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bonathanjarrett

Water Filtration: is it necessary?

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"The idea that most wilderness water sources are inherently unsafe is baseless dogma, unsupported by any epidemiological evidence."

Slate article

Do you agree or is the author missing some key details?

Do you filter? Why or why not?

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I think all it takes is one case of giardia to change your mind if you don't do it. 

I have never had giardia, but I've been on trips where almost everyone else on the trip got it, and it had nothing to do with the hygiene campers and everything to do with the water.  One particular case was the using the water at Lake of the Angels without boiling (or method of choice then) or filtering.   I'm not sure why I never got it, other than I was raised on a very questionable water supply. In the Lake of the Angels case, I just didn't drink the water except for after boiling it..

I'm sure statistically you also don't need to bring the "10 essentials" on a trips.  But the one time you need something, you'll be glad you drug that stuff along.

I do filter, for that reason alone.  It also allows me to drink suspect water if I can't find anything else...you know the kind...like you don't know if some animal shit in it or whatever.

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I grew up backpacking around wilderness areas, and we rarely filtered our water. My dad taught us that if a small stream doesn't have any trails above it, it's probably good to go. Off trail areas, I usually don't worry about the water from small streams. Bigger creeks, rivers, and lakes I filter though. I think that humans and dogs are the biggest sources waterborne pathogens (along with beavers - I always filter if there is a beaver dam around). Most small streams don't have any upstream humans or dogs tramping around, so there isn't much risk.

However, some off trail areas do see a lot of human traffic, specifically alpine climbing areas, and so I am more concerned about filtering there.

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Many years ago I got a case of giardia. People have heard of projectile vomiting well I could have hit a bullseye from ten feet away with my backside. 

Even after that I selectively filter. It really depends on where I am headed. The more people and pack animals more likely I am to filter. Today I am often more concerned with snow pack poop.

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I've had giardia twice, and it isn't much fun.  Once it hit full force when I was back in East Creek below South Howser Tower.  That was a very unpleasant walk out, and also cost me a rope gunned trip up the B-C.

Unfortunately, that was the second time I got giardia, AFTER I had been selectively treating water, thinking I was being pretty safe.  Due to the variable incubation time I have no idea where I actually got it, but it was likely above treeline and off trail in the North Cascades (based on the trips before the Bugaboos).  Mountain goats are carriers, turns out.

I worked two seasons in the Alaskan bush where we drank directly out of beaver infested waters for months on end and I never got sick, but I guess you never know.

I don't carry a filter and haven't for many years.  I use chlorine dioxide (AquaMira).  It works, if you use it.  Four months in Nepal/Cambodia/Thailand and this is the only treatment we used.  Never got sick once (from the water).

All that said, I still selectively treat water.  I'm a slow learner.

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I used to debate bringing the filter but given that giardia is an actual thing that we know exists and the selection of small, light and cheap filters available now can reduce the risk to nearly zero, it seems kinda silly for me to leave it at home. Even if the chances of catching beaver fever are infinitesimal.  I like that filters remove not just some of the things I can't see but all of things I can as well. Iodine tablets and steripens  (or just rolling commando) are fine if you're filling up from clear water but they don't do anything to improve the drinkability of water taken from less than ideal sources like small seasonal ponds or a hastily created mud puddle at the bottom of a snowfield. 

Just squeeze... https://sawyer.com/products/mini-filter/

19 bucks, around 2 oz's and can be rigged inline to a bladder, screwed on a playpus or disposable water bottle and filter's as good as, or better than, the pump contraptions that were the norm just a few years ago. Can be used as a gravity filter too if you have the time and need to filter for a group and can be used to drink directly from the source if you're desperate or in a big hurry. I was assuming that it'd wear out quick but the first one I bought 3 years ago is still going strong.

 

 

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Generally the likelihood that I will treat/filter water is inversely proportional to the elevation. That is, at the trailhead I'm much more likely to filter the local creek water, but rarely filter from streams in the sub-alpine and up higher. It's not totally rational. But the herds (of people) tend to thin out as you get farther away from the parking lot. And they are the ones I'm concerned about hygienically speaking.

