www.camelbak.com, one pound, one ounce
Anyone who has paid the price for drinking questionable water knows the peace of mind that bottled water brings. But when you’re on the go, especially in the backcountry or traveling, pure stuff can be hard to find. The CamelBak All Clear offers a great solution. The All Clear employs a built-in UV-C light bulb that kills all illness-causing organisms in just 60 seconds. I really like the simplicity of this system. The lid, which houses the UV bulb, battery, display, and charging port, only has a single button. Push the button, the UV light goes on, you wait a minute, and the bacteria and viruses are zapped. The light and bottle do all the work, with an easy-to-see LCD display that counts down the time remaining, so you know when your water is ready. It’s that easy. One big difference between the UV purification and more traditional filtration is taste, color, and particles. With UV purification systems (like the All Clear) the water you put in the bottle is exactly the same as the water you get out—only it’s safe to drink. If you’re drinking from puddles and swamps, you might prefer a standard filtration system that not only purifies the water, but cleans it as well. But, as our testers found, most of the time they weren’t limited to pond scum or mud puddles as a hydration source. The bottle is slightly heavy for backpacking and does take five hours to fully charge but it’s ideal for any trip where the prospect of drinking local water sends a shiver up your spine. I also found that it works as lantern in a pinch, even if it does only runs for a minute at a time—likely the longest it’s taken me to pitch my tent after dark. When you first charge the All Clear, you need to do the full five hours—otherwise you’ll get an error message (and the UV light doesn’t glow).
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www.camelbak.com, one pound, one ounce
cascadedesigns.com/platypus, 10.75 ounces
Water filters are the bane of existence for our Southwest testers. Thanks to the region’s typically silt- and algae-prone desert waters, we’ve killed expensive filters in less than a gallon of use. And we’ve never found a very reliable filter. Until now.
Oh, the current Gravity Works system is still a filter, so we remain cynical, but these are the lightest, most convenient, and reliable water filters we’ve ever used. And that is something big. In our humble opinion, they’re as close to perfect as water filters get. With hoses, filter cartridge, zip case, and two four-liter water bags, the system weighs a mere 10.75 ounces and rolls into a 3 x 9.5-inch package. Using it couldn’t be simpler. One Platypus bag gathers dirty water, and another is for the filtered water. A long silicone hose and a low-pressure, two-micron filter cartridge quick-connect runs between the two bags. Fill the dirty water bag and hook up the system. Backflush briefly to speed up filtration by eliminating air bubbles in the filter, then hang the dirty water as high as possible (laying it on ledges also works). Come back in about five to ten minutes to find a gallon of clean, effortless water.
One 4.0-liter system easily kept five people chugging away during a three-day, 90-degree guided trek through Capitol Reef. Gathering water simply required scooping it, attaching hoses, and circling back periodically to check progress. Within an hour of hitting camp we had full hydration packs for next day’s hike, plenty of cooking and coffee water, and a spare bag filtering away overnight. Compared to the usual monotonous pumping and cleaning, this was a revelation. One tester claimed the gravity feed system regained him “one free hour every day.”
Despite back-flushing, the GravityWorks cartridge started to slow by the end of our 15-day trip. On the upside, full performance was easily restored by back-flushing several bags of hot sink water when we got back home. Two other identical cartridges did not show the same slowing during similar uses and time frames.
Despite these quibbles, this is still the most convenient, compact filtration system we’ve found. Light, easy to deploy, cleanable, and fast enough for on-the-move refills or group hydration. For January 2013 and beyond, GravityWorks has added 4.0-liter and 2.0-liter “Complete Kit” packages. These come with all accessories plus a Universal Bottle Adapter with waterproof connector that hooks directly to most reservoirs, bottles, or hydration tubes. So drink up, campers.
cascadedesigns.com/en/msr, 7.8 ounces
Nothing aggravates an aching back—or drives you quite as insane—as trying to filter water when the narrow tube that’s supposed to be in the water source keeps hopping out every time you push the pump. The Hyperflow Microfilter remedies this backcountry torture by anchoring the feed tube to a wide sleeve that floats on the surface of the stream, lake, spring, or puddle, greatly reducing the game of grasshopper that’s nearly a prerequisite with other models. It also helps keep down the silt that gets kicked up with the filters that require greater submersion. The actual filtering of the water is also handled with equally innovative ease. After positioning the red flap in the water, you pull back on the handle and the tube fills with water. Depress the pump, and filtered water flows from the mouth at the rate of three liters per minute. You can also clean the filter, repeatedly and without tools, in the field. The purifier is effective against protozoa, bacteria, and particulate, but not against viruses. We did find that the proprietary bottle adapter didn’t fit some of our water bottles, but the tubes of most hydration reservoirs did fit snugly onto the filter’s nozzle; otherwise, you just have to position the water bottle or bladder under the pump, which can result in some spillage. Added benefit: it’s diminutive seven-inch height means you can stash it in a day pack without sacrificing too much space.
www.vestergaard-frandsen.com/lifestraw, two ounces
Hiking is one of life’s simple pleasures, but keeping a supply of clean, safe drinking water on hand complicates matters. With a gallon of water weighing more than eight pounds, carrying a day’s supply of water can be taxing. Water purification tablets work, but often leave a chemical taste. And pumping water through a filter sounds easy—if you have the forearms of Popeye. Instead, try the LifeStraw, which was developed by a Swiss humanitarian (Vestergaard Frandsen) to help save lives in developing countries. The lightweight, nine-inch straw filters out 99.99999 percent of waterborne bacteria and 99.0 percent of waterborne protozoan parasites (including E. Coli, Giardia and Cryptosporidium). It also filters murky and muddy water down to 0.2 microns—but doesn’t remove viruses, heavy metals, or salt. With the LifeStraw, you can sip directly from any lake, river or even puddle. The straw contains no chemicals and only requires sucking to activate. We admit we didn’t test the straw in typhoid- and rhino-infested swamps, but we did carry straw on more than two dozen day hikes and overnight trips in the Oregon Cascades. To use the straw, you just have to get close enough to the water supply to sip. Or you can fill your water bottle and insert the straw. Placid lakes and meandering streams are the easiest for this straight-forward hydration delivery system, with ice-choked waterfalls and flood-stage streams proving to be more challenging. While we still had to boil water for tea and noodles, the LifeStraw gets our vote for a convenient, lightweight personal filtration system. The life straw is guaranteed for 422 gallons (1,600 liters) of safe drinking, but it’s recommended to be discarded after 1,000 gallons. While there’s a recommended expiration date on the container (three years), the company reports that there is nothing in the filter system that will degrade over time.
www.camelbak.com, 20 ounces
When this bottle design from Cambelbak first came on the market a few years back, one tester called them adult sippy cups—and damned if they didn’t become just as popular with the active set as they were with infants. But, like its toddler counterpart, the older model could become a bit…funky. With the Groove, the bottle is back in full effect. The BPA-free, spill-proof bottle now boasts a filter built into the straw to turn so-so tap water into genuinely fresh refreshment, a boon for urbanites and travelers alike. One bit of caution: the filter doesn’t remove the real nasties in untreated water, so it isn’t a replacement for your backcountry purifier.