Portable Water Filter Guide

Water purification is a necessity in Glacier National Park. Owning a lightweight, portable water filter makes this process safe and efficient.

Plus, sitting by a stream or lake, listening to the water rush past, and gazing at the Montana mountains surrounding you makes filtering your water a pleasurable experience.

Why You Need to Filter Water

Even in Glacier, where the lakes are a pristine, turqouise color thanks to the Glacier’s sedimentary runoff, you still must filter your water.

From the large, front country lakes like Lake McDonald and Bowman Lake; to moderate hiking destinations like Iceberg and Avalanche Lake; to the countless backcountry and alpine lakes that dot the valleys, meadows and passes. Glacier National Park’s lakes act as mirrors, reflecting the grand expansive sky and mountain peaks. And although the water may appear safe to drink, without proper treatment through a portable water filter, the water from these lakes can infect you with viruses like Giardiasis or Cryptosporidium.

Not to worry though. There are plenty of options to prevent getting sick from the water in Glacier National Park.

If you’re only planning a short day hike, simply bring enough water in your hydration backpack to ensure you won’t dehydrate or need to replenish your supplies. Also, don’t worry if you’re camping in a front country campsite. Just pump your water from the provided water pump and you’re good to go!

However, if you’re spending a night or two in Glacier National Park’s backcountry or your day hike is on a trail of moderate duration, it’s essential you have a portable water filter to prevent getting sick.

Water Purification Options


Although not as efficient as other water purification methods technology has blessed us with, the old fashioned method of boiling water on a camp stove is just as effective as any in treating your drinking water in Glacier National Park. Just a couple of minutes of 180 degree F (82C) kill any and all bacteria and viruses.

However, the time consumed by boiling water and the added weight of extra fuel canisters makes this a less than ideal method of treating water for safe consumption. Also, who wants to drink boiling hot water after a long hike through Glacier National ParkÂ’s wilderness?

Iodine Tablets

Another effective method, but not the most logical. The cost of Iodine tablets adds up quickly and the taste is disgusting. However, God forbid something goes wrong in the backcountry, I highly recommend a pair of these in your first aid kit.

Portable Water Filter

Ahh, technology saves us yet again. Just as modern day, creative hikers have blessed us with effective hydration systems, so have they with creating lightweight, portable water filter systems to ensure safe and proper treatment of drinking water in the wilderness.

For many years, I used this Katadyn hand pump water filter to treat my drinking water while hiking, whether it was on Glacier National Park’s trails or on my vacations in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Pump filters have many advantages over boiling your water and/or using Iodine Tablets:

  • Your water’s cold and tastes fantastic!! (Yes, the water from Glacier National Park’s wilderness lakes tastes just as marvelous as it looks)
  • Pumping water in the back country or midway through a day hike is a soothing activity
  • They are designed to attach and easily pump into your modern-day, ultra-sleek hydration system (or clunky Nalgene)
  • There are many portable water filter options. Katadyn is a great choice, but pumps slower than MSR’s pump. Either is effective for treating your water and prevent getting sick in Glacier National Park


Steripen – The UV, Portable Water Filter

Apparently zigzagging across the country after college gave my Katadyn water filter a beating. After many years of good use, the screw cap jammed on me and is impossible to remove. Of course, I found this out days before leaving for a two-week trip into Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.

Luckily, my newly WFRized (Wilderness First Responder) girlfriend had heard of Sterpien, a UV water filter, in her class and was hell-bent on purchasing it. Since my Katadyn water filter was busted, I certainly didn’t argue.

Now, this is probably the greatest invention in backpacking since the internal-frame backpack was designed. Incredibly lightweight, simple to use, expends zero energy (no pumping after a long, hot day of backpacking twelve miles along a backcountry trail): what a pleasure!

The way this portable water filter works is you pour water through a water bottle prefilter, which comes with the Steripen, into an empty Nalgene. Then, you stick the Sterpien wand into the Nalgene, press a button, the wand lights up and emits harmless, ultraviolet rays into the water. You stir, gaze at the mountains for 90 seconds, and a green light blinks, letting you know the water’s safe for drinking. If for some reason it fails, a red light blinks and the Steripen beeps; you remove the wand and begin again.

The water’s clean and safe to drink, all viruses and bacteria are killed so there’s no chance of getting sick on a backcountry trail, the filter’s lightweight, and life’s good.

Keep in mind, the Sterpien filter does require a pair of AA batteries. I recommend purchasing Lithium to ensure a long battery life and not having to worry about them dying on you in the backcountry.

Additional things to keep in mind about purifying your water:

Brushing Your Teeth

Do not use unfiltered water. Giardia does not take long to infect. Assuming you don’t swallow any water, even a few seconds of the virus touching your tongue, gums and lips can make you sick.

Cleaning Dishes

Again, use filtered water. It’s a pain, but not worth the risk.

Drinking Snow

Putting snow in a nalgene and letting it melt is not a safe way to consume water. Although I did this once atop Two Medicine Pass (watch the video of this magnificent hike here), I do not recommend this whatsoever. Filter water before you begin climbing a mountain pass so you have enough to make it over. Don’t rely on snow.

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