Why You Need a Backpacking Water Filter/Purifier

The necessity of killing nasty microorganisms with a backpacking water filter isn't on the minds of most people when they contemplate their next outdoor adventure. After all, backpacking is a semi-romantic experience--getting away from it all to find peace and quiet--to commune with nature. One of the many rewards of backpacking is to discover a sparkling stream, a waterfall, or even perhaps a quiet, pristine lake accessible only by foot.

It's hard not to want to fill your water bottle with this clear, refreshing natural beverage, especially on a hot summer day when your mouth is dry and you are soaked with sweat. But this is one case where what you can't see can hurt you. For in that seemingly clear, pure water are microorganisms that can make you sick as a dog on the trail or even months later after you've returned home. Some of these minuscule creatures can even cause death. Before you head out onto the trail there are some things you should know about the most basic of all hiking needs--water.

"Don't drink the water" can be good advice in the backcountry. Water can contain all kinds of little organisms that can make you sick. Water from streams, rivers, and lakes is home to a bunch of pesky little critters you don%uFFFDt want to meet--protozoa that can cause such intestinal diseases as giardia and cryptosporidiosis; bacteria--little microscopic one-celled organisms that can cause illnesses like e-coli; or viruses that can lead to such infections as hepatitis A. It has been estimated that every body of water in the United States has giardia. In the backcountry the biggest contaminant is feces--human, animal and bird. And, there's really no way to know what contaminant might have been released into the water upstream.

While water-borne viruses are rare in North America, some backpackers believe it is better to be safe than sorry, and opt for the most aggressive approach when choosing water filtering systems or water purification systems. There are many different things to consider when deciding how to treat the water you will consume during your trek. If you are on a day hike chances are you can carry enough water for your entire trip in your water bottles. But if you are headed out for an overnight outing or a much longer journey you will have to make some decisions about water filtering systems or water purifying systems. Some water filtering and water purifying products have been around for a long time but new technology has also brought changes no one would have thought of ten years ago.

The new water filtration and purification systems are lighter, easy-to-use and deliver clean water with less effort. Some of them can even fit into a jacket pocket. Even backpackers who go for ultra-light equipment need not worry about weight or space. With issues such as these now resolved, there is simply no good reason for taking a chance on drinking contaminated water.

Even with a backpacking water filter, select the best water you can find

Even with a water filter, backpacking requires making some common-sense judgments when choosing a water source. It's always better to start out with water that is most likely to be fresh.
  • Try to determine the water source. The closer water is to its source the less chance it has to become contaminated.
  • The higher up you are in elevation the better your chances of finding fresh water closer to the source. A mountain stream fed by snowmelt will start out much cleaner than a lower elevation stream.
  • Check to see how cold the water is. Water is colder near its source -- the farther it travels the warmer it will get.
  • Fast-moving water is preferable to the still water of ponds and lakes. Moving water can also be filtered through trees, moss and rocks.
  • Feces are the biggest water contaminant. With this in mind never choose water found close to grazing animals -- cattle, horses, sheep, etc., or below a beaver dam -- if you can avoid it.
  • Try to avoid water situated below camping areas or shelters.

All pages on this topic:
Water Filters | Backpacking Water Filters vs. Water Purifiers | Backpacking Filters/Purifiers Reviews (Top 10) | Bad Backcountry Water: Giardia, Crypto, Bacteria, Viruses
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