NOTE: THESE PAGES HAVE BEEN DRAMATICALLY UPDATED
IN DARE TO PREPARE 4th EDITION
Microfilters are small-scale filters designed to remove cysts, suspended solids, protozoa, and in some cases bacteria from water. Most filters use a ceramic or fiber element that can be cleaned to restore performance as the units are used. Most units and almost all made for camping use a hand pump to force the water through the filter. Others use gravity, either by placing the water to be filtered above the filter (e.g. the Katadyn drip filter), or by placing the filter in the water, and running a siphon hose to a collection vessel located below the filter (e.g. Katadyn siphon filter). Microfilters are the only method, other than boiling, to remove Cryptosporidia. Microfilters do not remove viruses, which many experts do not consider to be a problem in North America. Despite this the Katadyn microfilter has seen considerable use around the world by NATO-member militaries, WHO, UNHCR, and other aid organizations. Microfilters share a problem with charcoal filter in having bacteria grow on the filter medium. Some handle this by impregnating the filter element with silver such as the Katadyn, others advise against storage of a filter element after it has been used. The Sweetwater Guardian suggests using a freezer for short-term storage
Many microfilters may include silt prefilters, activated charcoal stages, or an iodine resin. Most filters come with a stainless steel prefilter, but other purchased or improvised filters can be added to reduce the loading on the main filter element. Allowing time for solids to settle, and/or prefiltering with a coffee filter will also extend filter life. Iodine matrix filters will kill viruses that will pass through the filter, and if a charcoal stage is used it will remove much of the iodine from the water. Charcoal filters will also remove other dissolved natural or manmade contaminates. Both the iodine and the charcoal stages do not indicate when they reach their useful life, which is much shorter than the filter element. If you are depending on the stage for filtering the water you will have to keep up with how much water passes through it.
New designs seem to be coming out every month. The best selling brands seem to be the PUR, and Sweetwater Guardian. The Katadyn doesn't sell as well to outdoor enthusiasts due to its high cost, but for years it was state of the art for water purification and still has a loyal following, especially among professionals in relief work. Below is the data on a few of the more common units, for a excellent field test of some common units, see the December 96 issue of Backpacker magazine.
Note that the first price is for the filter, the second for the replacement filter. The weight is from manufacturers literature if it was not listed in the Backpacker article. Filter life is from manufacturers literature and should be taken with a grain of salt.
Basic Designs Ceramic Filter Pump ($29/$15, 8 oz.) Cheap flimsy filter, claimed to filter up to 500 gallons with a 0.9 µm ceramic filter. Not EPA rated, may not have passed independent lab tests, prone to damage, filter element must be submerged in water.
General Ecology- First Need Deluxe ($70/$30, 20 oz) This filter uses a structured matrix micro strainer, though General Ecology won't reveal what the structure is. It has survived independent lab tests, and filters particles to 4 µm, while actually removing viruses (the only filter capable of doing this) through electrostatic attraction. The filter cartridges can't be cleaned (other than by back flushing), but are good for 100 gallons. Pump design isn't the best. Other models are available from the manufacturer.
Katadyn PF ($295/$145, 22.7 oz). The original microfilter using a 0.2 µm silver impregnated ceramic candle. An extremely thick filter allows it to be cleaned many times for up to 14,000 gallons capacity. While the Katadyn seems well made, one reader of this list reported breaking the candle, and Backpacker Magazine broke the case during a field test. The pump, while probably indestructible, is somewhat slow and hard to use, requiring 20 lbs. of force on a small handle. The PF also lacks a output hose as the Katadyn engineers felt if would be a source of contamination.
Katadyn Combi ($185/$75 (ceramic)/$19 (carbon), 29 oz) A cheaper version of the PF incorporating both ceramic and carbon stages. Much faster filter than the PF.
Katadyn Minifilter ($139/$59, 8.3 oz) A smaller and cheaper version of the PF, easier to pump, but generally not well received. Good for 200 gallons.
Katadyn Expedition ($680/$77, 13 lb.) Similar filter to the PF (exact same cartridge as the Drip Filter Below), but designed for much higher production, stainless steel case with spade type D handle, produces 0.75 gpm. Filter good for 26,000 gallons.
Katadyn Drip Style Filter ($240, $77, 12.5 lb.) Filter elements similar to those in the PF are mounted vertically in top 3 gallon plastic bucket, water drips through filters into second 3 gallon bucket with faucet. 1 qt, per hour with the 2 filters included, a third filter can be added to increase rate 50%. Each filter good for 13,000 gallons. The mounting hardware for the filters is available for $10 to allow you to make your own filter of what ever size is needed. Each mounting kit requires a ½" hole in the bottom of the raw water container.
