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Water Purification

September 15th, 2009

Giardiasis is the most common and widespread disease and is caused by microscopic parasitic cysts called giardia.  Giardiasis has an incubation period of seven to twenty-one days. Some of the symptoms for giardiasis include bloating, diarrhea, headache, vomiting, cramping, low-grade fever, and loss of appetite.  It’s a good idea to have purification tablets as well as a filter as a backup in case the filter gets clogged.     Here are some common methods of purification.

  • Boil the water – This is the good old standby. The main disadvantage of boiling your water is carrying enough fuel to provide ample water for your trip. It also makes the water taste flat.
  • Chemical Disinfectants – Iodine or chlorine dioxide. Some of the most popular and effective brands are Potable Aqua Tablets, and Aqua Mira.  One of the main problems with using iodine or chlorine is the taste they give the water. If using iodine, one effective method for reducing the taste of the iodine is a secondary tablet placed in the water after the initial treatment is complete.  The KlearWater treatment is a liquid that is made from chlorine dioxide, which doesn’t impart a chemical taste to the water.  One disadvantge is that you need to wait 30 minutes for the treatments to be complete.  Not as big of an issue if you plan ahead a bit.
  • Filtration – This is the method I’ve used for years. The flavor is maintained, or even improved, by the use of water filters. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as the perfect water filter.  Because there is no perfect water filter for every situation, be sure to compare and buy one suited to your needs. Where will you be using it most? How often will you use it? How easy is it to use by yourself? How comfortable is it to use? These are all very important considerations.  Another thing to think about is the ability to clean the filter in the field. Another thing to consider is the availability of replacement filter cartridges.  My personal favorite is the Katadyn Hiker PRO.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) Light – This is a relatively new process for treating water in the backcountry. Innovations in design have minimized the size and weight of these water treatment devices, making them an excellent choice for the backcountry.  The SteriPen Adventurer has some excellent features geared specifically for those of us who need something durable and lightweight as well as effective. It weighs only 3.6 ounces with the included batteries and will purify .5 liter/16oz of water in 48 seconds, or 1 liter/32oz in 90 seconds. It will destroy viruses, bacteria and protozoa, but it is less effective in murky water. If you will be treating water that isn’t clear, it is imperative that you filter the water through the optional SteriPEN Prefilter or fabric, such as a bandana or cheesecloth, before using the SteriPen.

Here are several more tips for water usage in the backcountry:

  • When brushing your teeth, be sure to use purified water.
  • Remember that you do not need to treat water used in cooking or hot drinks as long as it comes to a rolling boil before you drink it.
  • Filtering your water directly from a stream or pothole can be very difficult.  you can use a high sierra cup to scoop water into a nalgene with sill filter, then treat with iodine, or filter pump into another nalgene.   If you are in an area of stagnant water, try lifting up rocks or digging holes in the mud to allow water to come in.

I normally bring two nalgene bottles.

Additional resources: Hitthetrail.com

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  1. Josh Tegart
    March 25th, 2010 at 15:31 | #1

    The Katadyn Hiker PRO destroys bacteria and protozoa, but not viruses. Do you also use chlorine dioxide tablets to eliminate the viruses?

  2. videowaypoint
    March 26th, 2010 at 20:43 | #2

    Hi Josh. I personally don’t use the drops / tablets. So far it has not been a problem. In cases where the water is questionable I will filter and then boil as well.

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