Water treatment decision making

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Home Forums General Forums SuperUltraLight (SUL) Backpacking Discussion Water treatment decision making

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 15 total)
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    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    Chemical is light. I use a mini Aqua Mira kit repackaged into half ounce dropper bottles, and a premix strategy with a day’s worth of chemicals in a third smaller bottle.

    But a filter like the BeFree is fastest for me, and I have to carry less water.

    What factors into your decisions for choosing water treatment when saving max weight/doing max miles?

    Dondo .
    BPL Member


    Locale: Colorado Rockies

    For years I relied solely on Aqua Mira because of the minimal weight and ease of use.  But the big downside is that you have to wait to drink, carrying your treated water until you deem it ready. The Befree is quicker and easier to use, especially if you have a cartridge that is relatively new.  You get to a stream, pull the unit out of your side pocket, unscrew the cap, dip the bottle, screw the cap back on and drink.  It probably took me longer to type this that it takes to do it.  If you’re in an area that has lots of water, you only have to carry a minimal amount, if any.  That saves a lot of energy.

    BPL Member


    Water everywhere as Dondo says:  No reason to carry water.  BeFree.  Unfortunately, its reliability is awful for me. I have decided that if I use one, it becomes disposable, a new one each trip.  Like a tank of gas to get to the trail head.  I have tried everything, the CLR, distilled water, store dry, store wet, etc.  Still, after 5th day in the Winds recently on a BeFree that was on only one other trip, it was like sucking thru a 1 mm straw.  Dry Areas:  Hauling water is required, then Aqua Mira is a good option.  There is time for it to work.  But, having a Sawyer, that is reliable, in a Smart water bottle for a quick drink when you arrive at the watering hole is worth it for me to take along. Reliability trumps convenience.

    James Marco
    BPL Member


    Locale: Finger Lakes

    Filters work pretty well. Years ago, the old MSR Pump was my go-to (before then, there was little reason to treat water…,) I believe I gave it away after 10 years of non-use.

    I switched to Aqua-Mira with a small bottle, maybe ten uses, of bleach. But, I got sick twice using AM drops. No problem with the treatment, I was badly dehydrated and couldn’t wait the full 4 hours.  I tried several others: AM tablets, etc… All had the same problem. I had to carry at least 2 hours of cooking water as well as the water to drink.  AM drops/tabs are NOT the lightest option when you consider an extra Liter of water. We are talking over two pounds of weight for the additional water.

    I switched to the old mUV. It worked well until it no longer charged. Never got sick with that one.

    I switched to a Sawyer, later a Sawyer Mini. They were just painful to use. I always spent at least 10-15 minutes refilling my bottles, even in a hurry. But, the bag was handy for carrying an extra 16oz of water, and, you can just squeeze it into your mouth.  However, the threads are slightly different from everybody else…and the hose gasket has an odd way of becoming “lost” when you need it. The mini was better, but still a full 2.5L bottle still does not fit without some leakage. I froze one in the spring one year and canceled the trip, do not let them get cold.

    I stumbeled across a Steripen Salesman at a sports shop…I bought the recharge kit on the spot. The rechargeable batteries and solar panel/box bit the dust when I found a $15 set of lithium 123’s worked far better, were lighter and more reliable. I lost one on a mountain, the replacement was an Opti. It worked well and could even double as a flashlight. It takes about 1 minute to get a drink out of a stream. Watering hole stops were less than 5 minutes for two bottles: adding water to a bottle, “sterilizing”, adding some flavorings & electrolytes, shake it all up and drop it into my pack (after drinking the first one) and go.

    Soo, in sumary, I use boiling water at camp, usually. Cocoa, coffee, tea, etc. Boiling will always work unless the water is contaminated with a non-biologic. But, it can take a bit of fuel iff you don’t need morning coffee/tea or evening cocoa.

    Chemicals are heavy when you consider the extra water weight for “cooked” water.

    Filters are very light weight, but, the weights touted are empty, not in use.  Hoses are fiddly and heavy. Hanging water bottles (or some source for dirty water, like a funnel with a tube) get rather complicated for other than overnight use. And, they are strictly 3 season use. A frozen filter will ruin your trip.

    The Steripen Opti works better as the best compromise of weight (requiring no extra water,) the most reliable (a spare set of batteries will allow me 4 weeks of clean back-country water, “freeze” proof for all the temps I need, the easiest in use and the fastest at a stream/water hole. There are lighter methods. There are faster methods. There are more reliable methods.Works for me…


    BPL Member


    Locale: The Cascades

    I don’t really fit your question, since I’m never concerned with saving max weight/doing max miles. But as others have said already, for the backpacking I do I opt for realibility, and for me that’s usually a Steripen. I have a use a BeFree as well at times, if it wasn’t for the clogging issued I also (like Art) had in the Winds it would be my hands down favorite. But it was a pretty severe failure of two fairly new BeFrees on that trip that make me nervous to rely solely on a BeFree.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    In the 1980’s, I mostly used PortaAqua but when I was leading trips and using a lot, I went to the PolarPure iodine crystals in the special bottle.  And did smaller versions of that by swiping iodine crystals from the chemistry stockroom.

    Round about 1985, the other-than-Katadyn-ceramic filters starting coming out: the blue First Need and that cheaper one with an open filter and the pump off a gallon jug of ketchup (really).  The flow rate sucked and you used it right at the water source which meant bending over where there were lots of mosquitos, but you had both hands disabled.  I did rig up a gravity-flow system in 1985 and it worked nicely when you got to camp early and since I rigged it from one Adventure-16, 2.5-gallon water carrier to another, it could serve group needs.  But on my own, I continued with chemical treatment.  Lowest base weight, then and now.

    I met my wife on a gourmet backpacking trip and she has higher culinary standards than I do, so she’d filter while I kind of like “the smell of halogens in the morning”.

    But moving to Alaska 22 years ago, meant 1) water is everywhere, 2) all water is COLD, therefore 3) you’re going to do a lot of pound-miles on the Cl or I temperature-time curve.

    So I went to a SteriPen and that works for both of us.  I use the Red Cross branded one (20 liters on a  charge, 2.54 ounces) on solo trips or shorter joint trips.

    If a trip is borderline on SteriPen capacity, I’ll throw in more tea bags and pasteurize (not boil) more water as hot drinks when in camp.

    I used to carry chemical tablets as back-up, but increasingly, my back-up would be to select the apparently cleanest sources and take my chances.  I’ve been doing more of that in more remote settings and so far, so good.  If I was thru-hiking (heavily used/abused corridor and wanting to remain healthy), I’d definitely have chemicals as a back-up method along and might do some strategic semi-multi-treatment (might as well leave PET containers out in full sun, since that’s proven to zap pathogens; UV & oxidize the sketchiest water; etc).

    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    For me, most of the time, the only factor is actually finding water. In the desert I plan trips around the location of reliable water sources. And, I almost always use ClO2 tablets, since I have to  carry more water than most people,  I need to save weight as much as I can in other places.

    Anything other than chemical is not 100% reliable, and desert water is usually not as “clean” as mountain streams.

    Most of the time I arrive at my water sources late in the day (or every other day) and will camp somewhere in the vicinity, but far enough away not to stress wildlife. So I usually arrive with very little water left. Since it is late in the day, I fill my bottles and add chemicals. That water is going to sit over night and will need to last me until my next water source. Now I boil water for my meal and for drinks. Even if it is hot, I will boil water for coffee or tea and just let the water sit and cool off. For these trips I usually bring a Caldera set-up to save weight. I don’t mind drinking lukewarm coffee or tea. Sometimes I bring instant hot chocolate for later in the evening.

    In the mountains, were water is plentiful and the temps are cooler, I can get by with just a liter for the day. On hot days, I may need to carry 2 liters when I start out in the morning. Usually the water in the mountains isn’t too cold (my winter trips are a different story and I am melting snow), so I don’t necessarily need it to sit for a full four hours after adding chemicals, if I need to drink water I gather during a rest stop. But I normally use the same method as I do in deserts.

    For the past year plus, I have been taking a BeFree filter for trips where water is plentiful, and I like it. But I don’t trust it 100% although I haven’t had any problems. I have been considering a SteriPen, but what if it fails in the middle of the desert? I have to carry chemicals as a backup, so I might as well take nothing else.

