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Selecting a Water Filter for day hikes and backpacking

3:22 p.m. on August 28, 2007 (EDT)
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My renewed interest in backpacking, combined with my dislike of drinking water that's actually hot from being in my backpack even on day hikes, has poised to spring for a water filtration device. When I backpacked in the 70's, I drank freely from the streams and rivers in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I suppose I could try that in the Sierra, but I don't think it'd be a wise choice.

I drink a lot of water. On my day hikes I carry 4 liters with me - and on hot days consume most of it on a day hike. Clearly I can't carry enough to sustain me on even a single night backpacking trek. And each time I see a cold stream on a hike, I wish I could drink that nice refreshing cold water, rather than the hot water from my pack.

I've read the Katahdyn vs MSR comparisons, and the various reviews. I am pretty much decided on an MSR (in spite of my experience with their stove :). Now I'm deciding between the Sweetwater and the Miniworks EX.

Both seem to have about the same filtration specs. The Sweetwater is about $20 cheaper, a few ounces lighter, and slightly smaller. The MiniWorks has a ceramic filter, which I take it must be a plus (?).

What's the word from the field... is there something about the MiniWorks that makes it worth the extra $, weight, and bulk?

The intended use would be backpacking (no groups involved), and day hikes (use about 4L per day). Presumably, the weight and bulk of the filter would be offset by having to carry less water, at least on hikes where water's available.

So, what do you think? :)

5:27 p.m. on August 28, 2007 (EDT)
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I have used the MSR Sweetwater since 2004 with no problems whatsoever. The thing I like about it is that you can clean the filter element if it gets plugged. I don't think this is a feature of ceramic filters. I also like the lever pump and the spring-loaded relief valve.

I have had to clean the filter element 3 times since I bought it; once after filtering water from Hermit Creek (Grand Canyon) when it was running brick red and a couple of times when taking water from dubious sources in the Arizona mountains.

If you choose your water source carefully in the Sierra, you can drink without any treatment. I read a report by competent scientists that stated that even in highly traveled areas such as Yosemite, the incidence of Giardia or Crypto spores is so small that one would have to drink 3-4 gallons per day to even risk infection. Still, I filter my water, or did, I now use a Steripen Adventurer for any water I treat in the Sierra. I have used it for about two weeks worth of travel and so far no problems with the "green apple quickstep".

5:34 p.m. on August 28, 2007 (EDT)
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Quote:

I have used it for about two weeks worth of travel and so
far no problems with the "green apple quickstep".

Good thing for www.urbandictionary.com! :-)

Yes, I have read that Sierra water may be safe, but I too opt to play on the safe side with things like this (refers again to his role of contingency planner :).

9:01 p.m. on August 28, 2007 (EDT)
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Sierra water varies widely in how much of the little beasties it has. Surprisingly, some streams and other sources close to civilization (within, say, an hour's hike of the trailhead) are virtually free of organisms (the annually published numbers are that you would have to drink several hundred gallons to reach the threshold number of giardia cysts), while other places, high in the Sierra, miles from anything any of us would think of as a source of contamination, are loaded with the critters (only takes a liter to reach the threshold). And the commentary with the published data says you can't tell by visual inspection. So, BH, you are wise to play it on the safe side.

That said, Barb and I have been drinking straight from the Sierra streams and lakes for decades and never gotten sick (dunno, maybe we are hosts, sort of a Giardia Gary, the analog of Typhoid Mary, symptomless, but infecting millions of others). But in many areas, especially 3rd World areas that I travel to, I do take precautions - filters, chemicals, and currently evaluating a Steripen. For filters, I have used several different ones, currently preferring my Katadyn Hiker Pro - easier to use than my Sweetwater, and my Katadyn filter bottle. You can do some cleaning of the outside of the Katadyn Hiker filter element when it gets clogged with sediment. I used to use a First Need, but found them too much trouble, even including the latest versions I have tried (using other peoples). Sweetwater and MSR filters are owned by Cascade Designs, but are quite different (because of different original companies acquired by Cascade Designs).

