Can You Drink Tannic Water?

If you hike or backpack in areas that have large amounts of decaying vegetation, like the forests of North America, you’re going to come across natural water sources that have a sickly red, orange, or yellow color. The tea-like coloring is caused by tannins that have leached out of the trees, grasses, and leafy plants, and into the local water supply. This coloring is harmless and the water can be filtered or purified by regular means for human consumption. While it’s aesthetically displeasing and may impart a slight bitterness to the water, tannins do not pose a health or medical issue.

Some water filters can partially remove tannins from the water, particularly those with an activated carbon component like the Katadyn Hiker Pro, which can make the water more palatable. The MSR MiniWorks Ceramic Filter can also remove tannins, but must be brushed (cleaned) occasionally to restore its normal flow rate. However, tannins will reduce the lifetime of most hollow fiber filters such as the Sawyer Squeeze, the HydroBlu VersaFlow, and the Katadyn BeFree unless they are backflushed more frequently.

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About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the 36th person to hike all 650 of the hiking trails in the White Mountain Guide, a distance of approximately 2500 miles, completing a second round in 2021. Philip is the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He lives in New Hampshire.
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