As I began training for 100 mile trail races, I found myself doing longer and longer days in the mountains. A typical long day will start early at 6AM and might not be done till 3PM. There’s no way I could carry enough water for an outing like this.
Carrying water while running is definitely a balancing act. You don’t want to carry any more than you need because of the added weight. At the same time, if you are going to be out for well over 4 hours, you will need more liquids than your bottles can carry comfortably.
With this in mind, you must plan your routes to make sure they cross a water source later in your outing so you can refill. If you plan right, you don’t need to carry any more than the typical 2 water bottles most runners take on a long run.
Water filtration while out on a long running day is different from the needs of a backpacker or day hiker. You need something lightweight that can also filter the water quickly.
No one wants to stop for 30 minutes and gravity feed a large water bladder through a filter. We want to fill quickly and get back to our training so we can simulate race day closely.
What NOT To Buy For Water Purification On The Trail
Early in my training days for 100 milers I would just bring these tiny water purification pills that came in tiny glass jars (Potable Aqua). They were a total mess, turning to dust after only a few day trips. They can’t handle the constant bouncing of running and they just disintegrate. The other downside is that they require a 35 minute wait time before your water is ready to drink. I finally got fed up and started looking for other options.
I did find other tablets that were individually wrapped and would solve the disintegration issue but they still required that 30+ minute wait time. If you don’t mind waiting for your water to be drinkable and don’t need it filtered for larger particles then this could be a great affordable option (Aquatabs). Sometimes your only water source is a stagnant pool. Even if the water is “clean” from your tablets, you’ll still have to drink down the particulate matter. No thanks!
The Best Water Filtration System For Trail Runners…
Let me present the Katadyn BeFree water bottle/filter. I picked one of these up for my Four Pass loop run in Aspen , Colorado. This loop is a moderately long day in the mountains with a lot of vertical gain/loss: 27 mile trail loop, 7,6000 ft. vert, 4 mountain passes over 12,000′. It’s easily one of the most beautiful trail runs I have ever done. Seeing the Maroon Bells, the wildlife and vistas are just breathtaking.
The nice thing about the Four Pass loop is that there are plenty of stream and creek crossings. So, access to water was never a problem.
Pros – The Katadyn BeFree made filling my empty bottles super easy. I was surprised by how fast the water flowed through the filter. You could literally just squeeze the bottle normally and very quickly fill up your empties.
Access to water immediately upon hitting a stream was so nice. I usually filled my BeFree and chugged a bottle to hydrate quickly. Then I would take a couple minutes to refill my regular bottles. I wouldn’t be able to hydrate right away like this if I was using tablets.
Eventually, I just started using the BeFree as a water bottle in my vest and drinking straight from it. The flow was so good, I almost didn’t realize a difference between my regular bottles and the BeFree.
Cons – One con was that the bottle was a bit large to fit in my front vest pocket. I’d have to drink it down a bit before I could get it secure with the elastic strap on top of the pocket. But this isn’t a huge deal breaker because I was typically just using it to refill my regular bottles.
Another con is that other users have reported slower flow through the filter over time. This makes sense but hasn’t been an issue for me so far. I make sure to follow the simple cleaning instructions after each use. When you do eventually need a filter replacement, you can buy it seperate from the bottle. (BeFree Replacement Filter)
Sizing – There’s a few different sizes to choose from. I just went with the smallest option (0.6L) to keep things lightweight and because I would be careful to plan my routes during summer time to make sure I always had access to water when needed. The 0.6L soft bottle has been perfect for my long 6 to 8 hour plus outings.
Backup Purification – Katadyn also makes purification tablets (Micropur) which could be a good idea as a backup should anything happen to your bottle. If the bottle ruptures or you drop it down a cliffside. It would be some peace of mind to know you aren’t SOL. Especially on a very long and hot day!
Where To Buy The Katadyn BeFree 0.6L
I picked up mine in Aspen at the Ute Mountaineer shop downtown, and definitely paid a premium ($50+ at the shop). Luckily this product is also sold on Amazon and I am currently seeing it listed for much less.