Treating Water In The Back Country

Anyone who has done any backpack hunting knows that the lighter their pack, the more efficient they will be. There are many things you can put in your pack to help you out on a hunt. The one item you absolutely must have is water and plenty of it.

Out west during most bow hunting seasons it is usually hot and dry. Conditions like these require a lot more water intake. Generally I will drink 2 liters of throughout the day. If I am having to push myself even harder then usual I could up that to 3 even 4 liters in a day. I can survive on less water then that but I will suffer major symptoms of dehydration. Some of the more common symptoms include chapped lips, head aches, muscle cramps, and decreased strength and stamina. These are all things you don’t want to have while you are in the back country. Being properly hydrated is a necessity for staying focused and making good judgment calls during a hunt.

Water weighs about 36 ounces per liter. For an individual to pack enough water for a 3-5 day hunt is just not feasible. While you are in the back country you need to be able to find water and then make that water safe to drink. You need the ability to purify water to protect you from disease causing micro organisms.   Out west there are three types of micro organisms you have to worry about in your water. These are Bacterium, Protozoan’s, and Viruses. The most common infection is giardia which falls into the protozoan family. I don’t really know or care much about these little germs other then I don’t want them in my water making me sick and then screwing up my hunt.

So how do you protect yourself from these little nasty creatures? Basically there are 3 methods to purify water. These are boiling, chemical treatment, and mechanical pump filters.


Boiling is the surest method to make water safe to drink. The EPA recommends boiling water for 3 minutes to kill disease causing micro organisms. Although boiling is the most effective method to killing these germs is definitely not the most convenient. You need to pack a pot and stove in order to boil the water. I already pack a pot and stove (Jetboil) for cooking. But if I used it for purifying water I would have to haul more fuel. I personally don’t know anyone who uses boiling as there primary method of purifying water. This method is just to labor intensive for a wilderness hunt.

Treating Water In The Back Country 1Chemical treatment

The two most common chemicals to treat water are chlorine and iodine. Chlorine is generally more effective at killing these nasty bugs. There are several products available on the market for chemically treating you water. I generally use the water treatment tablets made by Potable Aqua. These tablets are easy to use. I just fill my water bladder and drop in a few tablets. It’s that simple. I do have to wait 30 minutes for the tablets to work which is one down side to them.

Another downside is the iodine taste left behind by the tablets. I cover up this taste by using one of the powdered drink mixes on the market. Some of my favorite are the ones made by Wilderness Athlete.

Another type of chemical treatment are the ones made by Pristine. This is a two part system that you mix together and then add to your water. The active ingredient in this system is chlorine dioxide. I haven’t personally had much experience with these drops but have a few friends who use them. I try and keep things as simple as I can and having to keep track of two different bottles seams like a downside to me.

On the plus side, when using this system the water still taste like water when your done. No need to cover up and chemical after taste left behind. Treating Water In The Back Country 2Filters

On shorter hunts when I am not as concerned about weight I generally take a pump filter. With a pump I have the ability to walk up to any water source and within minutes have good clean water ready to drink. These types of filters can be broken down into three categories, hand pumps, water bottle style filter, and gravity feed filters. Which ever one you choose, they all filter and clean the water the same way. There are several companies that build high quality filters. Using a pump I am able to filter high volumes of water in a short amount of time.

One down side is it is a mechanical device. Mechanical devices have the habit of breaking down at the worst times. This is one place that Murphy’s Law could come into play. If a filter becomes dirty you have to take time out of your hunt in order to get the filter cleaned and functional again.

I spend all year getting ready for hunting season. I try and take every precaution to stop these little bugs from putting a kibosh on my hunt. No matter how clean a water source looks, you just never know if it 100% safe to drink. Take the time to purify your water could save your hunt. Taking steps to purify your water will insure you have in the words of the old country singer Marty Robins, coool, Cleeear, Waaater.

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