Many years ago, I went on a week long backpacking trip in the rainforest in southwest Costa Rica. We filtered all of our water religiously. On the hike out, we stopped at a medium sized river and reluctantly pumped drinking water while looking at the upstream pastures full of grazing shitting cows. It was a long and hot walk out the closest town and you better believe we drank it all. Later that night, I opened up the pump to clean it and noticed a dime-sized hole in the filter. My guess is that it had been there for years. Nobody got sick that trip. Or anytime prior for that matter.

Unless you're someplace with real hazard for contaminated water or nasty parasites - I say live a little. Also, nothing makes the world sparkle quite like being totally recovered from GI distress.

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I'm not sure I understand the logic of not bringing a filter. I have an MSR Hyperflow and it's 200g and can fill a 1L Nalgene in about 30 seconds. I think some of the best advice I've seen from someone here about traveling light if you have known water sources is to make sure you are really well hydrated before you leave the car and travel with very little water, there is no need to have a full 3L in an bladder (which would be 6.6 pounds). A 1 L Nalgene is 2.2 pounds of water or 1000 grams. So that filter only weights 1/5 the weight of the water of 1 Nalgene. I also have 3 petri dishes running around my house trying to get me sick I don't need to risk having disaster pants when I actually get out.

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Like most others here, I just use common sense, drink straight from small streams and filter where I think it could be impacted.  On longer trips, I'll carry actual soap for washing hands and a half dozen Imodium pills.  Giardi cleanse be damned!  

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Has anyone every tried the Bear Grylls technique of straining their own urine through a snake skin?

In retrospect I guess I'm a selective filter person.  But if it standing still, i'm filtering it for sure...and I always carry a filter.

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Like most responses I'm a selective filterer. However, unlike most responders I filter LEAST in still water. The idea that flowing water is clean is actually total bull. Unless its coming directly from snow or a spring it's more likely to contain a high microbial load. Clear surface water of a lake in direct sun at altitude is one of the safest sources as the sun's UV rays is doing the same thing as those steri-pens all day and scrambling small critter DNA. The USFS has a webpage for the Sierra (of all places) that recommends this practice. But then again the Cascades do have some pretty low elevation and swampy lakes.

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By this logic, you shouldn't bother with a seat belt, helmet, or airbag because the odds you're going to need them are low. I didn't filter in my youth and didn't get sick, but then again we didn't have airbags or seatbelts in the back seat then either. I'll use them all today, thank you very much.

Oh, and the evidence presented in the article seems thin. One study from 1993 (25 years ago!), a backpacker survey, and a meta analysis of studies of unknown design/results. Ah well, the "evidence" were just used to frame the conclusion anyway, right? Sigh. This is what passes for evidence-based recommendations these days. 

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8 minutes ago, Rad said:

By this logic, you shouldn't bother with a seat belt, helmet, or airbag because the odds you're going to need them are low. I didn't filter in my youth and didn't get sick, but then again we didn't have airbags or seatbelts in the back seat then either. I'll use them all today, thank you very much.

Oh, and the evidence presented in the article seems thin. One study from 1993 (25 years ago!), a backpacker survey, and a meta analysis of studies of unknown design/results. Ah well, the "evidence" were just used to frame the conclusion anyway, right? Sigh. This is what passes for evidence-based recommendations these days. 

It was probably written by an anti-vaxer  :noway:  its a the same sort of decision by anecdote 

I also like how they seem to say the filtering your water is borne out of  "white privilege", or that somehow since its rich white people they should know better than to filter their water?  wtf is he saying there.

and this isn't equating the people above who choose not to filter in every case to anti-vaxers...but rather the idea of publishing an article that cautions against caution just seems stupid.  

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And....back to the filter issue, I've found that most tend to be a bit on the heavy side once they have been used and are soggy.  AquaMira saves close to a half pound on most.  Which I really care about since my camera gear is so stinking heavy.  But if you weren't carrying an SLR and several lenses I can see why a filter is a no-brainer.

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Pretty close to John Douglass on this one. I've been uneventfully drinking straight out of lakes above treeline, any stream above treeline, and high-flow streams below treeline in the Cascades for 10+ years.

When hiking on the Olympic beaches I bring tablets, reasoning that there is a lot of human/animal activity between me on the coast and the source of that water.

