In a nutshell, not much fun at all.
That's why the popular choice was often to drink water from one of the underground springs that the villages would have tapped into.
The potential problems this carried with it were enormous as you can imagine. From potentially infected water via pollution, agricultural contamination, toxic industrial chemicals or sneaky rooskies poisoning the village supply….wait…no…that was last time…
Still, if the water was cold, what did we care if we tooted so hard our insides blew out our back passage?
So it was you'd get down on your hands and knees and drop whatever rusted, dirty bucket was there for the purpose down that dodgy looking hole and bring up the precious nectar.
A few brave (Read that as 'stupid') souls would just neck it, giving it the old: “My bodies adjusted to the Afghan environment, I can handle it.”, these people would generally go down with D&V in a few days and deserve the horrific pain that accompanied such an ailment.
The rest of us would root around until we found what sod had been given the Lifesaver bottle to carry and thus would ensue some manic, frenzied pumping to get the water purified and drinkable in decent enough quantities to do all 96 of us.
Some people spend their time on tour doing Op Massive. Introduce a workout with the Lifesaver bottle into your training program and you'll have guns of steel in no time!
What is the Lifesaver bottle then? It's essentially a water bottle with a filtration system embedded which allows you to take dirty water, pour it into the base of the bottle, reseal the bottle and then force the water via a pump through the various filtration layers inside the bottle where it would then collect at the nozzle end ready for you to drink straight from.
A fantastic concept that has only a few minor flaws in the field but which in a civilian capacity on an outdoor trek is pretty much the be all and end all of water purification.
So let’s take a look at the unit itself. As I mentioned before it's a hefty bit of kit, weighing in at 630grams dry which is only a few hundred grams less than a pair of lightweight boots. What you do need to remember though is that if you're carrying this then realistically you shouldn't need to carry as much water as you normally would have, so it's a trade off in that respect. The bottle itself will hold 750ml of water which isn't a huge amount and so you'll need a fair few refills to fill some large water carriers.
Made from toughened plastic that gives it a durable and robust outer casing the Lifesaver bottle can take a fair beating though in Afghan we did have a fairly high casualty rate amongst them due to incorrect storage or simply unavoidable situations (“What do you mean, 'I left the bottle under the wheel?’''). It's also fairly robust when it comes to actual use of the system although once you sit down and read the manual (Which we were never supplied with on tour) you realise that there's quite a lot to keeping it working effectively and prolonging its life. I never knew for example that once you used the Lifesaver bottle you had to keep a small amount of water inside it to prevent the filter pores closing up. Most of ours dried out fairly quickly as you could imagine and so I wonder what effect that had on its overall functionality throughout the course of seven months.
The other aspect of the Lifesaver bottle is that you need to ensure you keep the drinking end relatively clean and free from contamination. It's all very well and good if you're filtering water to make it clean to drink but you're defeating the purpose of the exercise if you then wipe the drinking teat down with your grubby hand or let dirty water spill all over it.
The base cap itself is also well designed and built to high standards meaning there's no risk of snapping when you're busy pumping away.
So although we had a fair few break on us, to be fair that was mainly down to neglect. The Lifesaver bottle itself isn't prone to breaking just from knocks and drops - it's definitely one of the more robust bits of kit I've come across and is clearly designed with protection in mind as far as the outer shell goes.
When it comes to using the Lifesaver bottle then it can be a bit tricky at first to understand exactly how the bottle works. It's not rocket science; it's just a bit different. Dirty water goes in the bottom which means you have to turn it upside down to achieve this (Unless the laws of gravity suddenly change), you screw the base cap back on and then pump like a madman. The pressure of the pump will force the water through various filtration layers until in the core of the bottle there's a 'Clean well' where the good water converges. You then have a choice: you can open the lid, open the teat and keep pumping into a drinking container or you can stop pumping and drink the water directly from the bottle as you would any other.
