Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Smallest, lightest, most economical method, effective on viruses, trustworthy, simple.
Cons: Somewhat long incubation time, adding chemicals to water.
Best Uses: Backpacking, thru-hiking long trails, as a lightweight purification system.
Chlorine dioxide treatments like the Aquamira Water Treatment Drops are the lightest and smallest water treatment method, making this system perfect for an emergency water treatment method or for weight-conscious hikers. We considered giving this treatment method a Best Buy award because it is so economical, but overall it is such an effective and simple method that we decided it was worthy of our Top Pick award for being light AND inexpensive. Unlike Potable Aqua Iodine Tablets, chlorine dioxide is not harmful to ingest regularly and does eliminate Cryptosporidium, and unlike most pump filters, this method eliminates viruses. Besides the long incubation time, the primary downside to this method is that it involves adding chemicals to your drinking water, which puts off some users. If you want to protect yourself against viruses but don't like the idea of chemicals in your water, check out the First Need XL, which is the only filter effective against those types of diseases, though it is much heavier. Aquamira Water Treatment Drops and Katadyn Micropur Purification are inexpensive for a single package, which is nice for the wallet at the outset. If you travel in the backcountry often, a long lasting filter such as the MSR Miniworks EX or the MSR Sweetwater Microfilter would be a better value, although they are not effective on as many pathogens.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The active ingredient in these drops is chlorine dioxide, which doesn't actually contain chlorine. (Think bleach, but less harmful.) When researching on the Internet, it seems as though there is confusion as to what Aquamira actually treats, so we called them to get the full scoop: as of February of 2012 it was approved by the EPA as a purifier, which means that it eliminates all pathogens: bacteria, protozoa and viruses, which is more than most filters. There is a difference in incubation time for some of the different organisms, but after an hour the drops are effective on everything, including Giardia and the hard-shelled Cryptosporidium.
It is trustworthy, and is an excellent method for particularly contaminated water sources since it works on a wider variety of diseases and can also treat the water on the threads of your bottle. The downside? You are adding a tiny bit of chemical to your water. However, whereas iodine is not healthy for you to ingest over extended periods of time, Aquamira drops are not harmful if used as directed. If you are looking for a similarly light non-chemical treatment, the Sawyer Squeeze is a small filter option.
This system consists of two single ounce bottles and with the mixing caps weighs about three ounces. For shorter trips the liquids can be decanted into smaller bottles to make for an even lighter system. With the exception of only carrying one or two of the Katadyn Micropur tablets, this would be the lightest system. This is the most popular system for thru-hikers because it is so lightweight and also inexpensive.
Time Before Drinking
The initial activation of the liquids requires waiting five minutes. Once you add this mixture to your water, wait another 30 minutes to an hour for it to sterilize. This is not as fast as a gravity-fed filter such as the Platypus Gravityworks Water Filter but it does eliminate viruses as well. It also treats for Cryptosporidium much quicker than the Micropur tablets.
Waiting an hour can be a drag, but you do have the option of waiting for less time if you are only concerned about certain organisms.
Ease of Use
Though using these drops requires an extra step than just dropping a tablet in your water like the Katadyn Micropur Tablets, it is still very easy. The directions state that for each liter, add seven drops from each bottle, part A and part B, and wait five minutes for the mixture to activate and turn yellow. Then add it to your water and wait another 30 minutes for bacteria and viruses, 40 minutes for Giardia, and 45 minutes for Cryptosporidium. After an hour, everything should be eliminated.
Durability/Uses Before Maintenance
No maintenance required, this method is simple and effective.
The taste of the chlorine dioxide is not bad. It adds a faint sterile flavor to the water, or some say citrusy. In the case of really gross water, it improves the taste of the water and eliminates odors.
Aquamira does not filter out particulate as do all of the pumps, so try not to scoop up silty water.
This method is very popular among long-distance hikers and is even advocated by NOLS instructors because of its light weight, ease of use, and effectiveness. It is much less bulky than a filter and has the added benefit of eliminating viruses. This is the best method for weight-conscious hikers.
We interviewed a couple who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail to see what they used for over 2,000 miles of hiking. They started their journey with a SteriPEN as their water treatment method because it was lighter than all the pump filters on the market, worked fast, and treated viruses. However, they soon became frustrated because the batteries would wear out very quickly. Eventually the SteriPEN broke because it got wet in a rainstorm, so they switched to Aquamira Water Treatment Drops for the remainder of their hike, which was a more reliable system.
They said that in their experience on the trail this was by far the most common method used by other hikers.
If you are on a seriously small budget, and the initial price of a filtration system is setting you back, a chlorine dioxide treatment such as the Aquamira Water Treatment Drops would be the least expensive option, which is one reason we give it our Top Pick award. $14.95 for two 1 ounce bottles will treat 30 gallons, or if you break it down, it averages to around 13 cents per liter treated.
There are many other types of Chlorine Dioxide treatments on the market, all of which eliminate the same pathogens. Aquamira makes tablets similar to the Katadyn Micropur Purification tablets.
Tangential Note: Dream Backpacking Gear List
Aquamira is one of many items featured in our Dream Backpacking Gear List. Check it out to see other top-tier "dream" backpacking items.
— McKenzie Long
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: September 7, 2012
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