The Aquamira Chlorine Dioxide treatment stands out for being practical, lightweight, and easy to use. The resulting water doesn't have the worst taste and is an excellent option for those trying to go light and save some money.
Playing in Peru on a fastpack running trip is a perfect place for these lightweight drops. They can kill everything and if your water source is clear, it's a great option.
While these drops do a great job at eliminating everything from bacteria to viruses, you can't expect it to filter out particulates or dirt from your water. The water quality thus is enhanced because it can kill things that could potentially cause you harm, but it can't perform as well as a good filtration system regarding particulate matter.
The active ingredient in these drops is chlorine dioxide, which doesn't contain chlorine. (Think bleach, but less harmful). While most drops and tablets can kill bacteria, viruses and most protozoans like Giardia, they can't kill Cryptosporidium. These spores have a longer incubation time; these organisms are resilient against both Potable Agua (Iodine) and Aquatabs. However, the reason Aquamira does so well in the metrics, and is a Top Pick at OutdoorGearLab, is because it can kill all of it, including the Cryptosporidium. It's the most effective on-the-go chemical treatment out there.
It is trustworthy and is an excellent method for particularly contaminated water sources since it works on a broader 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 — and it takes a long time to kill everything. Whereas iodine may not be healthy for you to ingest over extended periods, Aquamira drops are not harmful if used as directed, according to Aquamira. Also, don't get any on your clothing if you don't want it bleached.
Treatment is simple, but it doesn't do as much as a filter. What a filter can remove in seconds takes hours for these drops.
The taste of the water is also important. We did a blind taste test where we had friends guess where the treatment was. In all cases, our friends didn't guess the Aquamira as a treated cup. Instead, they grimaced and made faces when consuming the other chemical treatments like the Iodine tablets and the Aquatabs. Others said they could taste it, but it wasn't that bad. It adds a faint sterile flavor to the water, or some say it tastes of citrus. In the case of really gross water, it also improves the taste of the water and helps eliminate odors by killing the bacteria causing them.
Overall, of the chemical treatments out there, this by far produces the best water quality. It's tried and tested by several thru-hikers and is a very reliable system. It does not filter out particulates. So, if you don't have a filtration system on hand, we recommend carrying a bandana or buff. Pour the water through the bandana first, then treat the water to remove larger particulates: voila…a lightweight and inexpensive system with top-notch water quality.
Durability and Maintenance
There isn't much to this system here. The bottles are well constructed, and aside from maybe losing the lid, there are no maintenance or durability issues. The worst thing that can happen is you might accidentally knock over a bottle while treating your water.
In this case, make sure to keep the lids on, and you'll be just fine. The other issue is that because they are small, they can get lost easily or left behind. We found that by putting them in a little pouch that is brightly colored it helped to ensure we wouldn't misplace them along the way.
The bottles are durable and won't leak on you. Just make sure to screw the caps on tight to ensure they don't pour out in your backpack. These are water tight for on-the-go travel.
All chemical treatments take about the same amount of time. To start the process, you need to activate the liquids by pouring a few drops of bottle one and two together in the mixing cap. This activation takes five minutes. Then, once you add the activated chemicals to your water, you must wait 20 to 30 minutes for sterilization. The more turbid (or murky) the water, the longer the process will take. According to Aquamira, different organisms take longer to kill. If you are worried about Cryptosporidium, a particularly resilient protozoan, you will have to wait up to four hours. Viruses, you should wait 40 minutes, bacteria should take the allotted time mentioned above.
There are many other options out there that are much faster than the Aquamira drops. Take a look at any option that isn't a chemical treatment, and it will be faster. However, none are as reliable, cheap, or time-consuming. If you have time for treatment, this is a great option.
Starting to count down the treatment time before we can take a sip of water while out on a hike. Good thing we have time to enjoy nature and relax while it neutralizes the water.
Weight and Packability
This system consists of two single-ounce bottles with the mixing caps weighing 3.15 ounces for the whole system. For shorter trips, the liquids can be decanted into smaller bottles to make for an even lighter system. This fact is one of the biggest benefits of this system. You'll be hard pressed to find something else that is as packable and produces water that doesn't taste bad.
While the MSR Aquatabs is much lighter (>0.01 oz per two tablets), the water quality isn't nearly as good. The same goes with Potable Aqua iodine tablets. This system is one of the lightest and is the most popular for thru-hikers, fast-packers, or ultra-distance runners.
The weight of two bottles.
Ease of Setup
If you're in an area where the water isn't clear, you're going to need to pre-filter your water. Using a handkerchief or thin material, gather water and pour it through the material to pre-filter out particulates first. After you've done this step, it's time to treat your water. If the water is clear, there is next to no setup.
Before the treatment, start with the first step, which is activating the chlorine dioxide. 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. Once you've done this, it's time to add it to your water.
To start this treatment, begin by activating the mixture. Pour part A and B together in the mixing and let stand for 5 minutes.
Ease of Filtration
If you're not filtering anything at this point, treatment is pretty easy and straightforward. After the activation, add the chemicals to your water and wait 15 minutes. If the water is turbid, let it stand for 30 minutes. If you're worried about Cryptosporidium, wait longer to ensure that the active ingredients can work to kill these resilient parasitic cysts. According to Aquamira, this can take up to four hours of waiting time.
This method is prevalent among long-distance hikers and is even advocated by NOLS instructors because of its low 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. If you know you'll be encountering silt or sand, consider a filtration system instead. Or bring along a handkerchief that can be used to pre-filter the water first.
Hiking in Iceland and abroad is a fine place to use these drops. They are a lightweight and practical alternative to filtration if the water is clear of particulates. In Iceland, we don't need to worry.
If you are on a seriously small budget and the price of a filtration system is setting you back, a chlorine dioxide treatment is of great value. The bottles retail around $15 (with deals online) and can treat up to 30 gallons of water. That's roughly 13 cents per treated liter. As the only chemical treatment that doesn't leave a bad taste in your mouth, it's our favorite chemical treatment on the market.
The Aquamira Treatment Drops receives our Top Pick Award because it is super lightweight at three ounces and is the most versatile chemical treatment in this review. It is a great value choice and can treat anywhere from one to 100 liters at a time, depending on the need.