Come On In, The Water's Fine!
“When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.”
Writing technical articles was never really my intent when starting this blog. It was intended to be a place of whimsical thoughts where I explored the esoteric nature of hunting the backcountry.
Yet, here I am, about to dive headfirst into talking about our water system.
No, I’m not doing a gear comparison or product review. Those bore me to death, and I am not yet ready to subject my loyal readership (all three of you) to that. Instead, I’m going to talk about the evolution of our own water system, and some backcountry hacks we’ve integrated to make our lives just a little easier when traipsing off trail.
When we started backpack hunting in 2013, I was running a Platypus GravityWorks 4.0 Liter water filtration system. The Platypus worked as the name suggests: two four-liter bags, one for dirty water, and one for clean were attached by tubing and an inline filter. I would hang the dirty bag at a higher elevation (it didn’t take much) and usually within minutes I would have water purified of any and all microscopic bugs.
Scott was running a Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System (a small in-line filter). His water setup revolved around the fact that dirty water was always in your bag, and it filtered as you drank. We were never concerned with dinner water, as it always was brought to a boil, which allowed us to rehydrate our meals, worry free.
As we continued to backpack, branching out into different types of terrain, we began to find the limitations associated with each of our systems. Both of our water systems were severely lacking when it came to not having easily accessible water sources available. To be more specific, most of our limited trips had an abundant supply of running water that allowed us to dip and fill the “dirty” reservoirs easily.
In October of that same year, I accompanied my brother in law during an October deer hunt into an area with a questionable water source only scouted on Google Earth. Upon reaching camp we noted that the pond was a bit dirty, but that once filtered, should be fine.
My gravity filter made it barely past one liter before it clogged.
With a planned elk hunt the following year with similarly questionable water sources, a change was required.
The Platypus had been effective when in areas of high concentration of available water. But trying to fill the dirty bladder out of a small well of rain water was not going to be easily done. We had to come up with a more versatile filter system.
After much research, we moved to a Katadyn Hiker Pro. This little filter has been a constant companion for us ever since. We did kill one, after not being mindful with keeping the tip as far from sediment as possible. The filter had slowly clogged, and we continued to force it, eventually breaking the handle. That was mostly user error, and we haven’t had any issues since.
The Katadyn allowed us to completely customize our water system around it, and it is, in my humble opinion, about as streamlined as one can get.
Something that had continually irritated me was removing my bladder from my bag, and then trying to force it back in amongst all of the random gear. When Scott was working through designing a custom bag, the only piece of input I had was that an external slip pocket between the bag and frame for the bladder would be a nice addition. It not only makes removing and adding the bladder to the bag simple, but it also keeps it out of the main compartment in case of a leak, of which we’ve had happen more than once.
Even with the ease of use, we still wanted to limit the amount of times we actually had to yank the bladder out. Using the same principle as the Sawyer Inline Filter, we cut our drink hose at the shoulder, and installed male and female Q/D fittings.
(Note: We sourced ours from https://www.usplastic.com/catalog/item.aspx?itemid=23885&catid=743, ordering one 64660 (male) and two 60464 (female) couplers.)
We also installed a female coupler on the clean water side of the Katadyn filter hose. This arrangement allowed us to disconnect our drink tube, install the filter and pump without having to remove the bladder from the bag. We also tested the amount of “pumps per liter” the filter required so that we could have an accurate estimate of how much water we had filled without physically looking at it (we average 40 pumps per liter).
In addition, we generally will start a trip with a full Gatorade for the hike in. Once we’ve finished, it becomes an additional water receptacle at a miniscule weight penalty of 1.65 ounces, where a Nalgene comes in at 4.65 ounces. This allows for a redundant water container if you are concerned with a bladder failing, and also for ease of use around camp for such things as making dinner.
The Nalgene still has a place for us in cold weather conditions (winter hiking) as we just can’t trust the durability of a Gatorade bottle when placed in the footbox of our sleeping bags.
It should also be noted that there are multiple filters that will do a similar job as the Katadyn. You need to evaluate for yourself the level of comfort and need when making your own filter decisions.
A worthwhile discussion can also be had on the actual need to filter when in the backcountry. Depending on your water source, and how far you trust it, there are plenty of places where not filtering is likely safe. We “dip” about 30% of the time, usually when we encounter a spring, and haven’t had any ill effects. That decision, is a personal one, and I encourage you to evaluate the associated risks.
Our setup is simple, yet efficient, and may be an overlooked item in your kit that can easily (and cheaply) increase the simplicity of a required backcountry chore.
Thanks for reading fellow adventurers! If you hadn’t heard by now, or have been late to the starting line…Pre-Orders are open now! Head on over to the “Pre-Order” section and pick yours up today!