Monday, November 30, 2015

Water Filter Comparison

Recently, a friend asked me to do a water purifier comparison between two that I’ve used off an on over the years. Those two are
Steripen:
Purificup:
The way they operate is like night and day. The Steripen is a battery powered wand and shines UV-C light into a bottle of water. UV-C is how a lot of medical instrument sterilizers work.
The Purificup on the other hand is a silver membrane cartridge filter that kills bacteria. Way too complicated for me to understand, so here it is from the Purificup Website:
The mechanism for the antibacterial effect of silver is the following; when the positively charged silver particle collides with negatively charged bacterial cell wall, it will instantly adhere to the cell wall and effectively disrupt the growth mechanism, causing bacterial lysis. Furthermore, silver can cause bacterial protein to denature, thus effect the metabolism of the pathogens. The pathogens are no longer able to respire, multiply and metabolize, and creating a difficult environment for pathogens to survive.

Water Purifier Comparison: Pros

First in the water filter comparison is the pros, or good points of each filter.
The Steripen is small, lightweight, and faster (90 seconds for a liter). Replacement batteries are smaller than replacement cartridges. No cleaning is needed. Some models use common AA batteries that are easy to find in most countries.
The Purificup is essentially hands-free. It removes odors, taste, silt and particles. The filter fits a variety of bottles or containers.
Water Purifier Comparison - Purificup Sediment
Check out the sediment in that Purificup!

Water Purifier Comparison: Cons

Next for the water purifier comparison is the cons, or bad points of each filter.
The Steripen shows random weird error messages on a flashing LED. Usually it can only be fixed by replacing the batteries. Sometime you have to push the On Switch ten or more times before it works. If you sit on the wand it will break. If you let the wand slip out of the water at all it will shut down and you have to start over. It won’t sterilize cloudy water. Some models require a screwdriver to replace the batteries. Some models require special expensive batteries that are hard to find in foreign countries. All models work much better on Lithium batteries. Airport Security Agents in several countries have pulled my Steripen out of my bag for inspection. Several then called their supervisors for permission to let me keep it. I’ve read reports of spotty performance at altitude in the cold. I’ve experienced this myself as well.
Purificup: Cartridges must be gotten from the website and a few limited retail locations. If you try to filter out too much silt or sediment the cartridge will clog up. The filter cartridge can freeze up if the compound inside is wet.

Water Purifier Comparison: Recommendations

In this water purifier comparison I am giving you some tips on how to best use each of these two.
I can only recommend the Steripen if you will mostly be using tap water near cities. Even then you would have to rely on Alkaline or Rechargeables. Neither will give satisfactory service. You could keep NiMH charged with a Goal Zero Guide 10 kit, but you would have to have two sets to rotate. The AA Steripen is heavier, and I know from personal experience that the battery cap has very tiny fingers that will break very easy. Then you’ll have to hold the batteries in with one hand while pushing the button with the other to turn it on. Sadly, I can’t recommend the Explorer at all. It uses the CR123 batteries that you will not find anywhere outside the first world. I’ve never gotten more than 20 liters out of a set of those batteries without it locking up with the random undecipherable error codes. I never had this issue with the AA pen. If you go to the support forums, you’ll see lots of others complaining.
Steripen Explorer. Small but expensive batteries don't last long
Steripen Explorer. Small but expensive batteries don’t last long
With the Purificup, I recommend that you get two filter cartridges right away. Label them “A” and “B”. If you’re going to be out for more than three days, swap out the cartridges. They seem to work better a little “dry” every few days. If it seems slow, be sure it’s vertical. I also prefer to use a threaded bottle like a Platypus though a Pepsi bottle works as well.
Water purifier Comparison purificup on a platypus
Purificup Water Purifier with a threaded bottle
Don’t screw it all the way on. The air seal will prevent the gravity feed of the water. Another thing to do if it seems slow is to shake it. The directions mention this, but no one reads the directions, right? I usually do the steps for “before first use” from the directions. Soak and flush it a couple times. The cartridge will fit in a snack ziplock bag. If I’m going to be out for a week and the water won’t be too bad I’ll take one cartridge. For Carstensz I used two filters. Even then I stressed them to the max with the dirty river water we had to drink.
To protect from freezing I put it in a neoprene water bottle slipcover. I discarded the “clean water container” from the kit. I put the rest into a neoprene bottle sleeve. This protects it from abuse as well as cold. At night just tuck it into a corner of your sleeping bag to keep it warm.
Purificup in Neoprene Bottle Sleeve
Purificup in Neoprene Bottle Sleeve
Water Purifier Comparison: Wrapping Up
And now to wrap up the water purifier comparison with a few choice comments.
In reality this water filter comparison shouldn’t be just between these two purification systems. To be totally fair I’d have to also put in iodine, chlorine, and the pump type filters. Be that as it may, between the two in this water purifier comparison, I have grown to love the Purificup, and have taken it on all my trips since last Summer. I’ve been able to purify as much water as I need. Since I started taking two cartridges, I haven’t had any glitches having to do with the filter itself.
On Carstensz (Read the Book) I had a small issue for a couple days. I had a clogged filter after a week of thick river water. I wasn’t able to get to my bag to get the second cartridge out due largely to a broken rib. For those two days I was stuck with chlorine, and that’s why I came up with the rotation suggestion above. Learn from my experience.
If you have any suggestions or comments about this brief water purifier comparison, please leave it below.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Purificup Water Filter Surprise Package

