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How come I see water disinfectant but not filtration in gear lists?
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David Vo
How come I see water disinfectant but not filtration in gear lists? on 08/14/2011 12:48:24 MDT Print View


Preface: I am new to backpacking so excuse the naive question.

I have been looking at gear lists from the members here and for water treatment I usually see pills or some form of UV light. I have an Steripen Adventurer Opti. What I don't understand is how come I don't see any sort of filtration system.

I am going on a hike where I know there are many water crossings and some sort of waterfall/pool. I am not sure how active they are now that it's summer or how clean the water is. Either way, for safety and flavor reasons, wouldn't you want to pre-treat your water with a filter to get it clear, then treat it will pills or the UV light?

Is everyone just hiking in areas with pristine freshwater rivers?

Robert Cowman
(rcowman) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
Re: How come I see water disinfectant but not filtration in gear lists? on 08/14/2011 12:52:31 MDT Print View

its just a bit of grit that never hurt anyone. water tastes the same with or without grit. I usually don't even treat my water.

Filters are heavy, prone to clogs, and slow.

David Vo
Re: Re: How come I see water disinfectant but not filtration in gear lists? on 08/14/2011 13:00:05 MDT Print View

How much water do you carry in versus how much do you harvest on a typical hike? Can you give me an example? I would prefer to save my pack load but on the other hand, I'll carry all the extra weight needed to have lifesaving water.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: How come I see water disinfectant but not filtration in gear lists? on 08/14/2011 13:02:30 MDT Print View

Everybody has a slightly different approach to water treatment.

In some areas, people don't treat the water at all, and they will just take their chances. If it is directly from a snow field or glacier, this works pretty good.

In some areas, Giardia lamblia is the big risk, and people attempt to filter it out. Other people attempt to get it with chemical disinfectants. Still others attempt to kill it with UV light. If all else fails, they boil the water.

In some tropical countries, you have more risk of bacterial and viral problems, so different chemical treatments go after that. Hepatitis is bad in some places, so chemicals or boiling will be used.

My point is that the water is different everywhere, and the risks are different. Backpackers need to know what their water risks are for their area so that they can choose the right treatment.


Robert Cowman
(rcowman) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
Re: Re: How come I see water disinfectant but not filtration in gear lists? on 08/14/2011 13:11:50 MDT Print View

I carry a 1Liter bottle, for the northern Canadian Rockies and sub Arctic.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: Re: How come I see water disinfectant but not filtration in gear lists? on 08/14/2011 15:18:39 MDT Print View

I carry 1 pint (1/2 liter) soda bottle of water.

I'll hike maybe 5 hours, 10 miles. I start well hydrated. If it's warm I'll find one source of water in the middle where I'll drink a 2nd 1/2 liter and refill with a 3rd 1/2 liter for the rest of the day.

In pristine alpine areas I don't bother to treat. Otherwise I use Opti. Water I bring to a boil I don't treat.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: How come I see water disinfectant but not filtration in gear lists? on 08/14/2011 15:31:44 MDT Print View

You can get by fine in most places by using tablets or UV without a filter. In Isle Royale NP you should filter or boil since the waters may contain Echinococcus organisms. It would suck to be the first one in a new area that has those cysts and you didn't treat properly.

"Drinking Water: Water not obtained from the spigots at Rock Harbor or Windigo must be considered contaminated with the eggs of the Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm and other harmful organisms. Boil water for two minutes, or filter through an adequate water filter (pore size of 0.4 microns or less). We recommend the purchase and use of water filters; one unit for each group of 4 or 5 will provide an adequate and safe water supply. Collect water with a pan and filter the cleaner water on top. Collapsible plastic jugs are very useful at campsites. Remember, it is unsafe to drink untreated Isle Royale water. Water treated with chemical tablets, such as chlorine, halazone, or iodine WILL NOT guarantee safe drinking water.
Carry plenty of water when hiking. A minimum of 2 quarts per person per day is a good rule of thumb. Drink continuously during the hike to avoid dehydration. Island Mine is the only campsite that does not have a reliable water source."

Edited by jshann on 08/14/2011 15:32:23 MDT.

treatment on 08/27/2011 05:03:53 MDT Print View

as said previously, filters are HEAVY, esp when wet. They clog, they break, they are slow. If you have a filter you also need to carry backup chemicals as well.

so why not just use your chemicals in the first place and leave the filter home?

Filters only remove suspended contaminants. Sediment, bacteria, algae, etc. Anything dissolved in the water will remain. (exception is a carbon filter which can absorb chemical contaminants, but you have no way to evaluate this and unless you change the filter very frequently you would be a fool to think its really doing anything)

I.e., if you filter red coolaid, it will still be red. If you filter salt water it will still be salt water, Creek water stained brown with tannic acid will still be ....brown... even after filtering. You cannot filter out cow pee, or deer pee, or human pee, sorry, its still there and your drinking it.

Most will use a coarse prefilter, bandana, small screen to strain floaties if needed.

