Water, clean please.

6:23 p.m. on June 28, 2009 (EDT)
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I am pursuing a small link of the appalacian trail in a week or two(depending on scheduling). This will be our(I am going with a buddy) first multiday backpacking trip and we are having a disagreement on water purification. I am as broke as the economy, and my friend has money to BURN. That being said, he is buying a $70 water filter and I am....not. I prefer boiling because it is cheap, safe, and I won't have to carry a device other than my pot.

What do you guys prefer in terms of water purification?

7:04 p.m. on June 28, 2009 (EDT)
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Are you going to boil all your drinking water Kmarr? Lot of fuel my friend, even if you do it with a twig fire. I think it is much easier to use a chemical treatment if you are not planning on taking a filter.

What would be the problem with you using your buddies filter?

As far as my own preference, I use a filter, then treat chemically for drinking water.

So..what section of the AT are you guys headed for?

7:39 p.m. on June 28, 2009 (EDT)
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First I like my water filter / clean clear taste free water & no grit

Second Bleach in a dropper bottle as a back up

Third boiling burns too much fuel if you use a stove.

Besides I'm sure your buddy will share his water with you I mean that's part of going in a group. One carries a water filter one carries the cooking gear you both split the weight of the tent and so on and so on. You don't need two water filters for 2 people just like you don't need two large cooking pots. If you split the gear and share both of your packs will be lighter.

12:54 a.m. on June 29, 2009 (EDT)
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The way I see it if you can do without it, do without it. I feel like if you have all the conveniences of home when you're hiking then you might as well be home. My friend carries a few things I don't such as a jetboil, groundpad, waterfilter, etc. So, if worse came to worse and I couldn't get a fire started or something then I'd use his filter. But otherwise I feel like those tasks that would annoy the average person is what makes the experience all the better.

10:51 a.m. on June 29, 2009 (EDT)
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Every one has there own opinion and things that they do, bring etc I think the only thing that every one will agree on when you go you want to enjoy yourself.

6:09 p.m. on June 29, 2009 (EDT)
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buy a filter

if you get sick because of something in the water, you'll regret missing out on a great trip

8:07 p.m. on June 29, 2009 (EDT)
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Problem is, some things are not a matter of opinion. Bleach and iodine are old standbys, but they are not as effective against crypto and the amount of bleach it would take to neutralize crypto or giardia would make the water undrinkable.

Micropur is about the most effective stuff you can get, in terms of chemicals.

an overview of different methods:

http://zenbackpacking.net/WaterFilterPurifierTreatment.htm

from the CDC - scroll down to 5. Does the SH inactivate giardia and cryptosporidium? (SH = sodium hyperchlorite = bleach)

http://www.cdc.gov/safewater/publications_pages/pubs_faq.htm

Efficacy of iodine on crypto:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11990150

You won't miss the trip - it takes a few days for symptoms to develop. I think I would not want to pay for enjoying myself for a few days of backcountry living with weeks of diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, and vomiting.

9:19 p.m. on June 29, 2009 (EDT)
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Good advise!

3:01 a.m. on June 30, 2009 (EDT)
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boiling kills 99% of all bacteria, except I heard a report about certain prescription medications being excluded from this rule but I'll take my chances on that one. Bleach and iodine have certain bacterias that can slip under their radar. Bacterias have different temperatures at which they can still remain living and 99% of them are put to rest by 212 degrees. Many are killed off at lower temperatures but to take the safe road boiling is the way to go.

The way I see it, its all a matter of preference. either one has that 1% loop hole.

9:44 a.m. on June 30, 2009 (EDT)
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I did a few trips boiling water - short ones. It was a nuisance to boil, wait for it to cool, pour it into the bladder/bottle, repeat until I had the amount I needed. I typically hike, camp and then prepare dinner and the next day's water - refill the bladder, fill the large soft sided camp canteen (Nalgene) with enough for breakfast, dinner and washing.

If you don't mind carrying a lot of extra fuel, using hard sided bottles and drinking lukewarm/warm water on the trail, boiling is more than adequate. But like all the other measures listed, it won't take care of chemical agents, like contamination from a mine or factory upstream.

Not trying to sound pessimistic... just thorough. I like the filters, you like boiling, I suspect we will both be fine, given good source selection.

1:12 p.m. on June 30, 2009 (EDT)
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Kmarr,

If you haven't already, read my series of 4 articles on backcountry water in the Articles section of Trailspace, the first of which is here.

What it comes down to is this (despite the "sound bites" you got above, which are a mixed bag):

1. There are several stages of "purification", none of which is perfect. For the most part, you only need to be at the "potable" water stage. This means "safe to drink" for the vast majority of people, with the probability of serious disease very low (not zero, but low). You do not need to have "purified" water - technically, this means sterile enough for surgical purposes. Unfortunately, in a lot of places (especially posts on the web), the various terms relating to level of purity and sterility are used very loosely.

