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Best Water Filtration, Treatment, & Purification Methods for Back Country Hunting

Best Water Filtration, Treatment, & Purification Methods for Back Country Hunting

by Justin Shaffer

On day eight of a seven-day Dall sheep hunt, we watched three rams feed around the corner and out of sight. My partner said, “It’s now or never, drop your pack and let’s go before they’re gone for good”. Mistake number one I know, but sheep fever is real and can make even the most seasoned backpack hunter do dumb stuff.

Fast forward 18 hours later, add in a brutal cold, nearly hypothermic night huddled under a survival blanket that I’ll never forget, and two dead rams. We got it done, but dropping our packs on the mountain to chase those sheep cost us then and we would continue to pay for it later.

Now, sitting in the bottom of the drainage 4,000 vertical feet below our packs and baking in the sun, we were exhausted and thirsty. Years of military training and hunting experience told me not to drink from the trickle of water flowing through the rocks next to our feet. But all it took was one little nudge from my buddy saying, “I’ve been drinking the water up here for years and I’ve never gotten sick”, for me to slurp up my fill from the seep. That was mistake number two.

I didn’t know it then, but a week later, I was sick, living in my bathroom. A visit to the E.R. confirmed what I already knew, I had Giardia. To add insult to injury, it was a rare strain of Giardia that the doctor said could possibly get worse with antibiotics, so I had to ride this one out. I don’t know if he was telling me the truth or was just teaching me a lesson. The only bright side at this point was that I wasn’t alone, yep that’s right, my partner got sick too.

Three weeks later and 20+ pounds lighter in body weight, I was finally feeling somewhat back to being functional. That was 20 years ago and there hasn’t been a drop of untreated water that’s gone into my body while in the backcountry ever since. I just won’t take that chance again; I always take the time to make sure that my water is treated.


There are multiple ways to treat water in the field and I’ve used them all. Opinions as to which is the best vary as much as the different options available. I’m not here to tell you which method is best for you, only that I can’t recommend treating your water enough, no matter how clean or safe you think it is to drink. Here are some of the pros and cons for some of the most popular water treatment options on the market today.


Taking the time to treat your water in the back country or on any hunt is vital to maintaining your health. Not all water sources contain bacteria and parasites that can harm you, but they should be treated like they do. Even the clearest, most pristine looking water can make you sick.

Whichever method of treating water you decide is right for you, use something, not some of the time, but all the time.

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