Western Traveler

Water Purification Systems

There are many wonderful things that you can experience in the back country. One experience that you want to avoid at all costs is drinking contaminated water. The results can and will ruin your trip. Complications can range from digestive tract disorders to death. That may sound extreme, but it has happened.

The first rule of drinking water in the wilderness is TREAT IT!! This can be done either chemically, or through a filtration system. I’ve done both, and as always there are pros and cons to each.

Chemical treatment basically consists of dropping a tablet or some sort (iodine or other chemical) into a container of water, waiting for it to do its thing and drinking it. With iodine tablets you’ll find out very quickly that the crystal-clear mountain water you thought bacteria-free was teaming with life. In almost every case, the water will turn iced-tea colored. The disadvantage to chemical treating of water is that it can leave a “funky” aftertaste. Still, it beats the other possibilities. In recent years manufacturers have developed an after-treatment pill to neutralize the aftertaste. A few drops of bleach will also do the trick. Hydrochlorite (bleach) is the same stuff that most water companies use to treat your water at home. Be very careful to not use too much as it can cause serious problem too.

The preferred method for most backpackers is the filtration method. Small, effective systems are available at most sporting goods stores. The main thing to make sure of is that your system filters down to about .5 microns. Anything larger than that won’t be very effective. If possible, get a filtering system that removed viruses as well. I use the Sweet-Water Guardian system. To date, I’ve never gotten sick in the back country. There are several good systems on the market.

You may want to go to www.backpacker.com for more information on the latest systems. They’re an excellent source for up-to-date information on virtually everything used by outdoors enthusiasts. Their annual Gear Guide has become the bible for many backpackers.

Last modified on: March 15th 2012.
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