2. Boiling is the most effective method of producing potable and pure water from backcountry sources. Note that this is "most effective", not perfect. Actually, you do not need to go to a full rolling boil. With the exception of a few, very rare biota, you only need to heat to "pasteurization temperature", which is 155F. You can get this at any altitude you can hike or climb to on Earth, including the summit of Everest (boiling temperature drops with altitude). Boiling does use fuel (hence extra weight), but you will boil your water for your meals anyway. It is inconvenient to boil your drinking water in addition to your meal preparation water, and it is very inconvenient to do it on a long day's hike. In 3rd World countries, there are biota (certain bacteria, for example) that survive boiling even for extended time, but these are mostly just "inconvenient" for humans. Boiling does not remove chemical contamination, so select your source carefully in areas where there has historically been a lot of mining (here in northern California, many water sources are contaminated by abandoned mercury mines, for example).

3. Filters depend on pore size for effectiveness. Most backpacking filters are effective at removing protozoa (giardia, crypto, others) and bacteria, along with most of the sand and silt (which will clog the filter quickly). Some filters (pore size 1 micron or smaller) will remove most viruses. Filters are ineffective at removing chemical contamination for the most part, though some using activated charcoal will remove some. There are no standards for removing chemical contamination via filters. Filters are heavy and require maintenance.

4. Chemical treatments (primarily chlorine and iodine compounds). These will inactivate or kill protozoa, bacteria, and viruses, though the concentration required and time for full action depends heavily on the temperature, pH (acid/alkali), and turbidity (silt and other junk). For most mountain water in the US, iodine is sufficiently effective within 15-20 minutes, chlorine in the form of bleach in 2-4 hours, and chlorine in the form of sodium hypochlorite in 30 min to 4+ hours. The big problem is that it is difficult at best to get water out of a stream, spring, or lake that is in the ideal range of temperature and pH, along with not knowing what exactly is in the water. Some sources have very little or even no protozoa in cyst form, so chemical treatment is very effective. Other sources, far into the wilderness, is heavily contaminated (giardiasis is also called "beaver fever"). Crypto cysts can be extremely resistant to all the chemical treatments with cold water and pH more than 2 or 3 points from neutrality. The chemical treatments are also ineffective against chemical contamination, including "red tide" algae that is found in some wilderness sources (usually you think of it in connection with the ocean).

5. There is another alternative that is fairly hard to find, but worth it if you are going to an area with fairly contaminated water, made by Pur, a Swiss subsidiary of Proctor and Gamble. This is in some sense a chemical treatment. It uses a flocculus to trap the protozoa and most bacteria, as well as many of the chemical contaminants. After the flocculus settles to the bottom (about 10 minutes), you decant the clear water and let it sit for another 10 minutes, during which the purification chemicals destroy the remaining bacteria and viruses. A big disadvantage is that it is packaged to treat 10 liters at a time - ok if you have a group or are in a fixed camp, but impractical for a group of 2 or 3 on an extended hike.

6.(forgot to add this, so did an edit) - I left out the use of ultraviolet light. One version of this is good for emergencies - just put the water in a transparent container and set it in the bright sun. How effective this is depends on the transmissivity of the container. Unfortunately, most glass and transparent plastic cuts down on the UV transmitted, but it does help in an emergency situation where you have nothing else. Paul Auerbach's 12 pound Wilderness Medicine book discusses this and gives references to studies that show that it is better than nothing. More effective is to use a SteriPen. There have been reports of the SteriPen failing or being ineffective. Where enough information was available and the people who had the problem could be interviewed, it has always turned out that they were not following directions, running out of battery, or otherwise misusing the gadget (most of the reports of failure are of the sort that "something didn't work right" with no details on what happened and what the user actually did in the use of the SteriPen). When I went up Kilimanjaro, it turned out that the guides and porters were using the SteriPen when refilling at streams on the way (they boiled the water at the fixed camps). I had a SteriPen myself for personal use (with the solar charger box), and I do use it a lot. The disadvantages are that it uses batteries (which can run out), and the water needs to be fairly clear (their filter does a reasonably adequate job, or a coffee filter will also work). It does inactivate protozoa (it will kill protozoa even in cyst form with enough repeated treatments, but inactivation is supposed to be adequate to prevent giardiasis and crypto problems), and kill bacteria and viruses.

7. The other methods are more for large operations or when you can transport the heavy equipment needed - distillation and reverse osmosis filters. Distillation involves evaporating the water and recondensing the vapor in a separate container. Reverse osmosis uses the application of pressure to force the water through what is essentially an ultra-fine pore filter. These are ok for use on your sailboat as you go around the world, but not backpacking. Yes, there are solar stills, but these are very slow.

