Hydration on the trail: Filtering out the complexities

Posted by Kirsten on 2022 Jul 4th

Hydration on the trail: Filtering out the complexities

This is a general overview of water filters and hydration packs to be used outside. Before an outing, it is important to do some research on your specific destination, and also know that international travel may require a different approach.

Regardless of your outing type, you need water. It’s a simple fact that can make or break your experience outside. Determining what type of water filtration system, and how much water you want to carry can initially seem daunting. This blog is intended to de-saturate that decision process so you can make an informed decision before your next adventure.

Do you NEED it?

Yes. While not all water sources are necessarily harmful, it’s simply not worth the risk in learning the hard way. 

Research first

Knowing how many and what types of water sources will be available are key. Are there reliable streams throughout the trail that you can access? If yes, you’ll be able to use a lightweight system that’s easily refillable. During a dry season, you’ll likely need to plan to carry the bulk of your water. A large reservoir or water tank is ideal for these situations - as well as a good thing to have at camp.

Go with the flow

When searching for a water source, flowing water is your best option. Mother Nature pre-filters the water through rocks, moss and things, as an added redundancy. Even still, seldom would you want to risk drinking it straight from the source. 

When there is no access to moving water, you can drink stagnant and murky water - but you need to ensure you have the right filter and water treatments. Let’s talk about that!

Types of Filters & Treatments

Generally speaking, you’ll often need a single water filter, but you can combine it with other water purifiers. Most filters available are standardized to remove 99.9999% bacteria (i.e E.coli, salmonella) and 99.9% protozoa (i.e. giardia, cryptosporidum). If you are hiking in a location where pesticides or other harmful chemicals may be present, a Carbon element will help with this. The MSR Miniworks EX comes with a carbon core, and Platypus sells their Carbon element separately which is easy to install with their Microfilters.

Aquatabs are great to keep in your pack as a lightweight and easy, back-up solution. They are iodine free water purification tablets which are effective against giardia cysts, bacteria and viruses. Simply drop one tablet in 1L of clear water, free of debris. If the water is murky, give it a double dose with two tablets. Mix or shake well for at least 10 minutes and leave to sit for 30 minutes.

Another water treatment option is a UV light purifier, such as a Steripen. UV light purifiers use shortwave ultraviolet light to disinfect water in about 45 seconds for .5 L. As with Aquatabs, they are best used with another filter as they don’t strain out debris.

A LifeStraw is another excellent option to simply always keep in your pack for emergencies. It is literally a large straw that allows you to drink directly from a water source, making it a great survival tool.

Water Storage

Some water filtration systems come with a reservoir, like the Platypus Gravity Works systems, and others are made to filter water into a standard wide-mouth water bottle (such as Nalgene) or another reservoir. Many activity specific packs have a pocket specifically designed to work with a hydration pack such as the Platypus Hoser or Big Zip, or the Osprey Hydraulics LT Reservoir. Common sizes range from 1-3L.

For large groups, or a camp set up, a large reservoir or water tank (4L-20L), is a great piece of gear to have.

Maintenance is Key

After each outing, clean and dry your hydration bags. Rinse your bag and all parts thoroughly- hose included. Allow to dry completely. Hang upside down with the cap open. It can be tricky to ensure there is absolutely no moisture leftover. A great way to store your hydration bladder, and its parts in a safe way that prevents the risk of unwanted mold and mildew growing is to keep them in the freezer!

For your filters, most brands include cleaning instructions which we definitely recommend you follow. This helps to clean out built up sediment from your ventures and extends their service lifetimes. Once they have been maxed out, simply replace the filters and get back to your adventures.

Additionally, noting the lifetime capacity of your filters is important. Most average 1000-2000L before needing to be replaced. The Platypus carbon element should be replaced after 300L - but these numbers may vary depending on water quality and how well the filters are maintained.

If you notice your hydration system isn’t working properly, check over each part. Sometimes a simple cleaning will do the trick, while other times you may need to replace parts such as closure caps, bite valve covers and tube replacements.

Some Icy Details

When the temperature drops, and the snow falls - a Drink Tube insulator makes all the difference in ensuring you can stay hydrated on your winter adventures. Plus, just as merino wool aids in regulating our body temperature, so does a Drink Tube insulator for your reservoir. It protects the drink tube from freezing in the winter and helps keep liquid cool in hot weather.

So, how do you choose what you need?

As with most outdoor gear, knowing your adventure plan will give you all the answers you need. A 2L Hydration pack and a Steripen for backup will get you through a day trip. If you are travelling solo on an overnight trip, a set up including the MSR Trailshot with Aquatabs for emergency may be all you need. A group multi-day trip would likely call for the Platypus 4L Gravityworks system, paired with the Platypus Quick Draw Micro Filter as a back up. A weekend canoe trip is a great opportunity to pack a large pre-filled water reservoir.

In any case, having some kind of back-up is important, such as Aquatabs or a smaller filter, in case you are ever separated from your group - or your filtering system malfunctions on the trail.

Questions bubbling up?

As with anything, there are more minute details and technical specs we could cover. If you have any questions, please reach out or visit us in store and we can help guide you in the right direction to finding a hydration solution.