Katadyn Pocket filter capacity: The verdict is in

I purchased a Katadyn Pocket filter in 2012 for a variety of reasons, the principal amongst which was to have drinking water at my cottage during the off season (winter) when the water system is turned off to protect it from freezing. Issues such as not wanting to depend on neighbours and even just whether or not the neighbours were there, the relative convenience of having as much water as I was willing to filter when I wanted regardless of the hour, and not having to transport very large quantities of water from the city, circled through my head.

Like so many other people, I repeated in my blog the 50,000 litre nominal capacity of the filter cartridge as a deciding factor in the purchase of this particular filter. Despite having accepted the value as a ballpark figure to mean “you’ll get lots and lots and lots of water, a few orders of magnitude more than other filters”, I also recognized the ballpark nature of the figure, and that actual capacity would vary (possibly considerably) according to real world conditions such as varying water quality and just how vigorously one might clean the filter cartridge. Unfortunately, I have been disappointed with just how variable this figure has actually proven to be in my case.

In 2016, I began wondering about the real life capacity of the filter cartridge, given a noticeable change in pumping experience filtering water from my artesian well instead of melted snow from my front yard at the cottage. The obvious visual wear of the filter gave me a reference point, and, having kept notes, I revealed that since purchase and up to that point, I’d only filtered roughly 1,500 litres. I had estimated that I might attain a very rough total capacity of 3,000 litres.

In 2017, I had passed a benchmark: The plastic gauge that had come with the unit had passed over the filter, at about 1,650 litres, and by the time I’d written the post, I’d reached 1,750 litres. This represented 3.5% of the nominal 50,000 litre capacity. I mused over the lack of any reported real life capacities that I could find on the internet, going through some hypothetical arithmetic I was able to develop from one source.

I knew that I wouldn’t get anywhere near the oft-touted 50,000 litres. In anticipation of needing a replacement filter cartridge, I went to a store selling them, hesitantly because the replacement part has a fairly expensive price. I purchased a replacement, and was pleasantly surprised to get a 73.2% discount on the price at the counter (for reasons unknown). I surmised that a part of the discount was since the unit was in a box that had obviously been opened and resealed, although why it was so significant still eludes me. The only thing in my favour were the local consumer protection regulations requiring that in the case of a difference between the advertised price and the price at the counter, the consumer gets either up to a $10 discount from the advertised price if lower than the value at the register, or the value of the register price if lower than the correct price.

Since January, 2017, when the gauge passed over the filter unit, I have been bringing somewhat more water up to the cottage, up to five gallons at a time instead of just a single gallon, in order to somewhat extend the life of the filter cartridge. I have been continuing to use the original filter unit, wanting to take full advantage of its lifespan.

During my most recent weekend to the cottage in April, 2019, I began filtering water as usual. The filter had been cleaned and bleached prior to use. However, the filter quickly clogged, and suddenly, the plunger went down quickly; the unit’s internal pressure had been sufficient to collapse that which remained of the filter.  

The collapsed filter, note that the element has been worn and significantly ablated

It should be noted that the filter failure was due to the fact that over time and hundreds of filter cleanings, it had been physically worn away, and therefore the failure was due to it being thin (about 1mm to 2mm thick) and not because I’m inventing a frivolous claim of manufacturing defect.

I also have a definitive capacity of the cartridge I received with the original  purchase, under the various conditions of water quality I filter and maintenance: approximately 2197.5 litres (let’s round that up to 2,200 litres), or 4.4% of the stated 50,000 litre capacity. It was used up over seven off seasons at the cottage, providing a significant amount of the drinking quality water needed for cooking, cleaning, and drinking.

It seems that I didn’t get anywhere near the nominal capacity. Sigh.

Now it’s time to see how much capacity I get out of the second filter.

This past weekend, I made more pickled eggs. A lot of them.

This past weekend, I made over 19 dozen pickled eggs, produced over three consecutive “double batches” of my recipe, all in one day; this was a single-day record for me. According to my recipe for pickled eggs, a batch is about two and a half to three dozen eggs, depending on the size of mason jars used (the volumes and number of eggs in each jar play around with the pickling solution per egg required.)

In July 2018, I described my then-recent experiences over several sessions making large numbers of eggs in anticipation of a flea market at which I then sold my pickled eggs.

For this weekend’s production, I had started a week prior with an impulse purchase of seven dozen eggs to take advantage of a sale; the roughly six dozen for a double batch of pickled eggs, and roughly a dozen leftover for general use in the kitchen. A couple of days later, I bought another seven dozen eggs. Finally, on pickling day this weekend, I bought yet another six dozen eggs. I had begun with a vague notion of making some pickled eggs for a good customer (eight jars of 14!), and “some more” for my personal reserve, of which I actually already had a reasonable supply. Once I had bought the third round of eggs, I had it in my mind to also make jars of six for an upcoming church fall fair to which I give pickled eggs to sell, as well as to have jars of six on hand for gifts, and to bring to parties. The expression “unbridled enthusiasm” comes to mind. 🙂

On the point of being a bit too enthusiastic, I decided that while I am pleased with the overall production, given the personal reserve I already had had on hand, the production of the equivalent of one of the double batches — the last round of six dozen eggs purchased — should have been foregone. I am likely to be asked again relatively soon to make more pickled eggs for my good customer, during which I would be able to make more pickled eggs for my personal reserve; in any case, I would at least keep the torn eggs from such a production for my personal reserve.

Time commitment reduced!

My experience last spring preparing for the flea market made me think about the time commitment involved in boiling the eggs, and since then, I have experimented with increasing the number of eggs I boil at once from 18 to 36. I was successful, a key point having lay in having actively mixing the boiled eggs in the ice water at the end to ensure proper quick cooling of the increased number of boiled eggs. This time reduction made a huge difference this weekend! (Yes, my recipe has been adjusted accordingly.)

Peeling method

I have also figured out my peeling method, which (usually) helps reduce tearing, while of course helping to peel the shells: Peel eggs by tapping the bulbous end on a hard surface. and continuing while rotating the egg, then up-ending the egg and continuing to tap. (Yes, my recipe has been adjusted accordingly.)

Torn eggs

Earlier this year, I had came to the conclusion that for large batches of eggs, a tear rate of roughly one egg per dozen is acceptable, since I just put the torn eggs aside in a separate bowl, then bottle them together, which I keep for my own personal reserve.

This weekend, I had a good experience with my tear rate: There were only 11 eggs over the 19 dozen eggs with tears — in fact, only about six had tears, while a further five were merely deformed from shells which cracked during boiling.

Final count

The final count from this weekend is as follows:

– 8 jars of 14 eggs each for my regular customer
– 8 jars of 6 eggs each for the church fair, gifts, and use at parties
– 1 jar of 22 eggs for my personal reserve
– 2 jars of 13 eggs each for my personal reserve
– 1 jar of 9 eggs for my personal reserve
– 2 jars 6 torn eggs each for my personal reserve

And finally, here is a photo of what 22 jars of varying sizes with 229 eggs looks like:

This is what 22 jars, totalling 229 pickled eggs. looks like

Making Pickled Eggs

I started making pickled eggs in late summer 2007, as I recall, as “a thing to do” to contribute to a church bazaar’s preserves table.  I had never eaten, let alone made, pickled eggs before; it was just an “out of the blue” conviction that had come to mind.  The first appearance of my eggs at the church bazaar was in the fall of 2008; I had believed that for the fall 2007 bazaar, I’d begun too late to pick up some confidence in making them in order to present my offerings at that year’s bazaar.

In the process, I learned how to make the pickled eggs, got some practice under my belt, and got a bit of an overview of the process.

Interestingly, the pickling solution I found on the internet, which I continue to use to this day, was key to what I now consider a long standing success.  Shortly after having begun my adventures in pickling eggs, I bought a jar of pickled eggs at the store.  I found said eggs to be slimy, and the pickling solution sour and too mouth puckering.  I ended up giving away the open jar to a family friend who liked them that way better than the recipe I use.  Had I bought the pickled eggs at the store first, I doubt I would have ever embarked upon making pickled eggs myself.

I began by buying small eggs, and stuffing as many as I could per mason jar; I soon began buying large eggs, and would pack the mason jars somewhat less tightly.  See below in the “Jars and Lids” section for further suggestions on how many eggs to pack per jar size.

Of course, I keep my eyes out for sales on eggs.  In the Montreal, Quebec (Canada) area in 2017-2018, a price of $5.50 for three (3) dozen eggs was a good sale price.  I will also buy eggs on sale at $1.99 per dozen.  (Prices in Canadian dollars.)

I eat my pickled eggs almost daily.  I continue to make the eggs for my church’s fall fair, although they typically only end up selling less than half a dozen jars each year.  And, I now make large numbers of pickled eggs for a small flea market in which I participate each year.  (See further down.)

Making pickled eggs, tips, and experiences:

I have seen various instructions on how to boil eggs, how long to boil them, and how to cool them properly in order to shell them easily and perfectly.  I have a view on that:  boiling and shelling eggs very largely isn’t about tricks and shortcuts, or such-and-such a special method.  It’s simply about boiling them the right amount of time, rapidly cooling them with ice, and a lot of work removing the shells.  Yes, some eggs shell more easily than others, and vice versa.  I have decided to give up on most theories on why eggs, particularly sometimes whole boxes of eggs, tear easily when shelling them.  One must simply immediately and abruptly cool them after boiling, using ice water, and be careful while shelling eggs; fortunately, I seem to have learned over the years how to shell eggs while largely avoiding torn eggs, barring the occasional batch of eggs that tear far more than usual.

What do I do?

  • I boil 18 cold eggs at a time.  This number generally works well for me.  You might find another number works well for you.
  • Fill the pot with cool to cold water to roughly an inch (2.5 cm) above the eggs.
  • Bring the pot to a boil.
  • Boil for eight (8) minutes.
  • Immediately drain the boiling water, and begin running cool to cold water over the eggs.
  • Immediately add ice cubes to the pot (keep the water), covering the eggs completely, and begin shelling a few minutes later when much of the ice has melted and the eggs have largely cooled.

Despite my instructions above, I have some recent and long term observations regarding this process:

  • When making large batches of pickled eggs, it takes time.  I find that there is little way around this, beyond having a helper or outright equal partner, if only because I find that boiling larger numbers of eggs at once makes for more variable cooling of the eggs (quick cooling being needed for easier or at least less difficult shelling), and that beginning the next round of boiling 18 eggs while still shelling already-boiled eggs is perilous, from the perspective of a less than optimal personal ability to manage multiple things at once in the kitchen.
  • The ice should be in cubes, not larger pieces of ice.  I am blaming a recent experience of a relatively high rate of torn eggs in a batch on the fact that the ice I was using was made in plastic food containers, making ice blocks far larger than typical ice cubes, and the notion that that probably affected the cooling rate of the eggs.
  • In my personal experience, a torn egg rate of about one egg per dozen is normal, to be expected, and not to be fretted over.  As far as I’m concerned and for pickling purposes, a torn egg is anywhere from a bit more than a dimple until just before it’s completely in several pieces.  (Use the eggs which completely break up for snacking while you work, or making egg salad sandwiches later.)  Torn eggs will pickle just as well, and are put aside, to be bottled together in my personal consumption jars of pickled eggs, and not to be given away.  This is of course purely aesthetic; but at a certain point, were a customer to buying from me, they would (rightly so) ask for a discount on a jar of torn pickled eggs.

