Being out on the Appalachian Trail without good clean water to drink can be a dangerous thing. Dehydration can occur rather quickly and to drink unfiltered water can result in intestinal problems – sometimes so severe that hikers must leave the trail for medical attention. Giardia, a common protozoa found in mountain streams and stagnant water sources, thrives inside the intestines of infected humans or other animals. The symptoms of giardia, which may begin to appear 2 days after infection, include violent diarrhea (a definite no-no on the AT), stomach or abdominal cramps, upset stomach, and nausea. These can result in dehydration and nutritional loss that may demand immediate medical attention. However, ensuring good, clean water is fairly easy with a little planning. In the last blog I took a quick swallow at two methods – the pump and tablets or drops. Let’s taste three more options.
One: Ultraviolet Light
One of the best water purifiers on the market that utilizes UV light is the SteriPEN Adventurer. It weighs 3.6 ounces with batteries but costs about $90. After the hiker presses the activate button on the SteriPEN, he/she simply immerses the lamp into the water and gently agitates the liquid; the SteriPEN then emits a visible blue UV light. Ultraviolet light rays safely sterilize clear water by destroying 99.99% of protozoa, bacteria, and even viruses. The Adventurer requires no pumping, chemicals, test strips, extended time-keeping or filters; leaves no aftertaste, will not clog and does not require lubrication. The SteriPEN Adventurer purifies 16 fl. oz. of water (cold or warm) in less than one minute, or 32 fl. oz. in a minute and a half. The pen is a nice and small – it easily fits most containers – cups, mugs, water bottles, and canteens – and can be carried in a shirt pocket. The light source can be utilized up to 8,000 times! A negative for me is that the pen should only be used on clear water, as cloudy, sediment-laden water hinders its effectiveness.
Based on the same filter concept as the pump, the gravity system simply eliminates the pump. One named brand of a gravity system is Sawyer. The company advertises that in the time it takes you to unpack your tent, you’ll have 2 liters of fresh, clean drinking water. There is both a 2 liter system (weight – 16 oz; cost – $110) and a 4 liter system (weight 20 oz; cost – $220).
The hiker simply fills the gray reservoir bag with unfiltered water, attaches the filter and the filter hose to the blue reservoir bag. Once the gray bag is hung above the blue bag, gravity does the rest and fills the blue reservoir with clean drinking water. The filter physically removes particles, protozoa, and bacteria down to 0.1 micron in size, including giardia, salmonella, and cryptosporidia. Setup is simple and the system packs easily, weighing in at only 16 oz. The Sawyer Complete Water Filter System comes with a million gallon guarantee, essentially eliminating the need to ever have to replace the filter cartridge.
Three: Life Straw
A relatively new product on the market is the LifeStraw. No pumping, no squeezing, no filling, no waiting, no additives – the LifeStraw lets you safely sip straight from the stream or lake. It only weighs 2 ounces and cost around $22. It is one of the lightest filters available, and it takes up very little space in the backpack – in fact it has a convenient lanyard if the hiker desires to carry it around his/her neck. A hollow-fiber filter membrane offers a high flow rate – the hiker sticks the straw right into the water source (stream, lake, mud puddle, or pond); sips on the straw and it filters the water while it’s on the way to the hiker’s mouth. Drink straight from the source, or fill your water bottle, insert the filter, and start sipping. As with most of the other products it removes 99.99% of all bacteria and 99.9% of all protozoa, such as giardia and cryptosporidium. The straw will effectively filter up to 264 gal. (1,000 liters). If the hiker regularly blows through the straw water filter after drinking, it helps keep the filter clean and prevents clogging. The straw is not good for purifying water for meal preparation, washing your face and hands, or brushing your teeth.
My beautiful wife bought me a LifeStraw and I will definitely take this great item for emergency backup and maybe even my primary method. I have borrowed a pump (so the cost is right) but I am considering a gravity system (but it weighs a pound!) – too many decisions.