You're probably thinking, why should I learn about filtering or purifying water when I can just bring enough ready-to-drink water when I'm camping? The truth is, you don't have to learn, but it would be an extremely useful skill to have in case you run out of clean water when you're backpacking, hiking or camping in the backcountry.
Running out of drinking water isn't a common camping problem, especially if you're used to campsites with complete amenities. But when you're in the backcountry, away from civilization, your only source of hydration are usually just natural bodies of water such as lakes and rivers.
Do you need to filter or purify backcountry water? YES, DEFINITELY. Not all water sources are unsafe, but even the most pristine-looking water source can make you sick. If livestock, wildlife or humans can reach an area, so can contaminants transmitted via their fecal matter.
The good news is that there are numerous ways you can turn natural water to safe drinking water. There are plenty of effective and inexpensive tools you can use, too, like filters and purifiers.
What's the difference between filters and purifiers?
The main difference between the two is the size of the microorganisms that each of them removes from the water.
Water Filters - they mainly strain out biological pathogens like bacteria (E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Shigella) and protozoan cysts (Cryptosporidium and Giardia lamblia), which are usually found in the natural waters of USA and Canada.
Water Purifiers - they strain out the same pathogens as filters but also combat viruses. Viruses are too small for filters to remove. Purifiers work to remove viruses like hepatitis A, rotavirus and norovirus which are more commonly found in the waters of less-developed countries.
What are the different types of water filters and water purifiers?
Pump Filters and Purifiers
© Switchback Travel
This type includes an intake hose (for the water source) and an outlet hose (for your bottle). Once the hoses are in place, you'll need to pump until clean water starts to fill your bottle. With pump filters/purifiers, you can get water from shallow sources and you'll be able to gauge precisely the amount of water you need.
However, pumping can be a chore. The unit is also quite heavy and bulky, and requires cleaning after each use.
Gravity Filters and Purifiers
© Gear Junkie
This type consists of a pair of reservoirs and an inline filter. It's pretty straightforward - gravity does the work for you. You just fill the reservoir with water and you hang everything up and wait.
This setup is ideal for large groups as it can process large quantities of water. The downside is that it's quite challenging to fill the reservoir from a shallow water source, or find a place to hang them. The treatment process is also slower than pumping.
Ultraviolet Light Filters
These super portable devices are very easy to use. They usually come like a pen, and all you have to do is push the button and stir the water until the UV light turns off (usually about a minute).
These tiny filters are ideal for backpackers and hikers because they're small. There's also no cleaning or replacement required. However, this requires batteries (so you need to bring extras) and can only treat small amounts of water at a time.
© Wannabe World Traveler
Perhaps one of the easiest filters to use - all you have to do is fill the bottle with water and the bottle will do the rest of the work as they have a built-in filtration or purification system. Some use the suction provided when you sip from a bite valve, while others work like a coffee press.
The water quantity is limited to bottle size, though, so it's only good for 1 individual.
© Task and Purpose
Squeeze filters work like the bottle variety - you just fill the small reservoir with water then squeeze the water through the filtration element. Some models even double as a gravity or a straw-style filter!
© Task and Purpose
This is the only filter that provides water on demand - it lets you drink water directly from the source. While this variety is portable and convenient to use, you can only drink clean water when you're at a water source.
This treatment comes in the form of drops, pills or gadgets that mix base ingredients. These chemicals are usually chlorine or iodine based and all you have to do is add them to your water and wait. They are proven to be effective against bacteria, viruses and protozoa.
These water treatment chemicals are easy to use, easy to carry and very inexpensive. However, wait time for the process usually takes between 30 minutes to 4 hours, even longer for colder water. Some say they also impart a chemical taste and are not ideal for pregnant women.
You can use chemical water treatment as a backup if ever your main filter/purifier breaks.
The best type for you depends on your personal needs and where you're going!
Our Camping Pillow makes a great gift for friends and family who love camping and the outdoors. It's compressible and fully adjustable to meet your comfort when sleeping inside a tent! Treat yourself to one, too! Shop here now!