The Western Sahara is a territory with few resources. The wild Atlantic crashes against barren shores of rock and sand. The only plants that survive there do so by extracting moisture from the morning mist. A constant, powerful wind carries desert dust across the ocean clear to the Amazon. Your skin cracks as the sun and wind work together to dehydrate bodies. In towns, stray dogs lap desperately at bowls of water ignoring food until the eternal thirst is satisfied. Water is life.
As a family overlanding the west coast of Africa, we had a few concerns before we set off, primarily surrounding safety and health. While violence is a lingering threat, malaria and bacterial infection have claimed more lives in Africa than bullets have. We knew we would explore countries of extremes where self-sufficiency is essential and where a simple illness could prove fatal under the worst conditions.
With that in mind, we built our camper to tackle the toughest overland routes while providing all we needed for living. There are plenty of sophisticated water filtration and purification systems, but we’re analog in the age of digital. We prefer simple manual systems to those that rely on unreliable conveniences like electricity. Though our Land Rover is equipped with water storage tanks, the system isn’t designed to deliver potable water; it’s purely for storage. I’ve had my eye the LifeSaver Jerrycan as a means for filtering for a few years and finally picked one up while in Portugal. This one product would be the source of all our potable water (four gallons a day) as we explored the world’s most demanding transcontinental route. I don’t think it’s being dramatic to say our lives may well have depended on it.
While in Portugal preparing for the trans-Africa journey, our host city was hammered by the worst hurricane in decades. In the aftermath, we used the LifeSaver to filter municipal water until we were sure that the water supply had not been compromised by the storm. It was a great trial before we headed into Africa and worked well when tap water was questionable. This water filter is a doomsday prepper’s dream come true.
The LifeSaver can filter a claimed 20,000 liters or 5,282 gallons of water over its life. It removes viruses, bacteria, cysts, and parasites. The jerrycan has a capacity of 18.5 liters or about five gallons.
To use, you just fill the Jerrycan with the cleanest water you can source (wading a bit deeper into that river to get silt free water will no doubt prolong the life of the filter mechanisms), pressurize the system with 15 depressions of the hand pump, and open the spigot. Drink. It’s that easy.
The flow rate isn’t exactly rapid and while the manufacturers claim a flow rate of a gallon per minute, we have found that with daily use for over six months the rate is closer to three liters per minute. But, fifteen minutes every morning has been sufficient to fill all of our water bottles with clean, dependable, and tasty water.
Based on our six-month daily use of this water purification system we suggest the following:
• Take the time to read the manual and be sure to assemble the filtration system correctly.
• If using for extended periods in remote places, consider carrying a spare spigot assembly; this is the weakest part of the unit and the spout may break if knocked by, say, the foot of a careless teenager. If the spout does break the shower attachment is unusable. The internal spigot release spring mechanism is also prone to failure but can be repaired in the field.
• The shower attachment is useful not only for showering but also for filling water bottles by hose with the shower rose removed.
• Fill with the cleanest water available and rinse the Jerrycan often.
• Do not allow the Jerrycan to stand dry for long periods once the filtration system is activated during the initial assembly procedure; should the system dehydrate it becomes unreliable.
• Store and carry the Jerrycan in a cool, shaded place in or on your vehicle as long term UV exposure is detrimental.
• Do not over pressurize the system when filtering water and remember that the system works best when the can is full.
• The can is prone to leakage if left pressurized.
If we had to suggest any changes to the design of the LifeSaver we would make only two: the single central handle should be replaced by the three-handle design many traditional jerrycans use (or even a double-handle design) which allows for team portage. The spigot assembly should also be more robust, preferably an alloy of some sort. This product is approved for military use but needs to be tough enough to be used and abused over long periods by soldiers (and clumsy 19-year-old overlanders, for example, my son).
Retailing at $230 (depending on accessories purchased), the Lifesaver Jerrycan is a worthy investment. Not only will each liter of clean, filtered water cost less than 67 cents (20,000 liters divided by $300), but you will also be doing the planet a favor – we noticed immediately how much less single-use plastic bottle waste we were purchasing and discarding when refilling dedicated water bottles from the LifeSaver. We have filled the Jerrycan from wells in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Guinea, from oases in the Sahara, and have filtered municipal tap water in Dakar, Lagos, and Abidjan. The LifeSaver Jerrycan has stored and delivered clean water to our family and we will, without doubt, continue to utilize this tool as our primary water filtration system for many years to come. After all, toss another filter in the Jerrycan and that’s all we need to ensure another 20,000 liters of piece of mind.
BUY • $230