Jars and lids:

I pack my jars as per follows:  6 eggs per 500mL mason jar, 9 eggs per 650mL jar (from a favoured brand of spaghetti sauce whose jars look like, and appear to act like mason jars, though according to some sources do not meet mason jar standards), 14 eggs per 1 litre mason jar, 22 eggs per 1.5 litre jar (a commercial jar that is not mason), and 30 eggs per 2 litre jar (“large” commercial pickle jars — yes, I imagine that most people might consider “large” jars more likely to be the 4 litre jars of pickles like you mostly see at restaurants and delicatessens).

The largest sized jar I like to pack are 1.5 litre glass jars.  They hold 22 eggs, and this size is now my reference for the largest jar size with which I want to work.  2 litre jars hold 30 eggs and are a bit too big, unless, of course, I am trying to make a clownishly big jar of eggs, which in the past I have wanted to do, and which in the past I have done.  I have no intention of ever packing 4 litre jars.

I give away and occasionally sell my eggs (see below), which means that over time, I have to acquire new mason jars of varying sizes.  While I obviously reuse my mason jars after I empty them, occasionally come across mason jars in recycling bins, and receive empty mason jars from friends and family for free, I still eventually need to replenish my supply of mason jars.

While I live in the big city where buying new jars by the case is a trivial matter,  I normally go to a nearby used-goods store, part of the Goodwill Network.  I buy mason jars one to several at a time, depending on what’s available, my needs, and whim.  Putting aside any illusions I do indeed have of “reusing and environment”, and fewer illusions of “helping people” (ie. not that the store isn’t helping people, just that doing so isn’t particularly one of my motivations when it comes to purchasing the mason jars or anything else there), I enjoy the convenience of getting them there, not getting a dozen at a time, and not having to pay any sales taxes (which is part of the local provincial and federal governments’ support of social and employment re-insertion programmes).  I normally only buy the Bernardin and Golden Harvest branded mason jars of 500mL and 1 litre sizes, while not the older mason jars in Imperial measurements (Canada has been metric since the mid-1970’s), and/or those which often are somewhat to very square — eggs, after all, are round! 🙂  I don’t buy other non-mason formats of jars, nor the 650mL mason jars that come from a commercial spaghetti sauce which is sold in jars which look like, and appear to act like mason jars, though according to some sources do not meet mason jar standards, since I get enough of them from my other cooking projects.

I look for pricing on the individual jars at 50 cents per 500mL mason jar, and 75 cents per 1 litre mason jar, and look for mason jars which (normally) have the old lids and rings on them.  (A bit more on reusing lids below.)

I normally buy new lids at a local dollar store chain at 12 for $2, plus taxes, bringing the price per lid to under 19 cents per lid, or about 69 cents per 500mL mason jar, or 94 cents per 1 litre mason jar.

Occasionally, I purchase boxes of 12 lid and ring combinations, but the last time I did so, if I remember correctly, the price would have been to the order of $5.39 plus taxes.  This would make the lid-and-ring combination cost just under 52 cents each, for a total of $1.02 per 500mL jar, or $1.27 per 1 litre jar.

The clincher:  WalMart sells cases of 12, 1 litre Golden Harvest mason jars, (obviously) with new lids and rings, for $9.49 plus taxes, or just over 91 cents per mason jar.  Only compared to the more expensive Bernardin mason jars are the reused 1 litre mason jars I buy more competitive.

So, the purchased reused 1 litre mason jars with a new lid, when I sell them (see below) — hence not counting them as a cost when I use them for my own use, and then use them again when empty — are only competitive cost-wise with new mason jars when I am able to use used rings.

Since I use the 650mL mason jars from the commercial spaghetti sauce I use, their cost is hidden in the price I pay for the spaghetti sauce.  Of course, I only buy them on sale. 🙂  Hence, the direct cost per se per such jar is for the lid only, ie. about 19 cents (lid only) or 52 cents (lid and ring).

Lids:

Normally, when I make my eggs, one of the many “either / or” categories that go through my mind is personal consumption vs. the rest, which are potentially destined to be eaten by anyone, be it by sale, gift, or plate of hors d’oeuvres being passed around.  I reuse lids for the personal consumption group, but all others receive new lids, mainly on ethical grounds based on the lids normally having been designed for single use.  I have generally had excellent results reusing lids, and the only problems I have had with seals were related to some floating spices happening to get caught in the rubber seal, preventing the seal from working correctly at that location.

As for rings, I try to reuse rings as often as possible (and therefore, when buying jars at the used-goods store, trying to get as many as possible with the rings and lids).  Normally, I throw away rings with any non-trivial amount of discoloration or oxidation, while reserving those with slight discoloration for my personal consumption, and finally spotless rings for the jars being sold or given away.

A recent experience using a used lid on a commercial jar:

During one of my recent batches of pickled eggs, I had intended to fill my 1,5 litre jar (capacity of 22 eggs) to be a showcase jar during an upcoming flea market at which I was going to sell my eggs, with the expectation that I would have no clue as to whether or not it would sell.  During a previous flea market, I had prepared a 2 litre jar containing 30 eggs to act as a showcase jar; it drew the attention of only one person. who ended up not buying it on the advice of his wife.  (She figured it would be far too large and would likely end up mostly not consumed; her husband purchased a far smaller jar.)

However, this year’s showcase jar was not to be; the cooking session during which I was to make the jar unfortunately included a higher-than-normal rate of torn eggs, coincidentally 22 eggs above the expected rate of one egg per dozen.  Hence, the jar was filled with the 22 most torn eggs, and kept for personal consumption.

I had used a “new to me” lid on the 22 egg jar:  The lid came from a commercial jar of mild salsa, the salsa jar’s neck having the same size as the neck of the 1.5 litre jar.  It sealed great.

When I opened the jar and ate an egg, I noticed that the flavouring was somewhat different from usual.  Good, but a bit different.

The next morning, I noticed the flavouring again, and realized that many of the eggs in the jar would likely taste that way.  I began to identify the new flavour, and I realized why it was there.

