Epic Gear Failure, Faster…Lighter…Better…

On our recent gear testing trip to the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Area south of Fairplay, Colorado we had a major problem with the Katadyn Hiker / Hiker Pro water filtration system that almost ended our trip. What is scary about this gear failure is that we test water filtration devices between every usage and we found no indication of a problem when this device was tested.

This article provides critical information on water purification systems. Reading this will arm you with the information needed to make the best choice for a reliable filtration device that will last longer and save money.

Water Filter Problems

Water filtersThe first sign of a problem was our first night while pumping water for the evening, morning, and next day. We pumped somewhere around 250 ounces of water and the final 32 ounces felt significantly harder to pump. This is a sign that the paper filter (and the fact that it is paper is important to the overall issue and the solution) is becoming clogged or nearing the end of it’s useful life. And ugh!, it was our first night of three and we would need to purify a lot more water to cook and stay hydrated over the next 3 days.

On day two our previously purified water began to run out about mid-day and we were at a good water source. Time to pump more water. This time the pumping was more difficult right from the start. We were getting no more than one half ounce of water per pump and it took significant effort. We were able to pump the water we needed, but the prospects of ending our trip early seemed likely.

Day three was our summit day for a 12,800 foot peak and two 13,000 foot peaks. We stopped to try to Hiking Buffalo Peak pump water prior to our trek and we were able to pump what we needed, but it was even more difficult and time consuming. I tried to clean the filter fins as much as possible, but nothing seemed to make a difference. We were able to pump enough water for our summit trip and we brought the pump along in case we ran low and could find a reliable source.

We made all three summits and ran into a very clear source of water on the way down at about 12,300 feet. We stopped to go through the crazy effort to pump water and then the worst possible thing happened. The handle on the pump broke off as shown in the picture below (see pump on right). Because of the extreme pressure we were exerting, the pump handle broke. Gotta admit, there was some bad language at this point! However, through extreme patience and a very sore hand from the pressure of the now jagged pump handle top, we manged to pump enough water to get us back to camp.

The bottom line is that we made it through the final day by spending more than an hour pumping enough tiny squirts of water to add up to enough to hydrate us. I’m thankful we finished our trip and it really was an awesome time. The rest of this story is about the solution.

Katadyn Hiker and Hike Pro water Filtration Units Solutions

Katadyn water pump
My business is outdoors gear and we own more than 20 Katadyn Hiker and Hike Pro water filtration units that we rent to backpackers. Prior to this year, I’d seen some issues but I honestly chalked them up to inexperienced product users. But even with that said, I got serious about possible solutions last year and started to test other water purification products. Through this process I’ve learned a lot and what I’m going to share with you now will save you money and give you a more reliable water source when you are out backpacking in the future. All of the information below is pertaining to water filtration systems that safely filter bacteria out of water. Please contact me directly if you would like information on systems that also filter viruses.

Paper Filters

The Katadyn Hiker and Hiker Pro utilize a paper filter. Paper filters do a great job filtering water and I have used them on many outdooradventures. The big problem with paper filters is understanding when they are nearing the end of their usable life. I’ve seen many filters that appear very stained and possibly clogged that work great. I’m assuming that’s because some water is more stained and leaves behind a more visible residue. Conversely, some filters don’t appear very stained, but are near the end of their useful life. This is frustrating and potentially will end your trip early.

Ceramic Filters

A second technology that I like better than paper is ceramic filters. Again, they both do a great job filtering bacteria, but when a ceramic filter begins to clog and the pumping is more difficult there is an easy solution. Simply take the included brillo type pad and rub the outer thin layer off the ceramic filter surface. The result will be a filter pump that works like new. Each filtration unit also contains a device for easily measuring the filter to make sure it is still effective. It’s easy to use but there is a draw back. The pump will continue to work even if it isn’t effectively filtering bacteria so it’s critical to measure the filter each time you clean it. Ceramic water purification units can be purchased from Katadyn, MSR, and Platypus.

Fiber Water Filters

Sawyer water system
A third technology and the one really making a splash in the market today is hollow fiber water filters. One company is actually guaranteeing their filters for 1 million gallons of water filtration. Hmmmm, I’m not buying that claim, but it’s ok because these filters will filter a whole lot of water! In fact, depending on conditions, paper water filters are good for around 800 liters of water and ceramic filters may get you 1500 liters. I don’t think your going to get anywhere close to 1 million gallons with hollow fiber filters, but even if you only get 20,000 liters that adds up to about 5,000 nights on the trail! And there are three other significant advantages of hollow fiber filters.

  • They are much lighter than other systems and weight matters when backpacking
  • They can work off of gravity. NO MORE PUMPING!
  • They can be easily back flushed in the field if water flow becomes slow.

With all the benefits that hollow fiber technology brings to the table, it may be time to dump that old paper water filter. Hollow fiber technology is here and it’s here to stay. Two companies making hollow fiber water purification devices are Platypus and Sawyer. We love the Sawyer System and it has passed our gear testing process.