Imagine you are hiking through some of the lushest and most beautiful virgin forests in the middle of nowhere. The air is fresh and everything feels so pristine and perfect. You are thirsty and a small stream with clear fresh water is running in front of you. Naturally you feel the need to drink from that water source; however doing so will be ill advised. Most people think that just because water is from a natural source, is clear and tastes "natural" that means that drinking it will be fine. This is a terrible mistake and would expose you to unnecessary risk. Don't drink untreated water in the wilderness!

For most people, getting a drink of water is just a matter of walking a few feet, turning on the faucet and drinking up. However in the camping or hiking scenario the normally simple task becomes a bit more laborious. Usually the safest option when you are out in the wilderness is to simply bring your own treated water. However, if you are going for an overnight hike or camp-out this simply won't be an option as you can't bring the amount required, the only option will be to treat water that you can source from the hiking or trekking area.

Potential Contaminants
Water taken from natural sources such as lakes, river, streams and ponds may look clean and have no undesirable odor or taste. However pathogens found in water are not only harmful, but are also invisible to the naked eye and may be odorless or tasteless. The pathogens in question are bacteria, viruses and protozoa which can cause mild nausea and fever or can develop into more serious illnesses such as severe diarrhea, hepatitis or typhoid fever. Water from lakes, rivers, streams and ponds should always be disinfected and treated before being used of cooking or drinking.

These pathogens may seem out of place in such pristine environments but rotting or fecal matter in the water harbors these pathogens. This means that there is a chance that some animal has either died or excreted body wastes in the natural water source or there could be some contaminated water run-off from a source upstream which would render the water source unknowingly unusable.

Besides pathogens, sediments from mud, soil or sand may also render natural sources of water unusable. The general practice before the advent of portable water filters is to collect the water and let it sit in a bowl of some sort to let the sediments collect at the bottom then pour the remaining water on the top to another receptacle for consumption. This can normally be a very time consuming process and in emergency situation might not be very practical, especially since the water still isn't fit for consumption, pathogens as discussed earlier may still reside in the water and thus still has to be treated before consumption.

On a more alarming note, the U.S Geological Survey reports that in North American wilderness waters, there are trace amounts of organic chemicals, pesticides, solvents, gasoline compounds, refrigerant and fumigants in the supposedly pristine wilderness waters. The good news is that the levels of chemical concentrations are very low but is an early warning that human activity is having an effect on regional surface-water quality even in remote areas.

Water Treatment Devices for Campers/Hikers
Water treatment devices can generally be divided into two groups following their functions. The first group are water treatment devices to improve the overall taste, smell and appearance of water or to remove undesirable chemicals or minerals, these types of water filters are not as essential to the camper/hiker thus we will not discuss them there. The next group is water treatment devices designed to disinfect water which we will discuss here since the biggest risk for hikers or campers is ingesting water with active pathogens which will cause illness.

Chlorinators, Iodinators and Ultraviolet Light (UV)
These are generally the most practical mean to disinfect larger volumes of water that might be needed for drinking purposes of a large camp site. Chlorine and iodine kills most disease-causing organisms and require short to moderate contact times with the water before taking effect. Chlorine is used widely in municipally treated water and has virtually eliminated waterborne infectious diseases such as typhoid and cholera in urban areas.

However, chlorine and iodine treatment alone will not eliminate all pathogens, protozoa such as Giardia Lamblia and Cryptosporidium Parvum will not be killed with just chlorination. If protozoa are present or suspected, then it is recommended that the water be passed through a water filter with a 0.1 micro-meters or smaller pore size to remove these harmful parasites then treated with chlorine or iodine before consumption.

Iodine is another alternative to disinfecting water, however should be reserved for occasional or emergency use only. Iodine should not be used as a long term solution for disinfection because iodine is physiologically active thus ingesting large amounts over a long period can also be harmful.

Both chlorine and iodine are effective at killing pathogens however research has indicated that long term chlorine usage is dangerous and can be linked to cancer and also brain damage, it is thus advised that these treatment agents be used as a last resort where other water treatment options have been exhausted.

Ultra-violet devices are also effective against bacteria, viruses and protozoa. You don't have to add anything to the water thus the treated water has no taste or odor, additionally only a few seconds of expose is necessary if the water is clear. This system however is rather expensive compared to the other types of water filters and also doesn't guarantee the quality of the water beyond the point of use. Basically, once you apply the UV light, you should drink it immediately, it isn't a long-term solution where you can store the water in a receptacle for future consumption.

Ceramic or Glass Fiber Filters
These types of filters normally come in a canister form for use in camping or hiking situations. They treat smaller amounts of water, suitable for camping with few people or when the water needs aren't very high. These types of filters can remove most bacteria and protozoa from mildly contaminated water and are normally sufficient for the average camper/hiker's needs. When presented with heavily contaminated waters, it is recommended that these filters be used in conjunction with the above mentioned chlorinators, iodinators and ultraviolet lights to get a broad spectrum of disinfection and treatment.

There are also portable glass fiber/ceramic filters with iodine-releasing resins designed specifically for campers or travelers to countries where drinking water quality is questionable. Some of these iodine-releasing portable filters also have activated carbon filters to remove excess iodine from the water.

Generally, these types of filters are the most practical when it comes to hiking or camping because of their easy of use and portability. If the camper of hiker is looking to clean the natural water that isn't overly contaminated, using these types of filters is recommended above the rest of the treatment options.

Distillers and Ozonators
These are point-of-use devices that are suitable where electric power isn't available such as during a hiking or camping trip. The distillation water filters are effective for the removal of inorganic chemicals including heavy metals and selected organic chemicals. They are often combined with activated carbon for the removal of certain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) such as trihalomethanes and tetrachloroethylene. It should be noted that distilled water is demineralized, there have been quarters that say drinking demineralized water for extended periods will cause illness however there has been no research to prove or disprove this theory.

Ozonators produce small quantities of ozone which is a very strong oxidizing agent that is effective in killing pathogens over a short period of time. Ozonation produces no taste or odor in the water. Unlike chlorine and iodine, ozone does not protect water after the application (however is safer based on research) and is normally combined with activated carbon filtration to achieve a more complete water treatment solution.

These type of filters are normally used in conjunction with ceramic or glass fiber filters when a much broader spectrum of contaminants is present in the water. Generally these types of filters are bulkier, take longer to filter and should only be used where water is known to be contaminated with these toxic chemicals. Under normal circumstances, such a high level of filtrations isn't necessary.

To conclude, the main objective of campers when it comes to their water needs is to ensure that water consumed is free from harmful pathogens, chemicals and toxins so that they don't get ill on their trip. As such, water filters which provide the most balanced filtration needs for the camper/hiker would be ceramic or glass fiber water filters, again assuming that the water isn't overly contaminated.

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