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Emergency water purification: Which would YOU take?

Okay, preparedness pals. Another question for you.

Digging through my emergency supplies for just the right water filtration/purification gear for my revamped bug-out bag, I discover I’ve been excessively paranoid about clean water over the years. I have on hand six different tools for water treatment. Some will stay here among my bug-in supplies, but two will go with the grab-n-go kit.

Six portable water treatment/filtration options

I’ve tested all these on tap water (including the undrinkable tap water down at the Desert Hermitage). I’ve been too paranoid to risk my health for the sake of experiment by applying any of these to mountain streams, mud puddles or stagnant ponds. Still, I know which ones I’m most inclined to put in the emergency kit.

But just asking: which of the six would you take if these six were your only choices? Pick one or two and tell the world why.

From left to right:

1. Coughlan’s Water Tablets. Cheap, small, ultra-portable. Not tasty.

2. Potable Aqua Plus two-step system. Does what the Coughlan’s does, then neutralizes the icky taste.

3. Seychelle Pure Water Straw with advanced filter. Technically, this probably does the best filtration job — capable of handling not only giardia and cryptosporidium but viruses. Light. Portable. But has only one filter, no backup. Amazon link.

4. Aquamira Frontier Pro. Functions as a water straw so you can drink from any source. Also screws onto various standard water bottles. Light. Portable. Has multiple filters. But the filters aren’t as good as on the two Seychelle products. Amazon link.

5. Seychelle stainless steel filtering sports bottle. Has carry strap and lanyard. Lets me start off with a supply of water. Has only the regular filter (no virus protection). Amazon sells one with the advanced filter, but polypropylene, not stainless steel.

6. SteriPen Classic. The one I trust the most. Also has the greatest capacity. Uses ultraviolet light to sterilize. (Requires water to be reasonably clear, but I’ll carry coffee filters in any case.) Requires batteries. Pricy lithium batteries, to boot. But inspires confidence. Amazon carries the whole line of SteriPens and accessories.

So which would YOU put into the bug-out bag? And guys … no fair suggesting some super-whiz-whacker water filter that’s not listed above. I ain’t buyin’ another filtering/purification doodad, and that’s that!


  1. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal March 29, 2011 5:31 pm

    I have the Potable Aqua Plus in mine. But I also know how to filter and boil water without any modern “helps”, just in case.

    I have also drank a LOT of water on a regular basis without any filtration beyond a silk bandanna when I was not in survival situations, just to acclimate my body to less-than ideal water. Probably stupid, and considering where I have lived recently, I haven’t done that in several years. I definitely would not recommend doing the same, but I tend to experiment on myself.

  2. Standard Mischief (dot) com
    Standard Mischief (dot) com March 29, 2011 5:37 pm

    The second part of the Potable Aqua Plus is just Vitamin C (ascorbic acid). I use some powdered pills in my kit to drop the iodine out of solution when using my polar pure.

    Personally, given the choices, I’d take the steri-pen (because I’ve heard good things about it) and the iodine pills.

    Guardia, being an amoeba, is easy to filter out as it’s the largest of the bunch. I’d probably want to take something that took care of virus if I was going the filter route.

    I confess to going hiking with people who carry filters, and I do my share of pumping because it’s just faster than waiting for the iodine. But I’ve also seen a lot of poor handing of the filters. You need to be careful to keep the water inlet part from cross contaminating the outlet hose.

    With the iodine system, you nearly need to have a stove along. I use a butane canister stove for convenience. For iodine to kill all the critters you need to have the water at 70 degF, which is a point often overlooked.

    So when I’m hiking solo, to “make water” with the iodine system, it goes like this:

    1) I take a funnel made out of a one liter bottle, and place it in my water bottle, (use a multi-tool, do not touch)

    2)add a paper coffee filter (improvise as needed, and this is not strictly necessary).

    3) Use my tin cup to ladle in water 2/3 full, using the funnel to keep unsafe water from getting on the outside of the bottle.