Primarily we would use it to pump straight into a drinking container, normally a Camelbak or a Bastion bomb. This is not a quick process and you'll find yourself at it for a good few minutes trying to fill a Camelbak. However if you're just out and about on a bit of a ramble up the hills then you can either fill your main drinking bottle or you can drink straight from the bottle and once you're happy, fill it back up and chuck it in your backpack and you can just drink and pump when you need to.
The bonus with the Lifesaver bottle is that it's a bit of a meaty beast when it comes to dirty water. It doesn't really care how dirty it is. As long as you're not shoving reeds and small insects in there it'll filter the gunk and leave you with the good stuff at the other end. Having drank from numerous Afghan wells I'm happy in that respect however I've never had to actually use it in an obviously dirty source (Not doubt the wells were stinking but out of sight out of mind!). So it was that with the scorching heat upon us I went out for a bergen run in the local park armed not with fluids but the Lifesaver bottle instead.
The premise was fairly simple, if I didn't use the Lifesaver at the pond halfway around the 8 mile route then I was probably going to cream in. The pond is a distinctly unhealthy looking colour and has ducks and shopping trolleys in it.
I eventually reached the well in total rag order and like some soldier in the old films where he's stranded in the desert and finds an oasis, fell to my knees, discarded the weight and got the Lifesaver bottle out. The flaw in my plan only hit me when I went to fill the Lifesaver. How on earth was I meant to fill it without getting the clean end dirty? I hadn't brought any containers to use as a ladle for pouring water in. I had a sit and a think and cast my mind back to the manual which I'd had a quick scan through. Sure enough the answer was there. I took out the pre-filter which is a blue sponge, shoved it into the pond and squeezed it out into the bottle. Rinse and repeat until the bottle was full and stuck it back in place before carrying on as normal. What was once dirty pee filled water now became clear and refreshing liquid. The pre-filter is listed as being capable of filling the bottle via exactly this process. It even says you can use it to mop up any moisture you find such as crevices or puddles if you're in that much of a pickle. Brilliant, utterly brilliant.
I wanted to go with the bottle being used as my drinking and carrying source as that wasn't something we really practiced in Afghan either, so once I'd had enough I filled it and stowed it and cracked on.
The second water stop was a bit emotional. Because I'm so used to pumping like crazy to fill a Camelbak I over-pressurised the bottle and when I opened the teet I felt like a cameraman caught by surprise in a noody flick, with it spraying all over my face. Desperate not to lose my water I took the hit like a man and gulped down what I could, nearly drowning for my efforts as it all went down the wrong pipe (A prize for whoever can identify the total number of innuendos available there).
I later read in the instructions that one or two pumps should be enough to fill the drinking reservoir. Not fifteen. Ah well, we live and learn.
Once I'd adjusted my pump ratio I found it was fairly simple to get used to it. You don't really need to suck as with a Camelbak, you just release the teet and enjoy the now steady flow of water. You can, if you don't mind looking slightly weird and kinky, pump the bottle whilst you're drinking from it. Whilst this action looks like something that'd get you kicked out of church on a Sunday, no doubt any Mortar Platoon lads out there will be more than comfortable with it and it does keep a nice, steady flow going.
Once I was back in it was just a case of rinsing the bottle through with clean water, giving the outside a wipe and Bobs your uncle.
As for the actual filtration in the bottle, the technical info is long and detailed but there's lots of 99% figures bandied about and other compliance standards. It deals with all viruses and bacteria, something which a lot of other filtration devices don't, surprisingly do. We had an alternative model in theatre from some random company which was a red pump with a black body. This, apparently, didn't filter viruses, according to the people I spoke to at Lifesaver. It's just a basic carbon filter mechanism, whereas the Lifesaver has carbon filter, UF cartridges and various membrane layers.
The only thing I would say with regards to the Lifesaver bottle is that you should really read the instructions before you start. There's a lot of clauses where you can void your warranty on the product.
Really though, what more do I need to say? This is a brilliant product, excelling at what it does and tried and tested at home, abroad and on operations and only once did I poo my world out onto the floor, but that had nothing to do with dirty water, and just dirty colleagues who never washed their hands, the little grots!
If you want water filtration and drinkable water, you want the Lifesaver bottle.