Water purification trailside is one of the many concerns hikers face when planning a long distance hike. A water-borne illness can wreck havoc with a hike and at times had forced hikers to discontinue their trek. I recall a reunion with two southbounders back in Massachusetts who I originally met in Maine. One of them contracted the dreaded “beaver fever “ in Vermont and was still battling it with weakness and fatigue, despite antibiotic treatment. As taken from the USGS site : “Waterborne pathogens are disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and protozoans that are transmitted to people when they consume untreated or inadequately treated water. Two protozoans in the news today are Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Their consumption can lead to severe problems of the digestive system, which can be life-threatening to the very young, very old, or those with damaged immune systems.”
There are several methods one can use when it comes to water and hiking:
- Do nothing. I know of a few in this class who merely take their cup, dip it into the stream, and drink it straight. I have only done this once myself. I was in Pennsylvania at Peters Mountain shelter, and as anyone can tell you, the journey to the water source is quite an ordeal – like a 300 step ordeal. By the time I got there, I was so hot and thirsty, I filled my cup with the water raging cut of the pipe and drank it straight. But I also knew that above the source, there was nothing that could contaminate it. So I was fairly sure I would be fine, and I was. In the Smokies I was also without purification and did ok. But in many cases you are rolling the dice with regards to picking up diseases. And one thing's for sure, relentless diarrhea is no fun on a hike!
- Chemical treatments such a Aqua Mira, Polar Pure, iodine tablets or even straight iodine or bleach via droppers. Long ago I used iodine and still have bottles tainted by the color. Nothing is worse in my opinion than the taste of iodine. Aqua Mira had been the choice on all my hikes until I found the Sawyer this past year (see below). On the website it states:
I had no issues with using Aqua Mira for 4,000 miles of trail. It was easy to use, left very little aftertaste (unless you use too much) and provided effective treatment in that I suffered no water-borne illness. The only time I showed care with it was in highly infective waters such as beaver ponds and pasturelands, of which I did not use or take water sources from it. It is readily available along the trail, and nearly all outfitters carry it. my main issue - I can taste a bit of the chemical in the water.
- Other treatment by the use of simple bleach, filtering and steripens. I have also used both filters and steripens. This site, Hiking Website.com has a good overview of these various methods There are many filters out there, though prices can vary. Unfortunately more than once after a few weeks of use, I have seen fellow hikers struggling to pump water out of clogged systems, gravity systems slowed down to trickles (or like me, when I dropped a ceramic filter and it smashed), or dealing with parts breaking in mid hike (my son had this happen to him after only a few weeks of use). While they do deliver potable water instantly the moment you pump, I feel some of the concerns of breakage and clogging can outweigh the advantages. SteriPENS tend to run heavy with the batteries they use, and can also eat through batteries. They use UV light to destroy pathogens, and for short hiking durations can be quite. For long trips, I am not sold on their durability. Many hikers have to take Aqua Mira or other purification pills as a back-up to these devices, and then you have extra weight in your pack. So why not just take one type of purification you know will not fail you? Kind of the way I look at it.
- The treatment hikers are using most often esp on the AT. Sawyer Squeeze Filter System.
On a side note, I also am very picky where I get my water. Maps are crucial for this, to tell you where the sources come from. If I see an overly cloudy water, for example, I will not use Aqua Mira. For water, it is important not only to carry the purification, but to carry maps and up to date guides as well to make sure you know where the sources are and where they are coming from (like upstream cow pastures and beaver ponds).
Good water is essential not only to your health but to the success of your hike.