Water is perhaps the most important item during trips to the outdoors. Especially vital in the backcountry or on hot days, water needs to be consumed steadily in order to maintain physical and mental health on long trips. There are instances, however, when your supply of water may run out, leaving you with whatever you can find in the wilds. It is for this reason that water filters were created and made available to outdoorsmen. Today, we break down the in’s and out’s of filters to give you a better idea of how they work and they can save your life.

Filters fall into two main categories: pump filters and no-pump/gravity filters. The pump design is more recognizable, and consists of an intake hose and hand pump that pushes water through the filter. No pump and gravity filters use suction or gravity instead of hand pumping. Gravity filters are great for larger groups of people because they don’t require much labor to operate. However, they take longer to do the job than manual pumps, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Filters can be made from a variety of materials, including ceramic, glass, carbon, silica, and hollow fibers. Ceramic filters can be cleaned repeatedly, and last quite a long time, but their fragile makeup requires a gentle hand when cleaning. Glass fiber filters, while not cleanable, are easily replaced when needed. Carbon filters are not stand-alone filters, but are included in other filters due to carbon’s ability to remove chemicals, pesticides, and the taste of iodine. Alone, carbon doesn’t kill microorganisms, which is why it’s usually present as a component of filters. Silica matrix filters are made up of a blend of microscopic fibers in a resin and has an indicator to remind you when it needs to be replaced. Lastly, hollow fiber filters consist of hundreds of tubes that produce a rapid flow rate. These filters are cleanable, but be sure to prevent it from ever freezing, as this will cause damage.

Water filters and purifiers can be purchased at any outdoor retailer and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some companies even make water bottles that have built-in purification that purifies up to 99.9% of harmful microorganisms. Modern filters and purifiers are easily stowed and the different products appeal to a variety of price ranges, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding one to suit your needs. Any avid outdoorsman, especially those who favor the backcountry, would do well to look into picking one up. Like I said, it may save your life one day. 

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