The reused lid had absorbed and retained some of the spicing from the salsa jar, which then was released in the vinegar in the egg jar.  Of course the lid had been properly washed in a dishwasher prior to use, and put in the boiling water immediately before bottling the eggs.

Fortunately, after a few eggs, the salsa spice taste was no longer present.  (I am not a fan of salsa nor salsa spice, but the taste transfer was very mild.)

So beware of reusing lids!

The obligatory wash-and-boil-your-jars-and-lids comment section:

When bottling your now-boiled and shelled eggs, and adding your now-boiling pickling solution, it is imperative that the following things be respected:

  • All used jars need to be visually inspected for cracks, chips and other defects; the presence of any of these are cause not to use them for canning of any kind;
  • All used jars need to be properly washed in advance (lids and rings, too);
  • At bottling time, your jars and lids need to be in a boiling water bath.  I have found that for pickled eggs, the time it takes to put several in the boiling water bath and then the time to take them out and immediately fill with the eggs and pickling solution, one jar at a time, is sufficient;
  • At bottling time, your pickling solution should be kept boiling in between filling the jars;
  • At bottling time, I have found that immersing your shelled eggs in a boiling water bath for the time it takes to place them in the bath and then remove them and immediately transfer them to a jar that has just been taken out of its boiling water bath, is sufficient;
  • At bottling time, your lids should be taken out of the boiling water bath and immediately placed on the just-filled jar.

In this section, the Hallowe’en Candy Rule applies:

I most recently was selling my pickled eggs at a small flea market in June, 2018.  In the months leading up to the flea market I had prepared, over roughly eight cooking sessions spread over three weekends, the following amounts of eggs:

  • (roughly) 29 jars of 6 eggs;
  • 9 jars of 9 eggs;
  • 9 jars of 14 eggs, plus:
  • 1 jar of 14 eggs, to keep for myself;
  • about 7 jars of 6 torn eggs;
  • 1 jar of 12 torn eggs; and,
  • 1 jar of 22 torn eggs.

This was based on rough notions of:

  • in years past, at the same flea market, I have sold as many as 19 jars of 6 eggs;
  • last year, I believed that I could have sold more than the 2 jars of 14 eggs and 4 jars of 9 eggs that I had prepared for the flea market, had I prepared more jars of those sizes;
  • prior to the flea market, I unexpectedly sold 4 jars of 6 eggs, then 2 jars of 14 eggs, then 3 jars of 14 eggs, to a contact through work who adored my eggs upon tasting them one day when I randomly decided to bring some to the work site (and therefore I had to scramble to make more of the large format!);
  • I would want / need a few jars for use at parties, and giving away in the intervening period and beyond;
  • my accepted torn egg rate of one per dozen, which materialized pretty much spot on, except and therefore plus the unexpected extra 22 torn eggs during one cooking session;
  • relative unbridled enthusiasm. 🙂

Which leads to the Hallowe’en Candy Rule:  Why would I want to go to all that trouble?  And what do I do with any leftovers?  Well, the Hallowe’en Candy Rule says that you should only give out candy that you would not mind having a large amount of leftover should you have overbought supplies, or should there to be few children who knock on your door for any of a variety of reasons like inclement weather, or a last-minute public scare causing parents to restrict their children’s trick-or-treating, or a change in neighbourhood demographics, or any other reason.  In this case, it didn’t matter if I overestimated the number of eggs to make for the flea market:  I like my pickled eggs, and any excess would be eaten by me, be brought to parties as hors d’oeuvres, or be given as gifts.

And how did the most recent flea market I participated in turn out?

For selling eggs, until recently, I priced the eggs at 50 cents per egg, except for the jars of six eggs, to which I would add an extra 25 cents to help compensate for the mason jar costs.  As of June, 2018, I now charge closer to 57 cents to 58 cents per egg (slightly variable depending on the jar size and rounding to the nearest 25 cents), which incidentally also brings the prices closer to the lower end of the range of prices for pickled eggs at grocery stores.

The previous price of 50 cents per egg was me being modest, and perhaps simplistic.   I knew that other artisans were selling 500mL jars of artisan pickled products and jams and jellies at $5.00 and more, depending on the item.  But I felt I couldn’t justify that much, and in any case, I had seen jars of 6 pickled eggs at a local discount store for about $3.49.  I felt somewhat uncomfortable raising the price on jars of six pickled eggs to $3.25 last year, despite it being on account of recovering some of the jar costs.  As of this year, jars were priced at $3.50 per jar of six eggs, $5.25 per jar of 9 eggs, and $8.00 per jar of 14 eggs.

Despite this year’s price adjustments, nobody said boo.  The number of sales on some sizes were up from last year despite the price increase.  And where it was down, I attributed that without hesitation to foot traffic and variations in salesmanship.

A quick back-of-the-envelope tally of sales income and costs for all the jars of pickled eggs listed above suggest that as a batch, I recouped my investment, and my margin is in the leftover product, including the torn eggs which were never intended to be sold (and weren’t).  Leftover amounts of unsold product intended to be sold were to the order of 13 jars of 6 eggs and 4 jars of 9 eggs.  As mentioned earlier, the Hallowe’en Candy Rule was not only a guiding factor in the business plan; in the end, it certainly proved to be an integral part of the business plan.

Update:  There is a second post on pickled eggs from October, 2018.

Katadyn water filter capacity — update

This is an update to my post from 2013 on the Katadyn Pocket Water Filter.

In 2012, I bought a Katadyn Pocket water filter principally for use at the cottage during the off-season when our water system is turned off, plus a small handful of personal interest reasons like being a trained water techie, having been involved in Scouting, camping and hiking a long time ago (but no longer), having been involved in geocaching which can involve some hiking in the woods, filtering water from snow or ice for my homebrewing (mostly just to be able to have a story to tell about the “specialness” of the water), and generally to use for my amusement while hiking around at the cottage during my holidays and other times.

