Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

You can lead a hiker to water

... but they'll still have to purify it

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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:


Hand-pump filters

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.


Gravity filters

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.


Scoop-and-drink filters

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.


Ultraviolet purification

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.


Boiling water

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.

Cost: None.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2014 B5

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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