Bottom line is that all the methods are somewhat effective in particular circumstances, and all have their disadvantages. I personally use filters much of the time, chemicals some of the time, boiling on short trips and in winter when I have to melt snow for water anyway (and the extra fuel to get to boiling is negligible by comparison). I have never gotten sick from the water while camping, though it is said in the wilderness medicine literature that some of us who spend lots of time in the woods and hills are carriers of giardia. Related to that is that I eat the local food when I go to 3rd World countries and haven't gotten sick from that (although I got very sick from the shrimp cocktail one time when I got upgraded to first class on one of the major airlines, as did my 4 companions on that flight).

7:32 p.m. on June 30, 2009 (EDT)
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Bill S,

Have you considered writing a guide book for water treatment?

I for one would find it most useful as a reference.

I think that while boiling water is effective it is not a sustainable practice for multi-day trips for most folks, a lot of fuel and a lot of work (as already noted). I often fix a cup of tea and a freeze dried meal when I arrive at camp with water that has not been filtered or chemically treated, but I do that to tide me over till my chemical treatment has had adequate time to do its job. I looked quite hard at a Steri-pen today at my local outfitters, haven't purchased one yet though.

12:34 a.m. on July 1, 2009 (EDT)
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Bill S...very long and detailed :)

I have a short attention span and get bored easily(like most people my age) so when some topic of interest pops up in my world, I research the snot out of it before I lose interest! So the massive synopsis of water purification you posted not only contained all of the information I read about purification, but it summed it up quite well sir.

I agree with what most of you are saying, it is indeed a pain in the rear, but boiling seems to be the most effective without spending a king's ransom on filters and tablets. I never carry fuel and since my pals and I always have a campfire going, it would be good use of it to boil.

Thank you all for your insight!

10:13 a.m. on July 1, 2009 (EDT)
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Kmarr,

I would certainly recommend reading Bills water treatment articles, some clarifying information there, stuff the competing brands of water treatment seem to want us (consumers) to be slightly confused on.

Don't misunderstand, I don't think anyone is trying to dissuade you from boiling your water. If it works for you then that is certainly better than drinking untreated water. I think it is good for these things to be discussed so that we can all learn from each others perspective and experiences.

Some of us don't spend a lot of time around a fire I would guess, and would prefer to be off visiting waterfalls, viewing wildlife, or whatever with that time.

One way to look at it maybe would be to say that since you are going to have a campfire anyway, you might as well put that energy to use boiling your water.

Another way might be to say that campfires scar the land, increase the impact you have on the areas you visit, and burn up wood that should have been left to decay naturally as part of that areas ecosystem. You know, "if everyone builds a campfire..."

So it is good to discuss these things, and as we learn from each other we gain a broader and more balanced view. Not to say that we should not rely on other resources, lots of good books on these subjects by well seasoned outdoorsmen / women, and many instructional courses are also out there.

It is good to have you here on Trailspace, I learn stuff here all the time.

2:24 p.m. on July 1, 2009 (EDT)
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Bill S,

Have you considered writing a guide book for water treatment?
...

I don't have the attention span to write a book. I have written a half dozen books in my life in my professional field, starting with my doctoral dissertation (that took me 5 years to do), and each subsequent one got shorter. I don't know whether my problem is Adult Attention Deficit Disorder or just OHSCBCAD (Outdoor Hiking, Skiing, Climbing, and Bicycling Addictive Disorder). Getting about time for my daily fix.

Good grief! Why is it July already????

3:09 p.m. on July 1, 2009 (EDT)
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HaHa....Fair enough, anyhow thanks for sharing your knowledge it has been a great help to me. Charleston SC is not exactly full of knowledgeable backpackers so books and websites are very helpfull to me.

3:16 p.m. on July 1, 2009 (EDT)
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Hay Trouthunter if you think is bad down there you should try to fine any local info in Central New York its like you speak a different language in a strange place when you try to ask a question. For me its either find info here, a website or trial and error.

3:26 p.m. on July 1, 2009 (EDT)
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Yes mike068, I can beleive it!

The trial and error thing can be interesting, but certainly not the best way to develop technique huh?

3:33 p.m. on July 1, 2009 (EDT)
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This is true but its fun to look back on sometimes and think (chuckling) why did I try that.

10:52 p.m. on July 1, 2009 (EDT)
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Agree trout that trial and error is not the best way, but it is at least a sure way to remember the errors.

7:47 p.m. on July 2, 2009 (EDT)
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HaHa, yes pain or discomfort, or even hunger, can be a powerful teacher and reminder. Embarrasment too.

9:41 p.m. on July 2, 2009 (EDT)
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I think that it depends on where you are. I live on the Oregon coast, and the NFS tells me that most lakes and streems are ok, but you sould have a filter. So boiling would be a waist of time and energy. On the other hand when I lived in Iowa....well letts just say you better back in your water. No boiling will help it. But if you do make a fire every night you might as well boil water. Safer that way.

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