Ultralight Backpacking Water Filters And Water Purification Methods
Unless you have experience drinking untreated back country water, it is recommended that you treat your drinking water by filtering or another method of water purification. Here are some popular ultralight backpacking water filters and water purification methods…
Inline/Gravity-fed Backpacking Water Filters
Inline backpacking water filters work the same way as pump water filters, but they use gravity or suction to move the water through the filter. Eliminating the pump results in substantial weight savings and requires less effort to filter your water.
Inline backpacking water filters are installed in your drinking tube between the water bladder and mouthpiece, so water is automatically filtered as you suck it through the line.
Gravity-fed backpacking water filters use gravity to pull water from a bag or bladder, through a water filter, into another receptacle (such as a water bottle, cookpot, or another water bladder).
Like most pump water filters, inline backpacking water filters will begin to clog after continuous use as sediment which is removed from the water begins to accumulate around the filter element.
Popular Inline/Gravity-fed Backpacking Water Filters:
- Sawyer Inline Water Filter
- Aquamira Frontier Pro Inline Water Filter
- Platypus Gravity Works Gavity-Fed Water Filter
- Katadyn Base Camp Gravity-Fed Water Filter
Chemical Water Purification Drops/Tablets
Unlike water filters, which remove potentially dangerous organisms from the water, chemical water purification works by killing them instead.
There are many different types of chemical water treatment, but they all work in the same way. You add the chemicals to your water, wait for a pre-determined amount of time for it to take effect, and then drink your water.
Chemical water treatments are simple, lightweight and require no equipment. The downside is they leave a bad taste in your water, don’t remove sediment, some take longer to work than others, and drinking chemicals isn’t really the healthiest thing to do.
Popular Chemical Water Purification Drops/Tablets:
- Aquamira Drops
- MSR Sweetwater Drops
- Polar Pure
- Potable Aqua
- Katadyn Micropur
- Household Bleach (2 drops per quart of water)
Electronic Water Purification Devices
I only know of two of these types of devices…
Steripen uses UV light to kill contaminants in the water. You basically stick it in your water, activate it and swirl it around for 1-2 minutes.
MSR Miox uses salt and electricity to create an oxidant solution which kills contaminants.
The benefits of electronic water purification is no chemical taste and they don’t clog or need to be replaced or backflushed like filters do.
The downside is they require lithium batteries (which have to be replaced quite often). This can become very expensive. A solar charger is one solution to this… but not exactly lightweight.
Popular Electronic Water Purification Devices
Boiling water is not a very practical way of purifying your drinking water throughout the day, because it would use up lots of fuel and time. But if you are using another type of water treatment method and it malfunctions (like your filter clogs, or you run out of chemicals or batteries) then you can purify water by boiling it. Also, water that is intended for cooking does not need to be purified using other methods (if boiling is part of the cooking process).
Not Treating Water (Try at your own risk)
Many people would have you believe that most of the water on earth has become “contaminated” and must be treated. This is not necessarily true. In many places (especially in the high mountainous wilderness areas far away from civilization) the water is the same as it always has been. The animals that live there still drink the water with no problems.
The problem is not with the water itself, but with human intolerance to natural organisms in water. If you grew up in the city and have been drinking municipal or bottled water all of your life (which has been cleaned and purified to the max) then your immune system may no longer be able to handle natural water. But, if you grew up in a rural area drinking untreated well water like I did, it may be possible for you to drink natural water with no ill effects.
I started out purifying all my water on hikes, but now I only do it rarely. I’ve drunk thousands of gallons of untreated water while hiking and still never gotten sick from it, so I am pretty confident in my ability to handle it. But that is no guarantee that you can do the same.
If you want to do the safe thing, treat your water all of the time. If you want to enjoy back-country water without treating it first, then I recommend starting out slow. Start by drinking only from the cleanest, clearest, high mountain springs. Then, as time goes on, you can experiment with drinking more untreated water from a wider range of sources.
What I Do
I carry two types of water purification (not at the same time):
In low-land regions where water sources are stagnant, near roads, highways, towns, agricultural or industrial runoff or where there are cows, horses, sheep or other livestock grazing nearby I carry a Sawyer Inline Water Filter and use it regularly.
In high-altitude back-country regions where water sources are typically mountain springs, fast-moving creeks and clear snowmelt lakes I do not treat my water. But I do carry MSR Sweetwater Drops as a backup, in case there is a water source that needs to be treated.