Water Treatment

Backpacking water treatment methods

If you want to start a heated discussion amongst backpackers online or in a gathering, more than discussions on tents, backpacks, stoves etc, start talking about WATER! Oh my. Everybody has an opinion and a strong one at that. Before I let you in on my opinion….here’s a short synopsis of your choices of treating water in the backcountry.

1-do nothing

2-bring water to a boil. Simple but heavy….bring lots of extra fuel.

3-chlorine bleach. In the 60s when I first started backpacking in Central California, we would take a small plastic bottle with straight chlorox in it. We would put about 2 drops in each quart and wait 15-30 min and drink up. Yep, chlorine leaves a slight smell just like most of your tap water does.

4-iodine. Put either 5 drops of tinture of iodine to a quart, or use some tablets like Aqua Mira. Yep, iodine leaves a nasty little after taste and brown color to your water. However, there is a trick to fixing that, bring some chewable vit C and crumble a tiny piece in your quart after the iodine has been in it for about 15 minutes and voile! Tasteless, odorless, clear water. Check back again for a video I’ll be uploading to demonstrate this little parlor trick to you!

5-water filters like first need or msr waterworks etc. These are all heavy…but do a great job. Doing a comparison shopping if you are going this route would have you wanting to check weights, filtering specs etc

6-Miox filter…wonderful solution. I have a friend who had to treat all her household drinking water for months and used one of these babies successfully. You gotta be willing to spend a little time on water prep.

7- ultraviolet light in the form of Steripen. Nifty little device. Won’t filter nasty particles…so prefilter if your water is cloudy and dirty.

Ok. What do I use? Well….for many years simply nothing. That does not mean I will always use nothing. Let me explain. As I said, in the 60s and 70s I used chlorine. Then in the 80s when I started backpacking with kids, we got a First Need Water Filter. Great little device! The First Need gets a little hard to pump when the filter gets full of particles, but it works great. However, all the years we painstakingly put our water thru our water filter, our dogs would run right up to the same water source and drink freely. Yes, dogs do get Giardia too. But, mine never did. Got me to thinking. But, I was not willing to take a chance with our kid’s health, so we kept filtering. The day came however, when the kids revolted and wanted to do other things cooler than backpacking and my husband and I were abandoned to hike alone. We promptly stopped filtering. Being careful not to drink from party lakes or yucky looking water, nevertheless, we drank from many different sources and never did get sick. Then eventually I read an article in the defunk Yosemite Association Nature Notes about a researcher who had tested 80 lakes in Yosemite, and found no giardia…or at least not enough to cause an infection. His conclusion was that backpackers were getting Giardia from their hiking partner’s failure to wash properly before cooking meals etc. Well, who knows. But, when I went to write this article it was pretty easy to google even more articles of researchers showing same conclusions…one I found with REI’s name attached. Will I always not treat? No…in fact I own a steripen. And if I don’t bring that, I bring iodine and Vit C. I think I have only used them maybe twice in the last 15 years, but still I bring them. I am very lucky to be able to do most of my hiking in the Sierra Nevada in California. Were I to hike in more populated areas inundated with hikers I would probably start filtering. For now though, I simply don’t. I don’t necessarily recommend you follow my example. It depends on where you hike and with whom (kids?). If you want to treat your water for peace of mind, I cannot recommend filters or steripens enough!

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