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3rd WORLD TRAVEL GEAR: Katadyn Combi Water Filter review

Almost twenty years ago I spent several months in the Sudan and drank from local water sources. Some were “bore holes” or wells while in one case water was procured from a hole dug into a riverbed. Unfortunately cattle were watered in an adjacent water hole with the sure possibility of animal feces and urine being leached into the water source via runoff.

Approximately one month after returning from Africa I was hospitalized with a 106’ fever, decreased liver function, respiratory and sinus infection, and partial facial paralysis (Bell’s Palsy). I was packed in an “ice blanket” for three days.  After several tests (including spinal taps) the diagnosis was “unknown origin, possibly cytomegalovirus.”

It was assumed I’d contracted some virus in Africa.  Whether it was from the water, I can only guess. Despite suffering no ill effects from having drunk from ditches and water holes in Kenya in 1988 while living with a semi-nomadic tribe, I’ve tried to be more careful since my hospitalization.

Since then I’ve learned my lesson. When I returned to the Sudan ten years ago I treated my water daily. A trip to Sudan a few years before that, I traveled to Africa via Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Pakistan I kept to bottled soft drinks and the occasional beer at the American Club. I did filter a few bottles of drinking water from bottled water bought in the local markets.

 It’s safe to drink tap water in Pakistan right?

In Afghanistan I filtered tap water from the UN guesthouse and from the International Hotel in Kabul before filling my canteen. Water from a tap may be “safe” for locals who have become immune to various bio-threats in the water; however, it’s not uncommon for all the locals in some remote regions to have endemic and chronic diarrhea from contaminated water and poor health practices. They consider it a way of life. I even filtered my store bought bottled water in Uganda through the Katadyn before putting it in my canteen.

As the water from these sources was clear and considered potable, there was no buildup of large sediment in the filter. In Angola I tested the filter in a water hole outside of Cabinda City. Given the turbidity and heavy sedimentation from runoff and pond algae along with the contamination from human feces and phosphates (also used for bathing) I wouldn’t expect the filter to remain unclogged for long.

Such poor water sources should only be used in an emergency. Allowing the water to stand so sediment would sink and boiling large quantities of the clearer water siphoned off the top prior to filtering would be advisable.

I would advise filtering bottled water in third world countries if possible. You don’t know the quality control, if any, in these countries. The bottled water may very well be plain untreated tap water from a municipal source. In Somalia in 1993 we were provided with bottled water from U.S. and Kenyan sources. American and UN military personnel subsisted largely on bottled water as water purification teams operated only in a few areas.

I was drinking a gallon or two a day for several weeks before it was discovered that the Mt. Kenya brand bottled water (packaged in a brown cardboard box) was found to contain more “fly parts per volume” than considered safe by FDA and U.S. Army standards. Fly parts. Yum.

When traveling in remote areas, especially hot, arid regions, water is of paramount importance.  You must maintain your body’s hydration level to where it will continue to function. Without water your body functions (motor skills, thought processes, etc.) will diminish as you become dehydrated until you eventually die. You can live (situation dependent) without food for 20 to 30 days.

But go without water for 3 to 4 days and you will die.  But just having water isn’t enough. It has to be safe to drink or you’re going to find yourself in a different kind of trouble. Impure drinking water presents one of the biggest health risks to outdoorsmen and travelers.

I don’t want to sound like a Madison Avenue pitchman, but the Katadyn Combi filter solves this problem safely and in an environmentally friendly way without the use of chemicals or laborious boiling. The Katadyn Combi is designed especially for folks who spend time in the wilderness: hikers, campers, backpackers and outdoorsmen, but long distance and foreign travelers will find it useful as well.

Nope, that’s not your girlfriends latest vibrator – its the Katadyn Combi Water Filter!

It can be used to treat water with a high level of biological contamination transforming it into safe, drinkable water.  The Katadyn Combi filter is ergonomically designed for safe and easy handling and incorporates a two-phase operating mode. The Katadyn ceramic filter with a pore size of 0.2 micron removes suspended matter including  turbidities, worm eggs, protozoan cysts, bacteria and spores.

Properly used it will remove all disease causing bacteria such as Escherichia coli (E. coli). This will help protect you from such diseases as cholera, typhoid fever, giardia (intestinal protozoan parasites found worldwide), and amoebic and bacterial dysentery.

As an option the activated carbon filter (activated carbon first stage – AC) reduces foul tasting and harmful chemicals such as pesticides and defoliants and removes chlorine and iodine from the water.  The use of the carbon granulate also removes any bad odors — no sulfurous stench to your camp coffee, if you use a Katadyn Combi.

Manufactured by Katadyn Products Inc, of Switzerland it weighs in at only 19 oz., measures, 2.4” x 10.4”, and with an output of approximately 1.2 quarts per minute the ceramic filter will treat up to 14,000 gallons and its AC granulate cartridge will clean up to 60 gallons per refill packet.

