Water Purification Methods for Backpacking

Water Purification Methods for BackpackingWater is the most important element to survival, especially in the backcountry when the body undergoes physical stresses and abundant exercise. No matter where you are backpacking or trekking there is a good chance that if you drink the water before purifying it that you may end up with diarrhea and stomach cramps or worse. There are five main methods of water purification.


Boiling is sometimes the best way to disinfect water and kill heat sensitive microorganisms such as Giardia, Amoeba and Cryptosporidium. Once water reaches a good boil it is safe to drink. Boiling also kills pathogens so water doesn't need to be treated when cooking.


Iodine treatment such as Potable Aqua tablets is one method that is commonly used for treating drinking water. Drop the recommended number of tablets into your water and let sit for the directed amount of time (the colder the longer you must wait). Do not add drink mixes to the water until after it has been purified. This treatment leaves the water slightly tinted and smelling of chemical.


Aqua Mira is a chlorine-based treatment that doesn't taste as bad as iodine. For some people who have a nauseous reaction to iodine this is a far better choice. It works the same way as iodine. It also does not kill Cryptosporidium, so the risk is still present wherever these protozoans live.

Water Filters

Water filters are a standard method for water purification in the backcountry. These filters come in many sizes and shapes and all are slightly different as to what they will filter out. These are used by sticking one end of the tube in the water and the other in your container and working the pump. Filters with a pore size of 1 micron of less are preferable. Filters, no matter how fine the filter pore size, will not get rid of viruses.

UV Light

UV water purifiers such as the SteriPEN are a more recent method for purifying drinking water. These handheld water purifiers are held in the container of water in need of purification and within several seconds its Ultra Violet rays kill waterborne microbes including Cryptosporidium. These are lightweight and are powered by a solar-powered rechargeable battery.

Article Written By Naomi Judd

Naomi M. Judd is a naturalist, artist and writer. Her work has been published in various literary journals, newspapers and websites. Judd holds a self-designed Bachelor of Arts in adventure writing from Plymouth State University and is earning a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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