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How to keep water on hand while traveling?


How would you have your characters make sure they're staying hydrated while they're traveling?

This includes how they carry water, where they get their water, how they purify their water, if they drink something else other than water, etcetera


Well, the most water-tight of vessels would be one without seams or thread-holes, so my characters would probably have ceramic liquid containers, though their added bulk and weight can cause trouble. Water, being as it is not very safe to drink without being purified, is out. My characters would therefore be constantly tipsy on diluted wine or small beer. This also enables me to justify them making really stupid decisions. Once that runs out, they'll either have to buy more or rely on water; at which point they may end up suffering from various stomach illnesses.


Transportation of liquids meant for periodic consumption was often accomplished with 'waterskins' (or wineskins, or whatever-is-in-it-skins). These were usually made out of an animal bladder of some kind and had various manners of corks or closures. I've also seen them made out of regular leather, though bladders were useful as they were already a good shape and naturally held liquids.

For long distance transport or transport in bulk, barrels and large jugs of various sorts were used, made of all sorts of materials depending on what was available.


Waterskin - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Sheep or cow bladders.
Our distant ancestors drank from it, our near ancestors made a toy out of it. (Pigskin-football)

Food and Drink in Medieval England
"The villagers drank water and milk. The water from a river was unpleasant to drink and the milk did not stay fresh for long. The main drink in a medieval village was ale."

Many sites I checked said the same thing, people drank water, but water was unpleasant to drink. Most believed bad tasting water meant illness causing water. (Make it taste better, meant making it safe to drink.)

As a general rule, my people only get water from a fast moving stream of river. ie Stagnant water breeds illness.
When you grow up drinking it, you get immunities to some of the germs, or you die. So the strong survive and grow tolerant to the nastiness.

I do believe towns people that do not live near a stream drank ale or boiled water, which unless they were cooking wasted wood. Hot coffee or tea was probably popular when they were discovered, but not sure when and where they drank these.
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Depending on the enlightenment level of your civilisation there are several techniques you could use to purify the water.

Filtration - use of charcoal in a bag - the charcoal absorbs many of the toxins and impurities of water, but is unlikely to kill off all bacteria and viruses. The bag would act as a sieve catching the particles.

Boiling and distillation - to kill the bugs.

The Victorians had a ceramic water filter, expensive though as they were lined with silver, and the silver killed the bacteria but not viruses.

Carrying water - the sheepskin mentioned above, or; glass bottles and flasks. For larger amounts, a beer barrel.

As a further suggestion, you could make a 'tea' from stingy nettles or wild mint.
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Jess A

Certain succulent plants contain water available to humans. You could invent some. I usually have a few convenient succulent plants floating around, much to the delight of my characters.
I have invented a plant that, for protection against being eaten, produces a substance that acts like iodine or chlorine. A rare plant, but useful to my nomadic people.


Usually, the bladder would be an inside liner with a leather outer: you combine watertightness with greater durability that way. (See also "bota"—another word for the same thing.)

Ceramic (or glass) was not only much heavier, but also prone to breaking: you'd do better with wooden barrels (presumably small ones, unless you're on a ship). Metal flasks can also be used, though in many cases the material cost will be prohibitive for such applications… would depend on how common the metal was in your setting. Tin, probably the best candidate among pre-industrial metals, was surprisingly rare in most of Europe for much of the Middle Ages. Copper would also do reasonably well, and was in general more available, though not so much so that you'd expect to see something as mundane as a water flask made of it.

Water being unsafe to drink was very much a relative thing. In larger urban areas, this was often true—though an easy solution was simply to make sure the water you were using was coming from a fresh source… an aqueduct, say. (The decline of large-scale engineering projects of this sort probably had as much to do with the decline in urban sizes as social factors such as feudalism did, I'd guess.) Rainwater was always safe, as long as it wasn't allowed to become infested—something which can be addressed merely by covering up the collector when it wasn't raining. Even massive collection systems such as cisterns—and some of these got massive indeed—could be maintained safely, so long as they were enclosed and periodically inspected and, if necessary, cleaned. Well water was usually safe, as long as the well was deep enough that any groundwater entering it had plenty of opportunity for contaminants to be filtered out; on the other hand, a high water table in a heavily agricultural area (with lots of animal waste) could become dangerous. Spring water is almost universally safe, though often unpleasant due to mineral content.

As for other sources, it would generally depend on the relationship of the water to sources of contaminants: you want your drinking water to come from upstream of your community, not downstream. Of course, your upstream is probably someone else's downstream to begin with; I'm not sure what the critical distance might be for significant levels of contamination to disperse or precipitate out. A lot will depend on the volume and speed of the watercourse itself. Keeping the water in an urban area safe to drink relied heavily on its waste disposal system—which in most European towns from the post-Roman days to the Industrial Revolution was nil. And, of course, just as you want your drinking water to come from upstream, you want your sewage to discharge downstream; doing it the other way around is a terminally poor notion.

Purification would generally consist of boiling; most other methods are too recent for most fantasy settings. Charcoal may be usable in filtration, but considering that charcoal-making itself was a significant export industry for certain areas (Medieval England, for instance), it's unlikely much of it would get diverted from the metal industries that perennially hungered for it. Also, there's a sizable difference between just plain charcoal and activated charcoal—"size" having everything to do with it, in fact, since only the surface area of the charcoal matters for filtration: it needs to be ground to extremely fine powder to be of much use. Pretty much nothing else worked: diluting alcoholic beverages with water makes the beverage less safe, not the water more so; the benefits of tea drinking came from boiling the water to make it, not from the tea or herbs used.

By and large, most people living in a given region would have developed significant levels of immunity to local water-borne illnesses, as SeverinR mentions. That doesn't mean those same immunities would apply if they went far afield… though even then, many such illnesses would do little worse than give you a case of the runs. Not pleasant, but rarely fatal by itself. And not a universal rule.

Ultimately, though, a long-distance traveler is going to have to rely on water if he isn't passing through an area where he can stop at a taphouse every night: it's the only liquid he's likely to be able to easily resupply himself with. And carrying large amounts of any fluid rapidly becomes problematic due to weights involved. That humanity survived this long is a good indicator that the "unsafe to drink" thing has been somewhat overstated—as well as being highly relativized to Western European culture: cities throughout the rest of the world (and even in Western Europe, as with Islamic Spain) continued to grow into the hundreds of thousands throughout history. Besides, if the water's good enough for his horse, it ought to be good enough for the rider, eh?

Oh, yeah: the horse does have to drink too, doesn't it? Good luck carrying enough along for that.… :p
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Immunities also depended on the contaminate.
Animal waste(and type of animal[sheep vs cow vs pig] versus human waste, even the main diet of the humans can cause a different strain of bacteria to grow over another.

Definately tea and coffee was favored because of being heated, I wouldn't doubt they thought the coffee or tea killed the germs or was a magic cure of illness, when it was simply a bacteria free liquid. (almost any illness is improved with clean/sanitary hydration.)


I have invented a plant that, for protection against being eaten, produces a substance that acts like iodine or chlorine. A rare plant, but useful to my nomadic people.

Plants using as a defense would be very potent, so a small amount would treat a useful amount of water.

Caged Maiden

Article Team
Remember too that elephants and many other animals know where to dig for water..... if your characters were smart, they would watch for where the local wildlife drink. One can set up a sort of dirt filter like the elephants do, digging close to a pool and allowing it to slowly fill with water.