Water Treatment Options

One of the biggest necessities on the trail is water. Along the Appalachian Trail, water is fairly plentiful so you usually do not need to worry about carrying vast amounts on your back. Be sure to carry a guidebook or map that shows water sources so you can plan accordingly. I personally never carried more than two liters while on the trail and most people won’t carry much more or less. Another great resource for water sources is the AT Guthook App. This app shows the reliability of water sources and comments people have made about the source.

To filter water or not to filter water?
Honestly, this should not even be a debate. Filtering water is a must! There are many mountain springs where the water could be clean coming straight from the ground, but humans and animals over time have made these unclean. Animal and human waste could be nearby, and humans also stomp, bathe, and dump dirty things into water sources. It is important to read about the Leave No Trace practices to know how far you should be from water sources and how to dispose of waste properly. Sicknesses, such as Ghiarrdea, have occurred from drinking unfiltered water and the sickness can ruin a trip and have lasting effects on the body.

So which purification method are you going to use? There are really two types to choose from, water filters and water purifiers.The difference between a water filter and a water purifier is the size of the microorganism each combats. Water filters work by physically straining out protozoan cysts and bacteria. These biological pathogens are the main water concerns if you’re traveling in the U.S. and Canada. Water purifiers work by using chemicals to kill the viruses that may be too small for filters to extract. If traveling abroad, you may need to look into water concerns for that particular country, but in the US, you would be fine with either type of method. Below are some different types of filters a purifiers and what we recommend.


Water source on the Appalachian Trail

Pump filters
These filters are going out of style. They filter out larger particles and can really help if you are in a dire situation and need to draw water from a puddle, but they are large and bulky and can take forever to filter! If you’re looking for a good arm workout, this filter can be perfect for you but the lighter weight filters and purifiers will definitely work on the Appalachian Trail.


Using a pump filter at a lake

Gravity filters
These do the work for you. All you do is fill up the reservoir, and the water falls through the filter and through the hose to your own water bottle or bladder. You just need to find a tree to hang it on and then you can walk away. If a water source is shallow, you can always use your pot to gather the water and fill up the reservoir. This can be time consuming but once it is in the reservoir, you don’t need to do anymore!

Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter – 2 Liter kit – This filter is lightweight and filters two liters of water at a time. Perfect for when you are setting up camp.


Squeeze filters
These are by far the most popular on the trail. They screw onto a bottle and you can then drink straight from the bottle by squeezing it. You will have to let the air out occasionally but it is easy and lightweight. Many people also squeeze it into another bottle and then also drink out of the bottle with the filter.

Sawyer squeeze and mini – This is a favorite on the trail. These can screw on to the Sawyer bags that come with the filter, Smart water bottles, or you can put them inline with a hose and bladder. They are versatile and easy to use. Not expensive either! As long as you backwash then fairly regularly, they should last you a long time. There is a slight weight difference between the squeeze and the mini, they both do the same work but the squeeze filters water faster and is easier to drink from.


This is another popular water treatment. The chemicals can kill some of those viruses that a regular filter might not be able to. They will not filter out larger particles so if you as at a shallow water source, or it has been disturbed recently, you could have larger particles in the water. You can easily filter these out through a small mesh bag, or even with your hands. Most of the chemical treatments nowadays are made so they do not contain a lingering taste in your water. Some of the more traditional methods such as straight Iodine will contain a taste and might not be good for your digestive system if you use it for too long. Here is what we recommend.

Aquamira – This treatment is lightweight and easy. You mix the two solutions together and let them sit for five minutes. Depending on how much water you’re treating, the amount of drops will vary. You then pour them into your water and let that sit for twenty minutes. I usually go ahead and start hiking after adding it to my water and keep an eye out on my watch so I know when I can drink. I never had a funny taste in my mouth and didn’t need to clean the chemicals or work to filter my water.


Aquamira Drops

Boiling water
Most people know that boiling water is a method of water purification. Getting the water to heat to 212 degrees and letting it stay there for a few minutes will kill germs and bacteria in the water. If your water treatment has failed, this is a great alternative because most hikers carry a stove. Some people only boil water to purify it but this can be time consuming and requires a good amount of fuel. When I cook, I use untreated water and boil it for a minute before I add it to my meal and that is a safe way to cook, and it saves my filter or purifier from an extra use.


Boiling water

Key tips for water treatment

  • Separate and clearly designate dirty and clean water containers.
  • Pay close attention to directions because every product has detailed steps to avoid cross contamination.
  • Seek out clean water because sediment impairs treatment effectiveness. If only murky sources are available, use a prefilter or allow sediment to settle from gathered water.
  • Keep your hands clean by packing hand sanitizer and using it often.
  • Keep camp, toilet and dishwashing areas at least 200 feet from any water source.
 Everyone prefers different water treatment methods. I would suggest testing some of them out ahead of time to see which works for you. We can show you how some of them work in the store and are happy to help answer any of your water treatment questions!

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