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[pct-l] Iodine..a little dab 'll do ya!
Hello All -
I have been very interested in the thread about using iodine on the trail
for water purification. I have met a number of distance hikers who claim
to be using iodine over fairly long periods of time (4-6 months) without
apparent harm (other than the obvious problem of their being crazy enough
to be a thru-hiker <VBG>). I am considering using iodine on my next
thru-hike....but, I find that I really don't have enough information to
help in making the decision.
I have been active as a Scout leader for decades and have had the fun of
taking several crews to the Philmont Scout Ranch. Crews go to Philmont to
enjoy backpacking in the beautiful NM high-desert (Sangre De Christo
Mountains) and usually stay for 12 days. Philmont supplies needed water
purification items. Iodine (Polar Pure) was the water treatment of choice
during all of the times (5) I got to enjoy Philmont...as far as I know, it
is still being used there.
Each summer some 15-20,000 folks travel the Philmont backcountry...ranging
from young camping neophytes (a few as young as 12, most are 14-16) to
doddering old leaders such as myself <g>. Over the years, Philmont has
built up quite a hefty experience base in the use of iodine during crew
trips of less than two weeks. There are also usually a few hundred young
adults (part of the staff) who manage to spend most/all of their summer out
on the Philmont trails with Polar Pure in their packs/canteens. These
staffers have accumulated a fair amount of experience with seasonal iodine
use for periods up to 3 months.
BSA is a VERY (!) conservative organization when it comes to risk
management... they take a dim view of any practice that might harm their
Scouts. I have no doubts that they use iodine because they believe they
have the data to show that it works best in that particular situation.
Given the above experience base and advice from my personal physician, I
have no qualms about using iodine myself for short-duration hiking (weeks).
It is the longer hikes (months) that give me pause to ponder. I am most
curious about what changes will be occurring to my body during prolonged
use of iodine for water purification.
I have been using filters for a decade and a half and am MORE than ready to
enjoy doing something else during the time it has been taking my trail
partner and I to filter the 15-20 liters we were guzzling each day. I have
had my bout with the "Big G" (AND campylobacter <f>)...did my week living
near the little green house in Kennedy Meadows and the commode in a
Ridgecrest motel...going without water treatment ISN'T an option for me
<VBG>! I am ready to consider using iodine.
I see three problems at least:
1) What sort of long-term damage might be done (thyroid, brown fingers, etc.)?
2) What is happening to my gut as a result of all that "water treatment"
going thru it...am I changing my gut's ability to efficiently grab the good
stuff (nutrients, etc.) out of the huge amount of food that a thru-hiker
eats? Hey... the LAST thing that I want to do is reduce my ability to get
to the available "energy" in the food I have worked so hard to carry for so
3) Are there significant short-term hazards to me or my surroundings? The
stuff IS a poison...will fumblefingerness zap me, my trail partner, or
I am interested in finding answers to all three questions. Shoot...I would
be willing to bet that there are some more questions out there as well
Thanks, Dave, for starting such an interesting thread.
Thanks Brick, for gathering (and referencing!) some of the web info on this
topic...and for your own ideas <g>.
Thanks, Birgitte, for surfacing exactly the sort of concerns that crop up
around trail campfires.
Thanks, Ben, for starting to address that body of knowledge that humans are
building up on this issue.
I just went back and reread all the "iodine" related messages of late. We
ain't there yet <g>. There has GOT to be some information available on
what really happens when humans use iodine for water purification for
relatively long periods of time. For the moment, I am interested in 6
months to a year. Who knows...someday I might even care about multiple
I would like to think that data from activities that involve big effort and
big appetite (military, logging camps, remote construction sites, etc.)
would translate fairly closely to thru-hiker needs. Data from more
static/sedentary uses (missionaries, municipal water systems, etc.) would
certainly be a start...especially if such data pointed out clear
I, for one, certainly appreciate any/all personal opinion and anecdotal
evidence as this list tries to surround this (or any!) problem. I would,
also, dearly love to have at least some general idea of where "facts" are
coming from (under a cabbage leaf, perhaps <g>?) when time comes to start
making personal decisions.
Brick? Birgitte? Ben? Anybody else know what rock the elusive data might
be hiding behind <g>?
- Charlie II AT (MeGa'93)
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