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Hydration | Keeping water safe | On the go
March 2016

Keeping water safe

on the go

Whether hiking, cycling, camping, rowing, travelling or doing any other activity where there is a need to collect and store water, customers could be risking their health. RHIANAH RHODE looked at the options for sports and outdoor customers who collect and carry possibly contaminated water

On average, adults should drink at least two litres of water per day, and even more when participating in activities that cause them to sweat, and lose more fluids than usual. In urban areas where clear, safe, chlorinated water is available at the turn of a tap, staying hydrated poses no problem.

But, access to clean, safe water is becoming a bigger problem across the country: not even all urban communities have this privilege and many in informal settlements have to share their water sources with animals ... or ablution facilities. In rural areas and even former pristine outdoor spots pollution have almost made the concept of a clear mountain stream obsolete.

Although water in streams, lakes, rivers, etc. may look clean and harmless, human and animal waste, chemicals, and other pollutants dumped in natural bodies of water can cause people to become severely ill.

Contaminated water can cause cholera, typhoid, polio, bilharzia and gastrointestinal diseases that the World Health Organisation say are responsible for about 5% of all deaths worldwide, and 1 in 9 of all child deaths. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention about 1.5-m people, mostly children, die from severe diarrhoea per year — and 88% of all diarrhoea — associated deaths are attributed to unsafe water.

This is a global problem, as many tourists experienced in countries where even drinking the tap water can spoil a holiday.

Untreated water can contain micro-organisms like bacteria (single-cell microscopic organisms like campylobacter, salmonella, shigella, E. coli), protozoa (parasites that can target the central nervous system) and viruses (infective parasites like hepatitis A, B, C, etc.), which can cause deadly diseases like hepatitis and meningitis in addition to gastrointestinal illnesses.

Clean, uncontaminated water is therefore not merely nice to have … it is a health essential.

In the outdoors, regardless of the activity, carrying a daily quota of at least two litres of water means two kilograms of additional weight that can be avoided if your customer has the means to make the available water safe. There are a number of treatment methods that your customers can use to protect themselves against any water-borne diseases.

Purify or filter

There are two methods of treating unclean water: purifying or filtering. The latter also makes the water more palatable by removing sediment, grass and other impurities.

Purifying eliminates contaminants like bacteria, protozoa and viruses, but do not remove anything from the water. Therefore, if the water contains any insoluble impurities like silt, leaves, grass, etc., these would have to be filtered out of the water before it is purified. On the other hand, to make sure that the filtered water does not contain harmful viruses, purifying the water is recommended.

Purifiers are usually much smaller and lighter than filters and are therefore easier to carry when space and weight are issues.

The simplest and probably most cost-effective way to purify water is to boil it, but this method takes time to set up, and then you have to contain your thirst while waiting for water to boil and then cool down. This method may be suitable for campers who will be using stoves and cooking systems on their trips, but won’t be as practical for other activities like trail running, cycling, hiking, travelling, etc.

Ultraviolet radiation

One method of treating the dangerous micro-organisms like bacteria, protozoa and viruses is the use of ultraviolet light that stops them from reproducing, which causes the illnesses.

The ultraviolet steriPEN is a small, ultralight, handheld, water purifier, which can at the push of a button sterilise a litre of water, says Deidre Pieters from local distributor Ram Mountaineering.

It is compact and therefore ideal for use when hiking, kayaking, bicycle touring or when travelling to places like India, most African countries, Asia, South America and even certain parts of South Africa, where the quality of tap water is doubtful. It is useful anywhere clean drinking water is hard to come by.

This purifying method can be used with any water source, but water should be filtered to get rid of any sediment first as it will not work if the water is too murky, which will block the light rays and prevent them from effectively reaching and destroying the microorganisms.

The fact that SteriPEN does not remove anything form the water, however, means no loss of minerals needed for hydration. It also does not leave any chemical aftertaste as is the case with some other purification methods.

This device will therefore work optimally for purifying clear water that does not contain biological, chemical or metal contaminants.

But, these ultraviolet zappers work with batteries, which can become quite costly if it needs constant replacement, and do not operate well in low temperatures, which could leave your customer stranded with no way of purifying his water at all.

The batteries are different for each product, says Pieters, but on average customers should be able to have 100 purification applications per set of batteries. Overall, SteriPEN lasts between 4000-8000 treatments, depending on the unit type. They also offer rechargeable options in the SteriPEN range.

In order to ensure the product has a long lifespan, consumers should always replace the lamp cover after use to protect the lamp, she adds.

