best water filtration to use on a hike: pump vs aquamira vs iodine vs boiling


A five-gallon plastic camping jug, dipped into the obsidian lake waters in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, weighs about 41 lbs. Best done with two people because with the make-shift handles on our jugs, the waddle-walk back to shore really helped me appreciate drinking water back home.  Some people do much more for much crappier (literally) water everyday.

Summer 2013 I did my first trip where I had to treat the water. In January 2014, my backpacking trip in Yosemite prompted research into lighter-weight water treatment. What happens when you don’t treat it? I think you can imagine…you get the shits. I used to work at a public health department where we did foodborne outbreak investigations. People would recount in visceral detail and movie-like plot the gastrointestinal ordeals that they suffered. Imagine you had no one to talk to about something terrible that happened to you, then I come on the phone, and you verbal diarrhea. We also dealt with some waterborne ‘bugs’ as well. It all sounded terrible, and was a very entertaining job. (Aside: actually dehydration and food-borne illness is really serious, we followed-up on deaths from people of all ages).

There are a couple of considerations when choosing a system for filtering water.


kills everything except viruses?

time to water

amount of water



aquamira tablets

Aquamira Water Treatment Drops 1oz


~30 min for a few liters


relatively cheap ~$10 for a set of tablets


iodine tablets

no, not giardia, cryptosporidium





water pump

usually yes



more costly

more bulky, maybe not heavy

gravity filter

Platypus Clean Stream Gravity Filter

usually yes

check out the one i’ve linked to, supposedly really fast, but older versions took an hour or so

a lot of water

more bulky, maybe not heavy

Should I boil water?
Yes, if you have the gear and ability, its fantastic. There are some World Health Organization tips on safe water in emergency situations (
Pros: Boiling works against all bacteria and parasites. Achieving a rolling boil is evidence of reaching the correct temperature as long as you’re not too high up. It can work against everything.
Considerations: Boiling does take time and resources (fuel, time to gather wood). You have to be at camp to do it. You need the gear to do it, a single wall stainless steel bottle could do the trick!

What about those water tablets?
Seems like there are two main categories of those tablets: iodine and aquamira
Iodine : cheap, widely could even roll your own solution buying tincture of iodine and alcohol. Could be risky if your travel partner has an iodine allergy. You can use vitamin c to get rid of the flavor.

Aquamira: kills more stuff than the iodine tablets, in particular is giardia. A little more expensive than the iodine tablets. Not much of a change in flavor as far as I could tell.

Straight up bleach:
something I considered because of relatively light weight / cost / availability. In an emergency situation, I may do it, but I’m not a professional, nor a health provider, so I can’t recommend anyone do what I recommend. You could do some damage if you put too much bleach and the concentration (strength) of the bleach is variable ( The WHO has some guidelines on how to use bleach in an emergency situation (

What about a water pump or gravity filter?

Water pumps have a special place in my mind, and that is when you have a big base camp and a relatively close source of water. It becomes a pretty self-contained camp chore for 1 or 2 people to do. In that way, someone can be making a fire, another person getting water, and another person cutting or gathering wood or prepping food. Pumps can provide water for the whole camp or just yourself.

What’s the difference between the two water pump vs gravity filter?

For a pump, you have some sort of reservoir and something you physically pump the water into through a filter. For a gravity filter basically you get a big jug of water, hang it up on a tree branch or something, and the gravity pulls the water down into a reservoir. The pump you can get your water then, the gravity pump you have to wait. Both have the propensity to clog. Gravity filter you can just leave alone, whereas the pump, well you have to pump it.

What would I recommend?

Well given my operation, I would go with aquamira tablets then iodine then a pump. The reason is that I rarely use this equipment and would prefer to put my money into something higher value. I know the aquamira tablets work, I can load water into my pack and have it sit in the water bladder or water bottle to get clean. It is really lightweight. My travel partner had an iodine allergy that I don’t want to mess with. They’re cheap. I may consider a gravity filter if we had a bunch of people in camp and were staying in a location for more than one night. Boiling water is arguably the lightest and cheapest, but I wouldn’t be able to count on it, personally. I don’t have the skills or patience or time to always work that out. The other filters don’t make as much sense to me, except maybe to use a pump to backflush a gravity filter.

Have you had any experience purifying water? Let me know in the comments below!


There are some interesting tips on these pages as well. One day, I’ll summarize it all into one post, but for now I just want to get the information out there. The years of school make me cite sources. – Preventing Traveler’s Diarrhea


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