    4)Add the iodine.

    5)Then heat a cup of water on the stove to near boiling. Add that last cup of water to the bottle

    6) Remove funnel, place in dedicated ziplock bag (again use the multi-tool, do not touch)

    7) Quickly sterilize empty metal cup on stove flame

    8) wait while the iodine does it’s job

    9) add the optional Vitamin C to improve taste.

    Wow, that’s 9 steps. It’s really not that hard once you understand what you are doing. You also have to be careful not to have leftover tang or something in the bottom of you water bottles. any residue Vitamin C in the drink mix will drop your iodine out of solution before it does it’s job.

    I’ll probably be getting a steri pen soon, and if it seems rugged enough I’ll leave the iodine at home, but even my water filter pumping friends carry iodine pills as backup.

  3. Pat
    Pat March 29, 2011 5:38 pm

    1) SteriPen: Complete reliable system.

    2) Seychelle Pure Water Straw: use as back-up if/when batteries go down, water is bad, or I lose/pollute SteriPen.

    Would pack each of them in separate locations.

  4. Standard Mischief (dot) com
    Standard Mischief (dot) com March 29, 2011 5:49 pm

    many many people skip the 70deg F water step.

    I think the iodine kills everything except the Guardia in that case. Guardia is really tough to kill, and it’s easy to get unsafe water on the outside of your containers, and use you hand to transfer the amoeba to your mouth when eating or drinking.

    For that reason, I don’t think Guardia is too common. Everyone I see is doing it wrong.

    Guardia is big, so it should be easy to filter out. And when you do that, the iodine should work much faster at a much lower concentration and temperature. I haven’t seen anyone make any sort of hybrid system however.

  5. EN
    EN March 29, 2011 5:55 pm

    Steri pen and Aqua Plus which will fit anywhere. I had Guardia when I was young and it made a dent in my consciousness. I prefer the Steri but would not want to rely on anything that has batteries. I just don’t trust them.

  6. JG
    JG March 29, 2011 6:49 pm

    I actually have the coghlan’s pills, the potable aqua plus pills, and the aquamira filter. Be advised that once you open the bottles that the pills come in you have a limited time to use the whole bottle. a sealed bottle of coghlan’s pills is in my cargo pocket survival kit and the others ride in my backpack. I have not used these in a real world scenario. I have always been fortunate to camp near a location with a pure spring or stream nearby. I’ll drink stream water if I find that its source is good, but I won’t drink the tap water from my town without one of those big under the sink filters. I don’t mind the taste of minerals, dirt, and leaves. I don’t like the taste or smell of water that has been pooped in by thousands, then blasted with chemicals, then put in a big metal tank for a few months.

  7. bumperwack
    bumperwack March 29, 2011 7:08 pm

    steri-pen in belt kit, whatever big one you choose in/on pack

  8. Standard Mischief (dot) com
    Standard Mischief (dot) com March 29, 2011 7:09 pm

    just because you find a spring doesn’t mean you don’t have to treat the water. I get most of my backwoods water from springs, and only a bit from streams.

    Does a bear $#!t in the woods? Treat you springwater anyway unless it has tested safe and you are sure some idiot who got there before you hasn’t does something unsanitary too close to the source.

    I use a filter on my tap water because it tastes like it came out of the Potomac, not because I think it’s unsafe to drink. The fine print on your faucet filter probably states that it’s not to be used on impure water anyway.

  9. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal March 29, 2011 9:40 pm

    As a fire-less way to get around the 70 degree F problem with iodine, why not just treat the water and then carry it inside your clothing for a while? The way you do in winter to keep it from freezing.

  10. Claire
    Claire March 30, 2011 8:01 am

    Thank you, guys. Particular thanks to Standard Mischief for the complex directions. I can see how people would make mistakes with chemical purification (mostly by getting polluted water on various surfaces). The directions that come with purification pills cover the problem in a simpler way but don’t account for what might be on your water-gathering tools.

