Reasons A Personal Water Filter Is Essential On The Trail
We know the Importance Of Water Filtration at home, but what about outdoors? A cold mountain stream sparkles in the sunlight. At the end of a long, hot hike it is a striking temptation to drink. That clear water makes for a lovely scene, but the water most likely contains disruptive microorganisms or contaminants too small for the eye to see.
There are some backcountry springs and freshwater sources that are safe to drink, however, how sure are you which ones? Without knowing for sure, then it is a big risk for the unwary hiker/camper. Dangerous contaminants may be present. Once ingested, they can cause severe diarrhea, nausea, and ultimately lead to exhaustion. The risk of drinking untreated water is simply too great to potentially ruin a trip.
This is where you need to have with you something such as a LifeStraw Personal Water Filter, as part of your kit. We like this because it removes a minimum 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria, and also a reported 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites
Harmful Biological Microorganisms
Biological contaminants are generally grouped into three categories. It should be noted that although illness from microorganisms can appear quickly, it often takes several days for the symptoms to show up. This delay of appearance as the organisms reproduce often makes people believe that they got away with drinking untreated water.
• Parasites and protozoa This category includes cryptosporidia and the infamous giardia. These microorganisms are relatively large and possible to filter out.
• Bacteria Traces of bacteria, such as salmonella and E.coli, are much smaller than protozoas and may be harder to remove.
• Viruses This category is the smallest of the microorganisms. Viruses cannot reliably be filtered out. The water must be boiled, chemically treated or mechanically purified.
Chemical Contaminants in Water Sources
Water from unknown sources may contain chemical contaminants. Some of the contaminants are natural and some are man-made. Examples of natural chemical contaminants are areas that have sulfur springs with a high content of sulfur compounds in the water. Also, there are areas where water may be highly saline.
Examples of man-made chemical contaminants are industrial or agricultural runoffs that affect water sources. Heavy metals and chemical compounds from abandoned mines may seep into the water. There is the idea that places far in the backcountry are free of this, but there are many mining operations that took place throughout the Sierra Nevadas and the Rocky Mountains.
Treatment Methods for Making Water Safe
Treatment of some kind is advisable for backcountry areas. For most hikers and backpackers it is neither desirable or reasonable to consider carrying in clean water. Water treatment methods include boiling, filtering, chemical disinfectants, and UV treatment devices. An ideal product is the Sawyer Products MINI Water Filtration System. What is so good about this product, is that it weighs around 3 ounces so it’s easy to carry. Another great feature is the size. Fitting in the palm of your hand means that the Sawyer Products MINI Water Filtration System is ideal for outdoor use while hiking or camping.
• Boiling is sterilization by heat. Boiling is effective and it kills most microorganisms. It may be the simplest and most practical approach when preparing meals because most often the camper must boil water for cooking. The disadvantage is that it burns fuel and takes time for stove setup and to let the water cool. If you are going to use the boil method, once the water has cooled we’d advise a Brita Premium Filtering Water Bottle. This carry bottle has a built in water filter for that extra peace of mind.
• Filtering can trap protozoa and bacteria plus some viruses. Filter systems work quickly and the water is available for immediate use. Depending on the pore size of the filter, it may not be effective against tiny viruses and another type of purifier is essential.
• Chemical disinfecting is usually done through chlorine or iodine tablets. These chemicals are effective against most common microorganisms, but they require time to work. As the temperature decreases, very cold water can impair effectiveness.
• Ultraviolet light is the newest method of treating water. An example of this is the SteriPEN which irradiates the water. This is a very effective treatment against biological contaminants, including viruses. It is fast and convenient, but it does require batteries to work.
Additional Sources of Digestive Disorders in Travelers
It should be noted that a likely source of digestive disorders in backcountry users may not be from contaminated water, but carelessness in basic sanitation. Put simply, unwashed hands may be a significant source of harmful microorganisms. Washing and sterilizing hands before eating, preparing foods, or filtering water is important. Water containers, themselves, especially plastic water bottles, maybe a source of contaminants and should be thoroughly cleaned.
Travelers to third world countries or tropical climates are exposed to many varieties of bacteria, parasites, and viruses that may be unknown in colder climates. Also, travelers from one region may have little resistance to the pathogens living in potential water sources to which locals are immune.
A Backpacking Water Filter Is A Must
Out hiking for the day or away camping for the weekend, a backpacking water filter is a must have. It is easy to be careless while camping, hiking, or traveling and to neglect simple sanitation methods. By treating suspicious water sources and following basic hygiene practices, many of the potential disruptive risks can be avoided. The goal, as always, to stay healthy, happy, and have a great trip!