Samuel Taylor Coleridge penned a famous line in his poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “Water , water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” Although Coleridge is making reference to lost seamen on the ocean waves, some feel this should be the mindset of the thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail. Some would advise that though the water is plentiful on the trail, the hiker should filter the water before quenching his/her thirst. My plan is to do just that. The question is how? What is the best method to ensure safe water? There are several effective ways to choose from depending on how much you want to spend, how much weight you are willing to carry and how much space you can give to it in your backpack. Here are five options (there are lots of brands and choices within the various options). Let’s consider two approaches today and the other three tomorrow.
First: The Pump
There are many companies that make water pumps but let’s consider a commonly used brand among thru-hikers – the Katadyn Hiker. It is lightweight, reliable and easy-to-use. It weighs 11 ounces and costs $70-$80. This pump contains a filter that physically removes particles, protozoa, and bacteria down to 0.3 microns in size, including giardia, salmonella, and cryptosporidia. The Katadyn Hiker utilizes a glass-fiber element that is actually pleated in order to increase the surface area to handle silt and muddy water. The pump works on an activated-carbon core that absorbs chemicals and pesticides to improve taste of water. With approximately 48 strokes per minute the pump can provide 1 liter of clean drinking water. There is a pretty nice pre-filter on the inlet hose that screens up to 150 microns. This pre-filter removes larger contaminants before they reach the main filter to increase the lifespan of the main core. The Katadyn Hiker includes a carry sack and bottle adapter that fits most water bottles. The major downside of the pump is you have to pump – if you need to filter a lot of water, your arm can get tired from pumping. A criticism sometimes offered is that the filter will clog up and not backwash leaving the hiker without a method of water purification.
To save the hassle of pumping every time you want a drink of water and to avoid any filters that might clog, there are tablets or drops that you can add to purify the water. For example, the MSR Aquatabs water purification tablets are a fast and effective treatment against viruses, bacteria and giardia. A package of 30 tablets (treats up to 60 liters of water) only weighs 0.15 ounces and costs $12.95. The tablets are simply dropped into the water bottle and they will kill 99.99% of bacteria. The down side is that they take about 30 min to purify the water so you do have to wait a little while before you drink. The water must be clear of particles and floaters (a bandana can make an effective filter in water collection) because the tablets will not remove any silt or mud in the water itself. The MRS Aquatabs advertize that the tablets impart very little taste to water.
Drops work on the same concept. The Aquamira water treatment drops are simple to use. The drops contain chlorine dioxide to kill odor-causing bacteria and enhance the taste of stored water. Drops are effective in warm and cold water. Chlorine dioxide has been shown to remove greater than 99.9% of bacteria, viruses and cysts, including Cryptosporidium and Giardia. The water treatment includes part A and part B drops that you mix together before adding to water; each bottle contains 1 fl. oz. The Aquamira water treatment drops kit contains everything you need to treat up to 30 gallons of water and cost $14.95.
Taking the pump and some pills/drops as a backup seems reasonable, but wait… there are more options to consider. Who knew getting safe water could be such complex exercise in decision making.