Purchasing bottled water on a daily basis is a costly exercise that fuels the plastic crisis plaguing our natural environments and oceans. Plastic pollution seemed to accompany us on our travel sabbatical, overlanding through Africa
and backpacking in South and Central America
. Often we were left feeling disheartened and angry to see massive buildups of discarded single use plastic water bottles. Potable drinking water has seldom been readily available to us, however we have never resorted to buying bottled water. We chose instead to make water purification an essential part of our daily routine while camping or out and about hiking/trekking when we are often reliant on water from a borehole or stream. To help you make water purification a part of your daily travel routine, we’ve outlined the methods to purify and filter water which we relied on daily. These are 5 budget conscious and practical water purification methods that we have used to kill disease-causing pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and protozoans that may be present in water.
#1. Chlorination – Best for long-term overlanding
In Africa the distances are vast and we often drive for days between reliable boreholes or water sources. Fortunately, chlorine is readily available in both larger towns and in rural pharmacies. It is a highly efficient disinfectant and effective water purification method. Best of all, large quantities of water can be purified using a relatively small amount of chlorine. A few capfuls is sufficient to purify 50 litres in our rooftop water tanker
. The chlorine needs approximately 30 minutes to take effect after being thoroughly mix with the water. This is not a problem when driving over Africa’s rough, rocky, potholed terrain. One drawback of using chlorine is that it alters the taste of water which may not be to your liking. However, after a few days in the African heat even swimming pool water tastes good.
#2. Water Purification tablets – Best for small volumes when hiking
This method is just as efficient as using liquid chlorine but you won’t run the risk of it leaking in your bag. We used water purification tablets while hiking the 5-day Salkantay trek
to Machu Picchu in Peru, filling our water bottles at clear streams along the route. There are numerous water purification tablets available on the market. Depending on the product, the active ingredient in the tablets is usually chlorine, chlorine dioxide or iodine. Unfortunately these tablets are not always easy to come by, especially in remote areas. Another drawback of using this method is that it also alters the taste of water.
#3. Ultraviolet Light – Best to maintain neutral water taste
While hiking through the Colca Canyon
in Peru, we used a SteriPEN to purify our water. This method of water purification uses ultraviolet (UV) light technology and there are a number of brands available. Simply submerge the bulb into your water bottle for 90 seconds and you’ve eliminated upwards of 99.9% of water-borne pathogens. Best of all this water purification method does not alter the taste of water.
The SteriPEN Ultra model has an improved design and functionality. It is small, light-weight, portable and easy to use. This model has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and USB chord. A battery on full charge can last for upwards of 50 litres and the unit’s overall lifespan is approximately 8000 litres.
While the steriPEN is a fast and effective water purification system, an additional pre-filter kit must be purchased to filter out sediment. Another drawback of this system is that it only fits into wide-mouthed water bottles or hydration packs. Also, it can only purify 1 litre of water at a time and is not ideal for treating high volumes of water.
#4. Boiling – Useful around camp and when staying in a hostel
In the evenings we boil a large pot of water around the camp and allow it to cool overnight ready for drinking in the morning. If in a hostel, pour boiled water into a stainless steel flask and cool it in the communal freezer. Bring the water to a rolling boil
(1-min at sea level, 3-min at +1,000m) and if in doubt double boil to ensure purification.
#5. Ceramic Filtration Systems – Best when you stay in camp for a while
While overlanding through Southern and East Africa, we often find great camps and decide to stay for a few days. In these circumstances we setup our filtration system and let it slow drip during the course of the day. The ceramic element is porous on a micro-scale level making it effective on microbes. While the system itself is bulky and has a slow filtration rate, once set up it can filter upwards of 6 litres and doesn’t affect the taste of the water. The system can also be left unattended, perfect whilst out on a game drive.
To sum it up
Deciding on a portable water purification method amongst the myriad of products available can be overwhelming. We suggest that you first plan your requirements and then narrow down your options based on the purpose for which you will use the water purification system. Do you need a light-weight system with a quick filtration rate for trekking/hiking? Do you need a system that can be set up at a campsite? Or do you need to cater for a group of people?
Don’t fail to plan like the majority of non-eco-conscious tourists that buy and discard single use plastic water bottles. Make a plan before you leave home and execute it on the road or trail daily. If you have a practical, budget and eco-conscious method to add, please pop us a mail.