After a three-day Mantario Trail hike last fall, a bunch of beloved equipment I've used for years wound up in the giant gear swap in the sky.
A Canon camera I'd taken as far as Africa was carelessly left on top of a vehicle in the south trailhead parking lot. A pair of Columbia hiking boots I'd worn since 2005 finally became impregnated by rot and had to be discarded like hazardous waste.
And a Pur water filter, held together with duct tape after being put to use on dozens of canoe trips since 1998, finally squirted its last squirt of charcoal-scented water.
While I regret losing the camera and miss the boots, grungy as they were, what I really miss is that water filter, which had an ergonomic handle and could fill a one-litre Nalgene in less than five minutes.
Water purification is an essential task on any wilderness trip. No matter where you go, you must figure out a way to obtain clean water.
As I begin a search for a new filter, here are some of the common purification options:
How they work: Most hand-pump water filters usually comprise two or three filtration devices: a ceramic pre-filter to remove larger particles and either a charcoal or carbon filter and a glass-fibre filter to remove tiny micro-organisms. A hand pump pulls water through the device.
Pros: Hand pumps are easy to use and work relatively quickly. I swore by basic Pur.
Cons: Given all the parts, hand pumps can easily clog or break. They must be maintained carefully.
Cost: $75 and up.
How they work: Gravity filters are essentially big funnel bags that drain through a carbon and glass fibre filter. You scoop several litres of water into the bag, snap it shut and hang it from a tree.
Pros: No need to pump. You can perform other campsite tasks while the water filters. You can also fill several bottles, for several people, with a single haul of water.
Cons: Not as fast as pumping by hand. More convenient for larger groups. Gravity filters, in my experience, are also more prone to getting clogged.
Cost: $80 and up.
How they work: Scoop filters look like small, plastic water bottles. You open the top, scoop water from a lake or river, replace the cap and then suck water through a carbon and glass fibre filter. The suction action does all the pumping.
Pros: Ideal for an individual paddler, runner or cyclist. Few moving parts.
Cons: Useless for larger groups. Also, when you feel like taking a big gulp of water, you may be frustrated by the suction action, which forces you to sip.
Cost: $45 and up.
How they work: Hand-held UV devices function like miniature high-tech treatment plants by sterilizing micro-organism with radiation.
Pros: Easy to use and lightweight.
Cons: You may need a separate screen to filter out grit.
Cost: $70 and up
Purification drops and tablets
How they work: Iodine drops or tablets containing chlorine-based compounds can kill most micro-organisms in a pot of water.
Pros: Cheap, highly portable and easy to use.
Cons: Drops and tablets don't filter out particulate and may not kill all micro-organisms. They can also destroy beneficial gut flora if used in excessively high concentrations.
Cost: $10 and up.
How it works: Boiling water at Manitoban altitudes will kill most micro-organisms instantaneously and make almost any lake or river water safe to drink.
Pros: No need to spend money on purification gadgets. Convenient for winter camping, when you have to melt snow anyway.
Cons: Boiling water is time-consuming and inconvenient when you're trying to make time. It won't improve the taste and smell of marshy water - or remove grit.