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6 actionable way to purify water when hiking and backpacking

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If you want to know why it is essential to purify water when hiking and backpacking when you do not know its quality, or if you are wondering if you need a purification system for your hikes:

You can even find apparently clean water, but it can never be drunk directly. To drink the water safely, it is necessary to undergo a purification process.

In this post, we will explain 6 methods for you to purify the water found in nature, in addition to presenting elements that indicate its presence and how to find it. Check out!

Important to know the main elements of water

hiker drinking water in fall

First of all, it is important to know the main elements that we want to avoid the presence in water and in our body in order to avoid inconvenience either;

Bacteria: Some bacteria that may be present in water can cause health problems. (Salmonella, Coliform, E Coli …) and microorganisms (like giardia) which can quickly cause headaches, diarrhea, cramps, dizziness, and a whole bunch of other things, in case ingestion.

Viruses: Some viruses that can cause serious health problems can also be present in contaminated water. Hepatitis A is a good example since it is transmitted by infected water following oral-fecal contact (I know, we don’t like to read that…).

Protozoa: These are microorganisms that can live in water and some are known to cause diseases such as giardiasis (which are quite common, even in cosmopolitan areas) or dysentery.

Suspended particles: Sand, earth, leaves, residue, waste, or anything that can potentially end up in a body of water … let your imagination run wild and you will understand why we do not want to swallow them.

How to purify water when hiking and backpacking

1. Water Boiling Method

Purifying water by boiling

The first method of purify water when hiking is Boiling water. Boiling water before drinking is one of the most reliable ways to purify water and make it drinkable. It is enough to boil water for a while to kill the pathogenic organisms. This is surely the first thing most people think of to get rid of the contaminants in the water. The problem with this method is that it has many disadvantages and few advantages for hikers.

Benefits :

  • Very effective against microorganisms.
  • Kills most bacteria, viruses, and microorganisms.
  • No additional equipment required (if you already have a stove) apart from the fuel.

Disadvantages:

  • Fuel requirement (expensive and heavy for gas.
  • A bit long and tedious process.
  • Bad taste – after boiling, the water tastes bland.
  • It does not remove particles.
  • Ineffective against chemical pollutants.
  • The purified water is hot. It is not ideal if you want to drink it and refresh yourself.
  • Not practical outside of use for cooking (during the day by walking for example).
  • The water is hot, so a moment of waiting is necessary before consuming it.

Recommended equipment:  Jetboil Flash cooking system

2. Chemical purifiers Method

Stay-Clean-Filter-Tablets

The second method of Purify water when hiking is the chemical purifier method.  It exists in the form of drops, lozenges and even powder to mix. The various products, generally based on chlorine or iodine, disinfect the water to make it drinkable.

The “recipes” are intended for 1L of water, so ideally provide a bottle or container that can receive this amount and once the product is mixed with water, you should always wait a certain time. In all cases, follow the manufacturer’s directions for effective use.

Benefits:

  • Light
  • cheap
  • Space-saving.
  • Kill most bacteria and viruses.
  • Some kill microorganisms – depending on the chemicals used.

Disadvantages:

  • Bad taste – May have a chlorinated “pool water” taste
  • There is a waiting time before you can consume the water
  • Do not remove particles and chemical pollutants.
  • Do not use too regularly – can damage the intestinal flora.
  • Cannot be used alone for full protection

Remember Pregnant women, people with or suspecting a thyroid gland disorder, children, and those with a sensitivity or allergy to iodine should never use iodine-based disinfectants.

Our Recommendation: Aquatabs are effective after 30 minutes for bacteria, viruses, and certain microorganisms (giardia for example but not cryptosporidium). Water can only be stored for 24 hours.

3. Ultraviolet radiation (UVA)

purifying water by Ultraviolet radiation

This process uses ultraviolet rays which neutralize the organisms present in the water by preventing them from reproducing. UV purification systems (portable UV lamp) have been recently developed and treat water through the emission of ultraviolet rays. They generally resemble a pen, which is immersed in a container filled with water. Then just activate and stir for a few minutes to purify the water.

Benefits :

  • Compact.
  • Lightweight.
  • Convenient.
  • Effective – eliminates 99.9% of pathogenic organisms.
  • Fast – 1 to 2 minutes for 1 liter of water.

Disadvantages:

  • Expensive
  • It requires fairly clear water.
  • It requires batteries or a charge to operate, so it is not ideal for hikers who do not have access to electricity.

Recommended Equipment: UV SteriPen Purifier

4. Water filter by Pressure filter

A Hiker Refills His Water Bottle From A Stream Using A Pump Filter

Portable “suction” filters offer a lightweight personal filtration solution. There are several popular options available, from “straws” that allow you to drink water directly from a water source, or that include an optional compression bottle that connects to the filter so you can push water into our containers. They can also be connected to the classic “Camelbak” hydration bag.

Most filters in this category filter bacteria and protozoa through microscopic pores in filter media, usually 0.2 microns or less, but do not kill viruses.

Best for: Day trips and as an ultralight personal water source.
Recommended equipment: Sawyer portable filter

5. Water filter by Portable filter pump

Purifying water by portable filter straw

The pump type water filters are basically the same as the “suction and/or pressure” filters, but with the addition of a connected pump mechanism. This allows large amounts of water to be filtered quickly. Pump type filters may require maintenance and may also be somewhat more expensive. Most pump filters take care of bacteria and protozoa, but some higher-end models kill viruses by including iodine resin inside the filter.

Best for: fast water filtering in enough quantity for a small group
Recommended gear: Katadyn Hiker Pro Microfilter

6. Purify water by heat and sun

the last method of purify water when hiking is purify water by heat and sun. This method uses sunlight to kill pathogenic microorganisms in the water. Once filtered, the water should be placed in transparent plastic bottles and exposed to sunlight for six hours.
The radiation from the sun will purify the water, killing bacteria and viruses. If the weather is cloudy, the bottles must be exposed for 2 days. It is also important not to forget to keep the containers closed.

How to choose your purification system?

Drink plenty water

First ask yourself what types of contaminants you may encounter (viruses, chemical contaminants, etc.). Your choice will then depend mainly on your practice and what you prefer – it can be weight, taste, price, versatility, speed, etc.

Some people use system combinations to improve efficiency and better meet their needs.

System combination: Purify water when hiking

Here are some examples :

Boiling + filter with activated carbon: boiling eliminates viruses, bacteria, and micro-organisms. The activated carbon filter removes chemical contaminants and particles.

Filter + chemical purifier (or UV treatment): the filter eliminates most bacteria and microorganisms, and larger viruses as well as particles.
The purifier (or UV treatment) removes the smallest viruses once the water is clear.

Conclusion:

Are you prepared to Purify water when hiking in the forest? Take the time to read our post on dehydration and see the importance of staying hydrated.

And you, what purification system (s) do you use when hiking? And why? Share this in the comments!

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