Backcountry Water Filtration and Purification: Which Method is Right For You?

**This guest post from Adam Nutting covers the different types of water filtration and purification systems. Read on to learn what water filtration system is right for you.**

Water, one of the most important things that is needed for every backpacking, hiking, or camping trip.  We often take clean drinkable water for granted. The biggest reason why we need to purify our water is to remove bacteria from the water that can make you ill. Giardia is the most common bug that lives in the water here in America. This nasty like bug can leave you with a stomach ache diarrhea and can even land you a trip to the emergency room. There are a small percentage of people who are immune to this little bug but not many.  Because of this pesky bug most people choose to purify their water while out in the backcountry.  In this post we will take a look at the different types of water filtration and purification options that are currently on the market.


Boiling your water is highly effective when needing to purify your water. Boiling can take several minutes depending on elevation and burn through valuable fuel for cooking. Also you might have a few floating friends you might not like seeing floating in your cup. This method is typically reserved for emergencies in the backcountry. This is because it can take some time to get the water boiling and then you should boil it for up to several minutes to ensure the bacteria is dead. The time spent boiling the water can use up very precious fuel especially if quantities are limited and new supplies are days away. Another setback can be if you are wanting to boil the water using a fire in a non emergency situation many places especially during the summer have fire bans and you can receive hefty fines for not following posted signs.

boiling water

Treatment with Chemicals

Many long distance backpackers will use chemicals to purify the water killing all of the bacteria and pathogens. They use chemical treatments to help reduce the weight of their packs. Weighing in at only a few ounces they produce the biggest bang for the space required.  The most common chemical treatments are:

â?¢        Bleach

â?¢        Aqua Mira

â?¢        Potable Aqua

â?¢        Tablets

The chemical treatments come in both liquid and tablet form. Depending on which chemical treatment used they can take up to 20 minutes to several hours to kill all of the bacteria that might be lurking in the water. A major downside to using chemicals is that if you do not follow the inscriptions precisely they will not be effective. Also if not used properly you can become seriously ill.


While filters can be large,bulky, and add extra weight they provide the most fool proof way to purify water. The most common types of filters are:

â?¢        Pumps

â?¢        Gravity

â?¢        Squeeze

â?¢        Straws

â?¢        Inline

filtration pumps Drinking freshly pumped water from the stream

Each person has their own favorite when it comes to filters. Many people like the new generation of the squeeze, inline, and gravity filters because there is no real work required to filter the water you just have to collect it then let the devices do their work. While others will forever stick with their trusty pump filters. No matter what type of filter you have they all will kill up to 99.99% of the bacteria and pathogens. They also adhere to the FDA's purification requirements.

Ultra Violet (UV) Purification

Ultra Violet (UV) purification is a  relatively new process in which it uses UV light to kill the bacteria in the water. Unlike a filter it does not remove any of the dirt, sand, leaves, rocks, etc that might be gathered when collecting your water. In under a minute a liter of water can be ready to drink. The process is just as sanitary as any of the other processes and can kill up to 99.99% of bacteria and pathogens. The biggest downside to these purification devices is that they require batteries. Newer models are now using rechargeable batteries. There are only a few brands on the market for these types of products they are produced by:

â?¢        SteriPen

â?¢        Camelbak

Using a SteriPEN Using a SteriPEN in the backcountry

There are new methods and products entreating the market all the time. New lighter and more affordable methods are being designed specifically for the outdoor enthusiast in mind. We are excited to see where these products will be in the years down the line.

How do you filter or purify your water in the backcountry?

Adam Nutting

-Adam Nutting is a hiker and outdoor adventure lover who lives in Arizona. He shares his experiences, gear reviews and more on his blog: Hiking The Trail. You'll also find him chatting about the outdoors on Twitter.

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Adam Nutting
Adam Nutting is a hiker and outdoor adventure lover who lives in Arizona. He shares his experiences, gear reviews and more on his blog: Hiking The Trail. You'll also find him chatting about the outdoors on Twitter. Team Sierra bloggers receive promotional consideration from Sierra Trading Post.
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