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Backpacking water purification is an absolute must if you are venturing into areas with untreated surface water as your only drinking water source.
Water treatment has unfortunately become the rule for backpackers.
It's the only way to avoid picking up beaver fever i.e. unpleasant giardia symptoms.
But should a hiking water filter for your hiking water be your first line of defense against dirty drinking water?
Let's take a look at the problem of providing safe hiking water on an extended backcountry trip.
But there are many unseen sources of water contamination lurking in that "clean" water.
For instance, heavy metals or other contaminants leaching from the rocks.
And there are microscopic troublemakers which other people and animals leave behind:
from sweat, feces or urine.
So unless you absolutely have to in a survival situation, don't drink the water without treating it.
If you find yourself in one of the few untouched places on Earth, feel
free to gulp down ice cold glacier or melt water by the gallon.]
Which brings us back to the subject of choosing a method of backpacking water purification.
Regardless of the method you choose, you want it to be:
I started using an MSR water filter about 15 years ago.
I've noticed several problems with this filter.
The first problem was that I had to pump hard to get enough water flowing through the filter.
I took apart the entire apparatus, cleaned the ceramic core with the recommended abrasive pad, and reassembled it. Not much improvement. I get a good workout every time I pump water!
Another problem was created by my own clumsiness.
I was cleaning the filter in my kitchen sink and accidentally knocked the ceramic core against the metal side of the sink.
That set me back about $80 to replace the ceramic filter.
And when I had murky or debris-filled water sources, the filter clogged often. I had to take it apart, clean off the debris, and reassemble it.
Plus it added time to my preparations for the next day, robbing me of relaxing time.
One more thing: There's no way to know if the filter has failed.
After a week long backpacking trip near Mt. Adams, my hiking companion came down with blastocystis, - even though we filtered all of our water, including our dish washing water.
Obviously, something was amiss.
This filter also will not remove viruses, the smallest of the human pathogens. This is a huge consideration if you are travelling to areas known to be contaminated with human feces.
So I'd recommend looking at the newer filters on the market as you ponder backpacking water purification options. They are definitely lighter, and reportedly faster, for water treatment in the back country than mine.
This is the one I've got my eye on, because of the updated features.
If you want to go as lightweight as possible and still purify your water on a backpacking trip, consider a Lifestraw Go two stage water filtration bottle. Read my review here.
But there's also the LifeStraw Water Filter to consider as a primary method.
But you're not locked into carrying a hiking water filter in your backpack.
There are other avenues to clean drinking water:
1. Boil the water.
This means you have to carry more fuel.
If you're camping at high altitude, it will take even more fuel and more time to supply your drinking water & cooking needs.
The good thing about boiled water: it kills all microscopic pathogens, including viruses.
The bad news? Boiled water can taste flat. You might need to add a little something to jazz it up.
Flavored electrolytes might do the trick, AND provide you with skeletal muscle benefits.
2. Chemical treatment.
I remember adding iodine to my drinking water way back when.
It tasted beyond awful!
And I remember adding flavored drink mixes to the water, just to be able to choke it down.
But at least it was a safe backpacking water purification method, right?
Today, you have the option of using chemicals which are a new generation of effectiveness.
3. UV (ultraviolet) light.
Ever hear of a SteriPen? I'm investigating these right now, and will report what I find.
As a microbiologist, I understand how UV rays can kill microorganisms (mutating the DNA or outright killing the cells). I'm just waiting for some field reports, to confirm that these devices work as advertised.
This is the one I'm considering adding to my hiking gear repertoire for backpacking water purification purposes:
Bottom line for you?
Water is important to a high functioning hiker's body.
Don't deprive yourself of this vital fluid - just be sure it's safe before consuming it.
Choose a primary method of water purification, and also carry a back up method.
Backpacking Water Purification
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