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Backpacking is tremendously fun. But the biggest downside (for me at least) is that most of the good long trips you’d want to take are too long to carry enough water. If you wanted to do a very long day hike (12+ hours) or a several day overnighter, there simply is no way to carry enough water with you. When it is warm, I need about 5 liters of water for a 12-hour hike. If I had more water I certainly could drink it.

The metric system is nice here. Each liter of water weighs 1 kilogram, which is 2.2 pounds. So carrying 5 liters of water is carrying 11 pounds. If I needed any more than that, I would prefer to find water on trail than carry much more (after all, one must carry other important things, like tripods!). When I was young your best option for getting wild water was to carry iodine with you. For those of you familiar with iodine, the prospect of swigging iodine treated water is not very tantalizing. I found it disgusting – but at least it sanitized water. When I was a teenager some pretty decent handheld portable filters began to be sold, increasing your options. The filters usually require two steps … first pumping water through a microfilter and then treating with a chlorine-like chemical to kill any remaining nasties.

I still have my microfilter/pump from 16 years ago. And then I met a fellow on a trail a few weeks ago looking at me with pity as I lay huddled over a creekbed with my pump. Why? He had one of these sticking in a bottle that he had easily dipped in the creek:

That is called a Steripen. It works by beaming UV light through your water to kill all the nasties. The one I saw was about 2.5 ounces, can be charged with a USB attachment and can clean about 8,000 liters of water more (or as) effectively as any of the treatment methods from above. What I find interesting about this is that it could treat about 21 liters of water per day, every day for a year. The machine costs (depending on the model) less than $100. The electricity to charge it would probably cost around $5.00 per year, or the batteries something closer to $20 per year. So, we can deliver enough clean water for cooking and consumption for about $120 using this technology that can fit in one’s bag pocket. Why is this interesting? Because 20 liters is the estimate of how much clean water one requires for basic human needs. Given that one of the most serious problems facing the poor around the world is access to clean water, and that most of the water consumed in the poorest countries requires billions of hours of time spent walking to and from water sources that are reliable, this sort of technology appears to me to represent something to be pretty optimistic about, and does not require us to depend on water companies to deliver it in order to obtain.

For those folks who do not have access to clean tap water, the Steripen really represents a massive dive into the prosperity pool, and even for those of us fortunate enough to force ourselves into positions of scarcity as a matter of leisure.

7 Responses to “Cleaning Up the Prosperity Pool”

  1. Harry says:

    Does all the water you encounter in eastern mountains have to be treated? Is there any point upstream where there is no giardia, for example?

    • wintercow20 says:

      I generally treat it all, as small microbes like cryptosporidium tend to be there. That said, I HAVE taken drinks from upstream without getting ill.

  2. The Steripen is a great invention!
    That said, though, many questions remain. I mean, do animals “get sick” drinking from streams? What do you mean by “sick”? By not having to handle these indigenous microflora, you are reducing the abilities of your immune system. How was it that the Europeans found any surviving Native Americans who must have been “sick” for like 10,000 years? And what did those Europeans drink before the practice of boiling or iodine or now the Steripen. The real problem with water is that it does become polluted by human by-products when humans live close together. But, you know, catfish might have a different view of that. Then you eat the catfish without question, but not without Cajun sauce, of course.

    I said before that long ago our science club went out into the open country and the guide drank from the stream, but cautioned us not to as we were not used to what-ever-all was in the water there. So, I understand… Just sayin’….

  3. … also while metric might be convenient because 5 liters is 11 pounds, the basic conversion is “A pint’s a pound the world around.” And a liter being about a quart is about two pints (2.1+)

    Metric is not “natural” by any stretch of the imagination. Originally the meter was 10,000 km from the equator to the North Pole. Not bad. Now it is 1,650,763.73 red-orange wavelengths of krypton-86. Umm…. point seven three?? How convenient is that? And where do I get some Krypton-86?

    You might think that 10 is “natural” because you have ten fingers. But if you count off the three flanges of each of the other four with your thumb, you get 12. Until the mid-19th century, Germanic coinages were routinely in 12ths of a Taler because that allowed, halves, thirds, etc. What’s a third of 10? or 100? 12 = 3 + 4 + 5, of course, and if you lay out a string of those measures, you get a right angle, guaranteed. Got any metric decimals that can do that?

    The metric system is not “scientific” but only state-driven.

  4. Harry says:

    For Wintercow’s and Alex’s info, WordPress capriciously still blocks me as spam.
    This occurs even when I reboot my ancient previously cool IPhone 3. Not sure whether this post will get through, but I wonder about
    collectivists having corrupted my IP address, or if my emails to the WordPress developers may have been taken the wrong way. I did tell them that in their effort to supply bells and whistles, they may have shut out half the world from their “customers.” I think I was too loose when I referred to WC’s blog, and
    I hope I did not attract unwanted attention.

    I will ask my friends at the AT&T store whether I can change the
    IP address without jeopardizing my unlimited data plan, along with the other arrangements I have. However, WordPress has to do their part with their business, too.

    I have noticed some of the visitors to theunbrokenwindow, including a visit from Buenos
    Aires, a city in a country not known for economic enlightenment. Someone down there tuned into the beacon in Rochester. We need to spread the word of freedom.

  5. Trey says:

    The last iodine tablet bottle I purchased came with a separate bottle of neutralizer. This worked quite well on my hike starting in Yosemite Valley up to the high country (Tuolumne) and back. The taste was much better after the neutralizer.


    Provided one has access to electricity or fresh batteries, the steripen costs less.

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