A kayak is already limited when it comes to space for stowing gear, so it is prudent to go out on the water armed with the knowledge and compact gear to acquire safe drinking water. Knowledge of water filtration and purification are the fundamental keys to a safe and enjoyable kayak adventure anywhere in the world. This article will deal with purifying fresh water since desalinization of sea water requires different equipment. There are desalinization filters that could fit on a sea kayak, but freshwater equipment is much smaller.
What’s In The Water?
The clearest mountain stream may look fresh enough to invite taking a drink directly from the running stream. However, there may be any number of pathogens living in that clear water. It is not so much the visible turbidity (particulate matter) that is of concern but rather the microscopic organisms and dissolved chemicals and heavy metals. There are very few wild water sources safe enough to drink without treatment. However, not everyone will get sick every time even when drinking questionable water. It depends on what is in it, how much, and the present condition of the immune system of the person drinking in the microscopic organisms. Metals and chemicals will have a negative effect on everyone.
The primary pathogens in wild water sources are viruses, bacteria and protozoa. A virus example is Hepatitis A, a bacterium sample is E-coli, and protozoa examples include giardia and cryptosporidium. The sizes of these little monsters that can wreak havoc on a human body vary from 0.02 to 15 microns. Therefore a filter that will filter out particles as small as 0.02 microns will effectively remove the viruses, bacteria and protozoans.
For those with already compromised immune systems such as diabetics, there is a risk of even splashing one’s face with contaminated water. Drinking it is inviting the pathogens on board to do as they please with the human body. It usually starts with protozoa causing cramping, vomiting and severe diarrhea. Not a great way to spend a kayaking adventure or to be laid up for days or even hospitalized after even a single day of kayaking.
Making Water Safe to Drink
Water is heavy. At eight pounds per gallon and a minimum of a couple of gallons per day per person, that is a significant amount of weight to add to a kayak for a three day adventure. A two day trip for one person is 32 pounds of water plus the space the containers would take up. There is a better way.
Modern filters made for outdoor enthusiasts are small, lightweight and can filter hundreds of gallons of water before needing a filter replaced. Some filters also kill viruses in the water with iodine. Iodine is a halogen as is bleach. Iodine can impart an odd taste to water, but an activated charcoal filter can remove that taste.
Purchase three or four Nalgene water bottles with wide mouth lids for filling and a pop up spout for drinking. The four bottles can be refilled along the kayaking voyage negating the need to stow large amounts of water to be used on the trip. The kayaker can usually filter and treat water directly from the water the kayak is floating on without even getting out of the kayak.
Katadyn is a world renowned company that makes water filtration products for outdoor enthusiasts. They have pump models and even sport water bottles with filters built in that will make water safe to drink. However, the onus is on the user to choose the water to be filtered carefully. Agricultural pesticides and other chemicals and heavy metals from manufacturing cannot be filtered out with portable water filtration methods. Doing a little research of the water sources in the area of the adventure before heading out is wise.
The Katadyn Pocket filter is an excellent choice for the outdoor enthusiast. Add an activated charcoal filter and water bottles can be filled quickly with water that is filtered through a silver impregnated ceramic filter. The filtered water is then run through the activated charcoal before going into a water bottle to remove any foul tastes and odors that are lingering.
Redundancy is the key to wilderness survival, so keeping a supply of Katadyn Micropur water treatment tablets as standard expedition gear will make double certain water is safe to drink. It takes 30 minutes for the tablets to kill bacteria and viruses and two hours to kill giardia depending on water temperature. The tablets can be used without a filter. When using the tablets, filtration is mainly to remove turbidity (visible particulate matter). Filtering with a pocket filter and redundantly using the Micropur tabs makes double sure the water will not have any bacteria, viruses or protozoa.
With a quality wilderness water filtration device and a biocide in pill, powder or liquid form along with a bit of pre-trip research on regional water source contaminants and quality reports, a kayaker can enjoy an extended back country trip without getting sick from the water. The Environmental Protection Agency has indicated that over 90% of the world’s water is contaminated. Do not take any chances. Treat it before you drink it.