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  • Water Filters: advice needed

    Well, this is my second time to try and type this but my browser crashed last night after I typed the novel describing my frustration trying to find a good water filtering solution. My message today will be shorter than last night. I can summarize my dilemma like this- I have a problem/concern with every single water filtering solution on the market.... but here are the nitty gritty details.

    Most of my trips will be around Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, etc- so silty cloudy water is a bigger issue for me than for someone in Utah, Wyoming or Colorado. My primary use will be for family backpacking or personal use- although I would love to retain the ability to provide water for an entire patrol.

    I own the Steripen Classic but am thinking of returning it. I bought it before reading the reviews and it appears that a lot of people have issues with the reliability of the device- quite simply a lot of reviewers would classify it as fickle. The Steripen also does nothing for silty, cloudy water, water taste/smell, or agricultural/organic chemicals. Battery consumption also appears to be an issue for many people. On the plus side, the Steripen has the benefit of dealing with giardia, cryptosporidia fast (90 seconds for 1 liter) but ALSO handling viruses- which many filters don't. The steripen classic is on sale at REI right now for $49- so if I could just add a katadyn carbon filter for $15 to deal with the silt, murkiness, agricultural chemicals and the likes- this actually could be a very cost effective light weight filtering solution that delivers near municipal quality water.

    As another idea, I love the idea of the low-tech reliable solution of the gravity filters (e.g. Platypus Gravity Works). It appears to be light weight and reliable for treating giardia, cryptosporidia, etc.) However, it appears that these solutions still leave viruses, heavy metals, agricultural/organic chemicals, and taste. All but the viruses could be addressed by adding the same katadyn carbon filter.Of all the choices, this is the way I am leaning. However, this is twice the cost of the steripen, and I already own the steripen. :-) My motivation to switch is reliability and quantity of water that can be treated.

    Pump filters (like the MSR Sweetwater or MSR Miniworks) deal with everything but the viruses- and this may be a viable choice too. However, there appears to be a lot of field maintenance required on these due to clogging. They are the heaviest of the filtering choices and moving parts seem like a they would be a failure point- although I repeat, the reviews on the Steripen aren't stellar either.

    So here is my question- is there value in keeping the steripen? If so, how should I deal with my plethora of other issues (e.g. silty/cloudy water, taste, agricultural/organic chemicals, etc.) Will the Katadyn carbon filter accomplish the desired results?
    should I return the steripen and use the money toward a Platypus GravityWorks or a Sawyer Water Treatment system- essentially accepting the chances of viruses?
    Do I go with the tried and true pump filters that people have used for years and just understand field maintenance of filters is just the price you pay for not carrying 3 days of water on your back.

  • #2
    We have two gravity water filters that we use on a regular basis on Troop backpacking and day hikes: the Katadyn Base Camp Water Filter, and the Sawyer Water Filter System. Each consists of a bag you fill up in a stream with a filter and a tube that goes into a water bottle or pot. We've had the Sawyer system for about a year and like it. The Katadyn is new this year, and works fine but is slower than the Sawyer. Both take time to fill a water bottle and really cannot be hurried. When ever we stop by a stream or set up camp we get both going and just run everyone's water bottles through as they slow fill up. We like it because no one need to be pumping or doing anything except checking every once in a while to see if the bottle is filled, then moving the tube to the next empty bottle. I could see getting a pump type in the future just for those times when you need water quickly. No one has gotten sick, so I guess they work! ;-)


    • #3
      You're at low elevations. Filter out the heavy particles with a coffee filter and then boil it. That will kill all the viruses and drive off many of the organic contaminants. Won't do a thing for heavy metals. Most likely, neither will a carbon filter although the carbon would adsorb some of the organics.


      • #4
        I really don't want to mess with boiling water other than as a last resort- particularly as a backpacking option. I want something that I can use to refill water bottles as we cross streams or pass ponds. I don't want to stop, get out the stove, fire it up, boil the water, let it cool off (water and stove), pack it up, and then start hiking again.

        I also don't want to deal with chemical after tastes. Again, my goal is to get municipal quality water as fast and reliably as possible.

        Also, as future replies come in, if you are discussing how you filter, please include details on how do you handle things like silt, cloudiness, viruses, taste, agricultural chemical run-off, etc.


        • #5
          I have the an MSR I am pretty sure it is the sweet water. I am satisfied....but I am looking at getting one of the gravity filters....Lighter and next to zero work. But with that said MSR recommends also using a chemical with their filter to kill viruses.

          Far as managing heavy metals and farm run off, don't drink from a river..... Look for seeps, streams or springs. I am not that crazy about pond water either.

          We backpack in area with strip mines occasionally and the water is rotten, we have to carry a weekends worth of water each and occasionally we have cached water at a road crossings relatively near by.

          I am also interested to hear how one deals with fertilizer run off.....(This message has been edited by Basementdweller)


          • #6
            Yah, hmmm... How often do yeh backpack downstream of industrial or agricultural waste?