[originally published 05-16-2013]
Trekking to Carstensz Base Camp last month I managed to keep clean pure water with my Purificup Water Filter. The river water was full of silt and plant pieces. It was cloudy and I was really glad to have my water filter with. I've used it now on Elbrus, Aconcagua, Orizaba, and Carstensz. I've used my Purificup Water Filter in hotels, in tents, in huts, out in the open. Alongside rivers and creeks and pipes sticking out of the ground. On Aconcagua you scoop your water out of barrels that allow the mineral sediment to settle out to a thick sludge at the bottom.
Purificup Water Filter prepared for Carstensz
Getting the Purificup Water Filter ready for Carstensz on April 16
On the trek to Carstensz, the river water was so thick and cloudy, and I was drinking five to six liters a day of purified water. I managed to go through two filter cartridges, though I think I could have gotten a few more days out of the second cartridge in my Purificup Water Filter. I've discovered that even when clogged up, if you let it dry for a couple days then shake it, like in the instructions, you can safely get another few liters out of it.

Purificup Water Filter Surprise Package Contents

Purificup Water Filter Surprise Package
Purificup Water Filter Surprise Package
After my trip to Carstensz, recovering from my torn cartilage and intercostal muscles, I was talking to my good friends at Purificup and they wanted to congratulate me for a job well done, in spite of great physical pain and adversity and setbacks. One of the toughest climbs in the Seven Summits. Finished.
"I feel the weight of all my failures fall off my shoulders. My second in the Seven Summits. One of the most difficult, technically and logistically. I'm so glad I let myself get talked into doing this now, this year, this season." -- Carstensz Stone Age to Iron Age (publishing May 2013)
A few days later a box appeared on my porch. I opened it up, and was surprised to see a brand new Purificup Water Filter. Thanks guys. I will totally need this for my next big adventure. I've come to rely on it.
Purificup Water Filter being used while hiking
Purificup Water Filter making water on the trail

Purificup Water Purifier on Aconcagua

[originally published 12-19-2012]
I recently visited Aconcagua in Argentina, which was a perfect opportunity to test out the Purificup Water Purifier in a real-world environment. Aconcagua is the tallest mountain outside the Himalaya, at almost 23,000' in elevation. The water here comes from glacial melt. So is typically very hard on water filters.
Mules Crossing a Muddy River requires a Water Purifier
Mules crossing the Rio Horcones on the route to Aconcagua
As the glacier ice descends from the mountain it grinds the rocks into silt. These minerals in the water clog a water purifier with microscopic pores. Like the ceramic filters. On Aconcagua most trekkers and climbers have their gear carried by mules. Park regulations prevent humans from leaving urine or feces, but it's hard to control the mules. The mules cross the river many times on the way to camp.
human waste control and a water purifier helps keep drinking water safe
Don't leave urine or feces along the trail to Aconcagua base camp
I carried my own water on the trek to Confluencia. This is the mid-way camp to Aconcagua base camp. I had used my Purificup Water Purifier at the lodge in Penitentes Ski Area the day before the hike. The water at Confluencia comes from snow melting up a narrow slot in the canyons. It comes into camp in a spider web of tubing that ends in spigots, hoses, and barrels.
lack of hygiene in Confluencia Camp - you'll want a water purifier
Frozen water pipe at Confluencia on Aconcagua trail
When I got to my dome hut for the night I broke out the Purificup Water Purifier to make water for the rest of that day, that night, and the next day. About 5 liters total. I purified into my Platypus bottle screwed onto the bottom of the Purificup.
Purificup Water Purifier ready to make water
Purificup Water Purifier ready to go in the dome hut at Confluencia on Aconcagua
I noticed was a lot of white particles of minerals in the water purifier "dirty" chamber. The resulting purified water was clean and clear and pure though. It apparently did a good job on getting those out of the water. I imagine they originate at the snow melt source in a gravel pit.
white mineral flakes in the water purifier
Notice the white flakes of mineral in the Purificup chamber?
I made water pretty quick. Ten minutes for the first three liters. I packed up my Purificup water purifier into a neoprene sleeve I brought to insulate it. I had been warned by the good folks at Purificup that water at 32 degrees equals ice and you can't purify ice. The water system at Confluencia did freeze up overnight. It was cold.
use a water purifier to filter out mineral deposits like these
Mineral deposits on flood plain