Good way to extend the life of a filter between cleanings or replacements is to prefilter the water as follows:
1. let the water sit overnight to allow silt and other stuff settle out.
2. carefully decant the somewhat settled water through a coffee filter or at least a bandana to remove still more of the junk.
3. use a prefilter on the hose of your pump to remove still more of the sediments.

Obviously, this is only possible when camped for the night. But you can at least do steps 2 and 3 (besides it is easier to pump out of a container than out of a stream). Anything you can do to remove the murkiness will extend the life of your pump element. The Sweetwater pre-filter is a good one that can be used on any inlet hose. The cyst filter element for the Katadyn filter bottle also will remove almost all of the sediments, as well as protozoan cysts. Steripen also has a prefilter that you put on top of a Nalgene when filling up for the UV treatment that reduces the sediment content by a huge amount (the Steripen really requires fairly clear water to work in a short time).

6:31 p.m. on August 30, 2007 (EDT)
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The ceramic filters can be cleaned many times, far more than the Sweetwater. I have and have used the Katadyn Pocket and the MSR Miniworks (technically the Miniwoks is my son's). Both are good - the Miniworks is lighter and easier to pump, although I find it needs cleaning a little more often. Oh, and the Pocket Filter costs a lot more. I got mine when there were far fewer alternatives (1988).

I have also used the Hiker, which has a very high flow rate and it's easy to use. I have not used the Sweetwater, but I have seen it in action. It also appears easy to use.

They all have pros and cons.

Biologically, the cermics mentioned above will remove more cooties than the others, in spite of any and all marketing claims about pore size (a meaningless marketing term without a standard test method among the various manufacturers), etc. (actual test reports show this). However, whether this matters to you depends on where you are going. If you are taking water from a stream in a highly popular area - say the Mt Whitney area - you will probably want the extra protection. The extra protection probably does not matter in most backcountry areas, where viral and bacterial loads are minimal, and giardia and crypto are the concern (easily filtered). A third world country, on the other hand, merits additional steps. A good filter will remove a high percentage of viruses (they are normally attached to particles that can be filtered), but not all of them. In that case, chemical treatment or boiling would make a lot of sense, possibly in addition to filtering.

Water treatment is a hot topic, and there are many opinions. Many water sources are fine to drink without treatment; some are not. But you can't tell by looking at them. A source may be fine today, but not tomorrow. Your ability to fight off an invasion depends on a lot of factors as well, which change from day to day. But overall, most of the time you won't get sick from the water. Personally, I treat the water, even in cases where it is quite likely safe. Many years ago, I never bothered with treating water. But now it is too easy to treat it, and the consequences of being wrong can be quite unpleasant, especially on a long trip.

10:08 p.m. on August 30, 2007 (EDT)
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I bet over the past few years, I have seen hundreds of posts about water filters. This topic is an ongoing discussion.

I have also seen a study of the Northern Sierra that confirms Bill's experience. It was done by a team from UCDavis.

There are lighweight chemical solutions that use either iodine or chlorine dioxide that are popular with the lightweight crowd. MSR is coming out with two new filters. An MSR employee who posts on another board I post on gave us a preview. Alicia mentions them in her blog on the OR show. The new ones are pretty light, use some kind of ceramic filter and will be available some time next year.

10:50 a.m. on August 31, 2007 (EDT)
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As Tom mentioned, the new MSR HyperFlow MicroFilter comes out in January. It’s supposed to filter 2.75 liters per minute and weighs 7.8 ounces. MSR also has a gravity filter coming out, which will filter 1 liter per minute and weighs 10.5 ounces.

Platypus (also part of Cascade Designs) will have the CleanStream gravity filter system for spring 2008. It’s supposed to filter 4 liters in 2.5 minutes.

All three filters use hollow fiber membrane technology and have a pore size of 0.2 microns.

I used the HyperFlow briefly at OR and it really was very fast and easy to pump into a Nalgene. Apparently the hollow fiber membrane cannot freeze though, or it will crack and become useless. So the filter would only be good for three-season use.

I should be getting samples of these filters to test later this year, so we’ll have more info on their performance then.

11:04 a.m. on August 31, 2007 (EDT)
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I forgot to mention, but PUR has a chemical treatment coming out. The 4 g (0.14 oz) packet treats 10 liters of water using a flocculant (iron sulfate to separate particles and organisms from water) and a disinfectant (calcium hypochlorite) that kills microbes after 30 minutes. You can filter any debris away with a cloth after if you want.