About two thirds of the way down the above post, I asked “So, does the filter work? And do I get the runs any more?” to which I answered with an obvious tone, “Of course, and of course not.” Those answers are as true today as they were back in 2013.

I use the filter principally up at the cottage during the off-season, about mid-October to mid-May (during the winter, when the water at the cottage is turned off due to freezing weather), for my water needs for drinking, cooking, hand washing, and dish washing (normally, just the rinsing part at the end.) Obviously, as long as the water isn’t grungy, a lot of water doesn’t need to be filtered to begin with, like for soaking dishes before cleaning them, or as long as it’s fairly clear, for washing my hair and taking a sponge bath.

Every year, I keep a register of the amount of water I filter, as a function of the five litre plastic jug to receive the filtered water, which I always fill up to the brim. I’ve checked the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 registers (I can’t seem to locate the previous two), and I respectively had filled the container 67 and 72 times. That adds up to roughly 695 litres of water. There is going to be some variance in this number, since I when I fill up my container for brewing water, I skip using my 5 litre container and fill the brewing water container directly.

Assuming that during the previous two winters (2012-2013 and 2013-2014), I’d used it similarly, let’s say that I’ve filtered about 1,400 litres. Add to that the very occasional use during the intervening summers, let’s say a good 100 litres, and I’m up to about 1,500 litres.

Here’s the clincher, though: The ceramic filter is visibly wearing down after four seasons of use, and I’m certain I won’t get 50,000 litres out of it.

Normally when I use the filter to filter melted snow or lake water, I have to clean the filter typically after about 12 or 13 litres, because it’s becoming too difficult to filter water at that point due to the ceramic filter clogging up. On general principle, barring the exact number of litres, this is normal and has always been to be expected.

However, recently I noticed something I find curious: During my most recent usage, I was filtering water from the artesian well, which is a good 60 feet deep. I was filtering this water since while the water system had been turned on, I hadn’t yet bleached the well after the winter to clean out the well as well as the house’s pipes. The curious part: I was able to get to 20 litres and beyond without any increase in difficulty in operating the filter, and were I not to have been too curious and opened up the filter for a preventative cleaning, I would have been able to filter an ample amount more.

The well, being a good 60 feet deep, is therefore supplying water that has been very nicely filtered by typically 60 vertical feet of gravel and sand. Further, since I’m assuming that the aquifer is at least somewhat dynamic, I assume that one day the water I’ve drawn from the well could have been rain water or lake water from a few days previous that trickled through the 60 feet of gravel and sand on my property, while another day the water may be runoff having traveled through I don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of lateral feet of sand and gravel from the hills behind my cottage. As such, the water is presumably — and I assure you, actually is — sparkling clear.

This is as compared to when I filter lake water or melted snow, the latter of which, may I remind you, is not quite so pristine as you may think, even when excluding the yellow variety; it is relatively chock full of dust particles that fell with the snow or became nuclei as part of the condensing and / or crystallization process. At this point I assume that at least some of the dust particles may be coming from the various chimneys at the cottages surrounding mine, including the chimney from my own cottage.

Which leads to the notion of this post regarding the filter’s capacity.

The filter is rated as having a capacity of “up to 50,000 litres”. When I bought the unit, I did recognize this to be codespeak for “Depending on the source water quality, the capacity may and will be reduced in real life.” Unfortunately, as it seems in my experience so far, possibly by a very significant margin.

However, I am wondering exactly when I’ll be needing to replace the filter. Yes, I have the little gauge to measure the filter thickness, and I use it occasionally. The question *is*not* “How will I know when to change the filter?” The question is “*When* will the ‘when’ be.” Let me explain.

I’d guess I’ve worn down at least half of the working thickness of the filter in the past four years of use over roughly 1,500 litres, especially if my vague memories of where the gauge the unit comes with was at when the filter was new are correct as compared to where it is now, and just visually guestimating the wear against where it obviously used to be when it was new.

And here’s the conspiracy theory:

I bet that the 50,000 litre estimate that they give is based on using either laboratory grade distilled water, or perhaps treated tap water intended to be potable.

I know that everyone’s source water will be different, and generally using it while traveling to areas where the tap water is clear but not quite potable is as legitimate a use for the water filter as filtering swamp water while out hiking.

(As a side opinion: Regarding dubious water systems while traveling, depending on where you go, unfortunately outside of the westernized world — and even within it in some cases — the tap water may not be quite potable at least from a microbiological point of view as one might expect or hope it to be. The water system can be dubious at best due to antiquated pipes, or the production plant is old and breaking down, or the employees are severely underpaid, or there aren’t enough of them to do the work well. And that’s just the areas which have a distribution system, and that isn’t delivering water that’s smelly or cloudy or outright foul.)

But I’m wondering just how long my filter unit will actually last. For the moment, I’m betting on another two to four cottage seasons, or “up to” another 1500 litres, the way I’m using it. That’s still far beyond other filters where the unit has a nominal capacity of a few hundred litres, and the filter unit itself is disposable and needs to be replaced the way a razor blade in a razor has to be, or ink cartridges in a “wow this printer isn’t expensive at all!”. Ultimately *a* *part* of what makes the other filters, razors with disposable blades, or ink jet printers so deceptively inexpensive is that the manufacturers make their money in selling you spare parts and refills.

I know that the kind of water I filter and of course its quality are far beyond Katadyn’s control. I know that if I’m filtering snow where a good amount of the particles to remove are composed of fine mineral dusts, there will be a sandpaper effect when I’m cleaning the filter, versus filtering stream water where the solids to be removed are more likely to be decaying organic matter in the form of fish poop and dead leaves, which will be easier to clean off the filter when the time comes. I know that the filter is designed such that when it is being cleaned, the process is meant to be ablative. But I’m wondering how much of my perceptions are, well, perceptions and not real life, how much of my use represents an edge case, how much my of cleaning is a bit too vigorous, and so on.

