Whether you are embarking into the backcountry or are planning to travel abroad, having access to safe, clean drinking water is always an area of concern when traveling to remote destinations. Nothing can put a damper on travel activities as quickly as getting ill as a result of drinking contaminated bacteria-laden water. Water quality can be suspect in areas where untreated water is obtained from rivers, lakes, or streams; and one must be particularly careful when drinking water in developing countries, where water treatment infrastructure, and sanitation may be lacking.
It is therefore vital to do research on the drinking water quality of your travel plan destination, and if suspect, to include some method of purifying or filtering drinking water in your travel gear or luggage. So which method of water treatment is most suitable for when you travel? One of the most reliable is a water purifier that is capable of eliminating bacteria, protozoa, and viruses.
Water-borne disease are typically caused by either bacteria (E. coli, Salmonella, Vibrio cholera) protozoa and cysts (Cryptosporidium, Giardia), or viruses (hepatitus, enterovirus), which vary in size from 0.005-0.1 microns (viruses), 0.1-10 microns (bacteria), to 1-20 microns (bacteria). Almost all of these pathogens occur in water as a result of contamination by fecal waste matter from humans and animals. However, not all water purification methods are capable of removing all pathogens from contaminated water, as some pathogens are so tiny that they may still pass through filters that do not have a sufficiently tiny micropore size.
While pump and gravity filters remove protozoa, cysts and bacteria, some of these generally are not effective at removing microscopic viruses. A quality water filter will eliminate pathogenic organisms from the water and can also remove chemicals and toxins that pose a health risk, including herbicides, pesticides, VOC's, organic solvents, and trihalomethanes; while also reducing levels of nitrates, nitrites and heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, and arsenic. Water purifiers on the other hand are considered one notch better, and are capable of removing viruses as well as what we just listed for a water filter.
Handheld, portable water filters, or microfilters, can be used for travel purposes to filter water, but very often some method of disinfection may be beneficial to kill viruses as well. This is because microfilters usually force water through a filter medium, and because viruses are so tiny, they may pass through the pores of the filter. Travel water filters may be adequate to filter drinking water when traveling locally where viral contamination may not pose much of a threat. However, when traveling abroad to third world countries, where sanitation is poor, and water regulations non-existent, a water purifier is far better suited for the job of removing any drinking water contaminants, including any viruses that may be lurking in the water.
When choosing a drinking water filter, make sure that the filter pore size is sufficiently fine enough to remove all pathogens from untreated water sources and read the specifications carefully to determine its capabilities. If you plan on using a water filter instead of a water purifier, then you do have another option sterilizing the water using ultraviolet light, chemically disinfecting with chlorine or iodine tablets, or boiling the water for 3 minutes.
Big Berkey Water Filters offer two options suited for removing contaminants and pathogens from water while on your travels. The Go Berkey Kit consists of a small lightweight 1 quart, stainless steel portable water purifier complete with a Black Berkey water element cartridge and a Sport Berkey portable water filter bottle, which offers a convenient option for backpackers and other globe trotters. The larger 1.5 gallon Travel Berkey Water Filter is another lightweight option suitable for travelers who would like something with a little more capacity. The Travel Berkey comes fitted with two Black Berkey water purifier elements, has a higher flow rate, and can cater to more people. These black berkeys that are in the go berkey and travel berkey are purifiers and will target not only the bacteria, but potential viruses as well. If are using the sport berkey and would like protection against viruses, since this is only considered a water filter, we would recommend pretreatment with chlorine or iodine prior to filtration.