Monday, June 30, 2014

Hiking With The Ten Essentials, #9: Hydration

The Ten Essentials of Hiking, 9.Hydration

Water is vital to all known forms of life, and certainly to humans. No water, no life. Even more important than food, you should always bring extra water and/or the means to treat water found naturally in streams, creeks, rivers, and lakes. Treatment methods for water include pump filters, gravity/squeeze filters, UV “pens,” and iodine tablets. Another means of treating water is boiling, but water should boil at least five minutes if not longer (which means a lot of fuel in some form or another.) I personally use a gravity/squeeze filter, which I find to be the most effective, convenient, and economic way to treat water. There are, of course, many ways to carry your water. Nalgene bottles, metal bottles, “soft” bottles, plastic “disposable” bottles, and water bladders are the primary means. Below I’ll discuss some of my favorite vessels and treatment methods. (PLEASE NOTE: I have no affiliation with any manufacturers or retailers listed below. I am simply offering my opinion regarding goods I’ve purchased as a consumer.)

water bottles for hiking, camping, backpacking

  • Metal bottles are durable, you don’t have to worry about chemicals leaching from plastic, you could boil water in them if you had to, and I think they kind of look cool the more beat up they get. I have a 40 oz. Klean Kanteen stainless steel bottle with a Sport Top (apprx. $20-$30 at Amazon) that finds its way into many day hikes. The weight and bulk, however, means it stays home for backpacking trips. 
  • Hard Plastic/Nalgene bottles are a time-tested classic. They last forever and appear to be safe for your health (if BPA free). Like metal, though, these are a tad heavy and definitely bulky.
  • Soft bottles are lightweight and pack up very small when empty. These are great for backpacking. Durability is the main concern with soft bottles. A busted seam or puncture might be tough or impossible to repair in the backcountry. I recently purchased a 34 oz. Platypus ($9 at REI) but have not used it on the trail yet. I’ll edit this post after I have some more experience using it.
  • “Disposable” bottles are used by many hardcore hikers, including many thru hikers. 32 oz. Gatorade bottles and 1-liter Smartwater bottles seem to be popular choices. The advantages of disposable bottles are that they are very cheap (or free if salvaged), easily accessible, very lightweight, and pretty durable considering they are practically free. Another advantage is the Sawyer Mini filter (discussed below) can simply screw right to the top of many brands making for an inexpensive, highly effective, and very convenient water filter system.


Osprey water bladder for hiking backpacking
Water bladders are a solid choice for hiking and backpacking. They can carry a lot of water with the weight well distributed in the center of your pack. Hands-free hydration is also very convenient. I tend to drink more water when using a bladder, which is a good thing. The downside of bladders is that they can be a tad heavy for hardcore gram weenies (though some pretty lightweight designs exist), a failure or puncture can lead to a soaking wet backpack, and they can be a bit inconvenient to shove in and out of loaded backpacks for refills. They are also a bit inconvenient to clean and dry. Even with those caveats, I have a 2.5 liter Osprey Hydraulics model ($30 at REI) which I really, really like. It has a great bite valve that never leaks, and it comes with a magnet gadget that allows you to clip the hose to your pack’s sternum strap. The hose has a quick-release, detachable portion allowing you to remove the bladder without having to fish the entire hose out of your backpack strap.

Sawyer water filters hiking backpacking
Water filters are so easy to use, compact, and affordable today, there is no excuse to be without one in the backcountry. Pump filters have been popular for years, but I have no experience with them. I’ll let others discuss their specific merits. What I have used and been very happy with are squeeze/gravity filters. Specifically, I have used Sawyer filters. The Sawyer Personal Water Bottle Filter had been my primary filter tool ($35 at Amazon) until recently. The convenience for day hikes is great; just scoop some water in the bottle, screw on the top and attached filter, and you’re good to go. It holds roughly a liter. The bottle must be squeezed, however, to force the water through the filter. As such, using this device to filter and fill a bladder or an extra container is a bit of a pain. The filter can be removed and used in a gravity system if you have proper hoses and containers, which I’ve done. Perhaps an even better design, however, is the newer Sawyer Squeeze Mini ($25 at REI.) I just purchased one of these recently, and it has become my main fitter for backpacking. (Read my full review of the Sawyer Mini here.) The Sawyer Mini comes with a pouch that screws onto the filter. The idea is to squeeze the pouch to fill other containers. The same threads can also be used on most “disposable” water bottles, too. Lastly, the Mini can be used in a gravity system, or can be used in-line with a bladder (just cut the hose and attach at each end.) I highly recommend this filter. Another advantage to both of these filters is that they each come with a syringe device to back flush the filter, pushing the filtered sediment and material back out. This makes for a cleaner filter and much longer lifespan (more than one person would likely use in a lifetime.)

Iodine Tablets
iodine tablets for treating water when hiking or backpacking
Even if you have a water filter, it’s a good idea to bring some purifying iodine tablets ($7 at REI) as an emergency backup if you’re on a longer backpacking trip. Some people rely solely on tablets for their water. Honestly, I have never used them or even packed them. I need to change this, frankly, and make sure I have some as a backup to my filter. They typically take about 30 minutes to work their magic. Apparently, they alter the taste of water a bit.

UV Pens
uv water treatment steripen adventurer
For the more technology-minded, ultraviolet ray pens are an option. SteriPEN seems to be the most popular manufacturer. Apparently, you simply turn on these tiny, battery powered devices and they emit UV rays that you stir around in your water container for a minute or so, until an indicator light tells you your water has been purified. These seem to work and many love them. They appear to range from apprx. $75 and up. I prefer a more “mechanical” means of purification without dependence on batteries, however.

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1 comment:

  1. I did not know there were so many options for filters. Usually when I go for a day hike, I just bring my water bottle with me, and when I run out, I just run out. Are these filters clean enough that if you were hiking you could fill it with lake water and continue going? water purification