Backcountry Water Treatment
By Rokslide Staff
Any serious outdoorsman knows how important it is to either filter, or use some form of chemical treatment, to all water gathered from creeks, streams and springs while in the backcountry. Nowadays, there are a lot of different options when it comes to water treatment. With extensive amount of time spent in the wilderness, Rokslide staff has used all types of treatment and here are their preferred water treatment products:
I have had the same PUR Hiker filter (now made by Katadyn) in my arsenal for well over ten years. With the exception of having to replace a couple of replaceable filter cartridges, this thing has been bullet proof – that is, until I let my son in law use it this past season. We were chasing mulies around in the high country of Colorado and he borrowed my filter and ran down to the creek on evening. When he left, the handle was in one piece but upon his return, it was now in two. Although I was bummed, the Hiker, over the course of all the years, proved to me that it is one of the elite, bombproof filters on the market. As a side note, we ran to town and bought a small, compact, Katadyn Mini that only weighed 8 oz. Save your money on this one! It only filters 0.5 quarts per minute, and trust me, when you are tired and thirsty, it seems like it takes an eternity to fill my bladder and bottles. This year I will be purchasing the Katadyn Hiker Pro which weighs 11 oz and filters 1 quart per minute.
Over the years I’ve been able to try several different types of purification and filtration systems; pumps, gravity filters, SteriPen, pills, drops and everything in between, but out of everything I have used, I always seem to come back to the Katadyn Hiker Pro.
The Hiker pro isn’t the most UL way to go and it doesn’t have the fastest pump time either, but what it does have is a happy medium in all categories. I have noticed with most pump type filters that they will excel in one area, but severely lag behind in others and on backpack hunts you need to be prepared for anything. I’ve pumped water from elk wallows, glacier run off and everything in between and as long as I change the filter out every few months I’m good to go.
One thing I would add when using any type of mechanical filter is to bring a backup purification method! I use Aquamira drops for my secondary purification, but any of the pills and drops on the market today seem to be great quality. Just remember that most of these pills will take up to 4 hours to get maximum purification out of them…so don’t rush anything!
The two water filters we have in our house are the Pure Hiker and Sweet Water Microfilter from MSR. Both have proven to be great filters so at this point I am not sure which one I will be taking this year. Water purification tablets are something I have tried in the past and do not really care for them.
I use the Pur Hiker Pro (now made by Katadyn). They are of good value for “cleaner” type water, but one time I plugged one after 2-3 liters, when I had to filter from an old dirty elk Wallow. Elk piss sucks, but we didn’t get sick. The new model comes with a pre-filter wrap worth using. For really dirty water, consider a ceramic filter (none throw-away) that is easy to clean. These filter are more expensive and heavier, but in really bad conditions, the way to go. If one is hunting an area, with the potential for viruses, I’d recommend boiling also or using a Steri-Pen (UV light). Water tablets should be used more for emergencies; not for extended use. Some take a while to dissolve and one has to wait before drinking. For “clean” water, a steri-pen is ok also. Make sure to bring extra batteries. If the water is really dirty, consider bringing a couple containers and pre-filter the water with a handkerchief or t-shirt before filtering, boiling or using the steri-pen.
For years, I have used a Katadyn Backpacker Pro ($80) water filtration pump for all my backcountry trips. It’s been a great performer and I’ve had no issues with it. It’s a little bit heavy and bulky, but always gets the job done reasonably quick and effectively cleans up some pretty ugly water when needed.
Recently, I discovered another fantastic option, the Platypus Gravity Works system ($110). It’s lightweight and can serve as a water bladder and filtration system hauling up to 2 gallons at a time! It weighs about 10.75 ounces dry, but since I don’t need a separate water bladder, it’s a net gain of only 6 or 7 ounces to my pack versus hauling no filter at all.
It consists of two, 4-liter bladders, one for clean water and the other for unfiltered water. It’s gravity fed so no pumping is required. Some gravity filters are painfully slow, but the Gravity Works keeps pace with the fastest pumps at nearly ½ gallon per minute without the arm pump! The extra capacity is especially nice for hauling the extra water needed for cooking and clean-up when you’re not camped on water. The outlet to the dirty water bag has an innovative quick-release valve that seals shut until the filter hose is inserted. So you can fill the bag at the stream and pack it back to camp without the filter attached. I added a generic bite valve to the system for about $9 to improve the water bladder function of this multi-tasking filter.
This is a nice system, but it does have some limitations. It’s nearly impossible to fill a water bag out of a tiny seep – this is where a traditional filter works better to suction water up and out of little pools. The filter does slow down after filtering water with a lot of silt & sediment. A quick back-flush of the filter should restore the flow rate. I usually back-flush my filter at home before each trip, but you can do it on the trail in under a minute. My Platypus is awesome for most hunts, but I still pack my trusty Katadyn Backpacker Pro when I’m heading into uncharted territory where I’m likely to be using tiny seeps and springs for water.
