Types of Water Treatment for Backpackers
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Types of Water Treatment for Backpackers

There are generally five ways to treat your
water, so you’ve got water filters, water purifiers, you’ve got UV light treatment,
chemical treatments and of course, you can also boil your water. With filters and purifiers
you have a couple of different options. In this case we have a synthetic cartridge. So
these style filters usually pump water very quickly, so you get a lot of water output
for not as much work time. They are not field maintainable and they tend to clog faster
because of that synthetic material that’s not able to be cleaned. And you end up replacing
the filters more often, but they do pump a lot of water very quickly. Then you have a
ceramic style filter. And this is basically a piece of clay here. These pump a lot slower
than synthetics, however they are field maintainable. As you can see on this piece, you can use
a Brillo pad and kind of scrub the outside and clean off any dirt that’s built up on
there and put it back in the case and start pumping water again. So they’re field maintainable
and they last a really long time. You’re not going to be spending perhaps as much time
or money replacing them. However, they do pump slowly and they are a little bit more
brittle and delicate than a synthetic. This is a piece of ceramic, so if you were to drop
it really heavily or if it were to freeze in the wintertime, it could potentially damage
that cartridge. A third option is going to be a filter or purifier that offers you the
best of both worlds. So in the case of this model, we have a ceramic filter here at the
top. You’ve got the best of that and then underneath here you can see you also have
the synthetic, so this is a combination version that basically gives you the best of both
worlds. There are also models that have systems that allow you to back flush them. What this
means is you can kind of rearrange how this system works so the water is going the opposite
direction and forces water back through that filter system and cleans up some of those
built-up contaminates in it. So it extends the life of those filter systems as well.
So UV light is another form of water treatment and this is a technology that is frequently
used in urban municipalities to treat large quantities of water, so it’s not just an application
that’s being used for backpacking. It consists of this lamp here that the UV light comes
through, which can be very delicate. Most models come with a protective covering to
keep that safe. The upside to these models is that they are extremely small, compact
and lightweight. They also will treat your water for different forms of bacteria – protozoa,
kryptosporidium and viruses. So you’re good there. The downside to them is that they do
run on batteries or are going to need to be charged after multiple uses. so potentially
you could be out in the field and have this item stop working on you. And they don’t give
you an option with just the model by itself for cleaning particulate matter out of water.
That would be things like leaves, mosquito larvae and chunky stuff that gets in the way.
So you would want to strain your water or run it through a pre-filter of some sort before
using this. Chemical water treatment options have some upsides and downsides to them. The
upsides to them are that they’re going to be really affordable. They’re really lightweight
and barely take up any space in a pack or emergency kit. The down side is that you typically
need a lot of them to treat water especially over a longer period of time. And a prolonged
period of time needs to pass for chemical water treatments to break down viruses and
other bacteria and other contaminates in the water. A couple of these treatments would
be iodine which is an extremely common one that has been used frequently by backpackers
in the past. It does have a pretty bad taste with it and there are studies that show long
term side effects to using this over extended periods of time and quite a few people are
also allergic to iodine. So it may not be as easy to find in shops as it once was. Another
good chemical option would be Katadyn MicroPur tablets. This is a product that is based on
a chlorine treatment that’s really similar to what you might find in your tap water.
It has very little taste and is also affordable and lightweight. So your fifth option is boiling
water, which will remove all of the things we discussed in this video from your water
and can be used in conjunction with all of the methods that we talked about here.


  • jublywubly

    Thanks for this great overview of various filter & purifier options. 🙂
    I have a house-hold water filter urn that uses ceramic filters. The company says to replace the filter every 6 months, but I clean them and get about 18 months out of them. For hiking/camping, ideally, I'd like a purifier that filters water and kills off nasties with UV. So far, I've only seen separate units.


    Hi, two systems I have that work great and remove just about anything and everything harmful is the LIFESAVER 4000 and THE GRAYL.  Both are great bottles, the LIFESAVER having the longer shelf and use life which are advantages but THE GRAYL is light weight but only good for about 300 uses.

  • YoMoma777

    Will the filter alone take out any and all harmful bacteria? Will the ceramic/filter do this as well?
    Also you stated that boiling water will take out all of the particulates along with bacteria. But how will boiling your water take out the leaf particulates?
    sorry for the newby questions but I`ve never used a filtration system before.

  • Sandy Gange

    Didn't see sawyer filter mentioned. Used it successfully on a section hike of pct. small,simple lightweight, I prefer it over the systems shown.

  • G Henrickson

    Thanks for the helpful presentation. Please ignore the insensitive and inexperienced commentators below. We can always use more videos on water purification.

  • Roopods6

    I'm reading that either bleach or iodine can be used to purify water. Also some filters are impregnated with silver to help kill bacteria.

  • Ontario Backwoods Outfitters

    All my years of hiking and just a fire has done me fine. Unless water is murky then a coffee filter or bandana comes handy. If I'm refilling and don't have time for a fire I use my alcohol stove and I'm back on the trail in 15-20 minutes with drinkable water. Tablets and additives take too long and taste bad and filters are bulky, heavy and easily broken. At least you mentioned boiling where most skip completely.

  • Bowser Building

    The MSR filter is very hard to pump and so water production is slow. I used the  Katadyn in this video to pump out lots of water for a Boy Scout troop from a stagnant mountain stream using a pre filter float that drew the water from the clearer surface instead of the murky bottom.  The filtered water was fantastic tasting, clear,  and no one got sick. Was able to pump 8 canteens full before the MSR  even pumped out one.

  • Bush Channel

    LOL that MSR pump filter must’ve been used a lot, the ceramic element had been cleaned so much it was resembling an hour glass shape.

  • bluehighfly

    Hi please can you tell if it's safe to use the katadyn hiker pro water filter to filter water that as green algae in it. thank you

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