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Backpacker Magazine – August 2009

Which Water Treatment is for You?

Fast, hassle-free, ultralight,–we explore five different water treatment scenarios and the right system to use.

by: Buck Tilton

(Photo by Keith Fialcowitz)
(Photo by Keith Fialcowitz)

You already know that pristine-looking backcountry lakes and streams can be contaminated with tiny, gut- twisting bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. But do you know which of the many water treatment methods on the market is the best for you? Here's how to decide.

You want One quick method for use domestically and abroad
Choose An ultraviolet light purifier like the SteriPEN ($80-$100, bombards water with UV rays, neutralizing bacteria, protozoa, and viruses (which are a particular problem in developing countries). It works in less than a minute and doesn't leave a chemical aftertaste. Caution: This handheld device works best in relatively clear water (strain with a bandana first if it's not) and requires batteries (pack spares).

You want The lightest possible treatment
Choose Chlorine dioxide tablets such as Aquamira ($8, aquamira .com) weigh almost nothing (less than an ounce for 30) and take care of all three major types of bugs with a highly active form of oxygen. They're also easy to use—just pop one tablet into your bottle—but they take 30 minutes to kill Giardia and up to four hours for cryptosporidium. (Iodine tablets are also lightweight and cheap, but they won't kill crypto and leave an unpleasant taste.)

You want The best method for silty water
Choose Good old-fashioned boiling works everywhere, but it's perfect for ultracloudy rivers and sediment-choked puddles. Collect water in a pot, then fire up the stove: Not only will the high temperature kill bacteria, protozoa, and viruses, but the boiling will help the sediment settle out, leaving clear water on top. Simply bringing water to a rolling boil is sufficient. Cons: Boiling is fuel-intensive and requires waiting for water to cool.

You want An easy, speedy method
Choose Pump filters use microscopic pores (.2 microns or less) to snag bacteria and protozoa while allowing water to flow through the filter at one to three liters per minute. They shine where viruses aren't an issue, but can be pricy and require field maintenance. Where viruses are a problem (developing countries, near human habitation or agricultural runoff), choose a filter with iodine resin, upgrade to a purifier (First Need's XL model neutralizes the big three pathogens), or back up with a chemical treatment.

You want A hassle-free method for big groups
Choose Gravity filters are quick and trap everything a pump model does, but handle larger volumes of water. (The Platypus CleanStream filters four liters in less than three minutes; $90, The lightweight bags pack small and are a snap to use (just hang from a tree, let water drip, and drink).

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star
Derek Sharpie
Jun 01, 2014

prefer to use berkey water filter at home or during our trips on mountains or riversides. safe, and instant purifiers. i love it.
check this out:

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Star Star Star
Jak Manson
Dec 16, 2013

If you are in need of finding ways of creating less of a chance of having iron in your water, you want to get an iron filter. Check out the site called and see what they can do for you.

Nov 24, 2013

Boiling water does a better job killing everything than any of the above. Why not consider a stainless cup and a small fire or small stove?

Oct 09, 2013

fuck thia

Oct 09, 2013

fuck this

Apr 12, 2013

Sawyers customer sucks. I lost my original filter in the boundary waters so I bought a second one. After talking to one of the "Customer Service Reps" I decided on the .2 filter and bought that. I tried to filter some tap water & it took over an hour to filter. I emailed their "Customer Service" but they said I could not return it do to that fact that I had filter "water". They have no return policy on "Used" filters. Never buying a Sawyer again.

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Mar 11, 2012

Joe, will you share how to make your "homemade
contraption" with the rest of us. Sounds very good and hopefully inexpensive for those of us on a budget. Thanxs.

Joe Hampton
Feb 27, 2012

I like the SteriPen, except it does not take care of chemical contatmination. What I have started doing is running the water through a standard Pur filter first (using a homemade contraption from a powdered creamer bottle) and then I use the steripen. Gets the chemicals out and makes for clearer water and then the SteriPen kills any critters that remain. It has worked well so far.

