature, most Norwegian hikers enjoy bringing their refillable water bottle with them on hikes and fill it with water from rivers and lakes. If you follow the guidelines above the risk of getting sick will be pretty low.
Just keep your wits with you, and you will usually find a suitable place to fill water. Most running streams and rivers fill all the criteria for making sure the drinking water is safe.