Milky Glacier Water in a Water Purifier

The next day I left Confluencia to finish my trek to Aconcagua base camp. This section of trail is almost 12 miles. The last 4 miles is very difficult steep trekking. I crossed a section of flood plain along the river. Here was obvious sign of the mineral salt concentration in the water. White dusty edges where the water had flooded the trail. It looked similar to the alkali stains you see in the Western USA deserts. This is the kind of water I've heard is hard on your water purifier.
you need a water purifier to filter this glacial melt mineral water
Milky glacial melt water is tough on a water purifier
Later I had to walk along the edge of the river over a rock slide bank. The milky water in the river was very obvious. More evidence of the mythical water purifier clogging Aconcagua water.
community water system at base camp requires a water purifier
Aconcagua Plaza de Mulas Base Camp Water Tubing and Barrels
Plaza de Mulas, at 14,110' of elevation, is Aconcagua base camp. Here there is another community water system to tax your water purifier. Hygiene at base camp is even more lax than at Confluencia. The water runs through tubing from the edge of the melting snow and then forks into barrels. On cold nights the barrels freeze. The hut staff normally just beats the surface with hammers or rocks to break it up. They use cans, pans, or coffee pots to scoop the water out. I've seen climbers stick their hands in to splash water over their faces and drink. You must use some type of water purifier.
Purificup water purifier in use at altitude
Purificup at the hut in Aconcagua base camp 14,110'
I used my Purificup at base camp, at altitude. I noticed a similar reduction in flow pressure as at Elbrus. If you make sure to unscrew the bottle from the bottom just enough to let the pressure equalize, it should flow fine. I kept my Purificup in the neoprene sleeve next to my cot on the floor, with the rest of my clean and dirty water containers. This worked fine for the first three days.
Purificup water purifier in an insulated sleeve
My gear by the bed, including Purificup in blue neoprene bottle wrap
On the third night the temperature dropped drastically. All my water bottles froze. Even the 48 oz Platypus flexible water bottle froze. My Nalgene froze. Apparently my Purificup water purifier froze too. I had some water in a Nalgene that wasn't frozen, as I kept it in my sleeping bag overnight. Tip: put a Nalgene of very hot water between your feet. Heaven!
obviously a frozen water purifier will not work
Frozen Nalgene ice crystals
At this point I had already decided to descend for health reasons [more info]. If I were going to stay for longer, I would have gotten some hot water from the kitchen tent to soak the cartridge and thaw it. Next time I go on a cold climb I'll keep the Purificup water purifier in the sleeve inside my sleeping bag with me. The water barrels in camp were frozen to a depth between 8 and 12 inches. Very cold night. I've slept in Alaska at 10 below zero (F) with my water in insulated Nalgene bottles. They did not freeze even outside my sleeping bag. Amazing to me.
frozen water does not work in a water purifier
Frozen water barrels at Aconcagua base camp

Purificup Water Purifier Summary

When I got down to Penitentes I was able to thaw out my Purificup water purifier. The water flowed fast and smooth, as expected at only 9,000' of elevation. It also showed no signs of being clogged up by the mineral silt in the water. I had purified several gallons of water. Approximately 6 liters per day for 6 days. I am very happy with the performance I've experienced.
hiking home after using my water purifier for nearly ten gallons
Hiking out in 100km/hr winds and blowing ice crystals