A little dirt never hurt you. Just kill the bugs and pathogens and its ok.

Shawn Bearden
(ShawnB) - F - MLife

Locale: SE Idaho
Filter v purifier on 08/27/2011 08:02:10 MDT Print View

Point of clarification. There is a difference between filters and purifiers. My FirstNeed is a purifier and the procedure for checking integrity is to pump food coloring through. Color in - clear out. But, a serious penalty is paid in the weight - 16oz dry (more once full of water).

Laurie Ann March
(Laurie_Ann) - F

Locale: Ontario, Canada
filters on 08/27/2011 08:07:23 MDT Print View

I've been using the same filter (and element) for 11 years. The main reason people don't carry them is weight (and they can be expensive, especially for a good one). For us, being lightweight is perspective. There are four of us using one filter (a Katadyn) so, in my opinion, that makes the weight worthwhile, but its a trade-off. Having had giardiasis in 1999, which was not fun, I am pretty phobic about water filtration. It hit about a week or so after I got home. I'm fastidious about handwashing and camp cleanliness so I am 99.99% sure it was from the water source (my friend Brad told me later that he had dropped my bottle in the lake and didn't bother to rinse it out with potable water). So, I am not taking any chances and I go into the wilderness with my children. The Steripen requires batteries and I don't want to deal with failure because of that especially where my wee ones are concerned. Chemicals take longer than filtering and they leave a taste in the water... and they are chemicals. Ours claims to be able to filter out nuclear waste particles even (although I don't want to be the one to test that).

We also don't travel in areas where I am concerned about chemical contamination in the water although we occasionally experience heavy tannins that leave the water the color of tea. That doesn't bother me but the thought of drinking cryptosporidium or giardia spores is a concern. About animal pee? It's so concentrated in the water source that I'm not concerned (and you can even drink your own in an emergency - ewwww - because it isn't toxic the first time around).

Generally if we are in a group situation we combine gear and limit the filters to 1 for every 6 persons. I also enjoy pumping water (yes I know I am probably the only person on the planet that finds it meditative and relaxing).

My filter has never needed repair. Cleaning involves a quick scrub with a little pad. It has been used frequently. It's heavy but reliable. I can pump about 1 litre (a quart roughly) a minute when the filter is first cleaned... if there is heavy algae or debris in the water then add about 20 seconds to that. Heck of a lot faster than chemicals. We also don't carry backup chemicals. If things got bad and the filter broke, I'd boil water. If I ran out of fuel... well then I'd make a fire. Our gear is checked at the beginning and end of every trip and very well maintained.

Basically, you have to decide what works for you.... hike your own hike, as they say.

Edited to add... funny story. I was sitting on a rock outcrop in Algonquin Park filtering my water. As I put the filter away I could hear a noise that sounded like a tap. I looked over and about 30 feet away there was a gorgeous bull moose... having a pee while he was browsing on lilypads. Ewwww.

Edited by Laurie_Ann on 08/27/2011 08:19:19 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: How come I see water disinfectant but not filtration in gear lists? on 08/27/2011 08:52:05 MDT Print View

It's all about the weight.

I use a Steripen Opti Traveler for most water with a bandana or coffee filer for a pre-filter, although I've never needed to pre-filter in the Cascades. Most of my hikes are centered on lakes and streams that are 99% snow melt fed. I carry MicroPur tablets for backup or SUL trips. I have a filter that isn't used much, but it is my first choice for group/family hikes where more water is needed and the weight of the filter can be shared with other group gear. I use a canister stove, so boiling up an extra liter really isn't a big deal and I will do that after dinner and let it cool for the next day. For all the purification systems out there, boiling really works if you have the time and fuel.

I usually start out with 2 liters if it is warm. I'm finding that 1 is plenty in cooler weather and it makes a big difference on a day hiking load.

Edited by dwambaugh on 08/27/2011 08:53:09 MDT.

Laurie Ann March
(Laurie_Ann) - F

Locale: Ontario, Canada
boiling on 08/30/2011 17:25:29 MDT Print View

One thing I noticed with boiling is that you lose the aeration. To alleviate this I slosh my cooled water back and forth from my pot to my Nalgene as vigorously as I can. This seems to get rid of the flatness by putting a little air back in.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: boiling on 08/30/2011 18:03:49 MDT Print View

"To improve the flat taste of boiled water, aerate it by pouring it back and forth from one container to another and allow it to stand for a few hours, or add a pinch of salt for each quart or liter of water boiled."

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: How come I see water disinfectant but not filtration in gear lists? on 08/30/2011 21:28:40 MDT Print View

I haven't used a filter in YEARS. Woo....and I don't miss it one bit I might add. I use a clean bandana to strain out any floaters and then treat my water with Micropur tablets. Very, very simple and did I mention UL?

