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In some places, the Swedish Lappland for example, it's perfectly fine and even recommended to drink water directly from streams.

Is it also recommended whilst hiking in the Alps, and if so is it only in certain areas?

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I once was in Tromsø, North of Norway. Got on a mountain close to the city, saw a spring. I thought: if I can't drink safely the water from a spring on a mountain at the North pole, I don't know what else I can. Drank a handful. Tasted like freedom, the real one. – Stefano Borini Jan 25 '12 at 0:13
There have been scientific studies of water samples in the Sierra, which showed that there were no concentrations of Giardia capable of causing disease. I haven't been able to find anything similar for the Alps. However, I did find this: . Although the levels of Cryptosporidium are high enough that they could theoretically cause disease, this was in a farming village in Switzerland, not in the wilderness areas of the Alps. That makes it seem extremely unlikely to me that there is anything to worry about in wilderness areas of the Alps. – Ben Crowell Apr 30 '13 at 23:07

In the core alps (Liechtenstein, Switzerland, and Austria), you can drink water almost everywhere directly without filtering. There are only two exceptions: If there is a thing or something like this that forbids drinking it, or if you can see an obvious reason not to drink it, like for example a strange smell or abnormal color.

In the other countries in the Alps (France, Italy, etc.) I would only drink water unfiltered if you can drink it directly from the source, i.e. glacial lakes or the source itself.

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Most contamination by bacteria, protozoa, and viruses are both tasteless and odorless, so going on smell or color is a poor way to determine if water is sanitary. Do consider what may have died or pooped in the kilometer upstream and choose to treat water you cannot be sure is from the ground or other sterile source. – bmike Jan 31 '12 at 23:46
Actually, those signs "not drinking water" are often there for legal reasons, and posted even if the water is perfectly safe to drink. Only when you know you are below agriculture I wouldn't drink from the streams. – gerrit Jan 18 '13 at 21:46
@gerrit That's true, but it is sometimes difficult to know if the sign is there only for legal reasons. I think in this case it is better to be safe than sorry. – RoflcoptrException Jan 18 '13 at 22:10
@RoflcoptrException If unexperienced, one might be wise to obey those signs. From personal experience, those signs have quite suddenly and quite recently appeared at places where people've been drinking forever. Sometimes I suspect it's for the benefit of the local mountain hut selling bottled water for 3€ for half a liter... – gerrit Jan 18 '13 at 22:15
I don't think the list of countries is very helpful here. You can find large plains, industrial activity or middle-altitude agriculture in Austria and relatively remote high-altitude areas in France and Italy (including the highest summits in the Alps). I would think that human activity or geology matter more than geopolitical borders. – Relaxed Oct 17 '13 at 11:17

My understanding is that anything above 4000 metres you can drink due to there being a low chance that anything living will affect the water i.e. animal faeces and bacteria etc.

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Dead hikers? :) – Tomáš Fejfar Feb 5 '12 at 16:06

If you're on an extended trip away from civilization, I wouldn't recommend it anywhere except directly from a spring coming out of rock. If there are animals in the area, you can be sure they some have died, or done their business in the water and it could be contaminated. While water in the alps is likely safer that rivers or lakes in most areas, I wouldn't risk it.

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I have never heard of anyone treating water in European high mountains. – crenate Mar 9 '12 at 14:02

I suppose you mean outside of village, so you are talking about streams and sources. In any alpine areas (France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria) I drink water unfiltered when I assume that there are no alps (place with cattle during summer) upstream, which worked for me. Of course you usually cannot be 100% sure about it, but almost so. If there is cattle upstream, you have a quite a chance of getting diarrhea. I did it twice until now when I was just too thirsty and once came to regret that decision :)
Many people attribute diarrhea to glacier water, which I cannot confirm. Unless you drink it constantly, the lack of minerals is not a problem either.

For dwells in towns in Switzerland you can drink always unless there is a sign telling you otherwise. Sometimes such a sign is present as the water is not officially tested, that also very often the case in alpine huts, while the water is fine. But you cannot know, so unless you have somebody trustful to advice you, keep away.

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At a water faucet?

I would filter any untreated water in the Alps, and filter or boil melted snow.

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At least in Switzerland and Liechtenstein you can drink water from every source, if a sign does not forbid it. – RoflcoptrException Jan 24 '12 at 21:28
(source = spring) That's good to know! – xpda Jan 24 '12 at 21:31
Ah I see, so I have to rephrase it. You can drink water from every source, well or faucet, if a sign does not prohibit it. – RoflcoptrException Jan 24 '12 at 21:33
Sometimes you can drink it even if a sign forbids it. Sometimes they put "forbidden" signs close to mountain cabins hoping that hikers will buy the overpriced bottled water from the cabin... – gerrit Jul 10 '12 at 15:25
I am sure you can drink water even if a sign forbids it. Question is: Is it safe? Is it allowed? – Relaxed Oct 17 '13 at 11:20

I'm Swiss and I've been drinking water from mountain streams all my life, without any altitude restriction, while observing three basic rules. You can drink the water if:

  • the river is small enough to jump across it
  • there is no cattle (alpage) above, where cows, goats and sheep may poo into the water
  • there is no human settlement above

Drinking this water is one of my favourite things when hiking and I mostly go hiking carrying only a minimal amount of water to drink on the peaks where there are no rivers or sources. I hike often (in Ticino) and managed to survive for 44 years :-)

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If the river is small enough? Why? I think it shouldnt be too small because of pollution. – Wills Nov 28 '15 at 8:00
@Wills just guessing here, maybe because small streams empty into large streams which means smaller is closer to source and less chance for contamination – Chris Mendez Nov 29 '15 at 14:29

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