I use the Katadyn Hiker microfilter that is marketed as one of the best in the US Outdoor Market. It is lightweight and easy to use and very packable. Pleated cartridge design provides fast and easy pumping. Convenient and handy for 1–2 people that is compatible with hydration bladders. I also take iodine tablets with me and only use these at lower elevations when there is more of a chance of contaminated water. Up high above the tree line they are not needed in my opinion.
Over the years while backpacking and hunting, I have tried many different water filters. I have also figured out that I prefer water purification tablets over filters or pumps. I use the Katadyn Micropur Purification Tablets. These tablets are effective against viruses, bacteria, Giardia and Cryptosporidium. 1 tablet treats 1 quart of water. 30 min wait time; 4 hr. wait time in order to treat Cryptosporidium. Although the 4 hour wait time may be inconvenient, alternative disinfectants do not claim to destroy Cryptosporidium.
I have chosen to use these over a filter for a couple of reasons. One reason being their weight. A pack of 30 tablets weighs .9 of an ounce compared to a heavy filter. Also it is convenient for me to fill up a Nalgene bottle and just plop a tablet in and keep on going. No having to stand there and pump/filter water for 15 mins. And third, these tablets kill everything!! Some filters don’t get rid of all the nasty things, i.e Cryptosporidium.
I annually filter 100+ gallons of water, so an easy to use, lightweight, and efficient water filter is a key component to my backcountry kit. I have tried a number of different filters over the years, but as of today, I am down to just two types of filters that I use depending on the trip or time of year.
My wife and I have used the Katadyn Hiker Pro extensively during the last several seasons. It is a small and easy to use package. At just over 11 ounces and less than 7” long, it’s not a burden to carry while still providing a solid 1 liter per minute flow rate on average with clear water. Obviously your filter will clog up faster if the clarity is poor or the particles in the water increase, but on average we can make it a 6 month season with around 100+ gallons filtered between my wife and I on a single filter before changing. Changing the $50 filter isn’t totally necessary, but we have found flow rate is diminished some by the time our last hunt in November is completed.
More recently we have been using a Sawyer 3 way filter inline on the drinking hose of my Platypus bladder, and have grown to really like this system for a number of reasons. First, the filter itself weighs only 1.7 ounces, or a tenth the weight of the Katadyn Hiker Pro. Another nice feature of the Sawyer 3 way is that you can fill the Platypus bladder in a matter of seconds by pointing the mouth of the bladder upstream in a creek and allowing the current to fill it. Then you stuff the bladder (full of yet unfiltered water) in your pack and allow the filter to operate inline as you drink it. Getting 3 liters of water now takes about 30 seconds of filling the bladder, instead of three minutes of pumping with a conventional filter. I also like this filter system due to the fact that it also doubles as a gravity filter. I just fill the bladder in a creek, hang the bladder off of my trekking pole or spotting scope tripod, take my mouth piece off and either fill my wife’s water bladder (by connecting to the drink tube quick attach so there is not risk of overfill) or MSR Dromlite for camp water storage. I imagine if you get enough head pressure you can get the advertised 1.7 liters per minute, but I put my filter about two feet below the bottom of the bladder on the bladder drink tube and get solid one liter per minute. Overall this is the lightest, fastest, and easiest to use filter I have tried hands down. The only down fall is if the creek isn’t deep enough then it can take a while to fill your water bladder. This is a rare occurrence and something I can happily deal with given the other advantages the Sawyer 3 way filter with the Platypus Big Zip bladder provides.
I prefer to take a lightweight water purifier on all my back country trips. I have used the PUR Hiker for years, now called the Katadyn Hiker. It is a tried and tested reliable filter that has never failed us. On many occasions we have resorted to purifying stagnant, stinky pond water that was muddied and covered with moss.The Hiker is field cleanable, if there is ever a problem with clogging. We have also taken it to Mexico, Africa, and several South American countries where the water is less than questionable. The only trip I ever got sick on was the one we forgot our purifier. The Hiker weighs 11 oz. and measure 6.5 inches long, making it lightweight and easy to take backpacking. It treats particles, sediments, giardia, cryptosporidia, and protazoa. Replaceable filters for the Hiker are available as well.
I have used the Pure Hiker as my primary water filter for the last twelve years and it has never once let me down. This year I decided to upgrade my water filter to one that I could clean in the field. After a lot of research I bought the Sweet Water Microfilter from MSR and have been really impressed with the filter in the short time I have used it. I really like the speed of filling and the handle style is comfortable to use.
A lot of times my filter sees much of its use in the desert county where I am pulling water out of really dirty situations. One thing I have always done to assist in the filtering process is carry a few coffee filters and a couple of rubber bands. By placing a coffee filter over my intake filter has made a huge difference in maintaining the life of my water filter.