Their claims:
Features the same proven technology used in municipal water supplies, Micropur tablets are effective against viruses, bacteria, Giardia and Cryptosporidium
Destroys viruses and bacteria in 15 min., Giardia in 30 min. and Cryptosporidium/i> in 4 hrs.
Use 1 tablet per quart of water
Meets the US Environmental Protection Agency purification guidelines; active ingredient is chlorine dioxide
Each tablet is individually wrapped and sealed
While a 4 hr. wait time may be inconvenient, alternative disinfectants do not claim to destroy Cryptosporidia

Richard Cullip
(RichardCullip) - M

Locale: San Diego County
I use both a Steripen Opti and a Sawyer Filter on 08/30/2011 22:04:00 MDT Print View

On my last trip (just a short 2 night weekender into the Golden Trout Wilderness), I carried both a Steripen Adventurer Opti and a gravity filter (4 liter Platypus and Sawyer 0.1 micron filter). This is the firt time I carried a Steripen and found it great to use while on the trail. On the hike in I stopped a couple of times while crossing water and was quickly able to zap a liter of water to replenish my GatorAde water bottle(s). I carry two 500ml GatorAde bottles in the water bottle holsters on the shoulder straps of my ULA CDT pack. I like the easy access to water for drinking while hiking that this setup gives me.

However, in camp, I like a gravity filter setup. Since the purpose of this trip, as most of my trips are, was fly fishing, I setup a base camp and day hiked out of that to nearby fishing destinations. On this trip my gravity filter did extra duty and I'm glad I had it along. One afternoon, a very thirsty group of boy scouts and one of their leaders staggered into my camp and asked if I had some clean water they could use. It seems that their one and only water filter (pump) had broken earlier in the day and they had no back-up method of treating water for a group of 8-10 scouts. I filtered about 4 bags of water for them which they put into a large square plastic water carrier which they then hauled back to their camp.

I saw them on the trail on the hike out the next day and they all thanked me for providing clean water for their group. I was glad I was in a position to quickly filter a large amount of water for them and bail them out of a tough situation that their reliance on only one water treatment option put them in.

Edited by RichardCullip on 08/31/2011 08:28:26 MDT.

Megan Webb
(meganwebb) - MLife
Re: Re: Re: How come I see water disinfectant but not filtration in gear lists? on 08/30/2011 22:58:08 MDT Print View

Depends on where and when travelling. How far between known reliable water resupply points.

I tend to carry more, rather than less. Been caught with "All the rivers are flowing" and found them bone dry, or "there's no water out there, you have to carry it" and found plenty of water.

Carrying it and not needing it, is way way better than needing it and not having it. I'll carry it.

Currently using a (heavy) pump filter and chlorine tablets. Filter to get the large nasties out, (which are also the ones that resist chlorine the most), and then use chlorine to kill the smaller stuff that makes it through the filter. This only needs 30 minutes of exposure time, which I don't think is that long to wait. If needed could use just the filter, or just the tablets, but prefer to use both.

Waiting on delivery of a Sawyer filter to make a light weight gravity system to replace the pump.

The Steripen is to much of a worry for me: Its fragile, needs batteries, light replacement, still need to filter, doesn't affect water in threads of bottles, photoreactivation, water turbidity, etc etc.. I prefer simple, easy replaced/repaired, reliable, hence my two step filter and chlorinate

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Re: Re: Re: How come I see water disinfectant but not filtration in gear lists? on 08/31/2011 09:48:43 MDT Print View

Weight but after a filter shattered while I was using it, disinfecting is my primary method, Luckily my buddies let me use their filters on the trip my filter went kaput but after that, I will carry chemicals to treat water regardless. Now I just use chlorine dioxide.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Something I have noticed on 08/31/2011 12:10:22 MDT Print View

Is that many of us who now use drops (Aqua mira and similar) or tablets (Micropur, etc) have often gone through filter fails and have had enough of dealing with them.

While I have a great MSR filter (and had a Sweetwater before that) I simply quit taking it. One thing I hated was tannins in the coastal creeks here in the PNW. It would foul up the filter every time and I would have to clean it. Add in that filters are pretty much useless if you need to drink glacier fed water - your best bet is to get the water and let it settle, then pour off carefully. Glacial till chews up filters like nothing else. I did use pre-filters on tannin water but lets face it: at what point do you say "why am I carrying all this junk??" and that is what happened to me.

I had a Steripen fail on its second trip and then a year later we went to use a brand new Steripen belonging to a friend of Dicentra's (it was new and was their THIRD replacement from REI) and it freaking caught on fire on the second quart of water we treated. Seriously that was freaky!! It got hot in my hands and I dropped it and it was smoking, black and nasty. Nothing like carrying a dead burnt stinking mess out with you on a long hike. Jeez!!!! It was after that I refused to even consider a SP ever again.

IMO though everyone should carry backup pills or drops no matter what they carry!

Dicentra OPW
(dicentra) - F

Locale: PNW
Oh yeah. That was fun. on 08/31/2011 15:32:29 MDT Print View


I carry the foil-wrapped tabs now too. No equipment failure involved when your treatment is chemical. No parts to replace either!