 

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got campylobacter drinking out of the stream coming down from colchuck balanced rock after a scorching, waterless day - wholly-jeebus, it was like a had an iv-drip of lsd in my veins for 5 or so straight days - couldn't fart for weeks w/o having to throw them undies away :) 

got a nice call from the CDC or some-such a few days after being diagnosed - they wondered if i'd traveled to the 3rd world lately....

 

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Blue c

17 minutes ago, ivan said:

couldn't fart for weeks w/o having to throw them undies away

AKA blue collar climbing hangover!

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I agree with much of what the article's author says. 

For my last two backcountry trips, I've brought some of the iodine pills to put in the water, but never did that before and have never filtered my water.   

From what I've seen in restrooms, I suppose that most people do not clean their hands as much as they think they do. And it is bound to be much worse in the backcountry.

Also, I am not sure where the idea about fast-rushing streams being safer came from. It's quite the opposite for me, I like to skim the top surface of stagnant water, with the idea that such water has had more UV exposure recently.

And no, I've never gotten sick from drinking such water. I do feel a little safer though with the boiled water at camp, and as I said above, I do bring the iodine pills recently, using them for the stream water. 

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I think the moving water thing isn’t that it is safer because it’s moving (there could be a carcass in the pool upstream) but that stagnate water has more time to collect contaminate. Not a scientific thought by any means, but that is how I’ve thought about it. Not a fan of standing water that is brackish or doesn’t look fresh. 

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The other thing to keep in mind is that some people can get giardia and be pretty much asymptomatic. It doesn't hit everyone hard, and sometimes you can be a carrier without feeling terrible (or so I've read).

I guess what I'm saying is that the same methods won't have the same result for everyone.

The good news is that there are effective drugs if you do get a debilitating bout of giardia. They work to almost completely remove the infection in 24-36 hours.  It's amazing. 

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On 2/1/2018 at 10:29 PM, John Douglass said:

Unless you're someplace with real hazard for contaminated water or nasty parasites - I say live a little. Also, nothing makes the world sparkle quite like being totally recovered from GI distress.

Truth. I've had giardia once, I think from contaminated campground water in BC, and have had various GI issues in South America. Imodium is a hell of a drug. I use a Steripen, iodine, or filter selectively in the Cascades, but usually don't bother. I've drank some pretty suspect stuff out of desperation. I get some stomach rumblings now and then in the summer, but I'd like to think that my body has gotten used to having to fight stuff off. I work on a USFS trail crew in the summer, and we use MSR gravity filters a lot of the time. Kind of heavy compared to other options, but it's the only thing that I haven't had fail or one reason or another, and is good for groups.

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Has anybody used those UV treatment systems?  I'm thinking of getting the one that fits inside the lid of a Nalgene bottle.  I always treat, except when the water is coming right off the glacier.   Chlorine tabs are my method of choice.  

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7 hours ago, bstach said:

Has anybody used those UV treatment systems?  I'm thinking of getting the one that fits inside the lid of a Nalgene bottle.  I always treat, except when the water is coming right off the glacier.   Chlorine tabs are my method of choice.  

I've used some kind of Steripen for a handful of years. I got it for travelling in South America so that I wouldn't have to buy water. Pretty lightweight and fast to use. The only issue with mine is that you don't know when the battery is going to die, so when in doubt I carry spares. It takes some kind of lithium batteries, and two batteries gets you about 50 liters, if I remember right. I prefer it over filters for the most part. 

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On 2/2/2018 at 9:26 PM, JasonG said:

The good news is that there are effective drugs if you do get a debilitating bout of giardia. They work to almost completely remove the infection in 24-36 hours.  It's amazing. 

That's really great to hear. I ran out of one part of Aquamira on a trip last year, didn't have extra fuel to burn, and was pretty concerned about getting giardia. I was selective about the water I drank but it was probably just good luck that (to my knowledge) I didn't pick any bugs up.

I was going to post a photo of my partner drinking straight from a lake with a SPEED CUP but I don't think he wants his photo here.... He didn't filter or treat any water at all last year and didn't get any symptoms of anything amiss. He's had giardia before, so I guess he knew how the world would sparkle if something did happen.

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