Water Purification Tablets: Review of The BEST choices

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Water Purification Tablets: Do You Really Need Them?

Water in (most) African countries will get you completely sick. And unfortunately every backpacker I met had horror stories of upset stomachs gone wrong. I’ll spare you details. But unless you want to shit yourself on a bus (this happened to someone I met) water purification tablets will be super handy.

Thankfully water bottles are practically everywhere. On the off chance, your bus breaks down and you’re stranded, you WILL NEED a way to drink clean water.  That’s why, even though I promote backpacking light in Africa, water purification tablets (or other water purification devices) are worth bringing.

Water Purification Tablets: How Do They Work?

The directions will vary per brand, but generally you put a pill in unclean water (from the tap, the river, etc.), wait around 30 minutes, and then it is safe to drink.

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Water might be important, but I definitely spent more time drinking beer 🙂

Just remember:

  • NOT safe for regular, long term use
  • Strain dirt, rocks, etc out first!
  • Not 100% guaranteed (better if you can combine with other methods like boiling water)
  • Must drink within 24-40 hours for full benefits

Water Purification Tablets: My Top Choices


1. Potable Aqua with PA +

These are cheap, easy to use, and even prevent Giardia which is one of my main concerns backpacking Africa. It comes with two bottles. The first sanitizes the water. The second (PA+) gets rid of the nasty taste and color caused by the first bottle. The active ingredient is Iodine which also helps with radioactivity (in case you’re in a nuclear disaster situation). You can buy the pills without the PA+, but for only a dollar more it’s worth buying something that tastes significantly better.

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  • Ready in 30 minutes
  • Cheap (50 pills for $7.99)
  • Natural (No harsh chemicals– just Iodine which your body needs anyways)


  • Doesn’t kill Cryptosporidium which is common in African countries
  • Not suitable for people with iodine alleries, thyroid conditions, or pregnant women



Water Purification Tablets, backpacking gear, Iodine tablets

These pills come from the same brand, but use Chlorine Dioxide instead of Iodine. This means they kill off Cryptosporidium along with Giardia, etc. In my opinion, these are the safest and most effective pills. The downside is you have to wait 4 hours! I always forgot to plan ahead, and ended up being really thirsty for hours just waiting for the time to pass.
  • Kills everything!
  • You can get a 20 pack for only $11


  • Not as natural as Iodine tablets & relies on strong chemicals
  • Takes 4 hours
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Water Purification Tablets, Potable Aqua, backpacking gear



3. AquaMira Military Water Purifier Tablets

These are popular because they use Chlorine Dioxide too. They are individually wrapped, and kills off all kinds of bacteria and viruses including Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Most people, myself included, won’t find much of a difference between these and other Chlorine Dioxide tablets.


  • Kills off everything
  • Slightly cheaper per pill than Potable Aqua Chorine Dixoide


  • Not as natural as Iodine tablets & relies on strong chemicals
  • Takes 4 hours
  • You must buy a larger pack size than Potable Aqua Chlorine Dioxide. Although cheaper per pill, your total cost is more ($21.95 for 50 pills)


Water Purification Tablets, Backpacking Gear, Backpacking Africa for Beginners

These are the most frugal option. You get 100 pills for less than $10!  Supposedly this is NATO’s top pick too. The downside is the active chemical (dicloroisocyanate) is the same one used in cleaning products and used to bleach textiles. That means it’s very harsh, but still not as effective as Chlorine Dioxide tablets when it comes to Cryptosporidium.
Personally, I’ve never bought these and probably never will. If I’m going to pump my body with chemicals, I’m going to get something that at least kills off everything. And chances are you won’t ever use 100 pills.
  • Cheap!
  • Ready in 30 minutes
  • Harsh chemicals for less results
  • Doesn’t kill off  Cryptosporidium

What do I buy?

I carry both Potable Aqua water purification tablets with me on backpacking trips.
  1. I like the Iodine kind because it’s natural and I’ve become one of those organic health freaks. They’re also nice because like I said, I usually forget to sanitize my water until the moment I need it. Therefore waiting 30 minutes is much easier.
  2. But I always like having a few Chlorine Dioxide water purifcation tablets on me too. I use those for times the water seems extra, extra bad. For example, one time I ended up in a small fishing village in Tanzania. When I flushed the toilet, everything in the toilet came out the sink. No amount of Idoine can kill drinking your own shit that’s running from the faucet. On the bright side, at least I noticed this problem before I brushed my teeth! 🙂
There’s no good reason I buy the Potable Aqua instead of the Aquamira brand. Other than, spending $11 seems better than $21. But I’d actually get more pills at a cheaper price if I switched so perhaps I’ll do that next time.
There are other water purification devices you can check out instead of tablets. But whatever you do, pick up something for the just in case shit-is-coming-out-my-sink scenario.