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Plastic or Pills? Choosing an Option for Treating Your Water

Technology + Gear
by Matt Scott Nov 4, 2008
Choosing to treat your own water can not only lessen your impact on the environment, but is cheaper and more convenient.

We all understand the huge environmental impact bottled water is having on the planet- both in terms of food miles and the plastic (or glass) waste it creates.

However, with the World Health Organization attributing 80% of travel diseases to drinking water, in many countries simply reaching for the tap is not a safe option – that is, if you even have access to a tap.

While relying on bottled drinking water has always been a good way to avoid many travel related illnesses, the resulting waste – especially in the developing world – is often seen piled up next to practically every monument or village.

Choosing to treat your own water can not only lessen your impact on the environment, but usually works out cheaper and more convenient in the long run.

There are endless options on the market but here is a run down of some of the most popular types of filtration systems:

Price: $18.99 | Outback Water Filter

Outback Water-Bottle Filter

The Outback water bottle based filter contains synthetic polymers, molecular sieves and microspheres to filter harmful bacteria and cysts from the water.


Lightweight and easy to carry with no need for additional equipment, easy to use and removes particles in the water as well as harmful bacteria.


Impractical for large quantities of water and not designed for every day use.

The SteriPEN

UV light is one of the most popular ways drinking water manufacturers sterilize their water and it is now available in a lightweight device.

Price: $79.95 | SteriPen Purifier

Put the SteriPEN into a glass of water for 45-90 seconds (depending on the size of the glass) and UV light is used to destroy any bacteria and parasites.


UV light is one of the most reliable ways of killing water borne bacteria and viruses. Rapidly treats any water and can be discreetly used anywhere.


Does not remove silt or sediment and if the water is not clear the UV light will prove ineffective so prior filtration may be needed in some cases.

The Pen is fairly fragile and can easily break if not stored properly. It also rapidly uses batteries, with some travelers reporting a change of batteries needed almost every day.

Micropur Tablets

Micropur is used in the form of a small pill containing chlorine dioxide which effectively kill bacteria and viruses after only short contact times, and cysts (such as Giardia and Crypto) after longer contact times.


Chlorine Dioxide is proving better at killing bacteria and viruses than iodine and chlorine and kills practically all water born viruses and bacteria, including Giardia, and Cryptosporidium.

The pills are very lightweight and compact, with no unpleasant taste and will even work in very muddy water.


At last a 15minute wait for bacteria and viruses to be destroyed: 30 if cysts are present. Can take up to 4 hours in muddy water.

MiniWorks EX Pump Filter

The MiniWorks EX is a water pump with built in ceramic filters capable of processing up to 1 litre of water per minute


The filter is good for 2,000 uses and the unit can easily be disassembled and cleaned. The carbon core also removes unpleasant tastes and odors.


Bulky and heavy (in comparison to other options) and only works as a filter, so will not remove some harmful virus or cysts. While it is excellent for backcountry adventures, it is not practical for everyday travel.

MIOX purifier

A revolution in water purification, this battery powered pen-like device uses salt to create a powerful mix of oxidants which kills all viruses.


Small, compact and easy to use. Kills practically all water born viruses and bacteria, including Giardia, and Cryptosporidium and is practical for large and small quantities of water treatment.


Relies on batteries to function with a wait time of 15 minutes to 4 hours for all viruses to be killed. At around $150, it is also one of the more expensive options on the market.

Katadyn Base Camp Microfilter

With a large capacity this is a perfect option to fill up your bottles before you head off for the day. With a 0.3 micron glass fiber filter both bacteria and cysts are removed as well as any sediment.


Large capacity storage with a filter good for around 200 gallon, providing one of the most practical solutions for groups. Very easy to use: just fill, hang and then drink.


Not very practical for spur of the moment use and is not effective against all harmful bacteria.

Iodine Tablets

One of the oldest and most trusted forms of water purification Iodine is effective against the majority of water borne pathogens. Taste neutralizing tablets can be used in conjunction with iodine to improve the color and taste of water.


Easy to use and is available practically worldwide in tablets or liquids. Suitable for small or large quantities of water and is very cheap.


Iodine can be dangerous to susceptible individuals and should only be used for minimal periods. Iodine leaves a strong taste, which requires additional pills to neutralize.

Chlorine Tablets

Chlorine is effective at killing almost all parasites and viruses and can easily be used to purify large or small quantities of water.


Easy to use, small, and lightweight. Practical for any quantity of water.


Not designed for long-term use (but can be used longer than iodine). Leaves a strong taste in the water that requires an additional pill to neutralize.

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