Operating without the use of chemicals, a mechanical power source, and with a minimum of parts, moving or otherwise, the Katadyn Combi is a basically maintenance free piece of survival gear. Included with the blue waterproof nylon carrying case is a tube of lubricant for the o-ring on the filter and cleaning pad for maintaining the ceramic filter.  Constructed of impact resistant polymers, the main body of the filter is robust enough to take normal field use.

And best of all it’s simple to use. I’m a mechanical idiot and I can disassemble, reassemble, and operate the filter without any directions. One-handed operation is a breeze and its adapter base will fit standard Nalgene and Sigg water bottles. It will also fit into the mouth of the standard US Army G.I. one-quart and two-quart canteens.

I’ve found that a small piece of duct tape will hold it in place while you pump away.  The water intake hose is connected to the side of the pump and thrown out into clean, flowing water (where available). A float keeps it on top where the water is more likely to be sediment free and a wire mesh filter keeps large sediments, dirt, and leaves from clogging the plastic tubing.

It might be a little on the heavy side for solitary backpackers who might be better served by a Katadyn Pocket Filter or similar product. However the fast pumping rate of 1.2 quarts per minute is just what you need for groups: whether it be a group of trekkers heading off to Nepal, a wilderness challenge team, or neighborhood bird watching club.

Katadyn Combi Microfilter – Available on >>>

~Rob Krott
Foreign Correspondent

The author of Save the Last Bullet for Yourself: A Soldier of Fortune in the Balkans and Somalia “Professional adventurer” Rob Krott has had ample opportunity to use his Katadyn Combi in such inhospitable climes as Angola, Sudan, Uganda, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. And he never got sick from drinking the water.

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  1. If I had a nickel my ass exploded after drinking shit water in some 3rd world dump-hole before I learned my lesson and filtered everything I would be rich (well, more richer than I am, ha) as a mo-fo

    ~James G

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  2. Great article – I’ve just been looking at water filters so this is perfect timing :)

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  3. Rob, its good to see your name on an article again!

    Always loved your writings.

    James, good to see DVM coming out again!

    Keep up the good works gentlemen.

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  4. Rob, its good to see your name on an article again! Always loved your writings. James, good to see DVM coming out again!Keep up the good works gentlemen.RegardsBrian

    Brian, Thx for kudos. Good to re-establish comms as late as well… [my girl will probably cash that check while I’m deployed] … I think I need to do a Gear Review on the DropZone Recce Smock … hell, I only own THREE of them! LOL. So I’m guess I’m qualifed (though somewhat biased, after all, it incorporates “The Krott Cord” !!!)
    Problem is I don’t dare take it off if there’s a bunch of knuckle draggers hanging around… it would grow legs!.

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  5. I survived 5 weeks working in Turkmenistan with iodine pills. People were giving me a hard time about putting it in my bottled water. I was the only one who did not get sick. When I had to use local water to make my soup, I would boil it with one of those rings used to make a single cup of tea or such, and then put half an iodine pill in there. TIP: Never eat the Club Sandwich in the Ozukant Hotel in Ashgabat.

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  6. Great review and good to see DVM back up and running again – do you need to still use tablets/steripen with this or is it good to go on it’s own?

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  7. Looks like a good solution to the problem of locating safe water. The manufacturer states that it is designed for “wilderness travellers” so I might pick up a couple of spare AC refills when I buy one though. In the urban and semi-urban environment I’d expect there to be a higher concentration of microorganisms and chemicals to filter out, due to the higher density of humans and livestock. I’m guessing that might decrease filter life somewhat.

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  8. In Asia a few years ago I was ordering a whiskey at the bar, with ice, when an English crew member advised me to hold off on the ice.
    When I asked why he explained that the ice was quite often just normal local tap water, frozen on site…and that it could contain the same impurities as the unfrozen water.
    I erred on the side of caution and didn’t bother with the ice.
    I’ve followed that advice in every country I’ve been in where the local water is of suspect quality and have not gotten sick so far.
    A number of people I know who went to Egypt a couple of years ago, on a quick one week recce, all got a stomach bug, despite the fact they stayed at one of the big tourist hotels and didn’t drink the tap water. But they all took drinks with ice at the bar each night.

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  9. The top handle of the Combi Filter pumps up and down to force water through the filter at a rate of about 1 liter/minute.

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  10. Great article.
    I\’m a solo backpacker going on 65 yr old and have used the same combi since the late 1990’s. On my last outing in WV for a week I was only able to find “bear wallows”. These are shallow sediment and algae filled pools fed by small springs or rain water and became my only water sources. The combi clogged frequently and needed cleaned but it never failed. The units are top of the line and I would recommend them to anyone needing an alternative method to mere chemical purification or boiling. I have even taken muddy water from tire tracks and made it potable with the combi.

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  11. It’s in point of fact a great and useful piece of info. I am glad that you simply shared this useful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

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