Apparently the powder was developed by a non-profit arm of Proctor & Gamble to treat contaminated water in developing countries and has been in use globally for several years.

I’m still waiting for my press info and sample to arrive in the mail, so I’m a little spotty on these details. But www.sciencedaily.com said last year:

BACKGROUND: Chemists have developed a powerful household water purification system that puts the cleansing power of an industrial water treatment plant into a container the size of a ketchup packet. The researchers have shown that the tiny packet, which acts as a chemical filter, can be added to highly contaminated water to dramatically reduce pathogen-induced diarrhea.

HOW IT WORKS: Called "PUR Purifier of Water," the system is manufactured by Procter & Gamble. It consists of a packet containing a grayish powder composed of a number of chemicals that can collectively remove contaminants within minutes of adding them to water. The packet is added to a large container of impure water, stirred, filtered through a cloth to remove impurities, and then allowed to sit for 20 minutes to produce clear, safe drinking water. The main active ingredients are calcium hypochlorite (bleach) and ferric sulfate. The first kills a wide range of deadly pathogens, while ferric sulfate is a particle binder: it binds to particles of dirt and disease-causing pathogens that aren't killed by the bleach. The packets can kill the water-borne pathogens that cause cholera, typhoid, and dysentery, for example, and remove toxic metals like lead, arsenic and mercury, as well as dangerous pesticides like DDT and PCB.

ADVANTAGES: The PUR packets are very efficient: a single packet can decontaminate 2-1/2 gallons of drinking water, sufficient to sustain a typical household for two to three days. Unlike large stationary purification systems, PUR packets are small and portable, enabling them to be easily used in remote locations and emergency situations. This makes them promising for boosting water safety after natural disasters, like earthquakes, floods and hurricanes, which can compromise water quality quite suddenly. http://www.sciencedaily.com/videos/2006-12-06/

11:30 a.m. on August 31, 2007 (EDT)
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One advantage/disadvantage to the Pur system is that it comes in units of 2.5 gallons. This makes it great for groups, but a problem for parties of 1 or 2. The literature I have seen on it says to not divide the chemical in the packet (apparently the components might not stay in the right proportion when trying to subdivide the powder in the field).

It will be distributed in North America by Reliance (the folks from Canada who make the foldable 2.5 gallon water jugs many of us use ... hmmmm, a coincidence in the 2.5 gal size??). There are 2 packages. One is a complete kit containing a foldable mixing container, a foldable storage container, mixing tool (spoon? spatula?), and several packets of chemical, listing at about $33US. The second is a box of 6 chemical packets, listing at $16US, if you have your own containers or as refills.

Pur is best known for their home water filters (attach to your kitchen faucet, for one of their lines). They had a line of backpacker filters that they sold to Katadyn a few years back. I think Proctor and Gamble owns Pur (acquired several years ago?). As Alicia said, the chemical pack was developed for use in 3rd World countries. According to the website, it kills the beasties, absorbs chemical contaminants and dirt, and encapsulates everything in a sort of gel. As Alicia noted, you can filter the end result to get only the pure water. A question I didn't see answered on the website is what do you do with the semi-solid waste? Is it ok to just dump it on the ground, as you would with grey water? The viruses, bacteria, protozoa (including cysts) and such may be killed off, but the chemicals (lead, arsenic, mercury, etc) are still there in the waste.

7:33 a.m. on September 1, 2007 (EDT)
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katadyn hiker pro

12:34 p.m. on September 1, 2007 (EDT)
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Ed, yes, the Katadyn Hiker and Hiker Pro were originally PUR filters. I use the Hiker Pro mostly these days.

3:45 p.m. on September 1, 2007 (EDT)
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Thanks for all the feedback everyone. I realize topics like this (and the stove selection:) result in lots of diverse opinions. But that's the point actually - that's what makes these forums so valuable. It provides different perspectives that might be harder to get otherwise, if at all.

I need [perceive the need for a filter now, so I went ahead and bought the MSR MiniWorks EX, and a Nalgene bottle & MSR water bag.

