When you are about to embark on a trip away the excitement may overtake your thoughts of health and safety (no I’m not with the HSE police). However, too often people fall ill to poisoning due to carelessness. So I was fascinated at a recent travel expo to discover how to make dirty water clean when travelling. The amazing modern product is known as a Lifestraw, yet there is now a whole industry built around these water filtration products.
The traditional way how to make dirty water clean in the 1990s was not pleasant
I remember my first big adventure travelling abroad. I was going inter-railing around Europe for a month with 3 friends. As part of our planning we wanted to make sure we had all the necessary travel accessories, this included water purifying tablets. Well it was the early 1990s and that is what was available at the time. As someone living in the UK I was fortunate enough to be able to drink tap water without any concerns over my health. Yet once you get to mainland Europe (and indeed many countries around the world) you need to be mindful of the water treatments used. Did you know that all tap water in Singapore is recycled water?
As we backpacked around Europe for a month I did use the tablets from time to time but to be honest they were awful! The water tasted horrible and you had to give it time (maybe an hour or so) for them to work their magic and make the water safe to drink. Hardly much use if you are desperate for a drink and have finally found a water source.
Now we are well into the 21st century and there is a whole new market in how to make clean water when travelling.
At the travel expo I attended in Melbourne I couldn’t help but notice an exhibit for the Life Straw product range. On display were items such as the lifestraw bottle called “Lifestraw Go”, “Lifestraw Family” which you can use to filter water in bulk and an actual “Lifestraw” itself.
Once I saw the guy at the exhibit drinking from a bottle of really filthy looking water I was fascinated. How could that be safe drinking water?
Then it was explained to me the process of how to clean dirty water in an instant.
The Lifestraw uses a special filter system of hollow fibre technology within the straw. No chemicals are used and it is instant filtering. So much so you can use the Lifestraw itself to drink directly from rivers and lakes.
Alternatively the Life Straw water bottle allows you to fill up a bottle with water so you can take it with you. Perfect for replenishing supplies when trekking or camping.
The product has been highly acclaimed since it’s introduction in 2005. So much so that it is being used in various projects in third world countries. Yes, the Lifestraw is saving peoples’ lives by providing them with the safest water to drink without expensive water purification systems. The benefits of the life straw range has been acknowledged by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation. It can often be seen used after natural disasters.
On the downside, I was advised that the filter was not likely to be very useful if I drank from a polluted river down stream from a chemical plant. Having said that I would be more likely to use it whilst on an outdoor trek in the countryside or camping anyway.
So what are the key benefits and negatives of the Lifestraw:-
– instantaneous filtering of water which you can drink immediately
– chemical free
– it reduces turbidity (that is a fancy word to say it filters out the muddiness in the water)
– filters out 99.9999% of bacteria (E.coli etc)
– removes 99.999% of viruses (such as Rotavirus, Hepatitis A)
– removes 99.99% of protozoa (such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia)
– inexpensive compared to competitor brands
– the Lifestraw itself is light and easy to carry around
– for each Lifestraw purchased the company is providing a developing country school child with safe drinking water for a year in their Follow the Litres program
– claims to be able to filter at least 1,000 litres per filter – this however is a conservative estimate. The company made this guideline assuming really bad water is used on every occasion. Yet when I questioned this, if you clean the filter on a regular basis (blowing the straw clean after each use) then you are likely to get a much longer life from it. Having said that 1,000 litres in itself is nearly 3 years worth if you use it for 1 litre a day
– the Lifestraw is only useful when you are directly at the water source. However with the introduction of the Life Straw Go water bottle you can fill the bottle and take the water with you
– critics have said that the Lifestraw is not great for filtering large volumes of water. However with the likes of the LifeStraw Family water purifier you can hold a capacity of 5 or 12 litres
– the Lifestraw filters to 0.2 microns (term for how microscopic the filter is, the smaller the number the better). Competitors with a lower micron level (such as 0.1 microns) can also filter out viruses
To be honest this was my first real insight to these water filtering tools and I was very impressed. Little wonder some have described the Lifestraw as the innovation of the century.
I wanted to try these for myself so enquired to how much the lifestraw cost. I was given an attractive price to buy both the Lifestraw itself and the Lifestraw Go water bottle. I much preferred the idea of the Life Straw bottle since I could carry the water with me. (Prices available now are from around £20 upwards.)
I must admit that after trying it on a few water sources I am very impressed. At first you need a bit of suck to get the water through the filter but this is fine. All the dirty stuff in the water is filtered out and the taste is very acceptable. It was certainly a lot more pleasant than using water purification tablets.
How to get clean water in other ways
There are of course other ways to get clean water apart from a water filter.
– I’ve already discussed water purification tablets. Iodine tablets can get rid of many viruses in water. On the down side chemical tablets take a period of time to work and the water can be a really unpleasant taste.
– Stand the water in UV light for an extended period of time, 1-2 days depending on the quality of sunlight. This is not ideal nor guaranteed as safe if you are in need of a drink sooner rather than later.
– Boiling water for an extended period of time. This is a traditional method and one I still use to this day in some hotels. However this requires appropriate containers (kettle/pan) and a heat source (fire/electric/gas). Also this is not instantaneous.
Competitors offering a way on how to clean dirty water
Whilst the Lifestraw and in particular the Lifestraw Go is in my mind perfect for travelling, camping and trekking there are now some significant competitors on the market. These however tend to be more expensive than the Lifestraw so it depends on what fits your budget.
The Sawyer Water Bottle has a much longer filter life than the Lifestraw Go, it claims to last for at least 1 million gallons (which is at least 3 million litres depending on whether you are using UK or US gallons) as opposed to 1,000 litres with the Lifestraw. It also filters to 0.1 microns vs the life straw 0.2 microns.
The considerably more expensive Lifesaver bottle offers the most advanced filter yet, going down to 0.015 microns! This is perfect for filtering out viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and virtually anything else which you don’t want in your water.
I’ll be honest with you, I’ve not tried these competitor products. They all seem like great water filters for camping, travel and any other excursion.
I have tried the Lifestraw and Lifestraw Go and am very happy with them. Whilst the Lifestraw is neat and easy to carry it is only useful at source. I much prefer my water bottle version the Lifestraw Go which can be clipped or carried wherever I go.