Across much of the developed world, no one pays much attention to drinking water. Denmark is reputed as having the cleanest tap water in the world, followed by several European nations.
The US is nowhere near the top, but tap water is clean and fit to consume across much of this vast nation.
Travel further away to India or the Philippines, and you are out of luck. As a tourist, you have to spend a fortune to buy bottled water. At five liters per person per day, the expenses quickly mount.
The answer to having access to clean and cheap drinking water while traveling is to use portable water filters.
Choosing a Portable Water Filtration System – Key Points
What causes illness while traveling?
- Virus: Rotavirus, Norovirus, Hepatitis A
- Bacteria: E. Coli, Salmonella, Shigella
- Protozoa: Giardia, Cryptosporidium
The only way to avoid these is to use high-quality portable water filters that clean your water to the greatest extent possible. Note that in spite of the most expensive systems, you will not be able to get the purification reverse osmosis filtration provides. However, you are definitely safer with any type of water filter than without it.
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There are a variety of tablets to choose from, such as Purinize or Katadyn. They use chlorine dioxide or sulfate, which can kill many species of pathogens in about half an hour.
Chemical treatment in a glass or pitcher is hardly adequate. They do not affect the sediments, and only work with water that has been already treated in some manner.
Further, there are no studies about the long-term effects of these chemicals. Keep a small pack and use it in an emergency if nothing else is available.
2. UV Pen
UV purifiers are the size of a large thermometer. The device has to be dipped in water, and then it emits UV radiation that kills pathogens.
They are effective, but suffer from the same drawback as tablets. The water needs to be filtered. You can’t use a UV pen if there are solids floating in the water.
When you use a UV pen, be careful that you do not look at the lens of the device when active. UV rays are harmful to humans.
You can use them for purifying up 10,000 liters during the lifespan of the device. Most of them have a sensor that prevents them from operating unless they are immersed. They do not work well if the water is cold or has ice cubes.
SteriPen and Membrane Solutions are the most well-known brands.
3. Multi-Stage Filters
You already use one at home, but those are wall-mounted or inside your refrigerator, and have a fixed water supply. Portable filters are smaller iterations of the same, but do not have the dependable reverse osmosis technology.
In a multi-stage filtration system, the first aim is to remove sediments and filter the water. This stage removes all solid particles.
The sediment filtration is achieved by one or two filters. The jute and cotton sieve removes all visible sediments, and a synthetic filter removes bacteria.
In the next stage, the water is treated by a chlorine pack. As the water passes through the chlorine solution, the germs are destroyed.
After that, most portable filters use activated charcoal. It removes any odor from the water, and renders it fit to drink.
It is a three-stage device, but some brands might use more filters to make it a four-stage filter.
At home, reverse osmosis units use a tap pressure of two psi, whereas portable filters use gravity. This makes them slow, and unfortunately, there is no workaround to this problem yet.
They are sold in packs of four to six, each with a capacity of about 700 ml. If you fill them all, you have about three liters at your disposal. At $10 each, portable filters are a cheap and a reliable solution.
The downside is that they add to the volume of your luggage. But it is better to carry around an extra tote bag than to be admitted to a hospital with cholera.
GRAYL Geopress is a far more expensive filter system, but has an innovative design with a spring press that forces water through the filter to provide water on-demand.
What to Look for
The more stages, the better. With more filters to pass through, the water becomes safer to drink.
2. Pore Size
The best brands have a 0.1-micron filter made of polycarbonate. These tiny pores are able to filter out bacteria. Most bacteria are between 1 and 10 microns and cannot penetrate the filter. Unfortunately, RNA viruses are smaller at about 0.06 microns and make their way through filters quite easily.
The plastic has to be food-grade. In technical terms, it is known as BPA-Free ABS. Unless those magic words are mentioned, keep looking.
For ease of use, do not buy a filter of more than 24 fluid ounces in volume. With filters and other parts, it becomes too bulky to carry.
Unless they can purify 1,000 liters without needing a change of cartridge or filter, it won’t be practical. Remember, whatever the declared capacity, the effective amount will be 75% in actual use. The best brands advertise a lifespan of 1,500 liters before a change of filters is necessary.
Do They Have a Flaw?
Most portable filters are able to handle bacteria and protozoa successfully. They fall short in case of a virus, unless the filter uses chlorine.
That is why it is best to treat water using a filter, and then follow with treatment by a UV pen. You are sure to get rid of sediments, flavors, odor, and pathogens as well as possible.
Never Leave Home Without Insurance
Portable filtration systems are designed to be functional while taking up the least amount of space. Using them does not mean you will not fall ill.
But, modern medicine is able to achieve wonders, and a strong regimen of antibiotics and modern medical care can get you back on your feet in two weeks at most.
Two weeks in a hospital can be mighty expensive. Destinations that lack clean water might also lack subsidized healthcare. Private clinics can provide high-quality care, but charge extreme rates. It is essential that you have insurance in place that can provide coverage at your destination.
For this reason, ensure that you have bought travel insurance or travel medical insurance before leaving home.
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Save the World, and Save Yourself
For a travel buff, a sturdy and dependable water filter is critical. Whether you are hiking high in the Andes, or strolling along the waterfront at Mumbai, staying hydrated is important.
When you use a portable water filter, you also protect the environment. Widespread use of disposable plastic bottles is filling up landfills and polluting the seas.
Plastic bottles are the third-most collected item in Ocean Conservancy’s annual summer beach cleanup across the world.
A million plastic bottles are discarded every minute, and they take 450 years to degrade. Do your part and help the Earth while you travel and enjoy its beauty.
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