    My thought is 2 liters of water weighs four pounds. Four pounds won’t reduce the how long or how far I can hike in a day, especially since everything else in my pack is pretty dang light. Also, the water weighs 4 lbs when I start in the morning and decreases as I consume it.

    Plus . . . water won’t negatively impact the spreadsheets base weight number :-)

    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member


    Locale: California

    “What factors into your decisions for choosing water treatment when saving max weight/doing max miles?”

    I’ve used just about every type of portable water treatment on the market over the last 45 years, from giant ceramic filters to chlorine dioxide pills in diabolical wrappers. I also spent more than 20 years guiding whitewater raft trips around the Western U.S., accidentally drinking gallons of untreated water from many less-than-pristine rivers without ill effects.

    Currently I use the 0.6 liter BeFree, with a few chlorine dioxide pills in reserve. This minimizes carried filter weight, carried water weight, and time spent filtering/treating. I can quickly camel up at water sources and carry a lot less water. I don’t store water in the BeFree bag, minimizing stress there. If the BeFree fails (hasn’t yet), I’ll select water sources carefully and drink without treatment, or use chlorine dioxide pills for sketchier sources. Given my rafting experiences, I don’t worry about swallowing a few untreated drops, or even a few untreated liters.

    YMMV, HYOH, I am not a doctor, user assumes all risk, …

    — Rex

    Alex H
    BPL Member


    Locale: southern appalachians or desert SW

    I am exactly in the same situations and mindset as Nick and Rex.  Used Aqua Mira for years and now carry a BeFree with tablet back up.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Eastern Washington

    “….now carry a BeFree with tablet back up.”

    +2 (include alum for high turbidity water sources)

    No moving parts, no electronics= probably the most reliable way to go.  YMMV

    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member


    Locale: California

    One more factor: most chemical treatments require 4 hours of contact time to kill Giardia cysts. But it seems many people wait just 30 minutes, which should kill bacteria and viruses, but probably not the big G.

    I’ve always waited 4 hours, carrying a bunch of extra water while the clock ticks. A few non-backpacking friends suffered from Giardia for years, despite state-of-the-art treatment.

    Yes, some of my water treatment decisions seem in conflict. HYOH.

    — Rex

    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Colorado

    My main filter is a Sawyer Squeeze (not the mini) and we get along just fine. I’m proficient enough with it that I don’t feel like it slows me down when I’m on the move. I also use chlorine dioxide tablets, mainly for overnight disinfection. I’m curious why folks use the Aquamira liquid. It seems rather fiddly vs. using tablets.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Colorado

    I realized I didn’t answer your question Ryan. “What factors into your decisions for choosing water treatment when saving max weight/doing max miles?”
    My decision is based on weight, reliability, ease of use while on the move, and of course effectiveness. Being able to back-flush the Sawyer in the field is a plus. It’s a balancing act, but the Sawyer and chlorine dioxide tabs have served me well for a few years now.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Northern California

    Steripen, hands down. I don’t need or like to carry water and where I hike, it’s abundant. So I just stop at a stream, pull the steripen from my 1 ounce belly pouch, and treat a liter of water in 90 seconds. Chug it down and off I go.

    I used an early iteration squeeze bottle water filter and it was fine, until it would clog. In the Sierra the water if usually crystal clear, so this was less of an issue. But it would eventually become harder and harder to squeeze.

    I carry iodine tablets as backup. Never had a failure with the Steripen. It’s all about treating it mindfully I suppose.

    Erica R
    BPL Member


    Usually BeFree (with gravity rig), another BeFree as a backup (haven’t had to use it yet). A couple  Katadyn tablets for tertiary backup.

    In the desert it is more complicated. Need to let the silt settle out in the extra bags. Then I pump the water through a Katadyn filter which also has activated charcoal in it;  some streams run through agricultural areas. In this case Katadyn tablets are the primary backup, so I carry a straw filter for the big bugs so as not to wait 4 hours. The gardia and cysto are hard to kill with chemicals, but easy to filter.

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