Tom Foolry
Sep 01, 2011

Thank you for these different <a href="">portable water filter</a>s, it really helps when someone lays them all out like this and compares them, side by side. I was looking to get one for a hiking trip, so I think I'll go with a pump. Thanks again!

Jul 17, 2010

I use the first need XL and it`s awesome! I`ve used it in lakes and streams and the water comes out clean and tastes excellent.

Ann G.
Jul 16, 2010

Silty water? Iíve got the answer, and Iím shocked that more people donít know about it, especially Backpacker Magazine. Itís PUR water purification powder. This is the real thing ó itís used all over the world by governments and humanitarian groups to purify water in 3rd world countries ó it makes safe drinking water out of water thatís no better than sewage.

If you ever backpack where the water supply is silty (e.g. the Colorado River, the Paria River, etc.) this is absolutely the quickest (30 mins), lightest (a 0.14-oz. packet cleans 10 liters of water), most reliable (no filter to clog!!), and easiest way to get CLEAR, CLEAN, PURE & SAFE drinking water.

I'm not kidding. In March I used it on a 5-day backpack in Grand Canyon National Park where our only source of drinking water was the totally silt-clogged Colorado River. This stuff gave us gallons of delicious, clear, totally safe water. One day we had way more purified water than we needed, and actually gave our extra to some passing hikers whose pumps had completely clogged up and who were consequently in serious trouble.

By the way, it works for all water conditions, not just silt. I would absolutely use it for any situation, it just so happens that this stuff takes the silt right out of any water, along with bacteria, parasites and viruses. It contains ferrous sulfate, which removes suspended particles from water, and calcium hypochlorite, which acts as a disinfectant.

I sound like Iím selling this stuff, but Iím not ó I just use it and am convinced itís the best water treatment ever for backpacking. ďPUR Purifier of WaterĒ is sold online by Amazon, by Reliance Co., and sometimes at Campmor & other camping suppliers. Itís about $15 for 6 packets, each packet processes 10 liters of water. Amazing. Try it.

Jul 16, 2010

Don't forget the new inline and endline filters, like Aquamira's Frontier Pro and Sawyer. We switched from a hand-pumped filter to the Frontier Pro for the John Muir Trail and could fill our Platypus with water from waterfalls and streams and filter it as we sucked on the tube, or let it drip into the pan for eating/cooking. Other hikers and even rangers stopped us to inquire. Saved us LOTS of time and weight. We have now added a Sawyer inline filter which is even easier to drink from, using our old normal mouthpieces.

Jul 16, 2010

Don't forget the new inline and endline filters, like Aquamira's Frontier Pro and Sawyer. We switched from a hand-pumped filter to the Frontier Pro for the John Muir Trail and could fill our Platypus with water from waterfalls and streams and filter it as we sucked on the tube, or let it drip into the pan for eating/cooking. Other hikers and even rangers stopped us to inquire. Saved us LOTS of time and weight. We have now added a Sawyer inline filter which is even easier to drink from, using our old normal mouthpieces.

Andy B
Jul 16, 2010

I just bought a Sawyer gravity fed water purifier. It was quite expensive($200), but wow, it was great! We used it for my family of five in Colorado for two weeks. We had no problems. It sure beats having to pump gallon after gallon. We drank a lot more water because it was so convenient.

Jeff Dillavou
Oct 30, 2009

The ultraviolet light purifier like the SteriPEN are wonderful but... glass tip on a backpack - I am too ruff on my pack

Oct 20, 2009

Surprised no comment on Pristine as a chemical purifier. Easy, light, no taste unless you overdose.

Sep 05, 2009

The MIOX system works great ((MSR - approx $139.00)) . Miox (variants) were originally developed for and proven by the U.S. Army and U.S.M.C. for use in Afghanistan. Uses two (2) CR123 Li batteries and salt (table, rock, any kind of NaCl). I used on Hikes of AT with no problems. Need to practice BEFORE you use in the field. Kills all bad things, but there is a wait time as with purification tabs. Hooah!

Herman Finster
Aug 24, 2009

Lacks depth, completeness.


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