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There’s great wisdom in Albert Einstein’s famous quote, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Hiking is nature’s therapy, a way to temporarily quiet life’s many demands and complications, reducing stress and returning to one’s center. 

From the soothing fresh air to the impossible beauty of a night sky unimpeded by city lights, immersing yourself in nature provides a deeper perspective on life and our place in the world. There is simply no substitute for the freedom and exhilaration that comes from pushing oneself across various challenging terrain and into wilderness comparatively unaffected by human involvement. But as with most things in life, preparation is key. 

Going backpacking or hiking can mean just a few hours outside on local trails, or a multi-day adventure where your survival skills are put to the test. Before you head off into the wilderness or backcountry, step one should always be establishing a plan of action and the necessary resources for the journey. This will help minimize the likelihood of life-threatening situations in the wild.

Double check your packing list, and eliminate things you won’t need. With a lightweight pack, all your essential backpacking gear should fit nicely in a pack weighing 40 pounds or less. But above nearly all else, a reliable water source is critical to your backpacking journey. NationalParks.org recommends that backpackers carry a minimum of 32 ounces of water on their trips, and keep a filtration system on hand for water purification when encountering springs and streams.

The importance of access to clean water in the wild cannot be overstated. Depending on terrain, backpackers generally average 5-10 miles a day, which requires the consumption of approximately a gallon of water a day. This is too much water to carry from the get-go, no matter how hiking-friendly your water bottles or hydration bladders may be. So what solution do you have? 

The answer is easy. A water filtration device allows you to treat water from any source, minimizing the risk of waterborne illness as you make it safe for drinking. 

That hidden lake you’re hiking toward or river you’re camping beside may look as beautiful as a painting, but there’s a strong likelihood that dangerous parasites and bacteria are lurking in the water, undetectable to the eye. Drinking contaminated water can make you severely ill, and can even be fatal. The immediate health risks to wilderness water are pathogens, most frequently spread through animal or human waste. Ingesting untreated contaminated water from a stream, lake or RV campsite is an invitation to gut-wrenching illness from protozoa (e.g. Giardia, Amoebae), bacteria (e.g. E-coli, Salmonella and Cholera) and viruses (e.g. Hepatitis A, Norwalk and Rotavirus). 

If contaminated water enters your system, there’s a likelihood that illness will begin within just a few hours – beginning with flu-like symptoms such as nausea, gastrointestinal cramping and diarrhea. Needless to say, this is a worst-case scenario if you’re miles from civilization, out of cell range. 

When filtering water in the wild, you have a few options to choose from:

Gravity Water Filters

Water filters work by physically straining out dangerous microorganisms (including parasitic eggs and larvae) from the water before drinking. Some portable water filters can be placed directly in water and used just like a straw, while others simply require filling a bag of water and squeezing it through the filter into a bottle. While usually easy to carry, bag filters tend to have a slower flow rate and require hanging, which is not always convenient if someone is hiking in high altitudes or desert terrain.

ProOne Scout Portable Gravity Water Filter

The Scout II from ProOne is a conveniently small, portable version of a traditional gravity water filter. The best backpacking water filter in its class, the Scout II is BPA free and independently lab tested to remove over 200 contaminants including lead and other heavy metals, chloramines, VOC’s, fluoride and more. It features a “set and forget” method that filters up to 1.5 liters of water at a time. Simply fill the container, allow the filtration process to happen, and enjoy your clean water! 

Water Purifiers

Water purifiers use chemicals such as chlorine or iodine, or ultraviolet (UV) light to combat viruses that most filters have difficulty removing. Water purifiers are generally only necessary when traveling internationally. Chlorine or iodine tablets are dropped directly into a bottle of raw water, purifying it within a directed period of time (usually no more than an hour). Various tablets may include sodium dichloroisocyanurate, chlorine dioxide, iodine or tetraglycine hydroperiodide. Chemical treatments tend to leave behind a noticeable taste, however.

UV Light

UV light purification systems use light to damage the DNA of harmful bacteria, viruses and protozoa the water may contain. Adding lime juice has also been shown to speed up the purification process.

DIY Sediment Filters

DIY sediment filters are also relatively easy to create on your own. A popular method involves layering a mix of gravel, sand and activated charcoal in a container with a small hole in the bottom for water to pour through. These aren’t reliable for regular use and don’t provide a large amount of water, but will suffice in a pinch.

Boiling Water

Boiling is the easiest and most age-old method for killing dangerous bacteria, viruses and protozoa in the water. You may have seen a local water boil advisory in the news over the years, usually after severe storms or floods, advising residents to boil their water to prevent infectious diseases. Make sure that you bring the water to a rolling boil for at least one full minute before drinking. Boil the water for 3 minutes if you’re at an elevation above 6,500 feet (1,981 meters).

Given the emergence of new water contaminants each year, a water filter or purifier is also a great option to have at home, for treating your tap water. 

There are many methods for making sure your drinking water is clean, to stay out of harm’s way on your next backpacking excursion. Learn more about various water filtration methods for outdoor and home use here.