Making Your Water Filter Last, by F.J.B.

Making Your Water Filter Last, by F.J.B.

When my four boys were young, we did a lot of backcountry hiking. Usually the trip was only a day or two and didn’t require a lot of gear to pack. Each of us carried our own water. I remember one hike we took in the middle of August. It was a two-day trip with daytime temperatures nearing 110 degrees. We were out surveying on a huge western ranch.

My wife was concerned about our having enough water (in the high desert). To address her understandable concerns, I took along an Indian water-tank back pack. This is similar to the 5-gallon, 90G Indian Pump Fire Extinguishers  that backcountry fire crews use.

It weighed 40 pounds full and had an ineffective baffle that allowed constant sloshing. It was a good thing we weren’t climbing any goat trails, or I would have been lost by having fallen over the edge due to the pull of the water in the tank. As it was, I couldn’t walk a straight line, and anyone who might have seen us would have wondered what that drunk guy was doing out in the sun with those nice boys. 

My first experience with a pocket water filter was much later. One of our sons wanted to hike the Grand Canyon with some of his friends on their Christmas break from college. They had it all figured out: what to take, the route, the timing. As I was told, “It’s all good, Dad.”

I was not going to be tagging along but still needed to be sure they were thinking straight. The day they dropped over the rim for their 7-day hike, we first had to get their backcountry permit.

The ranger asked how much water each man was carrying and made sure they knew that water was not available on the route they were taking. Upon hearing this, I knew they didn’t have enough. A park outfitter had just opened that morning, and I dragged all of them over to it while I went inside.

The only water filter they had was as pricey as it could be at the rim of the Grand Canyon at the last minute. I think I paid $350 for the kit, which was about three times what it would have cost anywhere else. It was a MSR filter kit. I gave it to my son and asked him to pack it. He reluctantly did, and they started on their trip. It was dark and snowing as they dropped over the canyon rim.

Seven days later it was still dark and snowing when I met them all back at the top. It was clear they were pretty well spent. I had forgotten about the water filter until one of the group said to me, “I can’t thank you enough for giving us that water filter before we left. It may have saved our lives. We were out of water on the second day, and the only water we could find was from muddy puddles in rock crevasses.” Needless to say, I was very happy to have sent it with them, too.

The filter stayed in my son’s pack for years before I came across it again. It hadn’t been touched since the day their trip had ended. This meant, of course, that it hadn’t been cleaned either. So, I took it down and cleaned it up but, I got a good look at the filter when I did. It was completely covered with thick dried mud and a greenish dried algae of some sort. They really did have a water emergency while on their trip.

We have all read the incredible things our water filters can do. They are truly a great accomplishment of modern man. The instructions on my Katadyn Micro filter state, “ Suitable for turbid and extremely turbid surface water. Makes the water clear (particles will be removed). Suitable for questionable tap water. Suitable for safe tap water (drinking water quality).“

I am certain that all of these statements are true.  All of the instructions for my other various countertop gravity water filters were the same or similar.

Lake water, river water, water from a creek, rain water, water from a small puddle in a depression in a rock; all are acceptable sources for drinking water through our filters.

It was nearly 10 years ago that I first purchased a Berkey countertop gravity-feed water filter. At the time, I had no practical experience nor idea as to how long the filters would last. Knowing that at some time I would indeed need to replace them, I went ahead and ordered extra candle filters. We have used our countertop water filter daily over 10 years, feeding it only tap water. I have cleaned the filters several times (it is amazing to me how filthy tap water is) but am not really any closer to needing the replacement filters.

This may lead us to conclude that if we filter only clean, or clear water, our filters should last a good long while.

But seriously, once the Schumer hits the fan (SHTF) we may not be able to replace our filters. This means we should take care to only feed our water filters clear water, or at least water that is less turbid. Even though the filter can accept a wet mucking mess and render unto us life’s elixir (drinking water), we need to respect our investments better. Putting anything other than clear water through our water filters will have us cleaning and sanding them down too often and greatly reduce their life.

There are several precautions we should take.

First, we can take care when filling a bucket in the lake or river. Don’t kick or stir up any sediment and try to just skim the surface for water. Getting water from a clear mountain spring would help as well. Our goal is to harvest the clearest possible water we can find to run through our water filter.

Sometimes this may  be difficult to achieve. Without a stable environment to store unfiltered water in, we are subject to the stirred up sediment that rain, wind, and other local activity can produce. In order to keep a continuous supply of relatively clear water to run through our filter we need to have stable water storage.

This can be accomplished easily with the use of 5 gallon pails. After carefully filling a pail, let it sit undisturbed overnight before running it through the filter. This will allow heavy sediment in the water to settle to the bottom of the bucket.

Inspect the water in the top half of the pail. You might decide to let the water sit another day to allow any additional sediment to settle. 

This process may take days if the lake or river water is high in turbidity. This may be due to a recent rain or just be the natural state of the water source. Having a series of 5-gallon pails would keep you from running out of clear water in this case. I keep seven pails set aside for just this purpose. As each pail meets your “eyeball” standard of clarity, it can then be either filtered (from the top of the pail) or added to a larger unfiltered storage container such as a 55 gallon barrel.

After filling the 55 gallon barrel and allowing the additional settling of any sediment, water can then be gently scooped or ladled out off the top.

In the old west it was common for the cowboy to knock the side of the water barrel before using the ladle to quench his thirst. Some folks thought this was for good luck but in reality it was to make the pollywogs dive for the bottom of the barrel before he used the ladle. Keep your water barrel protected from mice, frogs, and pollywogs. 

At our retreat, we do not yet have a well and use water from a spring on our property. We do not filter water that is used for bathing, or washing clothes.

Reserving your filter for water which is intended for cooking, drinking or medical use, will also help extend its life.

I now have some practical experience with water filters. We have used our Berkey for many years and have had no issues with it. Several years ago I bought an Aqua Rain counter-top model for our in-town house to filter our tap water for drinking and coffee. The candle filters have held up fine but the stainless steel tank is not a good quality. Ours actually developed a stress crack from use and has split down the side. At $300 we had hoped for a bit better quality and Aqua Rain does not stand by the product either. I ended up replacing it with another Berkey.
As for pocket water filters nothing comes close to the Katadyn Pocket Microfilter. It has a 20 year warranty and can filter up to 13,000 gallons of water. All in a compact size for your BOB.

So remember, having good gear, planning ahead, and having extra food-grade buckets and drums along with our water filters will have us all staying clean and enjoying a glass of cool, clear, and hopefully pollywog-free, water through TEOTWAWKI.

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