Monday, April 11, 2011

A Gear Review: MSR Water Filter

If you do a lot of hiking in to a fishing spot, you know you need a bit more gear than the average fisherman does. One of those things is either enough water to last the day (which can be over a gallon on those really hot days. Holy Burdens Batman!) or a way to filter the water that you find there.

Several years ago I was an avid overnight backpacker; making several multi-day trips a year. One year I decided it would be a good idea to hiking up on the Appalachian Trail over the Fourth of July Weekend. The trip was mostly great. It is a sight to see to sit in camp on the top of a mountain, looking down in the valley and watching dozens of fireworks displays going off all at once. The crappy part?

Water. I only had about half a gallon with me when I left thinking that would be enough to make it up and then the next day to the first stream to refill. Well, if you've ever been to PA in July, it gets hot. Really hot. And this weekend was unseasonably hot, with a heat index of over 100* (as I found out after the fact.)

By the time I was to the top and going to make camp, I had a little less than a pint left to make my dinner and drink, leaving none for the next day.  The next day I hiked for 2 hours on no water until I found essentially a large, scummy pool of water. I scooped away the algae and used my Pur water filter to get enough clean water to get me, not just to the next water source, but back off the mountain.

I learned 2 things that weekend. Water filters are a god-send and you will always burn through more water then you expect. Since then I always have a water filter with me, even on day hikes.

That Pur filter was great, but eventually they stopped making filters for it. At the recommendation from the store clerk, I got the MSR Sweetwater (see link below.)

What I really liked about my Pur was that there was not chemical to put in, you pumped, the water when through the filter and out it came. The MSR does have the additive. i wasn't too crazy about it, but if it makes my water safer to drink.....

So this weekend, while hiking/fishing, I decided to give it a trial run.

So on the way back I kept my eye out for a good candidate of water to try. The instructions say to use the cleanest water you can find, but......I figured any old pump can clean out a fast flowing spring stream. I wanted something murky. Nasty. Something that would let me know that this did not do it's job.

And boy, did I hit the jackpot!

Yes, those are frog eggs in there. Mmm-mmm good!

This filter supposedly cleans 1.25 liters a minute. I'd believe it because I had filled my Gatorade bottle in no time flat. It was very easy to assemble. I had unpacked it and about 30 seconds later I was filling up my bottle. It was a little more difficult to get apart. The hoses to and from the unit just slide on over plastic tabs, I was a little afraid I would tear the tubes trying to pull them off the tabs to break it down. This could probably be corrected by putting a little spit on the tabs before putting the hoses on. 

The first couple of pumps gave black, black water. Uh-oh, I thought. But a few more pumps cleared it right up. I rinsed out the bottle and filled it up about 3/4 of the way. 

The directions state to add 5 drops of the Sweetwater chemical, shake 10 seconds and then wait 5 minutes before drinking. I added a few more drops do to the brackishness of the water source and shook for 30 seconds and started to walk. 

5-10 minutes later I stop to take my first sampling of this Sweetwater. I could taste the treating chemical in it, but it wasn't too bad. If you've ever had tap water from a metropolitan area, well, it wasn't as bad as that, but you could tell it was treated. On a hot day, away from any other water source, I sure wouldn't complain. And since I added the additional 3 drops to less than a pint, that may account for the taste as well. 

It's been a few days now. No shaking, no illness. No turning into a brain eating zombie. But I'll keep my hopes up for next time. 

The unit comes in around 11 oz, so it is nothing to take and throw in the bottom of a back and forget it's there. But be forewarned that the chemical additive does expire so it will need to be replaced periodically. 

So for less than a pound in the pack, you can have an unlimited supply of fresh water. While I may grumble and groan about needed to have the additive, this does what it's designed to do, give clean water while in the back country. It's easy to assemble and fills the bottles quickly. While the taste may be less than pure mountain goodness on this instance, I've had worse while at restaurants to eat. 

So for that, I give an Thumbs Up.


  1. Glad to hear you lived through that little experiment. If I ever need a royal food taster, I'm calling on you.

  2. not as glad as I am. And I'll take the job, but only if I get to wear pantaloons. I've been looking for a reason to wear them out of the house... i mean....

  3. Ha...Dangerous territory Anthony!