How to Purify Water For Drinking

You probably still remember that backpacking trip a couple of weeks or months ago when you drank straight from the sparkling mountain stream or pristine waterfall. At that time, you seemed to be in a peaceful commune with nature. Unfortunately, you can’t get over the four days you subsequently spent sitting on the toilet. You should have know how to purify water.

This is because the need to kill the nasty microorganisms through a perfect backpacking water purifier or filter wasn’t one of your top priorities when you were planning for the adventure.

One of the trickiest parts about backpacking is that you need a lot of water to keep hydrated. In most cases, it’s literally impossible to carry all water you need to keep you fully hydrated during the backpacking adventure.

How to Purify Water

So if you do not want to be weighed down with water or want to run the risk of becoming very, very sick from water-borne diseases because you drank some stream water that looked pristine clean but had those nasty microorganisms, you should know how to purify water while on a backpacking trip!

As more and more of us buy into the idea of exploring the wild through backpacking and hiking, there are lots of water purification and filtration options that suit our budgets, weight requirements, and time constraints. In this article, we look at different ways of purifying water, the need to purify water and the best water filter for backpacking, among other things.

Why Purify Water

Staying healthy is certainly the most crucial part of any backpacking adventure. You do not want to be sickly while on a hiking trip or even months after you’ve returned from the trip.

Simply put, water purification eliminates any form of gastrointestinal illness that can be caused by;

· Protozoa – such as cryptosporidium and giardia

· Bacteria – such as E-coli and dysentery and 

· Viruses – such as Norovirus and Hepatitis A.

Basically, water purification can reduce the risk of medical conditions such as colon cancer, bladder cancer and any form of disease by removing horrible bacteria and viruses in water.

Worst still, tiny creatures that can be found in water that seems clean can even cause death and we’re sure that’s something you do not want!

According to recent statistics, every body of water in the United States has giardia. In fact, most water bodies in the backcountry are contaminated with human, animal, and bird feces. But because there’s actually no way to know what type of contaminant present in water, the best solution is to purify it. 

Different Methods of Purifying Water

Although water-borne viruses are known to be rare in North America, it’s often advisable to be safe than sorry. Here are some methods to purify your water today:


Having been used since time immemorial, boiling is undoubtedly the cheapest and one of the safest methods of purifying water. Water sources and/or distribution channels make your water unsafe to your health and even can carry life-threatening germs.

This method requires you to boil clean water. You should leave it at the rolling-boil for about three minutes to ensure that all germs are killed. It’s advisable to boil your water for longer periods if you live in high altitude areas since water tends to boil at lower temperatures in higher altitudes. 

After boiling water, you should leave it to cool before drinking or packing it for later use during your outdoor adventure. You should also consider filtering the boiled water to remove particles that might still be present in the water.

Although boiling water is among the most reliable ways of purifying drinking water, the downside of this method is that you may spend more on fuel. It can also be time-consuming as you’ll have to wait for it to cool down.

Using Chlorine-based Tablets to Purify Water

Tablets that are used to purify water are small enough and weigh almost nothing. You can simply keep these tablets within your backpack and use them in purifying your water during your backpacking trip. Conventionally, backpackers have been known to use iodine tablets. However, iodine cannot sufficiently eliminate Cryptosporidium. It’s also known to leave the water with a yellowish color and weird taste.

Presently, backpackers prefer Dioxide Tablets. This is because they purify water using a higher form of active oxygen that’s released as the tablets dissolve in the water. The most obvious demerit of using tablets is that they take around half an hour for the tablets to effectively nullify Giardia and about four hours to neutralize Cryptosporidium! A perfect example of a chlorine tablet is Potable Aqua

Iodine Treatment

Iodine is light sensitive and should always be stored in a dark bottle. While iodine is more effective than chlorine-based treatments in neutralizing Giardia, it’s not very effective in neutralizing Cryptosporidium. Again, you’ll be required to consult with a physician if you’re pregnant, on lithium or have a thyroid problem.

Iodine can be available both in liquid and tablet forms and should be used as instructed by the manufacturer. A major downside of using iodine treatment on the trail is that it takes more than an hour for iodine to work effectively. A perfect example of an iodine tablet is Aquatabs 

Using Solar and UV Light Water Purifier

UV light purifiers can neutralize viruses, bacteria, and protozoa through an electromagnetic tube that produces UV rays. You should fill the UV bottle with water, mix with UV purifier for about 2 minutes and you’ll have purified water!

Basically, UV light destroys the formation of DNA linkages in microorganisms, prevents them from reproducing and renders them harmless. For hiking adventures, it’s important to carry extra batteries.

Water Filtration

If you love some little gadgets and clean and healthy drinking water, you should consider using one of the many water filters that are currently available in the market.

Good water filters should help you remove microorganisms such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and salmonella. These water filters have carbon that removes chemicals and bad tastes, and iodine-coated screens that act as virus protection.

How to Purify Water

Modern water filters and purification systems are lighter, easy-to-use and provide clean and healthy water with less effort. In fact, there’s no delay as it can take less than two minutes for your water to be ready for drinking! Nonetheless, water filters remain expensive and some generally require a manual pump to work effectively. You’ll also have to clean filters after outings and replace them after a certain number of gallons. 

There are different types of water filters such as pump water filters, sip and squeeze filters filters, and gravity water filters ( which are good when you have a big group). You should therefore go for something that suits your needs.

How to Purify and Filter Water

Like many purifiers, every filter has a cartridge or an internal microscopic element that catches bacteria, debris, and protozoa. Purifiers use chemicals such as iodine and chlorine to kill viruses that are too small for filter elements. Again, filters and purifiers are structured with activated carbon that effectively removes unpleasant tastes, as well as any other form of contaminant. 

Purifiers and filters also have prefilters that can remove large particles from your water so as to improve the treatment process. They also help` in maintaining the purifier’s or filter’s flow rate so as to lessen cleaning chores. 

Best Way to Purify Your Water on a Camping and Hiking Trip

You obviously require plenty of hydration during your hiking or backpacking trips. But because you can’t carry enough water from home, you’ll have to come up with a good plan on how to filter or purify water. While there are lots of options to choose from, you can choose to boil, use water purification tablets, iodize, and use UV light water purifier or any of the above-mentioned water filter methods.

Basically, the best way to purify your water when outdoors in the backcountry is through the use of UV light water purifier. Unlike other purifying methods, the UV light water purifier works almost instantly. In other words, you’ll only need about 90 seconds to have your water purified and ready to drink. It’s also cost effective and doesn’t use any chemicals that might have any side effects on your health. 

You should however keep in mind that the UV water purifier doesn’t work effectively if the water contains mud. For this reason, it’s important that you use an efficient prefilter and also remember to carry extra batteries.

How to Purify Water at Home

Knowing how to purify is not just essential during your backpacking trip but also for your survival skills at home. There are various methods to purify water around your home.

The first step should revolve around gathering water from your natural environment from melting ice cubes, draining water heaters to collecting rainwater. You should then create a basic purification filter and boil the filtered water. You can also consider using chlorine if boiling water is impractical.

How to Purify Water

Best Filter for Backpacking

While there are a lot of water filters that you can consider for backpacking, the best water filter to use for backpacking is the Sawyer Squeeze Walter Filter System.

This water filter is lightweight and you can drink directly from it. This filter uses a hollow-fiber membrane to remove 99.99999% of bacteria and microorganisms. You can check out the current price for this filter here on Amazon.


Clean drinking water is an incredibly crucial part of any backpacking trip. For most people in developed countries, getting safe drinking water is as easy and turning on the tap. Unfortunately, getting similar clean water can be very difficult from outside the comfort of your home.

Backcountry water has not been treated and you’ll need to purify it to avoid water-borne illnesses such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia.

In essence, you shouldn’t play any games with your health when there are so many options for treating water. Just go for something that works for you and is within your budget and requirement needs.


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