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[pct-l] Water treatment options

I've just returned from my hike of the Oregon/Washington segment of PCT,
having finally finished the Trail, and can offer the following ideas on
water treatment options: by Oregon, most thru-hikers I met had either sent
home their filters or else had been without them since the beginning. A
surprising number were drinking directly from water sources, but a fair
number were also using the tried and true chemical treatment options of
either iodine or chlorine, treating either all or some of their water this
way. I know of no one who began the hike with either the zero-treatment or
chemical treatment approaches who later turned instead to filtration. All
seemed in good health, and we can assume therefore that for most hikers,
filtration is seen simply as overkill, especially considering the additional
weight, bulk, and effort.

I know of those who have split the difference between a traditional filter
and the lighter, "simpler" options by using the Safewater-type filters,
either the bottles or inline versions. Some people report success, even
while giving them heavy use during a long hike. However my experience with
both types is that they have a great propensity to clog, or at least reach a
point of resistance within the element that is too much to deal with
conveniently on a heavy-use basis. And even when new, the ease of use for
the hydration system-oriented inline version is nothing like drinking freely
through, say, a Camelback. It requires a lot of suction. And the bottles
require a lot of squeezing. This can be especially frustrating when there's
a desire to "chug" water, as on a hot desert day. This year I saw maybe one
or two people using the bottle versions. Didn't note anyone using inlines.

What I'm leading up to here is my own personal "elegant solution," neither a
filter, chemical treatment, or wholesale consumption of untreated water -
it's grapefruit seed extract. It comes in a 2oz squeeze bottle, sells for
around $8, and at 3-6 drops per quart is enough to take me perhaps 1000
miles up trail, while treating most sources along the way. GSE is known
mostly for its use in the digestive tract as an antibacterial and
antifungal, and there are quite a number of websites that talk up the
medicinal wonders of the stuff. However there is precious little information
about whether it is effective at treating water, especially of giardia, in
the same manner that one would use iodine or chlorine. Nonetheless I used it
this way on my hike this season, including a 30 minute allowance of contact
time before consumption, and like the few others I've heard of through the
grapevine that have used the product, I can report 100% health throughout
the journey. This is of special note because I've become chronically ill
while hiking long sections of the PCT during the 1999 and 2000 seasons -
intestinal troubles that persisted for weeks each time, although at a
sub-full blown giardia level which nonetheless was enough to send me home
prematurely each time. I had been using everything from pump filters, to
Safewater, to iodine crystals and solution.

So this is a hunch, not sound science, but a very strong hunch of mine that
grapefruit seed extract is, for me at least, an effective method of water
treatment. And to its great credit, it is lightweight and extremely simple
to use - like iodine or chlorine - but unlike those chemicals it is much
easier on the body, and in fact may provide health benefits internally that
only serve to bolster the body's resistance to things like giardia. Also, at
a 3-6 drop per quart concentration, the flavor of the treated water is not
at all offensive. (But does become quite bitter at very high
concentrations). So for me, it just made good sense to treat ALL of my water
this year. Doing so was neither inconvenient nor a potential chemical
overdose. And again, I stayed healthy the entire time, for the first time in
several years.

I saw no other hikers using GSE this season, although I did manage to raise
the level of interest in this product whenever the subject of water
treatment came up. I know of a handful who used it with good results last
year on the PCT, and I'd be interested to hear of other reports, positive or
negative, to see whether the stuff truly has merit across the board or if
I'm just some kind of, er, fluke.

Happy trails,
- blisterfree