Hiking Water Filters and Water Purifiers

Hiking Water FiltersHold on There Hoss

There once was a time in the wilderness where people could go down to the river, take off their gear, dip their hand in the cool clean water and take a drink.  Unfortunately, those days are gone.  The hiker of today must carry hiking water filters or hiking water purification products with them.

Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has reported that approximately 90% of the worlds water is, in some way, contaminated.  While hiking in America there are three main microscopic organisms that will cause serious and in some cases, life threatening illnesses.  These are Cryptosporidiosis, Campylobacterosis and Giardiasis.  Giardiasis being the most prevalent.

Symptoms can include diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, gas, bloating and loss of appetite. Sounds like fun.  The problem is that these symptoms may not start for days or weeks later and can last for many weeks.  Some of the treatments are by antibiotics only.  The major concern should be to stay hydrated until you can see a physician.

Now You Know the Problem, What is the Solution?

There are four ways to disinfect water:

  • Boiling
  • Backpacking Water Filters
  • Ultraviolet Light
  • Halogens

Double, Double Boil and Trouble

In order to kill the three standard micro-organisms, bring your water to a rolling boil.  Don’t take the pot off of the flame after a few bubbles appear on the bottom.  A rolling boil is what you must have.  This means a lot of large bubbling on the surface.  In most cases, you can take the water off the heat immediately.  It was widely accepted that you had to continue the rolling boil for 5 minutes, but the Wilderness Medical Society States in Wilderness Medical Society: Practice Guidelines for Wilderness Emergency Care, “…disinfection occurs during the time required to heat water from 140° F (60° C) to boiling temperature, so any water brought to a boil, even at high altitudes, is safe.”   If you wanted to be extra safe, boil for one minute covered.

Hiking Water Filters

There are numerous styles of filtering units.  They all process water basically the same way.  You have contaminated water on the intake side, the water is pumped or gravity pulled through a filter and the output is cleaner water.

Water filters come in three levels of protection:  Filter, Micro Filter and Purifier.  The differences between them are based on the size of the organism they will catch.  The organisms are measured in microns.

  • Standard Filter will be able to catch Protozoa (like the Giardia) and particles from 4.0 to 1.0 microns in size.
  • Micro Filter will catch Protozoa and Bacteria (like E Coli, Cholera and Salmonella) and particles from 0.2 to 1.0 microns.
  • Purifier can catch Protozoa, Bacteria and Viruses (like Hepatitis A, Norwalk Virus and Rotavirus) and particles down to 0.004 microns.  Some filters decontaminate the water through a filter and chemical combination.

The advice here is to read all the instructions and find out what your hiking water filter will eliminate and what it won’t.  Purchase the correct model for where you are hiking.

Ultraviolet Light (hey, that’s ultra-cool)

An Ultraviolet Light purifier (SteriPen) works by emitting a certain wavelength of light into a volume of water. This process has been used for over 100 years to help purify water.  It works by making the microbes unable to reproduce.  It works on protozoa, viruses and bacteria.  A couple of things to remember when using these devices:

  • Ultraviolet Light can be harmful to your skin and eyes.  Only turn it on when it is in the water.
  • These devices cannot penetrate particulates, so the water must go through a filtering process first.
  • Each device is calibrated to a certain volume of water, do not exceed this amount.
  • The water should be agitated during the process.
  • Certain container materials must be used and others avoided.
  • It does run off of batteries and is a tech device, bring other forms of purification in case it fails.

(Read and follow all directions of this device)

Halogens (“HAL open the door.  I’m sorry Dave; I don’t think I can do that.”)

Halogens are chemicals like Iodine and Chlorine.  You just add the recommended amount to a bottle of water and then it goes to work, bonding to the pathogens.  You have to wait a specified amount of time for the chemicals to work, during this time, shaking up the water occasionally.  Things to know about Halogens:

  • If the water is cloudy or full of particles, filter it first.  The clearer the water, the better the chemical works.  If the water is still cloudy, then extra doses may be required.
  • The colder the water, the less effective the chemical.  Multiple doses may be required.
  • All micro-organisms are not killed by halogens.  The Centers for Disease Control has found that chemical treatments using iodine or chlorine are not effective against Cryptosporidium.
  • These treatments make the water taste funny and can discolor it
  • You cannot put any drink mix into the water until after the “purification period” has passed.

(Like the Ultraviolet Light, read and follow all directions of this backpacking water treatment)


  • Read all instructions for proper use of each type of system.
  • Carry multiple types of these systems.  Hiking water filters can clog, their Ultraviolet Light can break.  Always have a backup plan.
  • Contamination can be from chemicals as well as micro-organisms. A lot of these treatments do not take care of any chemical problems. If you are hiking in an area with chemical contamination (old mining area), get equipment that can eliminate that as well.
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