Chemical treatments

Chemical treatments like chlorine and iodine, which come in liquid or tablet form, are other lightweight solutions for killing bacteria, protozoa and viruses. Because they are small, they can easily be transported when travelling lightly.

But, they leave a bad aftertaste and require a waiting period of approximately 30 minutes to four hours before being fully effective on different types of contaminants. Customers can, however, add flavouring to their water after treatment to remove any bad taste. The waiting period issue can also be resolved by carrying more than one container that allows the user to drink from one and use the other to treat their water without disrupting their ability to quench their thirst — but this will add weight and bulk.

Aqua Salveo is a water purifying liquid solution that requires only three drops per litre of water to kill fungi, parasites and improve its taste, says Andrew Taylor from local distributor Lite Optec. Just one such application will keep water pathogen-free for 24 months, which is good news for hydration pack users who don’t empty and clean their containers very often.

It contains copper, silver and zinc ions, which further helps to boost the immune system and the product has a five year shelf life.

This water purifier is ideal for a number of situations — including hiking, camping, mountain climbing, cycling, etc.— but one has to collect water from a flowing source that does not contain any toxic chemicals, which it cannot remove, explains Taylor.

Because Aqua Salveo does not remove any solid matter from the water, it is advisable to use a pre-filter in conjunction with it, adds Taylor.

Using filters

Filters come in various guises, from a simple filter cloth or paper to remove impurities, to hi-tech filter devices that mechanically remove chemicals, bacteria and protozoa through a straining system.

A brand like MSR, for example, provides a wide range of water filters, from high capacity water treatment, to the efficiency of gravity powered filtration, or compact pump-operated filters, which are ideal for use any time or place — from day hikes, to expeditions, family camping to large base camps — where you need clean water and there is a source available, explains Rob French from local distributor Outward Ventures.

These devices do not use reactive chemicals and therefore require no waiting period before drinking the filtered water. They are easy to use and to re-assemble after cleaning.

But, filters do not kill viruses.

The mechanical nature of these devices does mean they need some maintenance, but they are easy to clean and service. “MSR also just released the new Guardian filter, which filters 10 000l, offers full viral protection, filters bacteria, protozoa and particulates, and is the only filter on the market that is self-cleaning!” says French.

Depending on the filter being used, these products could only require a filter replacement after 2 000l of water has been filtered at a litre per minute.

The latest development in portable water filters is a steel filtration device that uses a two-stage filtration process to remove bacteria, protozoa, cloudiness, bad tastes and odours. The Lifestraw Steel won an ISPO Gold award in the Outdoor segment at the 2016 ISPO Munich show. It also reduces chemicals such as chlorine, pesticides and fertilisers and can filter up to 1 000l of water without the need for electrical power, batteries or chemicals.

It has a BPA-free, durable stainless steel body that makes it lightweight and portable. Lifestraw is locally distributed by Adventure Inc.

How to carry collected water

When it comes to water carriers customers are spoilt for choice as there are a number of water carrying options ranging from bottles, to hydration packs and vests. Many also have anti-microbial treatments to prevent the water being contaminated when stored for a long time.

Many bottle and hydration pack manufacturers have designed their products to accommodate purification or filtration devices, for example, with a wider mouth.

The wide-mouthed design of the GSI 1l and 750ml Dukjug, for example, allows the fitting of a SteriPEN pre-filter. The BPA-free, fully recyclable and crush-resistant water bottle made from polypropylene is locally distributed by Ram Mountaineering. It also features an integrated recessed area for storing up to 2m of emergency duct tape. “The silicone grip easily rolls over the wrapped tape to protect it,” explains Pieters.

When transporting water it is important to ensure that the carrier or container is properly cleaned in order to prevent any spread of possible bacteria that may remain from previous uses or those that could grow from leaving a wet bottle or hydration reservoir for days without cleaning.

  • Recommend that customers clean and dry their water bottles and reservoirs properly after each use.
  • If the containers are dishwasher safe it is advisable to place them in the machine regularly to prevent bacteria, which thrives in dark and moist environments, from forming.
  • Hot water mixed with baking soda, bicarbonate or bleach can work to kill germs that develop in a water bottle or reservoir. Let the mixture stand for approximately 30 minutes before rinsing with warm water and soap. With reservoirs it is also suitable to let the mixture run through the drinking tube to cleanse it.
  • Even after cleaning always allow carriers to air dry in order to prevent mould from forming due to moisture.
  • Storing bottles and bladders in the freezer after cleaning will also further help kill bacteria.

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