    I’m surprised at how many people have suggested the SteriPen, simply because of the need for batteries. It was definitely my first choice for trustworthiness, but the need for batteries was worrying. I bought it originally on the recommendation of a blog reader (sorry, don’t remember who) before my trip to Panama last year. It was excellent for that — although we also found that bottled water was available even in the most primitive area we stayed in, the Kuna Yala.

    I lean toward taking the Seychelle water straw because of its light weight, simplicity and advanced filter, and taking the Potable Aqua Two-Step as a second method. The SteriPen and Seychelle filter bottle keep tempting me. But right now I’m leaning toward keeping that excellent SteriPen in my bug-in kit, where it’s easier to store (and to remember to replace) batteries for it.

    Haven’t made the decision yet and will keep reading what y’all have to say.

  11. Matt
    Matt March 30, 2011 8:25 am

    #2 and 6, or 2 and 4. Pills and a filter give you the best options and flexibility and are light and compact. Keep a spare pair of batteris with the steri-pen and you should be good to go for weeks. IF you wind up in a long-term bugged out situation you will probably have time/resources to get to clean water or boil it as needed.

  12. EN
    EN March 30, 2011 9:08 am

    Batteries are why I recommend two types of purification. My experience with batteries in any BOB is that there can be months at a time when it’s not thought about or checked. I’ve had flashlights run dry very unexpectedly and have gone to CR123 Batteries because they last a long time… However, they are still batteries and not always available everywhere. That’s why I have candles. I used to carry a little “storm lantern”, which protected the candle from wind, but a thousand pounds of the most lightweight gear is still a thousand pounds. Nothing is perfect.

  13. Standard Mischief (dot) com
    Standard Mischief (dot) com March 30, 2011 9:38 am

    Also, a third way that works to purify water, but only if your not traveling at the time. This might be good if you have arrived at a shelter

    search-fu- solar water purification

    Fill Polyethylene (soda, bottled water) bottles with water and expose to bright sunlight for 6 hours or more. Details at the link. Sorta like a seri-pen without batteries.

  14. Claire
    Claire March 30, 2011 12:22 pm

    Standard Mischief — Solar water purification. What a great idea for people who live under the sun. Here in the NorthWET … not so much. But very cool for others. So simple and requires so little.

  15. Mike
    Mike March 30, 2011 3:25 pm

    Well Clare if I was forced to pick one it would be the StriPen with the addition of a solar charger to recharge the batteries. Here is a sample of what you could get and not burst the bank. The advantage is that you can recharge all your electrics.

  16. Claire
    Claire March 30, 2011 3:29 pm

    Thanks, Mike. I’ve used solar chargers down in the desert. But those definitely aren’t going to work here in the coastal Northwest. The sun? We hear rumors of it occasionally. But like Sasquach and Jackalopes, it doesn’t really exist.

    ADDED: BTW, though, I have a cellphone charger in my kit with a USB connector and heads for 12 different types of mobile devices. My radio can charge phones. It can do that via battery power, AC power, hand crank (though I can only imagine how much work that would take!) and … yes, solar.

  17. TNDadx4
    TNDadx4 April 4, 2011 10:33 am

    I would choose the SteriPen as a proven reliable source, followed by the Seychelle Pure Water Straw, which I’ve heard great things about.

    I don’t own either (I have the Potable Aqua Plus two-step system in my emergency kit), but would when I buy the SteriPen, I think that I am going to buy the sidewinder (manual) model.

  18. Jack Johnson
    Jack Johnson January 10, 2012 7:21 pm

    I thought that it was really neat that you did your very own experiment with the products that you had bought. I like how you gave the result and what you would like to use when it came to an emergency.

    A website that I like is it has a lot of water filter that you can use in your home.


  19. Jennie Degener
    Jennie Degener April 1, 2012 3:24 pm

    Ah that really helped, thanks I’ve been stuck on this for ages!

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