So I'm newer to backpacking. I posted a question recently about my gear selection and got a lot of help here. I've been using the Sawyer Mini here in Montana where I live backpacking. The Spring Runoff is bad this year. It's also causing a lot of junk, debris, and probably bacteria to get into the water in creeks I backpack along.
I'm sort of paranoid or fearful of illnesses on the trail. The ticks are also really, really, bad this year. I really don't want any tick-borne illnesses so I've treated my clothing with Permithirn which has worked well for me. Now what about water?
I've researched CDC articles on the topic and the only surefire way to treat water for complete bacteriological safety is boiling. Boiling is such a pain. I've also thought about Purchasing a Grayl Water Bottle which is a purifier. I do like how convenient the sawyer mini is, but there appears to be certain diseases the CDC says filters won't handle well at all.
Many of these diseases are viral but not all of them. In the Northwest do I need to worry about waterborne diseases outside of what the sawyer mini won't take care of? What's your experience with this?
Loc: Portland, OR
If you are careful not to cross-contaminate your filtered water with unfiltered water, a Sawyer Mini should reliably remove bacteria, even when it is numerous enough that unfiltered water could cause you problems.
If there are likely to be cattle grazing upstream from where you pull your water, then bacteria might be plentiful. In the high mountains where snowmelt is the primary source of water, I would not worry much about bacteria at all. Large volumes of water will tend to dilute bacteria in any event. Natural springs, a few feet from their source, provide much the safest water out there.
In the high mountain west, I'd try to be aware of any potential problems with polluted runoff from old mining tailings. A filter won't really solve that for you. The Rockies and the Sierra have many old mines. The Cascades, being volcanic, have very few old mines to worry about.
Loc: Washington State, King County
If this has you really worried, you could use both filtration and chemicals. So after filtration, something like aqua mira or other formulation of chlorine dioxide. I think I've done this a couple of times tops in a lot of backpacking, but there are a lot of variables at work. It's not enough for someone to say "I've done X and not gotten ill so you'll be fine doing X too" --- just not enough data to really know from something like that.
Still ... I think that as a rule of thumb in the U.S., either (proper) filtration or chemical treatment is likely enough.
One of the tough things here is the incubation period; you generally don't get sick from a waterborne pathogen right away, or rather, you don't experience symptoms. Of those who do get ill, while some might opine that they "know" just what it was that got them sick, I think generally they don't know. And there's always the speculation that they might have gotten sick from other hygiene issues --- most commonly speculated as something like "shared food with someone who didn't clean their hands properly after using the toilet".
I've used the mini-Sawyer in a lot of diverse environments from the Canadian Rockies to desert mts. , to swamps and the bogs of the Northeast. Though I was careful with it's use, I've never worried, never been sick. Greatest worry for me was along the AT and in the Sierra, where trail use is very high.
I've used the Sawyer mini for several years in South Carolina without issue. I just pick up a Katadyn Befree filter to try, but no experience yet. I've seen decent reviews on it so far. I'm optimistic, since the flow appears to be faster.
I have one I've taken on maybe ten 2-day trips. The flow has reduced quite a bit even though I'm not aware of running any particularly dirty water (put intended). This last trip it was very slow, I had to backflush every other litre to get anything out of it at all. I'll probably pick up a Saywer Squeeze before my next trip in a few weeks but am stubbornly trying to clear it with hot water and vinegar soaks just to see if it's possible. If I do give up on it I might cut it open to see what's inside and if any obstructions are visible.
Loc: Portland, OR
I tend to backflush my mini each day while I'm on a trip and again when I get home before storing it. It's not that I am filtering particularly dirty water, but when the porosity of the filter is a couple of microns, it will trap particles not visible to the eye. My frequent backflushing seems to keep it happy.
I restored my Mini to pretty good shape with several alternating warm water and vinegar treatments. I recently took it on a Grand Canyon trip in late June - early July and conclude that it's fine as a backup but insufficient for hot-weather full-time use. Where we were hiking in the Grand Canyon there was plenty of excellent tap water readily available which we drank a lot of all day long. I took one side trip up Phantom Creek and gave up my tap water to a couple who had run out and were taking a break in one of the few shady spots on the main trail. I immediately filled my bag with clear creek water and started trying to sip from the Mini attached to the bag. There were two problems with that approach: First, I was consuming a lot of water in the July heat and I practically had to stop walking to squeeze the bag to get a decent flow. Second, carrying the bag with the filter attached put a lot of stress on the top of the bag by the screw top no matter how I held it.
The Mini is fine in winter, but before I go out again in the summer I'll get something like the Squeeze.