            I confess after tryin' a bunch of filters I gave up on 'em. Slow, heavy, clog easily, expensive, and most are really easy for boys to cross-contaminate.

            So I just use iodine or a steri-pen. Battery life on a steripen adventurer is about 40 liters or so with rechargeables. Might be more on the classic. The first one I had was bulletproof, the second one is a bit touchy but not a big deal.

            If yeh use iodine and don't like da iodine taste just follow it up with a bit of vitamin-C and all the iodine will come out of solution. Or use aquamira. For cloudy water, just filter through a bandana or necker.

            Of course I'm an old salt, eh? In areas that I am familiar with or in other areas where it's fairly obvious, I just drink da water. Most is just fine.

            In many decades in all kinds of areas from mountain to coast and across 5 continents I've almost never had a problem with that simple setup, with kids or adults. Only issue I've ever run into is that pothole water in da SW deserts tends to be high in magnesium salts, eh? Think milk of magnesia. . No filter is goin' to help yeh with that, though.

            Restaurants... Now that's another story entirely. Those places are dangerous.



            • #7
              We always have to tote our potable water. I have not hiked areas like the AT yet. I think I will go with the Steripen. I saw a filter demo and it just seemed like a big hassle. I always like the idea of the bandanna and iodine as a back up.


              • #8
                Carrying water for the duration of a weekend trip is certainly possible- even for backpacking but skirts the issue of how to have a portable system to quickly deliver clear tasteless water. Getting water from a strip pit is a good example of the challenge I want to be able to overcome because if I can deal with strip pit water, I believe I can deal with anything else.

                I've tried bandanas and even coffee filters and they get out the chunky... but they still don't turn muddy water clear. And while I like the potential of steripen, I still have to deal with the muddy water issue.

                I'm inclined to agree with Beavah and Basement and just ditch the filters for planning trips around water availability. It just seems like scientific advances should be more liberating so I wanted to ask others that get out more. It sounds like i just want something that doesn't exist yet. :-(


                • #9
                  What about those charcoal filter bag thingies? Wouldn't that filter the muddy water?


                  • #10

                    Tell me more. Where do you get them? What is the cost? How do you use them in conjuntion with your current filtering system? Does anyone else have experience with them? I just purchased this today:

                    My plan is to filter the water with this carbon filter to make it pretty then use the steripen to make it safe but I'm interested details of teh charcoal bags too.


                    • #11
                      Cheaper than Dirt has a charcol filter hang up bag that has gotten good reviews. I would send you a link but they are swamped due to the storm.


                      • #12
                        It was called the Just Water For You CAMP-356


                        • #13
                          Step 1: Strainer or bandana strung between sticks, lined with triple layer of paper towels. Put bucket under the apex of the strainer.
                          Step 2: Pour water slowly thru strainer, into pot/bucket. Do not overflow papertowels.
                          Step 3: Boil water in pot/bucket, or add appropriate amount of iodine tabs. Follow directions for tabs. Let cool or add TANG to water. Yep, iodine precipes out. Let settle.
                          Step 4: Decant water/drink into canteens or nalgenes. Throw away sludge.
                          Step 5: Wring out paper towels, dispose of correctly (LNT). Wring out bandana, let dry in sun til bone dry (?back of pack?). Sun kills most bacteria. Don't know about viruses. Spores need to be killed by boiling bandana later. Do not drink from bandana. Wash hands.
                          Step 6: Plan ahead.


                          • #14
                            I've been pretty satisfied with the Katadyn Vario. It's a hand pump (similar to the MSR Sweetwater), fits over a Nalgene or other widemouth bottle.

                            Used them up at Northern Tier last summer, where we were surrounded by what looks like clean water, but in reality has lots of floating algae thanks to a giant wind storm years ago which sent a lot of trees into the water across a pretty large swath of the BWCA.

                            Boys all got to take turns pumping water for the patrol. Only care & feeding necessary was the ceramic disk needed a little scrubdown with a green pad every other day thanks to all the floating stuff. For cooking, we boiled.


                            • #15
                              I have a similar Katadyn with a ceramic filter. I like it but I only use it while in areas that have fairly clear water. The kind of stuff the OP mentions would clog the filter very quickly. I do like being able to clean the filter though and it really does only require a good scrub.

                              One thing to remember, for the purpose of cooking, say, grits, as long as it's been filtered to remove the worst of the suspended solids, that cloudiness is irrelevant as are the microbes...because you're going to cook it anyway. I don't even bother filtering cooking water if it looks reasonably clear.
                              If you confine the ultrafiltration to drinking water only you might get by.

                              Beavah, think about the differences between your region and the region mentioned in the OP...with respect to pollutant regulation. I've done some of the work on source tracking and I've been amazed at what we sometimes found in streams and springs that looked 'pristine'. I hope your luck holds out. Viruses and bacteria aside, I'd really hate to hear that you're being literally eaten alive by some eukaryotic parasite.