Wherever I am in the world, wherever my adventures, challenges and expeditions take me, the requirement for adequate hydration is at the top of my list of priorities. From the searing heat of a desert to the uncomfortable ‘slow-boil’ of a jungle, to the frozen spaces of the Arctic circle or during adventures and challenges closer to home, the need to remain hydrated is equally important.
Sometimes, often, finding water can absolutely consume your psychological state. I’ve had this proven many times when on adventures and water was in short supply, causing me to stop, find and harvest water, make it safe and then move on but with the worry of running out of the precious liquid a constant source of irritation, fear and distraction.
Dehydration, in extreme cases, can cause severe illness or loss of life, but even mild dehydration has a myriad of psychological effects which could lead to a lack of success or complete failure such as increased irritability, reduced cognitive function, physical pain, lethargy and reduced physical performance.
In very simple terms, hydration is important.
One challenge of remaining hydrated in the field is being able to carry or having access to a sufficient supply of fluid.
The amount of water required by each individual to sustain life and high performance levels is determined by many variables such as; individual physiology, health and pre-existing conditions, diet, the environment, the weather (temperature, wind, humidity etc) and the level of exertion. However, if we work on a very approximate and generalised figure of each individual requiring 1.5 to 2.0 litres of water a day, unless you have reliable source of replenishment, that equates to carrying an additional 1.5kg to 2.0kg in your pack (or other load carrying solution).
A simple three day trip in to the wilderness, without access to a dependable source to replenish stocks with safe water, would require you to carry up to 6.0kg – or more, depending on conditions – of additional weight and that, when added to a pack weight for the same time period, is quite a lot (even though the weight will diminish as stocks are used).
Of course, without dependable access to stocks of clean, safe drinking water supplies you could still opt to ‘go-thin’ on the amount that you carry, relying on bushcraft and survival techniques to locate, harvest and ‘purify’ water to the point where it is safe for consumption.
Personally, my choice is usually to ‘go-thin’, relying on my ability to find harvest and purify additional water as and when required.
Finding water is challenging enough, but making that water safe to drink brings the challenge to a far higher level.
There are many tried and tested ways of making water ‘safer’ to drink, from simple filtration (survival course style through a spare sock!), to boiling, distillation, wicking and using purification tablets (in whatever form). These days there are fast and efficient solutions available in the form of products from a range of manufacturers which are designed to make creating potable water for the travelling adventurer a simple, fast and efficient process (‘straws’, ‘bottles’, ‘in-line systems’ and ‘pumps’)
But, as much as water sustains life, contaminated water can cause poor performance, serious illness or even death so how do you know that the money that you spend on these products is money well invested rather than dangerously spent?
When you’re choosing a water purification system there are three primary concerns.
The first concern is the capability of the device to protect you against microbiological hazards. Many manufacturers and retailers generally refer to products as ‘filters’, however there is a distinct difference between ‘filters’ and ‘purifiers’. The former protects against bacteria and cysts and the latter also protect against viruses. You can spot a reputable supplier by the fact that they will openly state, almost as a ‘warning’, that their products don’t offer virus level protection rather than just omitting the fact on their packaging and sales material.
The second issue to be concerned with is the effective life of the product. Some manufacturers quote figures which appear to be rather inaccurate and don’t take into consideration other factors such as the turbidity of the water to be filtered when estimating the life of the unit. Purchasers and manufacturers like to associate a metric, an amount by which the success of their product can be measured, but if not explained properly then unsuspecting travellers may find themselves in a difficult situation. For example, filtering water from a hotel tap in an area where poor water quality may be suspected will give the product a far greater life than if used by an adventurer drawing water from a mountain or moorland stream in spate.
The third area of concern (at least, that concerns me!) is ‘sustainability’. People likely to be using water filtration and purification products inevitably have a high level of affinity with the health of the planet and therefore they place a high value on the level of sustainability of the products that they choose and use. When considering the sustainability of the products that you choose, the obvious factors such as ‘materials used’, ‘company CSR commitment’, ‘manufacturing processes’ and ‘equipment disposal and recycling’ usually come to mind, but also consider the toughness and durability of the product (lifespan) and the value of the product (a £60 water purification ‘bottle’ is far less likely to become litter than a £0.60 single use bottle of water!). And don’t be too quick to place steel flasks above plastic equivalents in the sustainability stakes; it takes far more energy to create a metal drinking vessel and far more energy to dispose of or recycle it.
To summarise, water can sustain life and water can take life and often the difference between the two is determined by research and preparation. If you’re travelling, make sure that you know where you can obtain potable water and if you need a water filtration or purification system then make sure that the system that you invest in is suitable for your particular needs.