I live in the high, dry Inter-mountain West. In warm weather, I carry at least four liters of water each day when hiking, scouting, hunting or fishing. On several occasions, I drank all four liters of water before noon and had to cut precious hunting days short.
I remember thinking what a shame I can’t drink the water as I walked back to my truck along side a clear, cold creek. I was dying for a drink of cold water but decided not risk taking a drink because of the potential for Giardia and other parasites or bacteria. I had to go to town.
But that was before I got a LifeStraw personal water filter. For $20 you can get a portable water filter that removes 99.9999% of harmful bacteria and parasites. The Lifestraw filter is less than nine inches long and less than one inch in diameter and weighs about 3 ounces, so it is easy to pack (See photo 2).
LifeStraw will Last for Years
Life straw will filter up to 264 gallons (1,000 liters) of water to down to 0.2 microns. Most people don’t really drink this much water unless they are working hard, but the Mayo clinic recommends 13 cups per day for men and 9 cups per day for women. That is based on body size, so plan for yourself accordingly. So, 9 – 13 cups of water per day means the filter will last for 329 – 469 days if used for 100% of your drinking water.
LifeStraw Lightens the Load
Last year, I spent 81 days fishing, hiking, scouting or hunting where I would normally pack four liters of water everyday. But now, I only pack 2 liters of water and a Lifestraw, which saves over 4 lbs of weight plus it saves the bulk of an additional 2 liter container (photo 2).
I actually used the Lifestraw only about 6 days. So at most, I have only sucked about four gallons of water through the filter. At that rate, it will last another six years.
Even if it doesn’t last that many years, I will happily pay another $20 just so I don’t have to pack an extra liter of water every time I go out. As I get older, I find it is important to save every pound of weight I can, especially above 9,000 feet.
I still carry at least two liters of water with me and if I am not sure there are streams in the area, I take the extra two liters. Since I start out with two containers, when one is empty I get water the first time I pass a stream, so when I run out, I already have water to drink.
I usually use the Lifestraw to drink water from the bottle instead directly from the stream. That way I can check for sediments or turbidity before I drink. I just have to remember to wash these bottles before I put clean tap water in them again. If not, I am still safe if I drink through the water filter.
So far, I have always taken water from clean mountain streams. I pass the occasional stock pond or watering hole created for livestock, but have never used them. Be very careful before drinking from scummy ponds with large algae blooms. Some algae can produce toxins.
LifeStraw for Emergencies
You can also use the Lifestraw water filter for emergencies like after floods, tornadoes or hurricanes when you are warned not to drink the water for a few days until they get the treatment plants back online.
Sure, you filled the bath tub before the storm like you were supposed to, but how did you plan on drinking that water? I know you washed the tub first, but you still aren’t going to dip your cup in there and take a drink.
At least I know I can drink the entire tub of water with my Lifestraw and not get toe fungus or butt juice in my mouth.
LifeStraw also makes a family sized version; Lifestraw Family 1.0 Water Purifier for camping or emergency preparedness. It can filter 4,755 gallons of water and even removes Iodine, Chlorine and other chemicals and 99.999% of viruses as well, because it filters objects as small as 0.02 microns.
That amount of water should last the average family about three years. People are spending almost the same amount of money just to put a liner in the bathtub. Forget the liner, get a family sized water filter instead. Then you can drink out of the bathtub or the ditch behind your house.
LifeStraw makes a larger and more advanced version called The Mission that is for group camping because it quickly filters large volumes of water and is also capable of filtering viruses.
LifeStraw is Easy to Clean and Care For
For those of you that are paying attention to BPA and all the other junk in plastics, the LifeStraw is BPA free. For those of you that aren’t… Since BPA is an estrogen mimic (among other things), we will all quickly turn into old women.
Just be careful not to let the LifeStraw freeze with water inside of it. So, after every use, back flush the filter by blowing into the mouthpiece. Do this until most of the water comes out and when you back home, suck clean water into the filter and then blow that water back out again. Shake the filter to make sure the water is out and leave both ends uncapped so it can dry.
I Drank the Water when I was Young and Dumb
I have drunk water from streams before and got a way with it without getting sick. I even drank from a pot hole full of mosquito larvae and got away with that too, but I lived in West Africa for almost three years and could drink out of a mud puddle with the dogs when I got home.
Before I went to Africa, I remember a nurse making us swear we would boil all drinking water for 20 minutes.
