Recreating in the backcountry requires water. You can carry water with you, but after a certain point, that can become heavy and inconvenient. Traditionally, iodine tablets and water pumps have been the go-to methods for purifying water out in the wild. While these are still around, there are several new products, and updates to the venerable classics, that are light, easy to use, and affordable.
While Iodine is the best known chemical treatment method; it tastes bad. Chlorine dioxide tablets or drops still have a little bit of chemical taste, it’s nowhere near as bad as iodine. It’s also very effective at killing bacteria.
Aquamira drops are a favorite of mine. A package of Aquamira is two bottles of solution; mix 8 drops of each in the mixing cap, wait 5 minutes, add to a liter of water, and wait 15 minutes before drinking. Aquatics are similar; drop a tablet in a 2 liters of untreated water, and wait 30 minutes. Aquatics are effective against giardia, bacteria, and viruses. Both of these methods are inexpensive, light and easy to use. Even if you prefer another method, having one of these in your emergency kit as a backup is a good idea.
Filters are another tried and true method. They filter out particles, and organisms of a certain size, but do nothing to the taste of the water. The Katadyn Hiker and Hiker Pro pump filters are great options for this. The Hiker Pro has a .2 micron filter, which removes bacteria, cysts, and sediment. It produces about a liter of filtered water per minute, and will filter up to 300 gallons of water before the replaceable filter will need to be replaced. The Hiker Pro weighs about 11 oz. It’s not ultralight, but it’s great for camping in larger groups, canoe and kayak camping, and in places where the water has sediment and particles in it.
Ounce counting backpackers and thru-hikers will look for something lighter than the Hiker Pro. The Sawyer Mini is a filter that the fast and light, weight-conscious crowd will want to look into. It weighs 2 oz, and removes 99.99999% of all bacteria, such as salmonella, cholera, leptospirosis, and E.coli; it removes 99.9999% of all protozoa, such as giardia and cryptosporidium. It comes with a soft bag to gather water, just dip in the creek, screw the filter on, and squeeze water through the filter into a clean water bottle. You can also, drink straight through the filter like a straw, but truth be told, you have to suck pretty hard to get water through. Squeezing is a better option. It also comes with a syringe to flush out the filter if it gets clogged with sediment. The Mini is a pretty cool filter, it’s super light, and inexpensive. I like mine. If you cut the handle off your toothbrush, this might be your filter.
Another addition to the light filter category is the Katadyn BeFree filtration bottle. It’s a .6L soft bottle with a filter on the mouthpiece. It filters out 99.9999% of bacteria, and 99.9% of protozoa, and the filter will last for up to 1000 liters. It weighs 2 oz, and packs down to a very small size, perfect for trail runners. It only takes a few seconds to unscrew the top, fill it up, and keep going.
A departure from the usual methods of purification is the Steripen. It uses ultraviolet light to kill over 99.9% of bacteria, viruses and protozoa. Just submerge the lamp, stir, and drink. We currently carry two versions of the Steripen, the Adventurer Opti, and the Ultra. The Adventurer Opti runs on two CR123 batteries, which will provide 50 1 liter treatments before needing replacement. The Steripen Ultra has a rechargeable battery. Just plug in with a USB cable and let it charge. The Ultra will treat 50 liters on a full charge. Steripens are great for use in the backcountry where water is generally clean, and no filtering is required. They’re also awesome for international travel. Just pull it out, zap your water, and drink without worry!
All of these products produce safe, drinkable water, so how does one choose? I’ve tried most of these products, and think they’re all pretty good. But depending on the application, I’ll prefer one over the other. On a budget? Try the Aquatabs, Aquamira, or the Sawyer Mini. Going ultralight? Look at the Katadyn BeFree, Aquatabs, Aquamira, or the Sawyer Mini. Family camping trips? The Katadyn Hiker and Hiker Pro are fast, safe, and easy enough for kids to use. Traveling the globe? The Steripen will keep you safe in the canyon or cantina.