Katadyn Siphon Filter ($92, 2 lb.) Similar design to PF filter element, but a siphon hose replaces the pump, filters 1-2 quarts per hour (allow 1 hour for the filter to "prime" itself via capillary action), but multiple filters can be used in the same container. Collection vessel must be lower than raw water container. Good for13,000 gallons.
MSR Miniworks ($59/$30, 14 oz) MSR's smaller filter, using a 0.3 µm ceramic element. Pump is well designed, and easy to use. Main drawback is that the clean water discharge is from the bottom of the filter, and no hose is provided. While the bottom is threaded for a Nalgene bottle, it is a pain in the butt to fill a canteen or 2 liter bottle. Claimed to filter 100 gallons, Backpacker Magazine feels this may be one of the few filters without a grossly inflated rating
MSR Waterworks ($140/$30/$30, 17 oz) MSR's first filter with a 0.2 µ ceramic and membrane stage and a carbon stage. Other wise similar to the Miniworks.
PUR Pioneer ($30/$4, 8 oz), newly introduced low-end microfilter. 0.5 µm, 1 lpm filter rate, 12 gallon capacity
PUR Hiker ($50/$20, 12 oz) PUR's microfilter only design, filters to .5 µm. Well liked, as are the other PUR filters. Very compact. 200 gallon capacity
PUR Scout ($70/$35/$15, 12 oz) Combines a iodine resin stage, a 1.0 µm filter, and a activated charcoal filter. 200 gallon capacity
PUR Explorer ($130/$45, 22 oz) PUR's top of the line model. Bulky, but well made, with a high output (1.4 lpm, faster than any of the hand held models listed and one of the easiest to pump) Has a 1.0 µm filter plus a iodine resin stage, 300 gallon capacity
Sweetwater Walkabout ($35/$13, 8.5 oz.) Sweetwater's low end filter, 0.2 µm, .7 lpm, 100 gal capacity
Sweetwater Guardian ($60/$20, 11 oz) Uses a glass fiber and carbon filter, filters to .2 µm, claimed to last for 200 gallons. An iodine resin stage can be added that will kill viruses, and will last for 90 gallons. Pump is well designed, but it takes a few seconds to pull a captive pin to fold for storage. Available in white or OD.
Timberline Eagle ($20/$13, 8 oz) At 1 µm, this filter only does protozoa, but is much easier to pump, lighter, and cheaper. Filter is attached to pump, and must rest (but doesn't have to be submerged) in water to be purified. Looks flimsy, but seems to hold up. Claimed to last for 100 gallons.
It is also possible to build your own microfilter using diatomaceous earth, sold for swimming pool filters (DE). Usually pressure is required to achieve a reasonable flow rate. A DE filter will remove turbidity as well as pathogens larger than 1 um.
NOTE FROM ALAN: This type of diatomaceous earth is NOT the type you want for food storage. Don't get them confused.
Slow Sand Filter
Slow sand filters pass water slowly through a bed of sand. Pathogens and turbidity are removed by natural die-off, biological action, and filtering. Typically the filter will consist of 24 inches of sand, then a gravel layer in which the drain pipe is embedded. The gravel doesn't touch the walls of the filter so that water can't run quickly down the wall of the filter and into the gravel. Building the walls with a rough surface also helps. A typical loading rate for the filter is 0.2 meters/hour day (the same as .2 m^3/m^2 of surface area). The filter can be cleaned several times before the sand has to be replaced.
Slow sand filter construction information:
Slow sand filters should only be used for continuous water treatment. If a continuous supply of raw water can't be insured (say using a holding tank), then another method should be chosen. It is also important for the water to have as low turbidity (suspended solids) as possible. Turbidity can be reduced by changing the method of collection (for example, building an infiltration gallery, rather than taking water directly from a creek), allowing time for the material to settle out (using a raw water tank), prefiltering or flocculation (adding a chemical such as alum to cause the suspended material to floc together.)
The SSF filter itself is a large box, at least 1.5 meters high. The walls should be as rough as possible to reduce the tendency for water to run down the walls of the filter, bypassing the sand. The bottom layer of the filter is a gravel bed in which a slotted pipe is placed to drain off the filtered water. The slots or the gravel should be no closer than 20 cm to the walls. again to prevent the water from bypassing the sand.
