Water treatment methods during the tour

Water treatment methods during the tour

In Europe (and actually everywhere else in the developed world) you can almost always be sure when you open your tap that the water is safe to drink. Sadly due to the aggressive marketing of beverage companies more and more people drink bottled water when it’s not necessary, although it’s really damaging to the environment. To fight this, there are already several campaigns in place, me and a few others started one as well, after finding out about Refill Bristol. But anyway, just be grateful that we have access to clean and safe drinking water. 🙂 

This is not the case in third world countries, and also there is a high chance that I won’t reach a village or town for a few days, and I will have no other solution than to get water from an unknown stream or lake. In the first part of my world tour I will spend a lot of time in Asia, where tap water is mostly not drinkable, so I need to find a good filtration method to avoid buying PET bottles, which can be costly as well. 

Water filtration basics

Basically there are a lot products and brands on the market, and one’s decision can depend on the duration of the hike or tour. There are two main methods, physical filters remove bigger particles and 99.9% of bacteria, purifiers can kill viruses too. The latter most of the time mean some chemical treatment in the form of a powder or liquid, or activated coal.

In developed countries physical filtration can be enough, especially if you only plan for a few days trip in the mountains and want to be able to drink from a stream for example. Since I will start towards Asia, it is crucial to me to remove contaminants and viruses too. Maybe it will be a bit more expensice to combine methors, but getting into a hospital would sure as hell cost more. 🙂

Water cleaning methods

  • Tablets, powder, liquid

Water purifier tablets are on the market for a long time now, and they are quite simple to use. You just need to drop them into the water and wait a few hours before drinking. Checking in hiking shops I’ve found that the Micropur brand is quite common. In powder form it’s really cheap, 1 liter would cost 1 euro cent, but during cycling it’s not a viable option to clean a 100 l of water at once. The con is that these only kill bacteria and virus, so larger particles, dirt, chemicals will stay in the water. For an antiviral treatment I will get one tube of liquid as a backup, or when the water is clean otherwise.

  • Water filtration pump

There is a ceramic or other pyhisical filter built into a pump-like structure, which can filter out chemicals, dirt and other bigger particles besides bacteria. I know about Katadyn and MSR. Naturally it is more expensive than a tablet, but there are a lot of occasions when physical cleaning is a must. The versions with replacable filters is a bigger investment at first, but it is more environmental friendly a better value for money on the long run. The types I checked can filter 2000 liters with a filter, if I calculate my water needs (and for cleaning myself I don’t use filtered water of course), both can last for a few years, depending on water quality. Especially combining with a water cleaning liquid. The advantage of the throw-away one is it fits into a smaller space (can fit in your palms actually) and there is nothing inside that can brake, so idiot-proof design 😀


  • Water bag with a phisycal filter

I stumbled onto this model while checking walter filter tests on different travel blogs. According to the producer, Sawyer, it works as the ceramic filter, using gravity instead of a pump, but the filter has a lifetime guarantee. You just need to backwash it to clean it out. The drawback is that filtration can get really slow, so it’s not a good solution if you want water quickly. It is also quite expensive, and I won’t necesseraly find a place to hang up the dirty bag somewhere.

  • Activated coal in a bottle

A good world traveller friend, Will (http://supercyclingman.com/) recommended the Water-to-Go brand for me, according to their webpage it even filters some heavy metals and viruses.

The filter doesn’t last too long, it can filter 130-200 l of water (depending on size and water quality). Checking the price this would cost at least a double amount per liter of water, not to mention the so many filters I have to replace, which translates to a lot unnecessary waste. But for short trips and hikes it could prove useful for someone. 

  • Filter and cleaner in one

This is a special filter, which I discovered recently, and so far this seems superior to the rest of them. The lifetime of the Sagan Xstream replaceable filter is supposedly 1000 l, which is a tested amount, so it is not extrapolated. The value for money is quite good, if we only count the price of the filter, one liter of water is roughly around 4 euro cents. Checking the test made by a laboratory, it can even deal with critical heavy metals, so this brand would be my first choice. One problem is that it’s hard to find a seller who ships to Europe, but I will keep my eyes open for it. 🙂

The limits of phisycal (and mostly activated coal as well) filters

Most of the filters discussed above can deal pretty well with contaminants, pesticides or bacteria, and normal tap water can be treated with only boiling if otherwise clean from phisycal particles (of course after asking the locals if it would be engough), The only exception is filtering salt water, since it clogs the filter in no time.

But tackling the heavy metal pollution is another thing, even Xstream is not perfect in that regard. So I really have to be informed about water quality, especially in China, where I’ve heard it can be a problem. Even go as far as getting bottled water. At least until this new invention by a high-schooler is not commercialized, which can completely solve the dirty water problem of the third world.  It is a really simple nanotube filter, and it would be awesome if I could get my hands on one before or even during the trip.  🙂

What do you guys think, which method is the best? (Not counting the nanotube cotton of course, I’m sure that that is everyone’s first choice :D)