The highly effective water filter you want for base camp

The world of backcountry water filters is surprisingly scary. As someone who had Giardia and Norovirus in Peru 15 years ago and picked up something that may still be hanging in my gut, I can tell you there is a lot at stake. There is no governing body that regulates the effectiveness of physical filters. (The FDA only approves chemical water treatment products like Potable Aqua or Iodine Tablets.) Although there are testing standards for water filters used by the military – I highly recommend checking the NSF P248 protocol that some brands use – they don’t mandate civilian products.

Without a single standard, it is important to be careful and do your research when buying a filter. But if you want to skip it For these steps I recommend the Platypus GravityWorks 4.0 liter system. I’ve used it to purify hundreds of gallons of water and it’s great for group back country activities or emergency scenarios.

In September, my wife, three-year-old daughter Jojo, and I evacuated when the Almeda fire began less than a mile from our home in southern Oregon. My wife and Jojo immediately picked up the phone while I stayed to wrap up the important papers, the most prized cuddly toys, and the GravityWorks system. I drove into many unknowns this morning, but I can’t exaggerate how comforting it was to throw the filter into my car over the haphazardly packed suitcases. The fear of not knowing if we would return to a standing house (we were the lucky ones to do) was greatly alleviated by knowing that we would at least have access to drinking water as long as we could find a place River. That peace of mind is priceless.

(Photo: Courtesy of Platypus)

The GravityWorks 4.0 is remarkably easy to use. I got my first one in May 2014 and couldn’t believe I hadn’t made the investment before that. I was notorious among my kayak friends for how reckless I was as a young man with my intestinal fauna, which really caught up with me in my mid-twenties (see: rap sheet about intestinal problems above). When I started using this model, I couldn’t believe how much diarrhea, vomiting, and general malaise I went through to avoid the simple three minute process of filtering my water. The design is so simple that I would trust a precocious third grader to filter my water. Simply fill the clearly marked “DIRTY” bubble with unfiltered water and lift it up Click on “CLEAN” and make sure that the filter arrow that marks the “FLOW” of the filter changes from “CLEAN” to “DIRTY”. That’s it.

The GravityWorks 4.0 also filters lightning-fast water that makes it great for groups. This filter takes about a minute to set up and runs at more than 1.5 liters per minute. (Multitasking is easy when you can find the right branches to hang the bags on.) I can filter water for several people (and even a liter or so) in less than 20 minutes when we reach a water source. With this system, I took my in-laws with me on their first backpacking trip in the summer of 2014 and kept all members of our group of seven hydrated and boiled water with very little effort. While you can find lighter filters out there – this one is nearly 12 ounces – it’s worth the extra weight if you have a lot of water to clean up.

But the most important feature of this filter is the most important. It meets all EPA and NSF guidelines for bacteria and protozoa removal, although this is not required by law. This means I don’t have to worry about getting a nasty bug using it in the US. (It doesn’t filter out viruses like chemical treatments and my international travel Favorite, the MSR Guardian ($ 350, but pretty much any water I’ll be filtering out of in the US probably doesn’t have these issues.) That level of confidence is key to dealing with a resource as precious as Water.

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Main photo: Sarah Jackson

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