When I finally got to my small village, I was shown the house that was provided for me. I unpacked my bags and started taking stock of what I had and what I needed. It didn’t take long before I needed to drink.
But first, I had to buy a bucket to carry water and a pot to boil the water. I had to build a fire, but had no axe, no saw and no firewood and didn’t know where I was allowed to cut wood. So that first day, I bought firewood, then built a fire and boiled water for 20 minutes. Then I poured water back and forth between two cups, that I also had to buy until it was cool enough to drink. This wasn’t going to be easy and boiled water doesn’t taste good, especially when it’s hot.
I have also used Iodine tables to treat the water, but the taste was so bad, I only used Iodine in emergency situations after that.
A few days later, I was out in the bush with some of the locals. I carried a canteen full of boiled water. The Africans drank straight from the streams or swamps. But when I drank from my canteen, they all wanted to try my water to see why it was so special. My canteen was soon empty and I went home thirsty and boiled more water.
After a few days of this, I decided it wasn’t practical to boil all of my drinking water. So the next afternoon after my canteen was dry, I drank from the stream like everyone else.
Within 24 hours, I had a good case of diarrhea. I noticed some blood in the watery stool, but otherwise didn’t feel too bad. It cleared up in a few days and I continued to drink from the local water sources.
After that, I usually didn’t get sick unless I traveled outside my local area. I guess I had become immune or could at least tolerate the local contaminants around my village.
I was never diagnosed by a doctor, but based on symptoms (diarrhea, nausea, head ache, constant belching of foul smelling gas and flatulence), I believe I had Giardia five or six times. The only treatment I took was the weekly anti-malarial medicine. I noticed the symptoms decreased after taking the chloroquine phosphate, so I took the malaria dose early when I had Giardia symptoms. The apparent cure may have been a coincidence, but there is some current literature about using anti-malarial medicine to treat Giardiasis.
The point of this story is that we can become locally adapted to biological contaminants in the water and we can manage mild symptoms and continue to function. I had little choice because I had to live and work in that environment. If you are on a one – two week backpack or hunting trip, that is not the time or place to prove you have a tough immune system. Play it safe and don’t take any chances. I you want to challenge your immune system, do it when you are at home.
Potential Pathogenic Microbes in Wilderness Streams
We evolved in the water on this planet and we should be able to drink the water on our own planet. It is absurd that we can only drink treated water, but that is our reality today. How many of you have ever drunk untreated water?
The real problem is not just what bad things are in the water, but how many of them are there. Even treated water straight from the treatment plant is not sterile and a few bacteria are allowed. The problem is that down stream from a pollution source, there can tremendous numbers and varieties of pathogens.
Many years ago, our ancestors drank straight from the stream. They could do that because they had immunity local bacteria and they probably always carried a few parasites. As the population grew, more people lived upstream, so they got more and more bacteria and parasites.
It took many years before people realized the connection between dirty water and disease. People began to drink beer because they were less likely to get sick from beer than water, because water is boiled when making beer.
A wilderness stream uphill from civilization should have few pathogens in the water and the water probably wouldn’t hurt the average person. But just like some people get deathly ill and even die from eating a tainted burger, some of us can get very sick and die from tainted water. There may not be people living upstream, but animals are there and people visit there.
A friend in Scotland used to drink out of the highland streams until he found a dead sheep a few yards upstream. He was lucky he didn’t get sick.
Most of the pathogens we are talking about are Protozoans and Bacteria. Protozoans are small single celled organisms that can live in our intestines. These include organisms like Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Beavers are know to harbor Giardia and Livestock commonly carry Cryptosporidium. Any beavers or cows upstream? Probably.
Most protozoans are larger than one micron, so they are filtered by all of the WaterStraw water filter models.
Examples of pathogenic bacteria commonly found in water are E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Leptospira. All of these bacteria are found in the intestines of a variety of warm blooded birds and mammals and even some reptiles. Some bacteria can be as small as 0.1 microns.
Viruses are extremely small, down to 0.04 microns and they can also get into water. But many viruses that make people sick need human vectors, so the worst places are downstream from lots of people. Animals carry viruses too, but most can not affect humans.
The scariest diseases are viruses that can jump between birds or mammals and people, but many of these like Ebola require direct contact, so can not be contracted from the water.
Examples of waterborne viruses include: Hepatitis A, rotavirus, enterovirus and norovirus. Viruses can be as small as 0.04 microns. Both the LifeStraw Mission and Lifestraw Family 1.0 Water Purifier remove 99.999% of viruses.