The sand for a SSF needs to be clean and uniform, and of the correct size. The sand can be cleaned in clean running water , even if it is in a creek. The ideal specs on sand are effective size (sieve size through which 10% of the sand passes) between 0.15 and 0.35 mm, uniformity coefficient (ratio of sieve sizes through which 60% pass and through which 10% pass) of less than 3, Maximum size of 3 mm, and minimum size of 0.1 mm.
The sand is added to a SSF to a minimum depth of 0.6 meters. Additional thickness will allow more cleanings before the sand must be replaced. 0.3 to 0.5 meters of extra sand will allow the filter to work for 3-4 years. An improved design uses a geotextile layer on top of the sand to reduce the frequency of cleaning. The outlet of a SSF must be above the sand level, and below the water level. The water must be maintained at a constant level to insure an even flow rate throughout the filter. The flow rate can be increased by lowering the outlet pipe, or increasing the water level. One common idea for maintaining the water level is to use a elevated raw water tank or pump, and a ball valve from a toilet.
While the SSF will begin to work at once, optimum treatment for pathogens will take a week or more. During this time the water should be chlorinated if at all possible (iodine can be substituted). After the filter has stabilized, the water should be safe to drink, but chlorinating of the output is still a good idea, particularly to prevent recontamination.
As the flow rate slows down the filter will have to be cleaned by draining and removing the top few inches of sand. If a geotextile filter is used, only the top ½" may have to be removed. As the filter is refilled, it will take a few days for the biological processes to reestablish themselves.
Activated Charcoal Filter
Activated charcoal filters water through adsorption, chemicals and some heavy metals are attracted to the surface of the charcoal, and are attached to it. Charcoal filters will filter some pathogens though they will quickly use up the filter adsorptive ability, and can even contribute to contamination as the charcoal provides an excellent breeding ground for bacteria and algae. Some charcoal filters are available impregnated with silver to prevent this, though current research concludes that the bacteria growing on the filter are harmless, even if the water wasn't disinfected before contacting the filter. The only filter I know of that uses only activated charcoal, and doesn't required pressurized water is the Water Washer ($59). Available from the Survival Center.
Activated charcoal can be used in conjunction with chemical treatment. The chemical (iodine or chlorine) will kill the pathogens, while the carbon filter will remove the treatment chemicals. In this case, as the filter reaches its capacity, a distinctive chlorine or iodine taste will be noted.
Activated charcoal can be made at home, though the product will be of varying quality compared to commercial products. Either purchased or homemade charcoal can be recycled by burning off the molecules adsorbed by the carbon (This won't work with heavy metals of course.)
The more activated charcoal in a filter, the longer it will last. The bed of carbon must be deep enough for adequate contact with the water. Production designs use granulated activated charcoal (effective size or 0.6 to 0.9 mm for maximum flow rate. Home or field models can also use a compressed carbon block or powered activated charcoal (effective size 0.01) to increase contact area. Powered charcoal can also be mixed with water and filtered out later. As far as life of the filter is concerned, carbon block filters will last the longest for a given size, simply due to their greater mass of carbon. A source of pressure is usually needed with carbon block filters to achieve a reasonable flow rate.
Sol-Air Water Treatment
If sufficient dissolved oxygen is available, sunlight will cause the temporary formation of reactive forms of oxygen such as hydrogen peroxide and oxygen free radicals. This form of water treatment is called solar photooxidative disinfection or sol-air water treatment. Sol-Air water treatment has been shown to dramatically reduce the level of fecal coliform bacteria. There is some evidence that other bacteria and viruses may be affected also. While not as reliable as other methods, it does offer a low-tech solution in emergencies. Sol-Air treatment requires bright sunlight, and has been shown to be effective when ever the sun causes a distinct shadow to be cast. Exposure to 4.5 hours of bright sunlight has been shown to cause a thousand fold reduction in fecal coliforms in lab tests
In order for Sol-Air to be effective, oxygen must be present. Experiments have shown that shaking a bottle filled 3/4 with air will restore oxygen levels to near saturation. As the treatment continues, some of the oxygen will come out of solution, while other oxygen will be consumed by the killed pathogens, so the shaking should be repeated every few hours. Data shows that maximum activity occurs when the water temperature is above 50° C (122° F), so this method may be unsuitable in colder climates unless special solar collectors are used.
