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Tom's Aquaterra Sealion, N. MauiHow To Purify Wilderness Water
& Stow Water on a Kayak
by Tom Holtey

paddleOne may ask: "Why bring water? We are kayaking on water!" Gone are the days when one could drink from the lake or from a mountain stream. Surface water is just not considered pure enough to drink by outdoor experts. As a boy in summer camp our water was pumped right out of the lake, not far from the swimming beach! We used to drink out of mountain streams on hiking trips, and bring home a stash of mountain spring water.

That was before you could find 10 different brands of bottled water in stores. I am not sure what has happened. Has our environment degraded that much? Has our immune systems been ruined by over hygienic pampering? Whatever the reason, it is true, and I know from experience. I got very sick drinking wilderness water in the Nantahala Nat'l Forest. Something I would not want to repeat. Only a true fresh water spring would be worth drinking from unfiltered. The old saying is true: "Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink."

A take-along drink for kayakers can be as simple as a water bottle tossed into a foot well or tucked under the deck bungee. Depending on the kayak and the kayaker there are many ways to bring along water and other beverages. In this article we'll also explore some hydration systems as well as water purification filters and methods to make sure your fluid intake solutions are just a sip away.


waterbottleBottles & Canteens

Off the shelf single serving bottles of spring water, sports drinks and juice are readily accessible and easy to take along. You can tuck one into your backrest pocket, a deck bag or center hatch. Many kayaks have water bottle holders molded into the boat in a handy to reach spot, some with shock cord to hold them in place. Juices boxes, often used for kids lunches, are also a handy on-the-go beverage.

Nalgene bottles, canteens and bike bottles can be filled with water or any drink and stowed the same way. Bottle slings, holders and clips can help keep a bottle from going over board. A lost bottle will only be seen as litter by all others, except the original owner, so do try to secure your bottle.

Universal Backrest w/ Bottle PocketI like to freeze a bottle of water and bring it along a hot day. The melting ice is cold and refreshing, and could also be used in a lunch cooler to keep it chilled and provide an extra drink.

cockpitIt is wise to bring more water than you think you will need. I like to throw a larger size water bottle into the hull of the kayak. I call it a "bilge bottle". Use only those bottles that have a very tight fitting cap.

Some bottles, especially cheap bike bottles with a squirt top, will allow outside water to penetrate. This can be trouble in a "soggy" bilge or cockpit and in dirty fresh or salty ocean water and kayak surfing and white water.


Universal Backrest w/ Hydration Unit PocketCamelBak UnBottle - 100 oz.Hydration Systems

Many hydration systems - a large flexible fluid reservior with drinking hose - are geared only to land lubbers and used as a backpack. Hydration systems, such as Camelbak and Platypus, are very popular with hikers and bicyclist.

A couple of their models are applicable to kayakers. Not only can you drink "hands-free" but the fluid reservoir can be strapped down to the kayak deck, stowed in a backrest pocket, deck bag or even mounted on the back of a PFD.

Platypus Kayak HydratorPFD w/ hydration unitLook for the basic reservoirs often called "un-bottles", "packteens" and the TopKayaker Hydro Pack that clips onto the back of Universal Modular Kayak Seat.

Some PFD makers provide accessory packs, worn on the back of the PFD, that hold hydration systems. Platypus makes both deck mounted and PFD mounted systems. Hydration systems can be frozen too, or even filled with ice cubes.


Wilderness Kayaking & Purifying Devices

MSR MiniWorks EX FilterAny wilderness first aid kit should have some water purification tablets. They often come in a very small jar, sometimes under the brand name "Potable Aqua". Purification tablets could get the would-be day-tripper out a jam, if forced to stay in the wilderness longer that anticipated. While I use a water filter for my camping trips, I like to carry this lightweight alternative for worst-case scenarios.

If you go on overnight kayak camping trips you will need to plan at the very least one gallon of water, per person, per day. Water filters for wilderness camping trips are common these days. The selection is wide with many to choose from. There is much variation from filter to filter in how pure it makes the water, how quickly it pumps, how dependable it is and how often the filter needs to be cleaned/replaced. (Right: See TopKayaker Shop: SweetWater Purifier System)

Katadyn Micro Filter Water BottleThere are so many filters to choose from that you should be able to find a filter that fits your own personal needs. They can be as simple as a drinking straw, or as fancy as a pump with hoses. Some offer only minimal filtering, often good enough or at least better than nothing, to very fine filtration with iodine-impregnated filters, killing or straining out all microbes. There are even reverse osmosis filters for desalinating seawater, but these are quite expensive and not necessarily practical for kayakers. (Good for sailors lost at sea!)

FYI: For wilderness travel I like the PUR brand water filters, especially the iodine-impregnated ones. MSR and Sweet Water brand filters are also very good. Pay special attention to the instructions and know how to use and service your filter. I bring my instructions with the filter in a zip-loc bag.

Platypus 2.4 liter Water BottleTom using a purifyer on Still Wate LakeAlternatively kayak campers can carry quite a bit of tap water in their hulls. Sea kayakers quite often have to carry all their water for the entire trip due to the lack of freshwater refilling options. Water weighs eight pounds per gallon, so make sure to double check your cargo capacity when planning and expedition. (5 days, 1 person = 5 gal. @ 40 lbs.) I have found that "recycled" box wine bags are very good for storing lots of water on a wilderness trip. They are nice in that they do not roll around in the hull. Platypus brand "bottles" are also very good.

Boiling wilderness water is an effective way to make it fit to drink. Once the water has reached the boiling point organisms in that water are destroyed. This applies to all altitudes. I like to let it boil for just a tad longer to make sure. (As a boy I was told to let it boil for 10 min, probably loosing a good percentage of the water as steam!) This method will take time and fuel, but is an alternative worth considering.

If you have questions about outfitting a kayak with a hydration system, loading a kayak with a water supply, selecting a water filter or purifying wilderness water, ask Tom @ TopKayaker.net.

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Related Article:

  • HYDRATION FOR KAYAKERS - A Kayaker's Guide to Understanding Hydration & Preventing Dehydration, Heat Exhaustion & Hyponatremia - (Too much water)

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