Clean Water for Camping Part 2

A sampling of tools to make water fit to drink.

Clean pure water is just as important on the trail as it is at home. It really isn’t that hard to achieve either, but you have to have the right equipment.

Besides chemical and heat-treating water as covered last week, there are two other methods for treating water when camping.

Ultraviolet light is deadly to many organisms and has been used in municipal water treatment systems around the world for about 100 years. Recently, handheld devices have been developed that are portable enough to take hiking. Mine is made by SteriPEN and is reported to effectively destroy over “99.9% of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa like Giardia and Cryptosporidium” and can treat a quart of water in about 70 seconds. There are a couple of things to keep in mind with a UV system though. First, it runs on a rechargeable battery. It is good for probably several gallons of water, but on an extended trip you will need a way to charge it. Second, the water needs to be clear so you may need to run it through a cloth or coffee filter if it is dirty. Third, because you fit the device into the water bottle, the bottle needs to have a mouth wide enough to accommodate it. Not all water bottles will work.

Filtration is still the standard for water treatment. Filtering systems come in a variety of styles. There are “straws” that let you drink right from the water source, personal-sized water bottles with integrated charcoal filters, pump or squeeze filters and gravity filters that work by hanging them over the water container and letting gravity pull the water through the filter. With the exception of the straw, I have use all of these and have found that they all work well. My Sawyer Squeeze System, is more work than others but is much lighter in weight.

It is pretty obvious that filters work by forcing the water through a medium like a membrane,  charcoal or ceramic that literally strains out particles much bigger than a water molecule.  According to the EPA, Giardia lamblia only requires a filtration level of 8 to 12 microns. Bacteria like E. coli and salmonella may require filtration to 0.2 microns and viruses may require 0.004 micron filtration. A filter that goes to 0.3 microns will capture 99.999% of contaminants but still won’t get everything. If you are worried about viruses, you might want to chemically treat your water after filtering.

Finally, here are a few tips on getting clean water on the trail.

1.       Filter the cleanest water you can find. Cleaner water saves your filter and allows chemicals to work more efficiently. You can pre-filter water (most water filters have a pre-filter) by straining through a cloth.

2.       If you can’t find clean water, use a collapsible bucket to collect the water and let it stand for as long as possible. Often, most of the larger particles will settle to the bottom and floaters can be scooped off the top.

3.       Always have a back-up for water treatment. A small bottle of chlorine dioxide tablets or household chlorine bleach weighs little but can literally be a life saver.

4.       Treat your filter with care. If the cartridge gets damaged, it may let contaminated water past it.

 Finding uncontaminated water, even in remote wilderness, is a risky business. With proper treatment though, you can make some pretty sketchy water drinkable.


Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho