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The Need for Water Purification

By Brian J. Lane

Many people see clear water in a wilderness area, and believing it is safe, drink freely from creeks and rivers. What they don’t realize is that virtually anywhere we may venture in the great outdoors, animals and other humans have been there before us, and left their wastes. So, what you can’t see in these water sources are things like giardia and cryptosporidium that can and will make you very sick! I carry a small water filter almost any time I hike. You just never know when you might need to pump water from a stream or even rain water from a puddle.

The most readily available method of purifying water for drinking and cooking is by boiling. This can be very time (and fuel) consuming, but heating water until it boils will kill anything harmful. Another choice is to use chemical treatments like Micropur or Potable Aqua systems. These are small and easy-to-carry chemical tablets that, when mixed into the water and allowed their allotted time, kill most contaminates.

I still use a water filter. MSR, PUR, Katadyn, and Sweetwater all make excellent pump-style filters. Still others are basically water bottles with a filtration system inside. You filter the water as you drink; these include the Aquamira Water Bottle and Katadyn’s Exstream.

You should go for a lightweight system that fulfills your needs (consider: pumping rate, maintenance requirements, ergonomic ease of use, etc.) and ask your outdoor retailer for advice on which unit will work best for you. The pores on water filters should be between 0.2 and 0.3 microns absolute – good enough to remove bacteria, protozoa, cryptosporidium, giardia, and most parasites. If travelling overseas you might consider using an anti-viral water additive too. I use Sweetwater’s Viral Stop.

Some of the newest forms of water treatment units are battery operated. One uses salt and electricity, and another works by using ultra-violet light. Both meet EPA guidelines.

Water purification is a necessity when you need to collect and drink water while hiking, and in this case, an ounce of prevention could save you from falling ill to a nasty bug.

Hike Smart & Have Fun!

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