Potable Agua is an Iodine-based chemical treatment that has functionality as an emergency back-up method. It should not be a primary treatment method as it's not deemed safe for long-term ingestion. While it does leave a bad taste in the water, it's not as bad as some competitors. The price is low, but for the number of tablets you get per package, other emergency back-up methods offer better value. While we love this product, there are better alternatives out there.
This two-step system is tried and true. While they do work and have been a staple in many kits, there are better emergency chemical treatment options that aren't health hazards and a higher value.
Potable Agua uses Iodine & Tetraglycine Hydroperiodide as its primary active ingredient, which has been shown to eliminate bacteria, viruses, and protozoa like Giardia, but does not protect against hard-shelled cysts that are resistant. It also treats effectively in everything from clear to cloudy water. If you plan on traveling in areas that have these as a concern, we'd recommend instead the Aquamira treatment drops that do protect, when given enough time. Or go for a filtration system.
A look at the relative size of the different tablets that eliminate bacteria, protozoa (Giardia, not Cryptosporidium), and viruses. Obviously these cant filter out particulates.
The taste of Iodine is one that some people hate and others can't detect at all. For those that can recognize it, you'll notice a strong metallic taste that becomes nauseating to ingest in large quantities. There are neutralizing tablets that are meant to dissipate the nasty taste, but these only lessen the effect.
If you plan on taking water from a source with lots of sediment, expect to drink sediment as these chemical treatments don't filter out particulates. You can easily pre-filter with a buff or handkerchief if you happen to come across a sandy source.
The Potable Aqua Iodine and Taste Neutralizer Tablets come in 2 glass containers. They are small and relatively light to carry.
Overall, water quality isn't the best when using Iodine tablets. It's also essential to make sure you don't plan on using them as your primary source of purification. According to Potable Aqua , this can be bad for your health. As a result, we recommend other chemical treatments or use this for emergency purposes only.
Be sure that you're not allergic to Iodine. Some people have this allergic, which can cause a reaction if you're not aware of it.
Durability & Maintenance
The jars are heavy duty. Even though they are glass, it's thick and would be hard to break if dropped on a hard surface. This type of treatment has no durability issues or maintenance. One jar has about 50 tablets, treating a total of 25L per jar. There is no expiration date on these tablets.
In total, the two-step treatment takes about 33 minutes. The first step is the Iodine tablet, which takes about 30 minutes to kick in. The second step is the neutralizing tablet that you need to wait 3 minutes for after the 30 minutes is over. You can also choose to use this system without the neutralizing tablet if the taste doesn't both you too much.
Weight & Packability
These tablets are kept in two small glass jars, weighing only 2.25 oz together. They are cylindrical and very packable.
A look at the relative weight of both jars when carried together.
If you wish to eliminate weight further, you can store the tablets separately in two different snack-size ziplock bags, which cuts down on the weight of the jars. Or you can carry step one, cutting the weight in half. Given how lightweight and packable they are, they are a great emergency option if you want to bring along a back-up system. We've also used them for trail running in case we drink more water than anticipated and need an emergency fill-up.
Ease of Set-Up
Set-up is easy. Get two tablets per liter out of the jar and drop them into the vessel that needs treatment. You will need first to collect your water, so select a storage vessel that can access both small and large water sources. If your water source is silty or full or sediment, be sure to either filter through a piece of fabric before or after treatment.
The Potable Aqua Iodine tablet instructions say to use 2 tablets for 1 liter.
Ease of Filtration
This part is easy. Wait thirty minutes. After that time, add in two neutralizing tabs per 1-L of water. These part two tablets eliminate Iodine, so it's important that you wait for the full 30-min before adding them. If you do this too soon, the Iodine may not kill all the water-borne pathogens that could exist in your source, which can be dangerous. After 33-minutes, it's easy to drink.
Potable Aqua Iodine and Taste Neutralizer Tablets dissolving into water. They take 30 min to effectively purify.
Unfortunately the Iodine tablets will stain soft-bodied vessels such as hydration bladders and soft bottles. We've tried many ways around this and haven't found a great solution other than avoiding adding tablets to these storage vessels.
Given that Iodine is not a safe long-term treatment option, it's best as an emergency or back-up treatment. The lightweight nature of these tabs makes them easy to carry. If you can't deal with the taste, use the neutralizing tablets. But if you don't mind it, carry one bottle to keep things ultralightweight. A good backup for backpacking and long-distance adventures.
Hanging out in Iceland, we use the Potable Agua as our backup water treatment source with the plentiful freshwater sources that abound on this wet landscape.
$11 doesn't look like much on the shelf. However, given that one jar only treats about 25L, it's not the best value product when it comes to chemical treatment. That works out to about $0.44 per liter filtered. MSR Aquatabs is about $0.16 per liter while the Aquamira Treatment drops are about $0.13 per liter — not the best-valued chemical treatment product, even though the price looks low.
Iodine is a classic chemical treatment method that is best as an emergency method. It is lightweight and easy to use. That said, it's not as good as other options out there. Iodine is not a safe option to use long term, and its relative value doesn't stack up to the competition.