Dan Bear Grylls Bailey purses his lips to test a clever new filter bottle that makes clean drinking water on the go, quickly and simply. It even works in suburban Fife.
"In the past you would have had to use three filters to take out bacterial, pesticidal and chemical contamination" says Dave Shanks of Water-to-Go. "Now we do all the jobs in one." This nifty little bottle is a faff-free and reasonably affordable solution to the problem of dodgy water, and if the claims are to be believed it's good for almost any water source. How far would I be willing to go to test this? Not very, it turned out. Hill streams would hardly be a challenge for this filter, but my local burn full of agricultural runoff should do nicely.
'Putting my life in their hands I took a cautious sip. Then a glug. It tasted pure '
Doing most of my walking and climbing in highland Scotland I tend to drink straight from running burns - of which there's not often a shortage - in the assumption that there isn't the density of people or livestock to pose a serious risk. I've never yet been caught out; nor indeed caught short.
But in dry spells when standing water is the best I can find, I'm more cautious. Then there are the trips down south - particularly in the busy Lakes, where the sheer numbers of people and sheep mean less-reliable water sources. Once in a blue moon I even manage to get abroad, places where giardia and other nasties are a real concern in the hills, and even city tap water is a no-no. When dealing with dodgy water I'm clearly less experienced than many (many millions, even), but in years of occasional use I've never found a purifying solution without drawbacks. Iodine is revolting; boiling takes time and fuel; UV treatment takes time and batteries; and most filters are an expensive faff with pumping. But the Water-to-Go bottle has none of these faults. It is simple, instant, tasteless and - all things considered - reasonably priced.
For more info see www.watertogo.eu
There's very little to it: just a tough squeezy plastic bottle (capacity 700ml), a screw-top lid with a nozzle, and a screw-in disposable filter. That's the lot. No fuss, no faff; just fill it with untreated water and it filters as you drink.
According to Water-to-Go this filtration system is different from anything else on the market, using space age technology to create tiny pores that block contaminants in the water. These are 'manufactured from a non woven media that is also called a charged layer membrane' say the manufacturers. 'Our filters were developed at the behest of NASA and are constructed utilizing nano technology. Nano alumina along with 33% carbon and other filtration ingredients are utilized to bring about this amazing new patented process. The nano alumina emits a positive charge when wet and attracts the negative charged contaminants'. As more of a humanities person myself I've no real idea what they're on about, but it's reassuring to note that however it works this system removes an impressive 99.9% of all contaminants, from bacteria and viruses to chemicals and heavy metals. Using this bottle you could safely drink from almost any source of water, anywhere. The only thing it won't filter is sea water.
Each filter is good for around 200 litres of use, say Water-to-Go, after which it's easily removed and recycled. Replacement filters are currently £14.95 for two, and if you register on their website you'll get a 10% discount on these for life.
But short of keeping a diary how can you tell when a filter needs replaced? 'The filter continues to eliminate for longer than 200 litres' Dave Shanks assured me, 'but we use activated carbon to improve taste and smell; this has a life span of around 200 litres, after which the water tastes less good. [S]o that is the prompt to change filters. But ...it is still taking out over 99.9% of anything harmful in the water.'
So what's it like to use? The first thing you notice is that it takes quite a concerted squeeze-and-suck of the tough plastic bottle to glean a reasonable mouthful (erm...). But bearing in mind that every drop has to pass through the filter that is of course forgivable. A little valve in the lid lets air in as water is sucked out, to keep the pressure equal. The next thing to mention is the clean, filtered taste, which makes even London tap water palatable.
I gave the bottle its first outdoor go on some fairly untrodden hills in Sutherland; but it didn't seem a particularly rigorous test since I could have drunk water direct from any trickle in more or less perfect safety anyway, and saved myself the modest weight of the filter (152g bottle-plus-filter). It was more genuinely useful down in the Lakes however, on a sweaty morning round of the Bannerdale fells. Here I filled up from the River Glenderamackin, downstream from hundreds of sheep and Blencathra-bound walkers. Normally I'd think twice about doing that, but the Water-to-Go bottle made it worry free. Still far from conclusive though. I decided to go a bit Bear Grylls, and for that I'd hardly have to leave the house. My local burn in semi-rural Fife was an ideal candidate, with a dairy farm upstream and heavy industry over the next hill. You'd be mad to drink straight out of that, so how would the bottle fare here? And more importantly how would I? For full effect I first stirred the brook to add cloudy sediment to the cocktail of cow juice and chemicals. A quick squeeze through the filter turned the milky brew back into crystal clear water. Putting my life (or at least my digestive tract) in their hands I took a cautious sip. Then a glug. It tasted as pure as any mountain stream, and I downed half a bottle on the spot. That was this morning - and I'm still feeling fine.
I won't be needing it every day but next time I'm in a particularly busy hill area, or off to a country with unreliable sanitation, or in Fife, I'll be packing the Water-to-Go bottle in preference to any of the alternatives.