This post originally appeared on Badlands Fieldcraft. -NCS
Hydration is key. Hydrate or die. We’ve all heard the cliches, so today I’ll cut to the chase and show you the gear I use to rehydrate when I’m out in the bush.
I’d like to make a very important point first though. We’ve all heard that you can go 3 days without water. I’m not exactly sure where this information comes from or what testing was done, but I’m assuming that means a healthy person who is fully hydrated doing nothing for 3 days solid. Also, I believe it means at the end of the 72 hours you are completely dead, so at some point during the 72 hours you will become ineffective. I wouldn’t adopt that as part of your planning, your goal should be to never have to dip into that 3 day reserve.
First and foremost, you need to be well fed and hydrated before you go into the bush. Tying one on the night before is not the best way to hydrate before heading out, trust me. It takes about 3 days to properly prepare your body with nutrients and hydration. You need good nutrition so your body has a full tank of electrolytes and calories to burn in addition to just stored water. Don’t just pound water for 3 days, you’ll pee everything out and when you head out you’ll be nearly exhausted at the beginning of your trip. This is why a proper diet is good to maintain regularly, then you’re always ready to go.
I want to make a few definitions clear, I hear these words tossed around incorrectly by people who I doubt have ever drank water off the landscape and it really irks me because they are giving people advice that could kill them. One promise I can make is that anything you read here has been done by yours truly.
Disinfected versus purified
It’s typically not the visible “floaters” in the water that will hurt you, it’s the microscopic germs, viruses and parasites that will. To “disinfect” water is to boil or treat it with a chemical that will kill these microscopic critters. All the “floaters” are still there. You might not even be able to see through the water. It’s going to taste like a turtles belly, but you won’t die of dehydration.
To purify water is to remove all impurities, microscopic and visible. This is typically not possible in the field. So now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about the gear.
I use a few different containers to carry my water. Since I always want to have the 10 C’s with me, a stainless steel single walled water bottle is number one. At a minimum I always take it with. I prefer the Pathfinder 32 oz. bottle. A metal container allows you to boil water to disinfect it. It also makes a nice heater to put in your sleeping bag at night when it’s full of hot water. The 32 oz. size works good when using disinfecting tablets since they are sized off a container that size.
Next on the list to bring is my Grayl Geopress. This is a water bottle and filter in one. It operates similar to a French press. Dirty water is put into the outer container, then the inner container with the filter on the bottom is pressed through the dirty water. The clean water shows up inside, and you can drink it through the top opening.
For extended trips when I don’t anticipate a source of water or when I’d like to have accessible water when I’m hiking I have two 3L Camelbacks. These fit into each of the side pockets on my Karrimor SF Predator 45.
I also have a small collection of plastic water bottles and a 2 quart canteen that I use to carry additional water if I don’t want to use a Camelback.
A word on filters
Before I start to discuss what filters I use, I want to make something clear. Not all filters are equal or the same type. Technically a bandana is a filter but because of the porous nature of the fabric it will only filter down to a certain micron level. All the invisible critters that are present will pass through and without further filtering or treatment you will ingest them.
Filters that utilize a filter element have a material with many microscopic holes for the water to pass through, just like the bandana. These should be a standard size and this is the micron level. The micron level for the filter you are looking at should be readily available, any manufacturer who doesn’t provide this information is not worth using. I don’t use anything with a micron level larger than .1 microns. This means particulates larger than .1 microns of an inch are caught by the filter, and anything smaller passes through.
As previously mentioned, my Grayl has a filter attached. This filter doesn’t rely on a fabric media but rather a combination of activated charcoal and an ionic charge to filter out contaminants. A nice bonus to this is that the filter isn’t compromised once it’s been frozen, although the manufacturer recommends replacing it if it’s been frozen more than twice. I’ve personally filtered water out of a cow crap infested pond without any effects.
The other filter I use is a Sawyer mini. It’s a great little filter system for the $20 it cost me at Walmart. I say system because it consists of multiple parts and can be used multiple ways. It comes with a small bag that can be filled with dirty water, then you screw the filter on top and press the dirty water through into another container, or just drink it directly. I also comes with a straw that can be attached to the filter so you can drink from a container or from the water source itself. The filter itself can also be attached to most plastic pop bottles and you can use them as a makeshift container. Lastly the system comes with a large syringe to help back flush the filter and clean it out. I keep this is my large aid bag since it is great for flushing wounds as well.
Sometimes the water source you are using is not nice and clear, this is called having a high turbidity. The problem with high turbidity is that the contaminants making the water unclear will clog up your filter causing it to filter slow or not at all. Using a prefilter will help reduce this problem.
I always try to carry a cotton bandana or two, and I store one with my stainless water bottle just for this reason.
Another tool that is very useful is a Milbanks bag. These were issued by the British military to help filter water in the field. I have a modern one made by Browns Bushcraft called the Brown Filter Bag. The bag is filled with dirty water and once the canvas has absorbed water and expanded gravity will pull water through and into a container of your choice. This is not safe to drink yet and must still be boiled, although it is very effective and filtering out turbidity.
Lastly I have used the Portable Aqua brand Iodine tablets quite a bit. Just like filters, not all chemical treatments are the same. Some are stronger than others and some take longer to work than others. Iodine tablets are rumored to have a bad taste, but honestly it isn’t that bad. Anyone who has refilled their canteens off a water buffalo will know the taste.
So in conclusion, between the three methods of filtering, boiling and chemical treatment you should be able to assemble a robust and reliable water kit for yourself.