Pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoa, live in the lakes and rivers that you rely on to stay hydrated. Without taking care of the water you are drinking, you run the risk of harming your body and cutting your backpacking trip short.
When it comes to treating your water, there are two types of systems you can use. Purification systems are lightweight, eliminate viruses, and ideal for running water. Filtration systems remove bacteria and debris, are ideal for standing water, easy to clean, and have a liter per hour efficiency indication.
Water filters are most ideal in the USA and Canada, where bacteria in water sources is a concern. Water purifiers are important while backpacking internationally to aid as protection from waterborne viruses.
All backpackers try to keep the weight of their gear to a minimum when traveling long distance. Water filters can also contribute to the weight of your load, so it is a good idea to choose a filter that is lightweight. On the other hand, filters that are not as heavy often take longer to filter, and vice versa. Consider this tradeoff and decide what is most important to you. Filters that are smaller and lighter generally have a longer filtration process.
It is important to note that water filtration systems have different levels of speed. For this reason, it is a good idea to consider the number of people you will be providing clean water for. If you are filtering water for several others, you may want to invest in a speedy filter to make the most of your time outdoors. It can take up to 4 hours to purify water using chemicals (such as chlorine or iodine), whereas other filters can complete the filtration process within minutes.
There are so many different types of water filters and purifiers that require various levels of active work on your part, including the following: pump filters and purifiers, gravity filters and purifiers, ultraviolet purifiers, bottle filters and purifiers, squeeze filters, straw-style filters, chemicals, and boiling. Consider how involved you want to be physically (squeezing or pumping), or whether you want to sit back and relax. It is also important to note that water filters made of ceramic cannot be exposed to really cold temperatures.
Water can be found in the backcountry from all different types of sources, including streams, lakes, spring seeps, and snow run-off. It is unlikely that your water source will always be clear of elements such as debris, glacial sediment, and mud. So it is important that you have a plan for removing elements from the water prior to filtering. If you're planning to use chemicals or a SteriPEN, you will need to bring something to act as a filter to rid the water of the elements.
Now that you have a general idea of the different factors to consider when choosing a backpacking water filtration system, it is time to decide which system will best suit your backpacking needs. Take a look at the best backpacking water filters and purifiers of 2018. For more detailed information and expert advice, see what REI has to say on water treatment in the backcountry.
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