As an avid outdoorsman has pointed out, about half of people will not drink the water outdoors because they do not believe that it is as clean as the water they get from a countertop water filter. The other half of people never use any source of pristine water purification when they are outdoors because they believe the water outdoors is even more clean then anything that they cold get at home. In the first instance, ignorance of how to make water safe to drink dramatically increases the risk of dehydration. In the second instance, not treating water increases the risk of gastrointestinal illness.
Water found outdoors that is not treated, either with a handheld or countertop water filter, may contain organisms that can make you ill if ingested. To assure as much safety as possible, water should be disinfected, defined as “the removal or destruction of harmful microorganisms.” In most instances, water found outdoors must be appropriately treated using an available method which can effectively “disinfect” the water. Disinfection is commonly confused with “purification” although they are inherently different. Pristine water purification, especially in an outdoor situation, may not be able to remove or kill all of the pathogens in the water to ensure its safety. To make sure water is drinkable, it must be treated by boiling, treating it with chemicals, or filtration of some sort.
Boiling water is different from using a countertop water filter in that it kills any organisms living within it. Contrary to popular belief, water does not have to be boiled for ten minutes, plus an additional minute for every thousand feet above sea level. The time it takes for water to actually come to a rolling boil will kill most water-borne pathogens such as Giardia and Cruptosporidium. Since the boiling point of water decreases as you increase in elevation, the temperature at which water boils is hot enough to kill any organisms which might otherwise make you sick. Keep in mind that being able to boil water is wholly dependent upon having fuel to burn, a metal container to heat the water and time sufficient to allow the water to come to a rolling boil.
Utilizing chemicals is also very different from using a countertop water filter because time and water temperature become very significant. The effectiveness of halogens, such as iodine and chlorine, is directly linked to how much is used, contact time for the chemicals within the water and the temperature of the water – the more cold the water, the longer the contact time required. Most chemicals come in both a liquid and tablet form. The tablet forms are widely popular, finding use within the US Military, disaster relief agencies, and those who work outdoors.
A final option for assuring safe water outdoors is filtration. Confusion abounds in relation to how useful filters truly are in effectively disinfecting water. Some filters only remove the “big stuff”, such as bacteria, while others also remove the “small stuff”, such the most common viruses. Filters come in many forms: pumps, bottles with a filter matrix, and gravity-fed. “Filters” only remove larger organisms while “purifiers” remove both the larger organisms and the finer organisms, potentially making them more useful in outdoor situations.
When outdoors, it may not be practical to carry a countertop water filter to obtain pristine water purification, so you might have to resort to some of the other methods in this article to assure safe drinking water.