Either glass or plastic bottles may be used. Plastic bottles will allow short wave ultraviolet radiation to pass, increasing the rate of microbial inactivation, but may yellow with age, reducing light transmission, and may leach plasticizers into the water at the elevated temperatures that will occur. The leaching of plasticizers can be reduced by using bottles of PET (polyethlyene terephtalate) rather than PVC. Glass bottles on the other hand are more durable. Research has used bottles with 2 liters of capacity, but if the water is free of turbidity, larger containers can be used. Plastic bags, or some sort of flat glass container represent the ideal container as this maximizes the solar energy received per ounce of water.
Bottles should be filed 3/4 full in the early morning with water as free of turbidity as possible. After capping the bottles should be shaken vigorously for a few minutes then placed upright in the sun, where they will be not be shaded later in the day. The shaking should be repeated at least three times during the day. At the end of the day the water should be reasonably freed of bacteria, though it is most practical to let the water cool for consumption the following day. Each day a new batch should be treated due to the lack of a residual disinfected.
After consumption of the water the bottle should be air dried to prevent algae growth with continual use.
Improvised Mechanical Filter
If the materials arent available to build a slow sand filter, or some other means of water treatment is preferred, it may still be advantageous to mechanically filter the water before treating it with chemicals or passing through a microfilter. Generally the idea is to allow the water to flow as slowly as possible through a bed of sand. In a municipal water treatment plant this is called a rapid sand filter. The particular design below is included, because the designer, a research engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratories, found it particularly effective at removing fallout from water. The filter will do little or nothing to remove pathogens, though removing suspended solids allow others water treatment methods to work more effectively.
Expedient water filter, from Nuclear War Survival Skills, Cresson Kearny, ORNL
1) Perforate the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket, or similar container with a dozen nail holes even spread over a 4" diameter circle in the center of the container.
2) Place a 1.5" layer of small stones or pebbles in the bottom of the can. If pebbles arent available, marbles, clean bottle caps, twisted coat hangers or clean twigs can be used.
3) Cover the pebbles with one thickness of terrycloth towel, burlap sackcloth, or other porous cloth. Curl the cloth in a roughly circular shape about three inches larger then the diameter of the can.
4) Take soil containing some clay (pure clay isnt porous enough, pure sand is too porous) from at least 4" below the surface of the ground (nearly all fallout particles remain near the surface except after disposition on sand or gravel.)
5) Pulverize the soil, then gently press it in layers over the cloth that covers the pebbles, so that the cloth is held snugly against the walls of the can. The soil should be 6-7" thick.
6) Completely cover the surface of the soil layer with one thickness of fabric as porous as a bath towel. This is to keep the soil from being eroded as water is being poured into the filter. A dozen small stones placed on the cloth near its edges will secure it adequately.
7) Support the filter on rocks or sticks placed across the top of a container that is larger then the filter can (such as a dishpan)
The contaminated water should be poured into the filter can, preferably after allowing it to settle as described below. The filtered water should be disinfected by some method.
If the 6 or 7 inches of filtering soil is a sandy clay loam, the filter will initially deliver about 6 quarts/hour. If the filter is any faster than this then the fabric layer needs to be removed and the soil compressed more. The filtering rate will drop over time as the filter begins to clog up. When this happens the top 1/2" of soil can be removed to increase the filtering rate. After 50 or so quarts, the filter will need to be rebuilt with fresh soil.
As with any filter, optimum performance will be achieved if sediment in the water will be allowed to settle out before passing the water through the filter
If the water is contaminated with fallout, clay can be added to help the fallout particles to settle out. The procedure is as follows:
Fill a bucket or other deep container 3/4 full with contaminated water. Dig pulverized clay or clayey soil from a depth of four or more inches below ground surface and stir it into the water. Use about 1 inch of dry clay or clayey soil for every 4" depth of water. Stir until practically all of the clay particles are suspended in the water. Let the clay settle for at least 6 hours. This will carry the fallout particles to the bottom and cover them. Carefully dip out or siphon the clear water and disinfect it.
Chlorine: Chlorine is familiar to most Americans as it is used to treat virtually all municipal water systems in the United States. For a long time chlorine, in the form of Halazone tablets, was used to purify small batches of water for campers and military troops. Later questions emerged about the effectiveness of Halazone, and in 1989, Abbot labs pulled it off the market. If Halazone tablets are encountered outside the US, the nominal shelf life is 6 months, and the dosage is 2 tabs per liter. Until recently, there was no chlorine product designed for wilderness/survival use available in the US.
