Water Purification Device: Why You SERIOUSLY Need One!

life straw, water purification tablets, backpacking africa for beginners

Water Purification Device: Do You REALLY Need One?

Travelers Dirrhea, anybody? No thanks.

While traveling Africa, most countries will not have clean tap water you can drink without getting sick. South Africa and Mozambique were the only safe countries I visited.

I never ventured to find out, but most African water can cause things like Giardia, Dysentary, Hepatitis A, Round Worms, & Cholera–all things my backpacking friends got. Bad water can also lead to Cryptosporidium, Shigella, Enterovirus, and other nasty unmentionables. I don’t even know what those last few are, but I’m quite certain  I don’t want them.

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The yellow jerry can is how many African families carry their water. Photo Credit: obakkifoundation.org

All of these can be avoided by using a water purification device.

I’ve already written an extensive health section for those who don’t want to get sick. It includes:

  • Avoiding Malaria
  • Vaccines I took
  • Medications I bought
  • Food & water guidelines
  • Common African dangers
  • What illness I did get, & how they could have been prevented
  • And my top tips for staying healthy

But for now, lets just say I won’t go on a backpacking trip to Africa without a water purification device.

It is true that:

  1. Water bottles are EVERYWHERE in Africa (even many remote destinations)
  2. Boiling water for 10 minutes kills basically everything

But there is a 1% chance, you’ll end up somewhere with no water bottles & no way to boil.

That’s what happened to my friend Adam while traveling through Somaliland. His bus broke down on the side of the road for 2 days. He had no water. Out of desperation, he was on his way to drink from a nearby river when help finally arrived. No doubt he would have gotten terribly sick.

Water Purification Tablets, backpacking africa for beginners

My friend Adam smiling in Ethiopia after surviving his no-water bus experience

If he was carrying a water purification device, however, he could have safely drank from the river. Granted again, this probably won’t happen to you. And I’m seriously all about backpacking light (especially after my disasterous packing job I did the first time), but since there are some pretty lightweight options, I highly recommend grabbing one.

See Also:  Hospitalized & Scammed: Solo Traveler Shares His Backpacking Africa Story

Water Purification verses Water Filtration?

On my way to the airport for my backpacking trip, I stopped at a local CVS convenience store. I bumped into my ex-step aunt (my family is a little dysfunctional), and she picked up a water filtering device. “You’ll need this for your trip,” she said. I threw it in the cart, but later was so relieved I had a different water purification device in my bag.

That’s because there is a HUGE difference between a water purification verses water filteration device. Purification can handle the African germs you’re bound to find. Filtration is what you use to make your own tap water taste better at your house. Sometimes a filtration device can handle river water you find in the US or Canada. But for backpacking Africa– not going to cut it.

Water Purication Device: BEST Options

1. Water Purication Device: Tablets

Water Purification Tablets are my personal favorite. They’re lightweight and super easy. All you do is drop one in a bottle of water, wait a little while, then you’re good to go. No getting the shits for you! (On a side note–Before my backpacking journey, I would have been so embarrassed to talk about dirrhea or getting “the shits.” But it’s such a common topic among backpackers, for unfortunate reasons, that now I have no problem mentioning it. It’s all much to the dismay of my boyfriend, but can any of you relate??)

I use a combination of Potable Aqua Iodine and Potable Aqua Chlorine Dioxide tablets, but there are other water purification tablet options too.

See Also:  Backpacking Africa Gear: My FAVORITE (& Affordable) MUST-HAVE Item!

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Easy
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Doesn’t remove dirt or other debris
  • Takes 30 minutes up to 4 hours before you can drink it

Water Purification Tablets, Backpacking Gear, Backpacking africa for beginners

 

2. Water Purication Device: Liquid Drops

Drops are liquid versions of the tablets. There are two main types. Polar Pure which uses Iodine and Aquamira which uses Chlorine Dioxide. The differences between those active ingredients can be found in my water purification tablets review. 

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Easy
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Doesn’t remove dirt or other debris
  • Takes 30 minutes up to 4 hours before you can drink it
  • If you spill it or lose the bottle, you are S.O.L. (whereas tablets can be stashed throughout your bag)

Water Purification Device, polar pure, aquamira chlorine dioxide, backpacking gear

3. Water Purication Device: SteriPen

I’ve never used the SteriPen before, and probably never will. For starters, it’s almost $70. I tend to break everything, and based on Amazon Reviews, the SteriPen needs some tender loving care. With that being said, it does have some pretty cool advantages if you have deeper pockets.

Pros

  • No wait time
  • No funky chlorine or iodine taste
  • Effective against Cryptosporidium (Chlorine Dioxide Tablets and Drops are too, but there is a 4 hour wait time)
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Cons

  • Not cost effective
  • Can break easily
  • Can run out of battery

Water Purification Devices: Steripen

4. Water Purication Device: Life Straw

When Life Straw first came out, it was like the holy-grail of water purification devices. Not only does it instantly remove bacteria and protozoa, but it’s only $20.

Pros

  • Effective
  • Cheap (Your $20 purchase lasts 1000 liters of water)
  • Helps block dirt, etc. from your mouth

Cons

  • Difficult to use for sink water (you either have to plug the sink and drink from it, or fill up a water bottle then drink from that)
  • You either have to bend over awkwardly on the ground everytime you want to use it or fill up a cup/bottle that may or may not be easily drank out of by a straw

Water Purification Devices: Life Straw

5. Filtered Water Bottle

Filtered water bottles fix cons associated by the Life Straw. No wonder why Life Straw Bottle eventually appeared on the market. Another popular bottle is Katadyn.

Pros

  • Easy to drink out of
  • Can drink water instantly
  • Filter out dirt, etc. from reaching your mouth

 

Cons

  • Not cheap. Costs between $30-45 depending on the brand.
  • If you lose it or it’s stolen, you won’t have any clean water the rest of your trip
  • Bulky/not as easy to pack as other options

Water Purification Device: Life Straw Bottle

Other Options

Believe it or not, there are lots more water purification devices on the market. But they’re weird contraptions or overly huge! I only picked the top ones a backpacker should consider.

 

Again– my favorites are the pills. They’re the cheapest light weight option. In the end, you can make anything work. Just make sure you pack something for the just-in-case emergency!

 

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