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MSR Guardian Water Purifier for Hiking and Emergencies

Get MSR Guardian at Amazon.

B&H Photo carries much of the MSR water filter product line including the MSR SweetWater Pump Microfilter (effective against bacteria and protozoa but not viruses), which is much less expensive than the 'Guardian'

See my previous blog post on Gear for the Mountains.

MSR Guardian water purifier

I hike a lot of difficult terrain in the mountains. While water is generally available, it is always a question of whether it is safe to drink: scat from rodents, deer and sheep, human campers and so on can all contaminate creeks and lakes. While the occasional seep or spring may be found, nearly all water in the Sierra Nevada is free-flowing and thus subject to nasties like giardia lamblia.

In past years I’ve carried either one or two 1-liter Evian bottles* for my hiking water needs. For half-day or shorter hikes, a single 1-liter bottle suffices. But on longer hikes, carrying two liters becomes a significant space and weight burden: 4.4 pounds occupying both side pockets of my pack, and no refills. When hiking with another person the weight burden for an all-day hike is even worse: 2 X 2 liters is 8.8 pounds of water! And still I’ve gotten thirsty after even a 2nd liter on strenuous or hot days (5 AM to 10 PM hikes require 3-4 liters typically).

* Evian bottles are the best plastic water bottles on the market: relatively wide mouth and much more durable than most water bottles (I use them for cycling also). Drop them hard on granite and they just bounce; they do not rupture like most bottles. I refill them over and over. The empty bottle weighs only 43 grams, far less than the traditional backcountry Nalgene bottles, which weigh about 4X as much. Excepting long backpacking trips where the bottle must not fail, the heavy Nalgene bottles make just about zero sense: they are heavy and do not compress at all and are typically only a quart, not a liter.

Hiking a few thousand vertical feet up? Drink the stomach full before starting and then start the hike with just one empty bottle and save the weight on the back, yet drink all you want later. That’s my new approach. The secret is the MSR Guardian water purifier by Cascade Designs.

So I invested in the MSR Guardian water purifier in early 2016. In two 10-day trips, I purified around 50 liters of water (~13 gallons, it supplemented water that I took with me). Nothing beats ice-cold water from a mountain stream! On later trips, I didn’t even use supplemental water, so fast and effective is the MSR Guardian. But note that while a water purifier removes sediment, it cannot remove dissolved metals or salts, as these are atomic in size.

The MSR Guardian is a true water purifier (not just a water filter): it can’t fix the flavoring issues of a muddy pool of cow dung, but you could safely drink from it after running it through the Guardian.

Additional uses and benefits come to mind:

  • When two or more people are together, one MSR Guardian can supplly water for all, thus amortizing its relatively minimal 1.5-pound weight over several people’s needs. It’s a no-brainer. Strangely, the teenage school group I encountered in Death Valley had not figured this out, carrying 2 gallons (!) for each person, even though water was readily found on the route in early March.
  • I used to take 8 or even 10 gallons of water with me on trips, which chewed up a lot of the storage capacity of my rooftop car carrier. With the MSR Guardian, I can take a few 1-liter bottles and two 1-gallon jugs and just refill every day or two, thus freeing up a lot of storage space and eliminating 60 pounds or so from the rooftop carrier, whose weight limits I’ve generally exceeded because of the excess water.
  • If you live in earthquake country as I do, it is quite possible for a major quake to take out the water supply lines, which in my area travel 200 miles or so from the Sierra. The MSR Guardian is thus a high capacity very high quality safe backup water supply for disasters like earthquakes (I have a creek nearby, but even any old tub or container can hold water).

Looking for something cheap and light and simple: the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter is not a purifier, but it is small and lightweight—excellent for emergencies—keep it in the bottom of your pack. It cannot fill a bottle, but you can drink directly from it.

Description:

See full information at guardianpurifier.com.

  • For removal of Viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and sediment from "worst-case" water conditions
  • Fast & easy: pumps a Rapid 2.5 liters per minute, offering added viral protection without chemicals, bulbs, batteries, or waiting.
  • Self-cleaning: pump self-cleans on every stroke, no back flushing or filter-scrubbing ever required
  • Long-lasting: leading-edge Hollow fiber cartridge treats up to 10,000+ liters / 2640 gallons.
  • Extremely durable: engineered to withstand heavy use, freezing, drops (6ft to Concrete), and harsh environments

In use

This video shows me in the field using the MSR Guardian to fill my water bottle. Users of a standard Nalgene bottle can screw the Guardian directly on to the bottle, which makes it a bit easier to operate.

Corrections to video audio: (1) weight of an empty 1-liter Evian bottle is actually 43 grams, still far less than a 1-quart Nalgene bottle: much lower bottle weight and higher capacity and disposable when they get grungy (the Evian bottles). (2) Rated filtration is 10,000 liters / 2642 gallons before the filter cartridge needs replacement.

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