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