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How to Fill a Water Bottle from a Shallow Stream or Spring

It’s happened to all of us. You arrive at a backcountry stream or spring ready to refill your bottles or hydration bladder and filter water only to find they’re almost dry, running at just a trickle, or very shallow. Here are a few tips and tricks you can use to scoop up enough water to refill your bottles and prevent dehydration.

You can create a pour-over of your own by positioning a tree leaf in a creek or stream bed, like this. Don’t have a leaf? You can do this will any thin object in your pack from a candy wrapper to a piece of tin foil. You just need something that will create mini-funnel that you can position a container under.

Create your own pourover by positioning a leaf in the stream to channel water into a small container like a cook pot before pouring water into your hydration bladder
Create your own pour-over by positioning a leaf in the stream to channel water into a small container like a cook pot before pouring water into your hydration bladder.

If you have a pump style water filter like a MSR Trailshot,  Katadyn Hiker Pro or a MSR MiniWorks, they really shine when it comes to sucking water out of very shallow water sources, especially if they have a pre-filter which removes any muck before it gets to the filter element. I’ve seen thru-hikers crowd around people who carry them so they can get clean water out of shallow springs. The hose is also great for reaching springs buried deep between rocks that you can’t reach by hand.

An old school pump water filter is great for sucking water out of shallow streams or creeks in summer
An old school pump water filter is great for sucking water out of shallow streams or springs in summer

If you carry a cook pot, preferably one with handles, they make a great water scoop. Simply fill and pour into your bottles.

Hang onto those sandwich baggies or Mountain House packages as well, because you can use them as a makeshift water scoop. They also make good emergency mittens, but that’s another story.

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