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077 Making It Pure 2009-05-01

water filters

When I began backcountry camping, many years ago, all water from streams was thought to be drinkable. In Boy Scouts there was talk of having to boil tainted water, but I had never been in a situation that I needed to drink water that was not pure. Basically, if it was running and looked clean, or clear, then it was good to drink. I doubt that it was pure, but I don’t think I ever got sick from drinking bad water.

Through the seventies and early eighties I continued to drink liberally from running streams. Why not drink it, if it looked clean what harm could it do? At the time I was unaware of the G word, giardia, the waterborne parasite that brings all campers to their knees.

Maybe the water purifier manufacturers were the first ones who started teaching campers to the ill effects of the giardia bug. I don’t know how the educational program was started, but in a matter of a couple of years every camper knew the G word. This educational feat should be examined by our school systems, how the G word went from being an obscure parasite to a common entry into every camper’s vocabulary in just a few years. Fear of the invisible became the great educator.

Soon I felt into the clutches of the advertising campaigns brought to us in all magazines and books about the outdoors. I bought a First Need water filter. (Actually at the time it was maybe advertised as a purifier, but after failing at removing viruses, accepted the role of a filter.) With luck, patience, and three or four hundred strokes you could filter one quart of water in about fifteen minutes.

When MSR introduced a filter I was ready to change brands. I had owned MSR stoves since the late seventies and was confident they would make a good filter. It worked well, until it clogged, usually on the second or third quart. The filter was field maintainable, and I became so adept at taking it apart I could strip it and rebuild the filter in record times which are still talked about in legendary tones along the creeks and streams of the Appalachia region. I learned to live with the filter but constantly lost parts to it, especially a small, slightly bigger than a BB, rubber ball which functioned as a valve. What I needed was a shoe box full of those little balls or a new filter.

After two bad purchases I decided to really research the next one thoroughly. I finally chose the Pur Hiker for it’s average weight, speed, and guarantee not to clog. True to it’s word, the filter worked flawlessly for years. I sold many of the filters to my friends and to the ones who decided not to follow my advice was I able to see them struggle trying to filter a cup while I smugly produced a gallon. With the crowd I hang around with, it’s smart to have superior products!

Knowing that I was not just a hiker I decided to upgrade my filter of about ten years, to the Hiker Pro. (The Pur filters had been sold to Katadyn.) Believe it or not, the filter was better. In particular it was faster. I pretty much just have to think about filtering water and it is done. The one drawback is that the filter does weigh about a pound.

So four filters later, do we need to filter backcountry water? I don’t know. I am sure that most of the water that I filter is already drinkable. I know of daring (or uneducated!) people who do not filter their water, even long distance hikers, and they never get sick. They claim to build up a tolerance to the parasites. I guess my verdict is that I just not sure if we have to filter, but until they develop a testing kit or an anti-giardia pill, I guess I will continue to try and filter the water. But, filtering water is not a clinical lab procedure. Some of the unfiltered water sneaks into the filtered water and there is hardly anything I can do about it. Hopefully the sneaky water doesn’t speak G.


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