August and September are great months to explore and enjoy Wyoming’s beautiful mountains, majestic wildlife and pristine mountain streams.
But remember … no matter how clean the water in a stream looks, it can still contain harmful viruses, bacteria and parasites like giardia, cryptosporidium, e. coli, and rotovirus. These pathogens can cause anything from a minor nuisance to severe, debilitating pain.
And if you’re in the backcountry, help can be hard to come by. That’s why it’s very important to make sure your drinking water is safe.
The most common mistake people make when treating water has to do with not understanding the difference between filtration and purification. This can leave water only partially safe for consumption.
Filtration involves using a physical barrier to remove impurities in the water, like a carbon filter. The effectiveness of the filter is dependent on the the smallest size of particle it can catch (measured in microns). You need a filter that gets down into fractional microns, so you’ll be filtering out most bacteria, parasites, metals, and other dangerous impurities.
There are lots of options out there for water filtration. Whatever you use, make sure to follow all directions for use, storage, cleaning, and maintenance. If you don’t use it or maintain it properly, it’s not going to do its job effectively.
Filtration’s biggest weakness is that it does nothing to protect you against viruses, which are so small they can slip right through the filter.
Purification is the sterilization of water. The most common purification method for backpackers is chemical. Adding iodine or chlorine tablets to water is a very effective way to kill viruses and bacteria, and it doesn’t add much weight to your pack. Boiling and UV radiation are other popular methods to purify water, and they don’t affect taste like chemical methods.
Purification doesn’t remove anything from the water, it only sterilizes it. Treated water can still contain metals and particulates. It’s also important to make sure you give the chemicals, heat or UV radiation enough time to sterilize the water, and you use enough for the volume of water you are purifying.
Which is Best?
Because neither method eliminates everything, it’s best to do both to ensure that you’re drinking the safest possible water.