I'm looking forward to trying it out real soon now :).

8:02 p.m. on September 1, 2007 (EDT)
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Is there a problem anyone has with the First need delux? I figure if getting a purifier is $20 more than a filter, why not?

10:29 p.m. on September 1, 2007 (EDT)
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In today's world of filters/purifiers, the difference is often a matter of semantics without independent verification of "purifier" status under real world conditions. This verification will never happen because it is quite expensive to do so - it involves using real field water and challenging all the devices microbiologically under the same conditions. MSR did it 10 years ago but they did not share the results publicly (although I managed to get a copy, and the results are enlightening). After the filters were used to end of cartridge life with real river water, they were challenged with a high dose of a very small bacteria (Brevundimonas Diminuta - much smaller than the EPA protocol bacteria). The top two performers were "filters", and beat out four other devices that were marketed as "purifiers." Marketing plays a role, and terms such as purifier and pore size, in the end, may be just marketing terms.

Look around on the forums (like in this thread), you will get a sense of which filters tend to give the least trouble in use. Since most will prove more than adequate for most folks, the relative effectiveness of the different models will not come into play. Like I said above, if I felt the water posed a real risk, I would treat chemically or boil.

To answer your question, I would have to go on heresay, since I have never used the First Need. But from what I have heard (and read), I would say there are better choices. But to each his own.

11:41 p.m. on September 1, 2007 (EDT)
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The best way to see if a filter is suited to your preferences is to go someplace where you can see them side by side and try pumping. I have found the First Need to be ok, but have found several others (like the Katadyn Hiker and Hiker Pro, Sweetwater, and MSR Miniworks easier to use and more convenient for field maintenance (longer lived between scrubbings or element replacement, as the case may be - some you can clean, others you have to replace the element, or in the case of the Katadyn bottle, components of the filter system). The current First Need is much improved over the first 2 generations I had, but still not as easy to work with as some of the others.

As Chumango says, you may find differently for your own purposes.

12:57 a.m. on September 2, 2007 (EDT)
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Quote:

I used the HyperFlow briefly at OR and it really was very fast and easy to pump into a Nalgene. Apparently the hollow fiber membrane cannot freeze though, or it will crack and become useless. So the filter would only be good for three-season use.

I read the same thing from an MSR rep on TLB, where he posts regularly. (Plus I just wanted to try out the quote box.) I'm not sure what the hollow fiber stuff is; I thought it was some kind of ceramic, but that apparently is wrong.

Bill makes a couple of good points-2.5 gallons is way more than I would need at one time, or want to try carrying around with me and what about the left-over stuff from filtering. Unless you are in a really contaminated area, I can't imagine it would be that much.

For one person, there are also bottles that have filters or a purifier system in them. I have a Katadyn purifier bottle-a filter,plus iodine in a tube stacked inside the bottle. Not for making cooking water though. You have to suck the water out through a built-in straw, a bit at a time and can't pour it out of the bottle, but it would be good in an emergency for drinking water.

12:04 a.m. on September 13, 2007 (EDT)
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Well, I used my new MiniWorks EX on my two 2-nighters last week. It worked fine. It's amazing how much junk there actually is in seemingly "clear" water!

By the end of the 5th day, the filter was clogged, and the pump essentially stopped working. A quick disassembly and scrubbing of the filter with the supplied scrubby pad took care of it - though I intend to give the whole unit a more thorough cleaning before my next trip.

I did have some intestinal problems on my 3rd day out, but I'm inclined to think that was more a matter of being on a radically different diet than usual, than of an issue with the water. I was in the Trinity Alps, where filtering is supposed to be sufficient.

The filter seems to be well designed and easy to use.

9:08 p.m. on September 15, 2007 (EDT)
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If you alternate between the green scrubby pad and a toothbrush or similar brush (use scrubby pad, then next time the toothbrush, then next time the scrubby pad, etc.) your ceramic element will last significantly longer. The toothbrush does not remove as much material when you scrub, and you do not always need to remove much to restore flow. By the same token, you will not get as good recovery after using the toothbrush (not as many liters before needed to do so again) but you will get a lot more life out of the element.