And I wonder just how much Katadyn knows that the 50,000 litre mark is about as close to an imaginary number as it can get. (Or conversely just how delusional I am. 🙂 ) I’d love to see their internal graphs on the real life capacity of their filters. I’d love to see the range that their customers get out of their filters.

So Katadyn: Here’s my estimate, for my filter — about 3,000 litres, given the kinds of water sources I’m using (cottage country snow, some lake water, and a small sundry other sources like streams when I’m hiking, etc..) At the rate I’m going, I expect that it may take as long as until 2020 to find out, though. 🙂

Any and all Katadyn Pocket Filter users are invited to leave your estimate — I hope at least somewhat evidence based — here, or send me an email malak at the site malak dot ca

Backwoods Washing Machine

I used to be rather involved in Scouting and camping, so it was no surprise when my brother recently sent me a link to “41 Camping Hacks That Are Borderline Genius“. (Here is my archive of the page in case it disappears ) The idea was to present a list of camping tips that, while often easy once you’ve looked at them, seem to elude many of us. The tips ranged from the small to large, from the really backwoods to mostly the car camping with a family crowd variety, from the simple to the involved. I read the list and found some tips interesting, some I’d done before, some I’d never thought of, and enough of which I thought were downright gratuitous in their inclusion in the list (in my mind — although this itself isn’t listed — along the lines of “if you’re going for more than an hour you’ll want some food”.)

This post is about one of the tips that I found useful.

The “hillbilly washing machine” was a gem for me: Someone else would no doubt list it as mundane, impractical, or on some level conceptually obvious. According to the proponent, this backwoods washing machine could be made for about $6. (Here is my archive of the page.) This person was a blogging mom telling about her participation in the Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge (again here’s my archive), trying to involve other parents in a challenge to use reusable cotton diapers for a week instead of expensive store-bought disposable diapers. One of the challenge’s rules suggests that buying / making / securing a sufficient quantity of reusable diapers in order to last the week without having to wash them seemed to defeat the purpose of the challenge, and as such the challenge suggests the washing machine as one of the ways to make participation (both short and long term) practical.

By the way, here is their survey results page (and of course my archive) which I find interesting just from a simple numbers perspective, but also in how it seems to at least moderately promote the hillbilly washing machine as practical.

The concept is really simple: Take a five gallon bucket with a hole in the lid and use an old fashioned toilet plunger to simulate the function of a washing machine agitator. Add water, soap and clothes to be washed, and voilà , you have a functional washing machine.

backwoods washing machine
I found the idea intriguing: Having a three-season cottage that lacks the space and appropriate place for a washing machine (read it lacks a heated space during the winter to avoid freezing), this seemed to fit the bill, regardless of the time of year. Over the years I’d gotten mildly tired of always making sure that I’d be bringing clothes up from the city for the weekend, let alone enough. As such I had stocked my wardrobe and drawers there with old shirts, pants and the like that were perfectly serviceable but of course not exactly appropriate for showing up to work, let alone the likes of a wedding. I’d even gone so far as to buy a dedicated set of socks and underwear in sufficient quantity for the usual longest stint of two weeks that I would spend up there. I of course had backup plans that I could hand wash some small items in the sink or bathtub, drive to one of the towns about 45 minutes away and use a laundromat, or in an extreme emergency ask one of the neighbours if I may draw on their goodwill and use their washing machine, a plan I hope I never have to use. (This goodwill capital is reserved for “it’s the middle of the winter, I don’t have running water, and I desperately need a shower because such-and-such occurred; a sponge bath just won’t do.”)

So for the next couple of weeks, I kept my eye out for a five gallon bucket on the side of the road on garbage days, having a 16 litre square bucket in reserve just in case I was unsuccessful. Fortunately, my “nice” square bucket did not have to be sacrificed. The “new” bucket was in a previous life apparently used to hold kitty litter, based on the kitty litter dust on the bottom and its proximity to a cat box being thrown out. Its original function was to hold commercial hamburger pickles for a restaurant — and the brine smell permanently permeates the plastic, but, even for one who does not care for pickles, only to a pleasantly low level.

As a side note: I don’t know about how the geometry would have worked out, but based on my experience, the size absolutely does matter — a full 20 to 23 litre bucket is absolutely necessary.

The first part of the job was a general cleaning of the bucket — removing a commercial label, a general washing, and the like.

The next part was to cut out four of the eight sections along the side of the lid that holds the lid to the bucket — I obviously would want the lid to hold to the bucket during usage, but as many people familiar with buckets intended to be water-tight and resealable after opening know, these lids can be a pain to secure properly onto the bucket, and then remove from the bucket. Removing four of the eight sections changed this dynamic from a bucket that was frustrating to open and close to a bucket that is easily opened and closed, while of course maintaining reasonable water tightness during operation.

trim the lid
trim the lid
Then there was the hole to cut in the centre of the lid, large enough to freely allow the plunger to come up and down. It’s about two inches in diameter and was easily cut with a pocket knife.

hole in the lid
Then for the most expensive part of the machine: The plunger. Firstly, just finding an old-fashioned plunger that is full sized does not seem to be the easiest thing to do; they seem to be going the way of the dodo bird. Even the now-almost-old-fashioned plunger with a flexible extension that is meant to fit more snugly into the bottom of a toilet and increase performance and effective pressure seems to have competition with new-fangled, ergonomic and style conscious designs. However, I found one of the plungers with the flexible extensions for a whopping $1.97 plus applicable sales taxes. Following some advice I’d seen on some of the pages describing how to make this project, I trimmed off the extension while maintaining the structural integrity of the bottom part where it would have flexed, and I cut out three triangular holes in the cupped part so as to allow for less water resistance when using the plunger.

modified plunger
And voilà ! Backwoods washing machine for a paltry sum of about $2.27 or thereabouts, plus of course a (very) little bit of effort.

