How simple it used to be—all you needed was to find a stream, lean over, and drink your fill and the great advantage of the humid East over the arid West was that you never ever had to worry about running out of water.
But then came giardia, and about the same time we got so serious about running or biking that stopping by the stream seemed to take too long. So now hydration is a serious business, and one of the oldest human acts produces a steady, um, stream of innovations. `
Consider the Avex FreeFlow AutoSeal water bottle ($14.99-$36.99 depending on size or if you want plastic or stainless steerl). At first glance it is as minimalist as they come. It has no mouthpiece to break off, and no straw to disengage, lose or clean. What makes it the most likely item to get tossed in our pack is its one simple but profoundly useful feature: it doesn’t leak. The FreeFlow seals between sips. That’s it. Lay it in your pack sideways, put in upside down, and not a single drop of its 25 ounces trickles out. Magic! The bottles come with lifetime guarantees, probably because they are basically indestructible.
You, on the other hand, are not. All those creeks and streams that run fast at this time of the year look inviting and are—to you and multitudes of bacteria and protozoa. Iodine tablets are an easy way to purify water, but iodine not only takes out all those critters, it knocks the fresh out of refreshment. We prefer sterilizing stream water with ultraviolent light, and the easiest way to do this is with a SteriPEN Classic 3 ($69.95), a small, lightweight, handheld device that looks like a cross between a medicine dropper and a flashlight.
Remove the cap, turn it on, submerge it in your water bottle, stir it around, and 90 seconds later, once the LED light flashes green, you’ve got a liter of potable water. The one caveat: it only works with clear water so stay away from silty ponds.
The SteriPEN can run on four AA batteries, which will get you about 50 liters until you need a new set, or lithion ion rechargeables, which will get you around 150 liters. The UV bulb, meanwhile, is supposed to be good for 8000 liters, which means we’ve got 7575 liters to go before we can tell you if that’s true.
The weight-conscious hiker or traveler will appreciate the Vapur Microfilter ($49.99) water bag, a 2.7 ounce soft carrier that rolls up to next to nothing when it’s not being used, and holds a liter when it is. The Vapur has a micro-filter straw that serves as a protective barrier between you and the bad guys who would like to colonize your gut. You’ll get around 500 liters of clean water before the filter is no longer functional.
For long rides, we love the alternative is the Osprey Synchro 10 ($110) hydration pack. Built with a mesh suspension system so it rides high off the back, it’s got just enough room for, keys, phone, a snack or two, a light jacket, and 2.5 liters of readily accessible water. We’ve found the Synchro 10 to be especially valuable on long mountain bike rides, when we want to stay ahead of our thirst, and when it rains. Not only do we have a jacket near to hand, our pack does, too: the Synchro 10 has an integrated rain fly. It works just fine for hiking, too.