Photo courtesy of Steripen
Steripen’s classic model
Photo by Mike Lynch
Choosing a fast-moving, cold and clean source of water is important when treating water in the backcountry.
Photo courtesy of Steripen
Ultraviolet light from Steripen purifies clear water by destroying viruses, bacteria and protozoa.
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Health & FitnessHiking

KEENE VALLEY — Last August, while hiking Mount Marcy on my way to an interview with the summit stewart atop the peak, I decided I could lighten my load by carrying less water.

So I packed a one-liter water bottle and brought a Steripen, classic version, with me for water I would get at Indian Falls, where I knew there was a cold, running stream. Steripens are light and treat water with ultraviolet light.

The plan worked perfectly. I was able to refill my water bottle at Indian Falls, never ran out of water for the day and was able to keep my pack light for the 15-mile round-trip solo hike to New York state’s highest mountain.

For this particular hike, the Steripen was the perfect device for providing me with fresh, clean water. It was light, it did its job quickly, and it didn’t add a bad taste to the water.

For another hike or backcountry trip, the Steripen might not be the best choice. For instance, if I was required to provide a large amount of clean water for a group, I might want to use a water filtration pump.

Essentially, choosing the right water-purification device comes down to your specific needs.

¯ Are you going to be traveling in a group and providing them water?

¯ Are you going on a day trip or an overnight camping trip for several days?

¯ What type of natural water source will be available to you in the field? Will it be a muddy pond or a cold stream high in the mountains? Always try to find a clean, cold, fast-moving stream or river when looking for water.

¯ How much money do you want to spend?

¯ Are you going to use this device once every few years or multiple times a month?

Basically, there are four options for purifying your water in the backcountry. You can boil it, treat it with pills, zap it with ultraviolet light or pump it through a filter.

Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, iodine pills are cheap. You can get them for as little as $7 a bottle. But they also add a chemical taste to the water, so that’s a drawback.

Steripens are light and efficient, but they can cost you about $100. Plus, Steripens are battery operated, so if you run out of juice, you’re out of luck, which brings up another point. Always carry iodine or chloride pills as backup, no matter what water-filtration device you are using. They’re light, don’t take up much space, and they might save you in a jam.

Note: Chuch Bruha, of The Mountaineer in Keene Valley, provided background information on water treatments for this article.