At this point, I tested it a couple of times; see below.

Hence, having used it a couple of times, the notion of getting a wringer of some sort seemed useful, and this was my “target item” a couple of weeks later when I went to a flea market. I found a mop bucket with a couple of wooden dowels integrated into it which act as a wringer when you put the mop between them and use foot to create pressure between the dowels, which squeezes out the water. $10 later, and I’d thought I’d really gotten a good deal; I later decided wasn’t worth more than “It was nice to have an objective for the flea market, but in retrospect it wasn’t worth the money at any price.” I tried to use the wringer, but decided that it wasn’t of much use. It not only added extra work to the process, but it wasn’t particularly effective for wringing out clothing, at least given that I was still able to easily wring out more water with hand pressure afterwards. (sigh …)

Now that I’ve used the washing machine a few times, I’ve decided a few things about how to use it and get acceptable results:

1) it’s only good for about one or two days’ worth of clothing for one person, or equivalent; hence you’ll want to divide up equal piles for more days’ worth of clothing, or if you’re washing for more than one person, or also want to wash up all the linen, towels and rags from yesterday evening’s dinner party and associated cleanup. Interestingly, the original blogger suggested that she’d used it for only a day’s worth of diapers at a time.

This was explicit in the original blog entry regarding the cotton baby diapers: In my experiences, it became obvious that the point (and the capacity) of the unit was tailored and ideally (and only) suited to washing one or two days’ worth of diapers at a time to avoid having to store increasingly smelly items for wash day at the end of the week. The point of the challenge was, beyond using cloth diapers (especially for those who can’t afford disposable diapers), to hand wash the diapers while avoiding the use of automatic washing machines (again in a context of affordability.) It also seemed to come across that perhaps it was intended more as a pre-wash system for such items so that you don’t have to wash them at their dirtiest with your delicates and your picky teenager’s latest styles in jeans, although in re-reading the original posts, it became clear that this obviously was a creation of my imagination, however true it might be.

2a) It seems ideally suited to small items such as socks, underwear, small hand towels, and wash cloths. The occasional polo shirt works too but they seem to be nearing the limit of what the unit can handle — hence the mention above about the importance of the sizing of the bucket being in the 20 to 23 litre area.

2b) It really isn’t suited for bulky items. For instance, during my recent two weeks of holidays, I was glad that I’d had enough pants to not “need” to wash them; for fear that jeans were just to heavy and bulky and would require far too much effort, I never even tried to wash a pair, let alone several.

2c) It seems that washing large items and/or large quantities and/or both would require a larger bucket, and would require something more appropriate for agitation that a simple hand plunger. Some other such items seen on the internet suggest reducing the size of a 55 gallon drum and adapting an old bicycle to agitate the load.

3) For the whole operation, I’ve found that for me, what works best is as follows:
a) put in clothes as above
b) add about a tablespoon or two of wash powder
c) fill with water
d) use plunger action, using two hands — with one you’ll tire out really quickly — for up to about five minutes
e) take out and wring the items individually — as mentioned above, hand wringing seems to be the most effective short of having a proper (old style) wringer or a restaurant-grade vegetable spinner (which I wouldn’t seriously consider buying since I know its cost would defeat the project’s “on a budget” and “let’s keep this simple” themes)
f) hang the laundry on a clothesline or other similar support reasonably securely — outside! Otherwise, you’ll have to go through a rinse cycle or two by repeating a) to e)
g) thoroughly rinse all the items with a garden hose, and allow to drip dry. Hand wringing of items at their bottoms will of course significantly reduce drying time. Obviously, if you rinse as in f), (say, if you do everything inside) then don’t do this!

Overall, despite its limitations, I like the idea. I’d like to think that it’s one of those “why didn’t I do this years ago” ideas. I might not have “wasted” money buying as many new socks just for the cottage.

The “but” part is that it is a useful item that definitely has its limits. Operating it does require a certain amount of manual labour, and is really only useful for a portion of items that need to be washed. I was a bit disappointed that after my two weeks of vacation and despite having kept up with just about all the shirts, socks and underwear I’d worn as well as a few hand towels and wash cloths I’d used, I still had about three loads of laundry to do once the bedsheets, pants, large towels and a few other items were taken into account.

Yes, it was fun. Yes, I recommend it.

Happy washing!

UPDATE September, 2014:

I have used the washing machine since during this year’s holidays at the cottage and a couple of other times. Having formed some opinions last year about its limits, this year I decided not to depend on it for washing or reducing the washload at the end of my holidays, and, surprise, surprise, I found it to be a wonderful and useful tool.

I used it for the predictable small items such as my socks, some underwear, hand towels and wash cloths, for which it is ideally suited.

But I found something else for which it is suited, to my surprise to boot: Much of the bed sheets for a double bed and the pillow cases. Last year I assumed that such items would be too bulky for the washing machine. This year, mid-vacation they needed to be done. They were easy to wash one sheet at a time plus another time for the pillow cases, and to my surprise they were easy to wash, to the point that I have since washed them again in it, “saving me” from having to bring them home to wash and dry in a standard electric washing machine back home in the city.

So two more points for the washing machine and it having continued to demonstrate its usefulness as well as having redeemed itself a bit: Next time going up to the cottage, I won’t have to remake my bed upon arrival, possibly, for all I know, late in the evening and after the proverbial long tiring day at work.

Katadyn Pocket Water Filter

During the summer of 2012, I bought a Katadyn Pocket water filter. It took a bit of research, but in short order the decision to buy this model over just about any other was clear: Most water filters seemed to have a capacity of a few hundred gallons or maybe up to 1,500 gallons; the Katadyn Pocket filter has a capacity of up to 13,000 gallons, or 50,000 litres. Given the price difference — anywhere from $75 to $250 for most of the rest, and $300 to $350 for the Katadyn Pocket, there was little to decide.

