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Backcountry Water Treatment

That free-flowing, crystal-clear, crisp-cool mountain stream could possibly be clean, pure water. It's very inviting and very tempting to kneel down and take a few sips. On the other hand, it might carry a microscopic pest that could find its way into your intestines and render you nauseous, weak, cramped, bloated and vulnerable to diarrhea and vomiting for a considerable period of time.

In today's backcountry environment, it is a fact that any source of water, no matter how high or remote, is susceptible to contamination by the creatures that visit it birds, deer, goats, humans. Experienced backcountry travelers recognize the need to play it safe and treat water before drinking.

Water Treatment Methods

  • Boiling
  • Iodine Treatment
  • Chlorine Treatment
  • Aqua Mira
  • Purifiers
  • Filters

    BOILING:

    Water-borne microorganisms cannot survive a rolling-boil. A few minutes (3 or 4) should suffice. Boiling water is a reliable method of destroying Giardia. The problem here is twofold, (1) dirty water stays dirty--albeit safe, and (2) it takes a lot of heavy fuel to boil all your drinking water--particularly a problem on longer trips.

    IODINE TREATMENT:

    This is truly an inexpensive, ultralight water treatment. It is important to read the label to see if the manufacturer guarantees the tablet's effectiveness against Giardia, and follow their directions for use.

    The downside of Iodine, (1) dirty water stays dirty--albeit safe, (2) it requires a lengthy wait while the iodine works its magic, before the water is safe--like 1/2 hour or more for cold water (3) its effectiveness is lessened in cold or murky water (4) it tastes terrible (although you can somewhat mitigate the iodine taste with flavored drinks) and (5) Iodine can have adversely affect health, especially in people with thyroid disease and pregnant women. An alternative to iodine treatment is Aqua Mira.

    CHLORINE TREATMENT:

    Household bleach can be used to disinfect water. The recommended treatment: Add four drops of bleach (sodium hypochlorite) per quart and let stand for 30 minutes before drinking. Chemical treatment can impart an unpleasant taste to water. An alternative to chlorine treatment is Aqua Mira.

    AQUA MIRA:

    Chlorine dioxide - sold as Aqua Mira in the U.S., or Pristine in Canada. It comes in two bottles. You mix drops of each together and chlorine dioxide is formed after five minutes. You then put that mixture into a liter of water, and it is purified in about a half hour, depending on the water temperature and clarity.

    It's fairly quick, fairly easy, and works well. And it costs about $14 for 30 gallons of water. That comes out to about 12 cents per liter or quart.

    The big advantage of Aqua Mira for many hikers and backpackers is that it has practically no taste. No iodine taste. And even less chlorine taste than chlorinated city water.

    Aqua Mira also kills cryptosporidium, if you are in an area where this critter infests water. That's an advantage over iodine, which does not kill cryptosporidium.

    PURIFIERS:

    These use a combination of filtration and chemical (iodine), enabling them to deactivate viruses and other microorganisms that are too small to be trapped by filtration alone. These are good choices for foreign travel. On the downside, purifiers are relatively costly (US $50 to $200) and heavy (1/2 to 2 lbs).

    WATER FILTERS:

    This method uses a hand pump to force water through a complex matrix of micropores that let water pass but trap harmful bacteria and protozoans. Filters eliminate bacteria, protozoa, as well as clarify the water. On the downside, they are relatively costly (US $50 to $250), and heavy (1/2 to 2 lbs).


    PREVENTATIVE MEASURES:

    The following is a list of preventative measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid infection with Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and other waterborne pathogens:

  • Avoid drinking untreated water from wilderness sources.

  • Treat water by boiling or with filtration, as iodine treatment will not kill Cryptosporidium cysts. (After filtration, iodine or chlorine is still needed to eliminate viruses, which are too small to be removed by filters.) Avoid swallowing recreational water (while swimming, bathing, tooth brushing).

  • Practice good hygiene (frequent hand washing).

  • Avoid food that might be contaminated (wash fruits and vegetables with uncontaminated water).

  •  

    Topics

    Seasonal Hiking Gear Lists
    Hiking Ten Essentials
    Backcountry Ethics
    Hiking Pole Advantage
    Int. vs. Ext. Frame
    Water Treatment
    Polarized Sunglasses


    This Marmot, cautiously posing next to its burrow, appeared to be just as curious as we were.


    /td>
     


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