Thursday, March 10, 2011

Backcountry Gear: Gravity Water Filter Systems

One of the most tedious tasks while exploring the backcountry of the Adirondacks is water treatment. Unfortunately much of the water in the Adirondacks may be unsafe for human consumption without being treated so this annoying task is unavoidable. The alternative is to risk an intestinal disease requiring an inordinate amount of time spent running to the restroom.

Adirondack water may contain any one of numerous waterborne parasitic micro-organisms. Many of these parasitic organisms may cause serious adverse reactions within humans anywhere from mild diarrhea to eventually, if untreated, death. These waterborne diseases can be caused by protozoa, viruses or bacteria. Giardia remains the poster-organism as far as waterborne disease-causing microorganisms are concerned in the Adirondacks region.
The concern about Giardia and other waterborne disease-causing organisms is not universal. There has been ample disagreement about the extent of the risk of Giardia in backcountry waters both inside and outside the blue line. It remains the individual’s responsibility to determine how much risk of contracting a waterborne disease they are willing to tolerate.

When treating water in the backcountry there are typically three alternatives. Water can be boiled, chemically treated and/or filtered. Exposing the water to ultraviolet rays has provided an additional way to treat water in the backcountry with the advent of the SteriPEN. These treatment methods are necessary to either kill or remove the nasty critters before they enter your digestive system and wreck some serious havoc.

During my years exploring the backcountry I have used many of the different methods to treat my drinking water.

Originally I started with the tradition pump and struggle filters. These filters eventually become clogged making the pumping increasingly more difficult. Often I would return from a trip with one arm much larger than the other because of all the pumping required to move water through these filters. In addition, the pumping left me vulnerable to attack from black flies, no-see-ums, deer flies and mosquitoes.

Finally I left all that pumping behind and graduated to inline water filters. These filters require no pumping at all and can be used with either a hydration system or a gravity filter.

Although gravity filters are now manufactured by several different companies I assembled my own using some readably available outdoor gear from a couple different manufacturers. Gravity filters require an untreated water reservoir, an inline filter, a treated water reservoir and two hoses to connect the three components together.

The Platypus Big Zip Reservoir makes a superb untreated water reservoir. I use an old 3L Big Zip Reservoir with a zip-loc that no longer seals due to a broken zip. Unfortunately, the last two versions of this product have proved to be less adequate than my older one so I continue using the broken collapsible water bottle.

A 2L Platypus collapsible water bottle serves as my treated water reservoir. Care must be taken to ensure the air is removed from this bottle prior to filtering. On more than one occasion I have returned to find this water bottle appearing as if it was a bloated and beached whale due to the air trapped in the bottle.

Typically I use surgical tubing between the untreated reservoir and the inline filter and food grade Platypus® tubing between the filter and the treated water bottle. The surgical tubing is much more pliable and thus can be tied in a knot when using the reservoir as a shower in the backcountry.

After using a couple different inline filters, I finally settled on the Sawyer Inline Water Filter. The Sawyer Inline water filter is a 0.10 micron filter which removes over 99.99% of bacteria, cysts and protozoa. The filter is effective for 500 gallons of water (depending on the turbidity) and comes with a lifetime warranty against breakage or damage. All this and it weighs a mere 1.8 ounces to boot.

My complete gravity filter system weighs only 8 ounces.

Exploring the backcountry often requires managing risks to injury including preventing contracting waterborne diseases caused by parasitic micro-organisms. Using an inline water filter is a lightweight alternative to other water treatment alternatives. When used correctly these filters prevent the acquisition of backcountry intestinal gifts that keeps on giving soon after returning home.

Photo: Gavity water filter system by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.

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Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.

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