Caring for Your Water Filter
Water treatment is one of the most important pieces of gear that an outdoorsperson carries. Whether you’re headed out on a quick day hike or a week-long kayaking adventure, at some point, you’re going to need to drink some water. If your trip is short enough, you can carry enough water with you, but the tools to purify water should always be included in your first aid kit.
There are many different methods of purifying water, and the most popular is a water filter. Battery-operated pumps, gravity filters, squeeze filters or straws all have the same insides and in order to keep your filter in tip-top shape, you’ll want to adopt a maintenance routine that you perform after every outdoor adventure.
The first thing you want to be sure you’re doing with your water filter is protecting the outflow end (where the clean water comes out) from any contact with the inflow end, or any other source of dirty water. Some filters come with a plastic cover to go over the outflow nipple, and others have long enough tubing that you should be able to avoid any contact. If the outflow end does get dirty, you’ll need to avoid using it until it can be removed from the filter and washed with hot, soapy water.
Any time you filter water you’re pushing debris through the filter. The filter will eventually become clogged if you don’t backflush it. Some filters come with an extra syringe to fill with clean water and attach to the outflow end of the filter. Forcing clean water backwards through the filter will dislodge any debris that is caught in the filter. Be sure to do this away from your clean water and any water sources! If you go a long time between backflushes, you’ll have to apply more pressure and the dirty water will be pretty gross. It is ideal to backflush your filter after every trip, or on long trips, at least twice a week.
Filters work because they are filled with microscopic cells that are small enough to trap microbes and bacteria from passing through. If these cells become damaged, the filter is unreliable. Damage can occur from backflushing too forcefully (which is why its important to do so regularly!), blunt force damage to the filter or freezing temperatures (because any tiny amount of water left in the cells will expand when it freezes). Be sure to keep your filter on your body (either around your neck or in a pocket) any time there is a risk of temperatures dropping near freezing. There is no way to tell if the cells have been damaged. Always treat your filter with care!
Filters are a quick and easy way to purify your water in the backcountry, but if not cared for properly, they can fail. Always be mindful of where your filter is and clean it regularly to keep it in a reliable, working order!