Chlorine has a number of problems when used for field treatment of water. When chlorine reacts with organic material, it attaches itself to nitrogen containing compounds (ammonium ions and amino acids), leaving less free chlorine to continue disinfection. Carcinogenic trihalomethanes are also produced, though this is only a problem with long-term exposure. Trihalomethanes can also be filtered out with a charcoal filter, though it is more efficient to use the same filter to remove organics before the water is chlorinated. Unless free chlorine is measured, disinfection can not be guaranteed with moderate doses of chlorine. One solution is superchlorination, the addition of far more chlorine than is needed. This must again be filtered through activated charcoal to remove the large amounts of chlorine, or hydrogen peroxide can be added to drive the chlorine off. Either way there is no residual chlorine left to prevent recontamination. This isn't a problem if the water is to be used at once.
Chlorine is sensitive to both the pH and temperature of the treated water. Temperature slows the reaction for any chemical treatment, but chlorine treatment is particularly susceptible to variations in the pH as at lower pHs, hypochlorous acid is formed, while at higher pHs, it will tend to dissociate into hydrogen and chlorite ions, which are less effective as a disinfectant. As a result, chlorine effectiveness drops off when the pH is greater than 8
Chlorine, like iodine, will not kill Cryptosporidia.
Methods of chlorine treatment:
Bleach: Ordinary household bleach (such as Clorox) in the US contains 5.25% sodium hypochlorite (NaOCL) and can be used to purify water if it contains no other active ingredients, scents, or colorings. Bleach is far from an ideal source due to its bulkiness (only 5% active ingredient), and the instability over time of the chlorine content in bleach. Chlorine loss is farther increased by agitation or exposure to air. One source claims chlorine loss from a 5% solution at 10% over 6 months if stored at 70° F. Nevertheless, this may be the only chemical means available to purify water, and it is far better than nothing. Normal dosage is 8 drops (0.4 ml) per gallon. Allow the treated water to sit for 30 min., and if there isn't a slight chlorine smell, retreat. Note: USP standard medicine droppers are designed to dispense 0.045-0.055 ml per drop. Use of other solvents or some chemicals can change this. The dropper can be calibrated against a graduated cylinder for greater accuracy.
Some small treatment plants in Africa produce their own sodium hypochlorite on site from the electrolysis of brine. Power demands range from 1.7 to 4 kWh per lb. of NaOCL. 2 to 3.5 lbs. of salt are needed for each pound of NaOCL. These units are fairly simple and are made in both the US and the UK. Another system, designed for China, where the suitable raw materials were mined or manufactured locally, used a reaction between salt, manganese dioxide, and sulfuric acid to produce chlorine gas. The gas was then allowed to react with slaked lime to produce a bleaching powder that could then be used to treat water. A heat source is required to speed the reaction up.
AquaCure: Designed for the South African military, these tablets contain chlorine and alum. The alum causes the suspended solids to flocculate and the chlorine adds 8 PPM chlorine. This is a great way to treat turbid water, though it will leave a lot of chlorine in clear water (The one tablet/liter could be halved for clear water.)
The US distributor for Aqua Cure is:
Denver, CO 80211
1 800 433 6506
Bleaching Powder (Chlorinated Lime): Can also be purchased and used as a purification means if nothing else is available. Bleaching powder is 33-37% chlorine when produced, but losses its chlorine rapidly, particularly when exposed to air, light or moisture.
Calcium Hypochlorite: Also known as High Test Hypochlorite (HTH). Supplied in crystal form, it is nearly 70% available chlorine. One product, the Sanitizer (formally the Sierra Water Purifier) uses these crystals to superchlorinate the water to insure pathogens were killed off, then hydrogen peroxide is added to drive off the residual chlorine. This is the most effective method of field chlorine treatment. The US military and most aid agencies also use HTH to treat their water, though a test kit, rather than superchlorination, is used to insure enough chlorine is added. This is preferable for large-scale systems as the residual chlorine will prevent recontamination
Usually bulk water treatment plants first dilute to HTH to make a 1% working solution at the rate of 14g HTH per liter of water. While testing to determine exact chlorine needs are preferable, the solution can be used at the dose rate of 8 drops/gallon, or for larger quantities, 1 part of 1% solution to 10,000 parts clear water. Either of these doses will result in 1 PPM chlorine and may need to be increased if the water wasn't already filtered by other means.
When test kits are available, the WHO standard is a residual chlorine level of 0.2 to 0.5 mg/l after a 30 min. contact time. The may require as much as 5 mg/l of chlorine to be added to the raw water.