Filtering Water in the Backcountry: Purifiers to Look For

Is it as clean as it looks?
Water Purifier for Camping

Having a backcountry water purifier is essential if you will be spending any amount of time in the backcountry. Even that clean, clear-looking mountain stream may harbor nasty bacteria and viruses that will make you very sick - or worse. So, what are the best ways to purify water while you are in the backcountry? There are a number of different options.

Backcountry Water Purifiers

When you are hiking or camping in the backcountry, it is a good idea to bring water with you. However, if you are planning an extended stay it can be difficult to carry enough water with you to meet your hydration requirements. You lose a great deal of water while hiking, especially at high elevations and dehydration is dangerous. You can avoid a potentially unsafe situation by planning for a water purification method that you can use in the wilderness. Following are the best ways to provide safe water for you to drink.

Commercial Filtration System

There are a number of commercial water purification systems appropriate for backcountry campers. Methods of filtering can vary from a water bottle with a built in filter, an ultraviolet pen light that purifies up to 16 ounces of water at a time or a larger, camp-sized system that can filter larger amounts of water at a time. A few products you may want to try include:

When deciding on an appropriate system for your needs there are a few things to consider. Filtering systems are most effective when combined with a chemical purification product. In addition, ordinary filters will not remove viruses. Some systems combine filtering and purification techniques to effectively remove viruses along with other contaminants.

Some things to look at when selecting the right filter are:

  • Pore size: smaller is better
  • Maintenance: ease of cleaning or changing of filters
  • Weight of the unit: you will be carrying this around with you so you will want a light unit
  • Cost: cheaper isn't necessarily better

Chemical Purification

There are many products on the market that will purify water using iodine or chlorine. A few options that you may want to consider include:

It is best for you to strain the water first, and then add the chemical purifier of your choice. Allow the chemical - which may be a tablet or a liquid - to work for about 10 minutes before considering the water safe. It is important to pay attention to the expiration date on chemical purification products and to follow the manufacturer's instructions. If the product has expired it will not be effective, so check the date before your outing and purchase new products if necessary.

Chemical purifiers have a downside, too. For one thing, if the water is very cold the purifier is less effective. In addition, these types of products can leave a bad taste in the water. A remedy for this is, again, aeration, or you can add a flavoring like tea. Vitamin C tablets added to the water will also improve flavor.

One word of warning: if you are sensitive to iodine or have a thyroid problem, do not choose a product that uses iodine to purify water.


Camp Stove

If you don't mind carrying a camp stove and fuel when you go camping in the backcountry, boiling can be an effective way of destroying contaminants in water. A single burner stove, such as the ones made by Texsport and Century, is an ideal choice.

By bringing water to a rolling boil and allowing it to continue to boil for about 10 minutes, you will have water that is clean and safe to drink. Ideally, avoid water with scum or other visible debris. Filtering water through a cloth first will remove larger pollutants and is recommended before you begin boiling your water.

The problem with boiling water for purification is that it requires a great deal of fuel, especially if there are several people in your camping party. It is also time-consuming to wait for water to boil and then cool enough to drink. An additional problem is that boiled water tends to taste flat. A simple solution for this problem is to aerate the water by pouring it from one container to another several times.

Stay Safe in the Backcountry

When you are hiking or camping in the backcountry do not ever drink water that hasn't been treated. Always have some sort of water purifier. While it is possible that you will only suffer mild intestinal problems that will spoil your trip, it is also possible to become so ill that the result is death. It just isn't worth the risk, especially considering the ease and low cost of many backcountry water purifiers.

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Filtering Water in the Backcountry: Purifiers to Look For