Why you need to purify your water
Giardiasis, aka “Beaver Fever”, is contracted through ingesting the single celled parasite called Giardia. Beaver Fever will bring an abrupt end to whatever journey you are on with the onset of violet diarrhea. Violent enough that any amount of food or drink you ingest will be expelled almost immediately. Sound like fun? Didn’t think so, and this is why it is important to clean any water source you drink from, even if the water looks crystal clear.
Giardia, Campylobacter, and Cryptosporidium are three common parasites and bacteria that may be in your water source. As water travels further away from its mountain source, the greater the chance that it contains some of the above mentioned bacteria, or a host of others.
Boiling your water
The surefire way to kill off any bacteria, parasites, and viruses is by boiling the water for a minimum of 1 minute (or at least 2 minutes if you are above 2000m). The downside to boiling water is that it will use your precious fuel, can be time consuming, you can only boil a pot-full at a time, and you will have to wait for the water to cool before you can drink it.
Using a filter or purifier
The alternative to boiling water is filtration or purification. Filters are either hand pumped or gravity-fed, and work to remove bacteria from the water. Filters are popular because they are quick to use and don’t affect the taste of the water. On the down side, they are heavier and don’t remove viruses (but viruses are rare in North American wilderness waters). Simple filters can cost as little as $25, with better models more suited for multi-day trips ranging from $75 – $300.
I have personally used the Katadyn Vario Microfilter on extended hiking trips. Purification tablets or drops tend to be a lot cheaper but can make the water taste bad. I personally find the drops don’t affect the taste of water as much as tablets do. The downside to using a purifier is you typically have to let it sit in your water for about 30 minutes while it does its thing before you can drink the water. The SteriPEN, a tool that purifies water by sending out ultra-violet rays, is another option. Purifiers are generally effective, but chlorine-based purifiers won’t protect against Crypto. If you’re worried, a combination of filtration and purification is your best bet.