I think it's safe to say that there are far more intestinal problems due to poor personal hygiene (and that of your hiking partner) than to cooties in the water. Also, I find that a strenuous trip will affect me as well, especially if the trip is for more than 2 or 3 days.

2:44 p.m. on September 16, 2007 (EDT)
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Chumango, thanks for the tip. As I scrubbed the filter this weekend, I wondered to myself, "how much is enough"? The color doesn't seem to change, and there's no real visible indication of the crud accumulation, so it's hard to tell how much to scrub it. I guess it's trial & error, to see how the water flow improves.

Also, I wasn't sure whether to scrub it while wet, or dry. When I cleaned it on the trail, it was wet. But then when I cleaned it more thoroughly at home, I did it dry. The instructions don't advise either way.

My filter is a sort of yellow/orange tinted color. I didn't remove it from the housing before using it, so I don't know what it looked like new. Is that how they start out or am I seeing "filtered crud" impregnated in the filter? (scrubbing it didn't change this).

4:58 p.m. on September 16, 2007 (EDT)
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It doesn't take much scrubbing - a few times around the element, making sure you cover the entire surface area, and rinse it off and reassemble. I typically hold the scrubby pad in one hand, wrap it around the element, and turn the element and scrubby pad in opposite directions. The toothbrush method may take a little more time, but it's not much. Just brush off the whole thing good, and put it back together. A little experience will tell you how much is required to restore flow.

The stuff that actually clogs the filter is often invisible to the naked eye. The dirt that collects on the surface is usually quite a bit larger than the filter pores, and does not significantly affect the flow. Imagine marbles on a window screen. You could have a thick layer of marbles, but the flow would not be affected that much. Add a thin layer of particles about the same size as the screen mesh, and it will blind over rapidly. Some glacial silt can get pretty fine, and contribute to clogging.

Make sure you exercise proper precautions when you scrub, rinse, and reassemble the filter to prevent cross contamination. You get concentrated cooties all over your hands in the process. Rinse the element and other parts with "clean" water, and watch to make sure the clean end - where the clean water comes out - does not get contaminated. And wash your hands. This is one thing I like better about the Katadyn Pocket filter design. It is possible to clean the element and put it back together without touching the element except with your brush, and the clean side is better isolated from the element during the cleaning process.

I don't think it matters if you scrub wet or dry - I have done both, but more typically wet, since it is normally required while on a trip, and it is wet from use.

Your filter color is normal - that's the ceramic color (the Katadyn ceramic is a little lighter color than the MSR ceramic). It is a lighter color when dry, and darkens some when wet.

7:37 p.m. on September 16, 2007 (EDT)
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Thanks again, Chumango. What you described is exactly what I did, so I shoudl be good to go. I thought about the contamination issue, and was careful where I put the dirty filter before scrubbing, and washed my hands afterwards. That concentrated gunk isn't something I'd want to spread around.

8:21 p.m. on September 19, 2007 (EDT)
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a.k.a. Jeff Chandler, Jeffrey C.

Katadyn Hiker Pro gets my vote
Although depending on the price of the new MSR filter I might sell it and give the other a try.

8:39 p.m. on September 19, 2007 (EDT)
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Hi Jeffrey,

The MSR HyperFlow MicroFilter will retail for $99.95, so about 30 bucks more than the Katadyn Hiker Pro.

8:45 p.m. on September 19, 2007 (EDT)
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Thanks for the info.
I'll prolly get one soon since I am a huge gear freak.

10:37 a.m. on September 20, 2007 (EDT)
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a.k.a. Jim, Jim M

I have used the Sweetwater bought it 4 years ago. It filters like most filters but kills any beaver fever with drops up to 99%. Water will taste like treated water but if you let it air out or boil it, it disapates.
I think it was the pump that broke however I may have been ruff with it. Luckly find at Dicks Sporting Goods and bought a clearence filter with pump from a open box for 5 bucks..
I bought a pre filter plus all hoses hook up to liter bags. so when your hanging over a almost dry hole with tons of bugs, it makes it easier.
I keep my fliter element in the freezer when not backpacking.

12:46 p.m. on September 20, 2007 (EDT)
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Got my katadyn Hiker Pro for $54.95

http://www.h2ofilters.com/kahipromi.html

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