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Trail-Ready Water Filtration and Purification

When wheeling or camping we always take more water than we think we’ll need. I’ve got water in the bumper of my Jeep. Water in a 5-gallon jug (or two, depending on the length of the trip). Water in several Nalgene bottles. And in addition, I carry at least a couple different water filtration and purification options as well. Why? Because it would really stink to die of dehydration should we get stranded in the mountains due to vehicle trouble, an accident, a storm, or life in general.

“But,” you say, “There’s a lake with plenty of water in it!” Well, that lake water could easily provide you with the following nasties: Protozoa (Giardia and Cryptosporidium), Bacteria (E. coli, Dysentary, Campylobacteriosis and the like), Viruses (Hepatitis A, rotovirus). To avoid these water-borne pathogens you should ideally use both a filtration and a purification option to ensure clean drinking water.

Filters vs. Purifiers

Filters push water through a filter and generally strain out protozoa and bacteria. Filters do not kill viruses. Purifiers, on the other hand, generally eliminate all three types of pathogens (protozoa, bacteria, and viruses), although the specific pathogens eliminated depends on the type of purifier used. Bottom line: filtering the water and then purifying it is the best way to make sure your drinking water is safe. (Source: Outdoor Gear Lab)

Following are some filtration and purifcation options that we've tried, or that we carry on trips into the wilderness.

Filtration Options

LifeStraw - a personal filtration system used by sticking one end in the water you want to drink, and sucking water up through the filter, as through a straw.


- Small and packable

- Very quick and easy to use

- Affordable – you can find this for between $20-30


- Drinking through the LifeStraw directly from a water source does not allow you to carry extra filtered water with you. For that, you’d want a larger filtration option.

- Drinking through the LifeStraw directly from a water source does not allow for chemical treatment of water as well (it will not filter out viruses).

MSR MiniWorks EX Water Filterthis filter has a tube which is placed in the water source and a pump which sucks water from the source, through the filter, and into a larger container. The lid on this filter fits any wide-mouth Nalgene bottle so it’s convenient for carrying extra filtered water.


- Fairly packable size

- Easy to use

- Pre-filter on end of hose catches particulate from water source before it enters the hose

- Allows for storage of extra filtered water

- Allows for chemical treatment of water in addition to filtering


- Takes a little time to pump

- Fits on Nalgene bottles specifically so this filter requires that at least one of those be packed as well

- A pricier option (though it lasts a long time)

Other Options

Boiling – a low tech option!


- So easy a caveman could do it!

- Ability to purify a larger amount of water at a time (such as for a group of people)

- All pathogens are eliminated after 30 minutes at 160 degrees F (and instantly at boiling point of 212 degrees F).


- Requires fire – if weather conditions don’t allow a campfire (for example, because of wind or a fire ban due to dry conditions), or if you don’t have a JetBoil (or run out of fuel), purifying water by boiling just isn’t going to happen. That’s why boiling should not be your only backup water purification option.

- Boiling water at high altitudes takes time.

- Boiling water will not remove any chemical toxins (pesticides, etc.) or unwanted minerals (such as iron)

DIY Distiller – this is a neat item my husband and son made for me for Christmas. We’ve tested it and results will be published soon!


- Fun option for the do-it-yourselfer

- This removes all the nasties from your drinking water because not only are you boiling the water (see benefits above), but then you're condensing it which removes the impurities you don't want, including chemicals and minerals.


- Larger size is less packable

- Requires boiling (so it requires fire)

- Requires a great deal of time to distill enough water to drink (since you're only drinking the condensed steam from the boiled water)

Purification Options

Chemical Treatment


- Generally packable

- Eliminates bacteria and viruses

- Eliminates Cryptosporidium only after an extended treatment time (depends on type of treatment used)


- Does not strain out particulate

- May negatively affect the taste of the water


UV Purifiers


- Packable

- Effective against all pathogens: bacteria, protozoa, viruses

- Doesn’t change the taste of the water


- Does not actually kill pathogens, just disables their ability to reproduce – so don’t treat the water and then let it sit for a long time before drinking.

- By itself, does not strain out particulate in the water

- Costly (though it’s an investment in your health and it lasts for years)


If you don’t already have water filtration or purification tools in your possession, pick one filter and one purification option and add them to your rig before your next wheeling or camping trip. Also, be sure you pack enough water to begin with, and monitor your usage during your trip.

For more info on hydration options for trail or camp outings, check out this post by Camping Cooks: Hydration Basics for Camping.

Happy Trails!


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