Quality outdoor gear can be expensive, and it is sometimes daunting how much ‘stuff’ is necessary when camping or hiking in Canada. A reliable water treatment system however is an essential piece of kit, and we have found an item that is both cheap and lightweight. Coming from the UK and with little experience of ‘proper’ camping, I had never really thought about water treatment before arriving in Canada. As it turns out, there are plenty of bacteria and organisms in water that are a danger to life, such as the seemingly common ‘Beaver Fever’ (Giardia lamblia) that can cause digestive issues. There are usually no indications if water is contaminated, so all backcountry sources should be treated with caution.
There are a handful of different methods to treat water such as boiling, filtering, purifying and treating with chemicals. All have their downsides as well as benefits, and it’s easy enough to find people who woud swear by each specific method. For our own circumstances and budget though, Vestergaard’s Lifestraw works for us.
The Lifestraw is a personal water filter, initially created for use in developing countries. It has been distributed to millions of people around the world for regular at-home use as well as for help after natural disasters such as the 2009 earthquake in Haiti. It’s basically a super light filter within a thick straw (54g total weight) that removes up to 99.9% of waterbourne bacteria and protozoan cysts (e.g. Beaver Fever) without any chemicals. It can be used to drink directly from a source such as a lake or stream, or from a bottle of water. Best of it, it lasts for 1,000 litres and costs as little as $20. Really! I am still amazed by this. A personal filter that is light, easy to use, great for emergencies as well as outdoor use and potentially lasts for years, is only a few more $ than a bottle of wine. Well, I’m sold.
Although we already thought it was a great idea when we bought it, the Lifestraw really came into its own when we completed our first canoe circuit in June 2013. Previous to our experience in the Sayward Forest we had only been on short camping trips, during which we would usually just bring enough water from home for the duration. But on this trip, we had to portage all of our equipment (and canoe) multiple times between lakes over the three days, and so we didn’t really want to carry much water. Initially we thought we would use water treatment tablets for the most part, but we soon became impatient waiting 30 minutes to have a drink. Using the Lifestraw was as simple as dunking our water bottles in the lake while paddling and drinking through the straw. With the Lifestraw attached to one of our backpacks, we could have a drink easily on portages as well.
For canoeing and hiking around lakes, the Lifestraw is great. It’s super straightforward to use and weighs almost nothing. The only downside would be that it isn’t possible to drink a lot in one go (as if you were drinking from a glass) so if you’re really thirsty it can be a bit frustrating! We will still take water treatment tablets on our next long paddling trip, but just as a backup. Since the Sayward trip, we have purchased another Lifestraw, so we can have one each in the canoe, or on each of our backpacks when hiking. Even if we eventually convert to another water treatment system (I’ve seen some fancy gravity run filters and UV light purifiers recently), I think we would still have a Lifestraw on hand in case of emergency.
Here’s Jean Robert doing a bit of modelling….