Water Treatment

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Using my SteriPEN in the backcountry!
Using my SteriPEN in the backcountry!

Water filtration and water treatment are big issues nowadays for those of us who like to spend time in the backcountry. Mountain streams used to be safe to drink, and even just a decade ago running water in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California was perfectly safe, but increased pollution has changed that.

Unfortunately there are all sorts of pathogens and parasites that need to be removed from water before it is safe to drink. Here in the United States the National Park Service warns that water may be contaminated, and therefore should be treated.

You may already be aware of the most common and greatest threat to those who drink untreated water: Giardia Lambia. Fortunately I’ve never experienced it, but friends I know have had it and it is horribly unpleasant.


Backcountry Water Filters
Backcountry Water Filters

Types of Water Treatment:

    • Boiling: Boiling water will kill just about everything, however, it does take time, requires taking extra fuel, and is cumbersome to do while hiking. When you’re back at camp enjoying dinner, it isn’t an issue, but the last thing you’ll want to do on the middle of a hike is take our your stove, fuel, and pots to boil some water to drink.
    • Filtering: There are several types of filters on the market, and they are generally all good at killing protozoa and bacteria. The bad news is that water filters are not effective against viruses.
Chemical Treatment
Chemical Treatment
  • Chemical Treatment: It is possible to buy chemicals like Iodine and Chlorine that you can use to treat water. However, these chemicals take awhile to work, and can leave a horrible taste.
  • UV Treatment: Newer technologies such as SteripPENs zap water with UV light, which is the same way bottled water is treated. The drawback is that these can be pricey ($80+), and require batteries.


Water Treatment Shopping Tips:

  • Weight? As with all things related to hiking and backpacking, light weight is key.
  • Ease of use? Except for boiling water, the other choices to treat water are relatively easy. The most important thing is that you are familiar with your equipment and it is easy for you to filter or treat the water. Fancy devices are useless if you don’t know how to operate them.
  • Filter “pore size” If you decide to buy a water filter, make sure the pore size is 0.2 microns. In the past, the industry norm was 0.4 microns, however, technological advancements have resulted in smaller pore sizes, and therefore more effective filtering.


Hiking Lady’s Favorite Water Treatment:

SteriPEN Classic: I was one of the early adopters of the SteriPEN. I bought mine 2 years ago, and there’s no looking back! I absolutely love it – it’s lightweight, has been super reliable, it is easy and quick to use, and my hiking friends are always asking to borrow it. SteriPENs are pricey, and you’ll need backup batteries with you, but those are my only complaints. Highly recommend it! Also check out my review of their newest model, the SteriPEN Adventurer Opti.

Katadyn Hiker Pro Filter: Before I bought my Steripen, I always took my Katadyn Hiker Pro Filter with me on backpacking trips. I still use it if I’m going with a large group of people because sharing one SteriPEN or even one filter among 4+ people makes the water treatment process quite slow. The “Pro” version is about $10 more expensive than the regular Katadyn Hiker Filter, but the additional feature of being able to maintain it in the field is invaluable. If your filter clogs in the backcountry, you’re gonna want to be able to unclog it! Also, unlike the SteriPEN, filters don’t eliminate viruses – you’re unlikely to have problems with viruses in the water in the U.S., but for those of you overseas or planning at Himalayan trek, keep this in mind.

Back to Hiking 101


  1. Hiking Lady says:

    Great question about the LifeStraw. I think it is a reasonable option from everything I’ve heard about it. I personally haven’t tried it yet but will make sure to review one soon and let you know my thoughts. The price is affordable and the greatest drawback I’ve heard is that it is a bit hard to drink directly from the stream/creek, but otherwise it is effective and a good value if you can’t afford the other options.

    Happy trails!

  2. Hiking Lady says:

    Here’s an emailed comment:

    What do you think of the Lifestraw water filter? I know it’s not on your preferred list but the filter on this site is no longer available and most of my hiking I haven’t needed water treatment so I’m looking for a less expensive option than SteriPEN.

  3. Hiking Lady says:

    Hi Korryn,
    I’d say to go for the Adventurer Opti – it is small, lightweight, and as long as you bring along an extra battery you’ll be fine. I’m assuming you’re referring to the SteriPEN prefilter. Yes, they’re nice to have, especially if you don’t like to drink water with a lot of sediment 😉 You can always use a bandanna or coffee filter as well.
    Have a great trip!

  4. Hiking Lady says:

    Great question – I store my SteriPEN in the side pocket of my Gregory Deva pack. When I bought my SteriPEN it came in a soft carrying case, so I definitely keep that on as a protective layer. I am pretty diligent about not throwing my backpack around, so it doesn’t get banged up on the sides where I store the SteriPEN. I also like having it accessible for quick use. If you are super rough on your gear perhaps store it deeper inside your pack inside extra clothing.

  5. scsurvive says:

    I wanted to ask where you pack your steripen when in the outdoors. I just got the classic and haven’t decided the best place to put it while camping in the woods. It just seems like the bulb may be broken easily if I’m not careful. I have a tendency to be rough on gear when in the woods.

  6. Hiking Lady says:

    Hi Emily,
    The SteriPEN Traveler is indeed a bit less expensive. The major reason why I like the Adventurer better is that it is lighter weight (3.6 ounces vs. 5.7 ounces for the Traveler), a bit smaller, and the bulb is better made (it is intended to last 8,000 treatments vs. 3,000 for the Traveler).
    If you don’t plan to use it all the time, perhaps for a couple of trips per year, the Traveler should suit you well. And yes, the pre-filter will work with the new version of the Traveler (blue metallic colored SteriPEN). Bottom line, unless you go backpacking every weekend, the Traveler is a great way to save a few bucks!
    Happy trails!

  7. Emily says:

    I opted for the Steripen Traveler because it was better priced….do you think I should return it for the Adventurer or are they basically the same? Can I purchase the pre-filter with it? thanks!

  8. Hiking Lady says:

    Great question, Ivan. The way to think about it is that municipalities use UV light to treat our tap water to make it safe…so it clearly works 🙂
    Hope that helps you get over your concerns about UV light based technology. Pumps work well too, they just tend to be bulkier and have the potential of jamming. SteriPENs are lightweight, but there is the risk of batteries dying…
    At the end of the day, get whatever makes you most comfortable. There is no need to use both. It is overkill to SteriPEN water after you’ve filtered it through a pump.

  9. Ivan says:

    I was planning on getting a SteriPEN but I was still going to filter water before I use it. I just don’t feel 100% comfortable with the UV method. Am I being over-cautious?

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