The unit has a 0.2 micron ceramic filter with silver impregnated in it in order to act as a bacteriostatic agent, although you have to be careful about that (see below).

The only thing that bugs me a very little bit about it is that it’s a filter only (albeit very good), not a purifier. Unfortunately, the purifiers don’t have the capacity that this filter has. This works out to the fact that the unit can effectively remove all bacteria and cysts — and of course cloudiness — in water, but theoretically it can’t remove viruses due to their being far smaller than the pore size (unless they electrostatically attach themselves to a particle which can be filtered out by the unit). It also means that it doesn’t remove any other contaminants smaller than 0.2 microns, including the usual nasties one might think of such as dissolved heavy metals, pesticides and other such nasty contaminants, and the more benign but nonetheless undesirable tastes, odours and colours that aren’t due to cloudiness.

There are two ways of dealing with these issues:

1) Choose a clear water source — that you might be tempted to drink without treating it at all (your natural “yuck” factor will help you out with this) — and this will reduce the likelihood that these are problems to begin with. By itself, most people — including myself, a trained water techie — can’t just look at clear water and tell whether it’s contaminated with the poop of 30 deer 100 feet upstream, or the dumpings from some illegal leather tanning shop 200 feet upstream. But, generally, you can tell the difference between clear, running water in the middle of the woods far away from just about anything and that doesn’t have any smells to it, and stagnant, cloudy and smelly water in the ditch surrounding a garage.

2) Bring around a small bottle filled with bleach and an eye dropper (*). I find that depending on the water source and the strength of the bleach (typically 4% to 6% sodium hypochlorite), 1 to 3 drops per imperial gallon (4.5 litres) has worked well on the filtered water. Melted snow from my cottage could do with 1/2 drop per imperial gallon, given that the bleach taste still often comes through quite distinctly on such (presumably) relatively pure water. As a reference, the USEPA (here’s my archive) recommends to use two drops per quart when using bleach to disinfect untreated water, or about 8 drops per US gallon (3.78 litres), or about 9 drops per imperial gallon (4.5 litres).

(*) This won’t deal with a bunch of dissolved metals, and can’t completely deal with tough contaminants, so choose your water source carefully!

Now, putting aside that I’m a water techie, why would I, who stopped being involved in Scouting and most forms of camping and hiking in 1999, need such a device?

The family cottage doesn’t have running water in the winter, and I usually spend a week over Christmas and typically a weekend a month at the cottage over winter, when the water is off. I’ve been starting to get tired of carrying up big jugs filled with water. I’ve been getting tired of running out of water or at least having to be careful about how I use water. And, particularly, I’ve been getting tired of depending on a few neighbours for their goodwill. The operative notion here is “depending”; a lack of goodwill is not the issue, although the variability of whether or not two of the immediate neighbours would be around all the time is a concern alongside the inconvenience of having to go out to get clean drinking water in the middle of washing dishes.

One of the first things I had to figure out the hard way is the importance of keeping the unit clean (go figure, a water techie needing to be reminded of the importance of keeping drinking water treatment equipment clean): Over almost two weeks in the summer, I’d used it three times, and ended up with a good case of diarrhea which took a couple of weeks to clear up. So note to myself, and those considering buying any camping water filter: Keep the unit and the outlet hose in particular clean — it can get contaminated easily — and when you’re going to leave it sitting around for more than a day or two or pack it away for a while, run a bleach solution through it first and dry it out.

So, does the filter work? And do I get the runs any more?

Of course, and of course not.

This year over Christmas, I found it quite useful, although I did bring up a good supply of water anyway to begin with, given that I was coming up for a week and the long-awaited testing grounds had finally arrived. I needed some kind of starting point, in case I found out that “making” water was a lot more work than I’d bargained for, especially given all the freezer cooking (and therefore dish washing) I do over that period.

I also confirmed what I had begun observing for years while melting snow for things that didn’t require drinking-quality water: You’d be surprised how much dirt and debris comes through when melting “pristine” snow in the middle of cottage country, far away from the city. It’s but a little more appetizing for drinking, cooking or rinsing the dishes than dishwater — so of course I don’t bother filtering the melted snow for my “put the dirty dishes in hot soapy dishwater” part, but of course I use filtered water for rinsing the dishes.

Regarding the amount of bleach to use, I have found that the filtered water from melting snow needs about a drop per imperial gallon, while the filtered lake water can handle about two drops per imperial gallon, before a distinct bleach taste comes through. This is a little testing based on working with the filtered water and after having first consulted some tables on how many drops of bleach per litre to use for treating water (here’s my archive) (instead of just calculating it myself). As a reference, the USEPA (here’s my archive) recommends to use two drops per quart when using bleach to disinfect untreated water, or about 8 drops per US gallon (3.78 litres), or about 9 drops per imperial gallon (4.5 litres).

Regarding the “one litre per minute” claim, it mostly works out to that, sort of, I guess — which means, not really. In practice, though, I suspect that that’s based on filling up one litre or one quart water bottles commonly used, especially in camping and hiking circles. For larger amounts of water, it takes longer. The best test I’ve had — since filtering water while being distracted by the TV at the cottage isn’t much of a test — was when I recently filtered about 23 litres of melted snow undistracted for a future batch of beer, and it took me about 40 to 45 minutes. This admittedly but importantly included a stop about halfway through to open up the filter and clean the ceramic filter, which had become sufficiently dirty from the dirt in the “clean” snow that I’d melted, making filtering the water difficult. A comparison between the 100 metre race and the 3,000 metre race in the Olympics would be apt: You sprint in the former race, but you pace yourself at a somewhat slower running speed in the latter in order not to get too tired right away and be able to make it to the end of the race.

Anyway, I like the filter, and it should get several years’ worth of use before I have to start thinking about buying a replacement filter cartridge.

Update 08 June 2016: Katadyn water filter capacity — update