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Hydration Tech for Hikers

Posted August 04, 2016 7:00 AM by cheme_wordsmithy

As a resident of upstate New York, one of my favorite year round activities is hiking the mountains of the Catskills and the Adirondacks. But while summer is a great time to get out on the trails, the heat definitely adds its challenges, especially in staying hydrated.

Dehydration and heat exhaustion is one of the biggest dangers for novice and experienced hikers alike who underestimate how much water they will need along the way. I made the mistake myself earlier this year on a very hot and sunny day hike, and it took me a few days to fully recover. I don't recommend it.

Coincidentally, I wouldn’t have had a water issue if I had used the pump filter in my pack on the way up the mountain when I passed by a water source. As it turns out, there are actually a number of different methods to safely decontaminate water in the outdoors to keep your water bottles full while avoiding water borne illnesses from bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. Let’s take a look at some of the different tech available:

Option #1 – Filters

Filters work by physically separating bacteria and contaminants from water by passing the water through a filter medium. Filters come in hand pump, gravity, and mini/straw versions. Gravity filters are best for treating large volumes of water at a time, but can be cumbersome with their multiple parts. Straw filters, typically small and lightweight, allow for drinking straight from the water source but cannot easily treat large quantities as needed for groups. Hand pumps, my filter of choice, strike a balance between the former two in terms of weight, filtering speed, and convenience.

Pros and Cons: Filters remove particulates in addition to bacteria and protozoa, making a visibly dirty water source more appealing to draw from. They also may make the water taste better. On the downside, they can add some weight to the pack and the filter cartridges need to be replaced periodically. Most filters are not effective for removing viruses, which are more of a concern on international trips.

Option #2 – Chemical Treatments

Chemical treatments are droplets/tablets which kill bacteria and viruses when placed in the water. Products use either iodine or chlorine dioxide as the active ingredient. Iodine treats for viruses and bacteria but not for protozoa such as Cryptosporidium. Chlorine dioxide will treat Cryptosporidium, but typically only after an extended contact time (one hour for the droplet form, four hours for tablets).

Pros and Cons: Chemical treatments are easy to carry and easy to use, with no need to worry about battery life or a spent/clogged filter cartridge. However, treatments times are longer, so hikers will need to wait an extended time after application before they can safely drink the water (not so convenient for day hikers). In addition, chemical treatments typically add an odd (typically unwanted) taste to the water.

Option #3 – UV Purifiers

UV purifiers are battery powered devices that use UV light to kill or disable pathogens. UV light is effective against all types of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Purification typically takes about one minute for a liter of water.

Pros and Cons: UV sterilizers are convenient for individual use, but can be more time consuming for groups if treating one container of water at a time. With the addition of spare batteries for longer hikes, the device can add some noticeable weight to a pack.

While I can’t personally vouch from experience for most of these water cleaning options, In the end a choice between these different options comes down to preference and the type of trek you’re going on. Someone hiking the Appalachian trail may choose chemical treatment drops for their light weight and convenience, while a day hiker like myself might prefer a filter or a UV light for the quick application. I can personally only vouch for pump filters, which have always served me well (when I remember to use them).

Regardless of choice, if you’re looking at doing some long or hot summer hiking, be sure to consider this type of equipment on your next adventure. Stay healthy and stay hydrated!

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#1

Re: Hydration Tech for Hikers

08/04/2016 12:18 PM

I've always relied on option Zero which is to carry a fully functional and regularly exercised/updated immune system with me at all times like my ancestors did.

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#2
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Re: Hydration Tech for Hikers

08/04/2016 11:55 PM

When I was young, I too used that system, and never had a problem. Now that I am considerably older, everything from the skin on seems to be weaker, and I suspect that probably includes the immune system, so I've become a bit more cautious.

I do still believe that you can't keep your immunity current if you don't pick up a few germs here and there.

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Re: Hydration Tech for Hikers

08/05/2016 10:41 PM

Your ancesters tended to die young.

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#4

Re: Hydration Tech for Hikers

08/06/2016 7:58 AM

As a prepper and hiker, my GO TO water filtration unit is the Katadyn 'Vario", but I also use chemical disinfection following filtration. No, this is not a product endorsement!

To extend filter and GAC life, wrap a nylon stocking or paper coffee filter around the end of the suction tube. Secure it to the tube with a rubber band. This will aid in preventing suspended silts, bugs, organic matter, and dirt from entering the filtration device.

Make sure you have spare filters and GAC on hand with you before you leave home!

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Re: Hydration Tech for Hikers

08/06/2016 9:58 AM

GAC? Gaius Agustus Ceasar?

As a westerner, (or perhaps just due to my age), I am also unfamiliar with the term "prepper". ...sounds like one of the guys that cleans up our parts prior to brazing..

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#6
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Re: Hydration Tech for Hikers

08/06/2016 10:18 AM

GAC = Granular Activated Carbon. Look it up.

"Prepper" is a class of people who plan for emergencies of all types, as well as for SHTF scenarios.

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Re: Hydration Tech for Hikers

08/06/2016 10:57 AM

Many of which are quite imposible.

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#8
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Re: Hydration Tech for Hikers

08/06/2016 11:22 AM

Thanks. Looking up acronyms is commonly a waste of time, as there are so many possibilities, like Sure Hard To Find.

What "everybody knows" in one field of work or set of experience, and in a particular language, commonly has no meaning or a completely different meaning to people having a different field of work, experience, or language.

Acronyms should always be defined at the first use of any article intended to be viewed by a wide range of people, as in CR4 (Conference Room 4 - an engineering forum).

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#9
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Re: Hydration Tech for Hikers

08/06/2016 11:28 AM

SHTF = Sh*t Hits The Fan.

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Re: Hydration Tech for Hikers

08/07/2016 12:38 AM

Yes, I did figure that one out. I've seen the same expression with some other word that starts with S, possibly a German word...

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#11

Re: Hydration Tech for Hikers

08/08/2016 10:33 AM

When I was a young man hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains, there were three things I brought with me to purify water.

These three things are very inexpensive and although the don't have the glitz and glamour of of the newest shiny sports car, they worked well.

1.Paper coffee filters, removes turbidity and sediments. When they are used, you can burn them or bury them.

2. Boiling the water using the same stove that you brought to cook you food with. I suppose a person could go one step further and use the stove method as a distillery of sorts.

3. Chemical drops / tablets. They may make the water taste funny but but adding a little bit of powered fruit drink helps with that.

Cost for my method. Under $10.00

Weight of my method. Less than 1/2 pound.

Gain of simplicity. Priceless.

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