Let me start off by saying that this is a system that works well for me and has for many of the people I hike with. Depending on where you’re hiking and your priorities, you may need to go with a different system. Treating water is essential to avoid getting sick from parasites, bacteria, and viruses. There are 4 main ways to treat water in the backcountry: 1. UV, 2. chemicals, 3. filters, and 4. boiling. I have used all off these methods and they have their pros and cons.
While most filters do not remove viruses, membrane filters have been the easiest and most versatile option for me. I personally use the Sawyer Squeeze membrane filter. The Sawyer uses a 0.1 micron hollow fibre membrane filter to remove 99.99999% of bacteria and parasites and has been used by thousands of people to filter millions of litres of water.
When you purchase the Sawyer Squeeze, it comes with a water collecting pouch, the filter, a backflushing syringe, and two connectors. I consistently only use the filter out of this package. I have replaced the pouch with the CNOC Vecto water bladder. The CNOC bladder improves on the standard pouch in a number of ways: it has a standard 28mm mouth that connects to the Sawyer Squeeze; is clear so you can easily see how much water you have in the bladder; is a flexible material (which makes it easier to squeeze); and, has a wide water collection opening that makes collecting water very easy.
As my water vessel, I use the 1L Smartwater bottle. These are cheap water bottles that you can get from any corner store and are very durable. They will easily last a year or three. The bottles are elongated, which makes it easy to place in side pouches or a shoulder strap pouch. I have bad shoulder flexibility, so the shoulder strap pouch is my preferred method of carrying water. The Smartwater bottles have excellent 28mm thread compatibility with the sawyer products and have flip cap sport caps available on their 700mL bottles that are easier and quicker than unscrewing a standard cap. A little tip is to use a permanent marker to mark the opposite side of the cap hinge; this makes it easier to flip the cap and you prolong the life of the cap by reducing torque on the hinge.
One last piece of the system is a connector that connects the CNOC vecto to the water bottle.
The process for filtering is to:
- With the 28mm cap on for the Vecto, remove the wide mouth opening slider and scoop water from your source. It should only take a couple of scoops to fill the bladder. Once filled, replace the slider.
- Turn the bladder so the 28mm opening is facing up and unscrew the cap. Screw the Sawyer onto the 28mm opening of the Vecto so it is snug but not too tight.
- Screw the connector onto the sawyer so it is snug but not too tight.
- Screw the Smartwater bottle onto the connector so that it is threaded but loose. You want to connection to be loose so air can enter the system and “breath” the bladder.
- Start squeezing/rolling the Vecto to squeeze water into the Smartwater bottle.
Once I’m done filtering my water, I do a quick backflush of the filter. This is easily done if you have a Smartwater bottle sports cap as the mouth of the sports cap easily fits over the sawyer clean water mouth. Keeping up on back flushing keeps the flow rate of the filter from decreasing too much. If you backflush and you don’t see improved results, try aggressively backflushing with hot water. If this doesn’t work, you probably have calcium build-up and will need to soak the filter in vinegar for 30min, followed by a good backflush.
Another consideration for the sawyer is freezing. If temperatures are low, keep the filter in a plastic bag close to your body and keep it in your sleeping bag at night. If the filter freezes, it’s toast.
Hopefully this overview either introduced you to a good way to filter water on the trail or had some tips and tricks for those of you who already have the filter.