Friday, February 18, 2011

Another Question

I need more advice from those with recent wilderness experience. What's your opinion on water-purification systems?

When I did my long wilderness canoe trips in high school (and when I hiked in Vermont on my own), we simply drank straight from the bodies of water at hand. No one got sick. My more recent hiking trips were in Arizona, and we necessarily brought all our water with us. So I have literally no experience with the water-purification systems below, only their pros and cons as described by guidebooks and the internet. My options are, from most-favorite to least:

Water Treatment Tablets: These seem to have the most pros; small, easy to carry, unbreakable, inexpensive per unit (whether it's cheaper in the long run to keep paying for tablets rather than get a filter, I don't know). But opinions seem to differ--do they make the water taste bad? And do you really have to wait 4 hours for full disinfection, or the 15 or so minutes the tablets advertise?

Water Filter: I like the idea of drinking as soon as the water comes out of the other end of the filter. I also like that I won't have to pre-filter if the water is less than clear. But filters are expensive, there's always the risk of breaking, and you hear more grumbling and pain-in-the-ass type complaints in filter product reviews than you do in tablet reviews.

SteriPen UV Purification: This sounds appealing at first, what with the instant disinfection, low weight, and no work. But I'm loath to risk my health on anything that requires batteries and electronics that I don't understand.

Anybody used any of these? What was your experience?


  1. Water Treatment Tablets - The people who tell you they don't taste bad are probably experienced hikers who are just used to it. Iodine tastes bad. Not nausea-inducing bad, but bad. Stale. Like water that's been sitting in an off-brand Nalgene-type bottle for a week. If you think it's your best option, I'd recommend two things: (1) get some now, and try them out / give yourself time to get used to the taste. (2) get some of those Crystal Lite / Emergen-C / whatever powders to add to your bottle. Even half or a third the recommended ratio will help mask the taste of the iodine tablets. Also, too much iodine is bad for you. Using tablets for sporadic hiking trips is no problem, but using them every day for months is, we were advice by Peace Corps Medical Officers (who told us to stick with a three-minute rolling boil). Where the too-much line falls between sporadic and all-your-water-for-months...I don't know. Check with a doctor and/or thru-hiker.

    Hope this helps!

  2. The lightest option will always be iodine. I have a MSR Sweetwater (, though I have barely had to actually use it so I can't really give it a good or negative review. I have carried it around a lot though, so I do know it's light, and little bulky. I hear the UV things are cool, but they weren't available when I needed to buy and I haven't really looked into them. Either way, I'd bring some iodine tabs as well, just in case something breaks. (of note, iodine coffee- not so great).