Water containers for long-term storage and/or for Burning Man

For post-earthquake survival in San Francisco, I keep 42 gallons of fresh drinking water handy.  I use the same containers to carry a week’s worth of water for four people to Burning Man.  Unfortunately the technology of portable potable storage is flawed.  You can’t use ordinary gallon or multigallon prefilled plastic water jugs; they’re expensive, produce a lot of trash, and they readily leak.  If you leave ten 1-gallon jugs sitting for a year you’ll discover that half of them have developed little leaks and let half the water out.  And the water in the other ones won’t taste very good.
I do recommend having four or five gallon jugs of storebought water along at Burning Man.  You can decant water from your larger containers into these, for easy use around the kitchen or camp.  Just don’t expect them to last more than a month or two.
I have a variety of long-term water containers: four Jumbo-Tainers, and three Aqua-Tainers, one with a filter.  None of them is really great.

The best I found was the “Jumbo-Tainer” by Reliance Products, a tall green “jerry can” with two handles, and that’s the one I recommend that you get.

It’s tall and thin, so it packs well, and has handles both for hauling and for pouring.  I can put at least four of them into each compartment under an RV (which is where they belong - heavy things go low down to lower the RV’s center of gravity).

However it has two major problems:

  • The cap contains a spigot which invariably breaks or leaks. Once it starts leaking I’ve found no way to seal it, having tried O-rings, plumber’s tape, and metal plumbing fixtures.
    • Fix: For each container you get, buy an extra “blank cap” from the company, which they don’t offer in stores nor on their web site, but they do actually have ‘em if you phone them up (customer service, +1 800 665 0258).  They’re in Manitoba so if you aren’t in Canada, the caps will have to cross customs to get to you; allow extra time.  Keep stored water covered with blank caps, and carry the spigot caps separately.  If and when you want to dispense water from a spigot, screw one onto a container, replacing and saving the blank cap.  Treat the spigot caps gently, and throw them out once they start to leak. Reliance does sell spare spigot caps for $7, but you won’t need the spares for a while, until all of your original removed spigot caps break.
  • The vent hole also leaks; it’s secured just by the friction between the plastic case and a plug you push in.
    • Circumvention:  Always store them with that corner upwards.

You can read some very mixed reviews on the REI Jumbo-Tainer product page.

I also have three Aqua-Tainers, the square blue ones, and it has similar problems with the cap and vent.  Some Aqua-tainers have a screw-on vent that actually seals, but apparently that version doesn’t have a separate name or product number from the one with the leaky friction vent (which they apparently continue to manufacture).  On the web sites like Amazon, REI, and Target, they mix up the photos of the good ones with the bad ones, apparently without even noticing that they’re showing two separate product designs.  This makes it risky to order them from a website or catalog, since you can’t tell whether you’ll get the leaky vents or the fixed ones, or a mix of both.

I don’t understand why Reliance Products of Manitoba continues to sell these defective products, when they’ve already engineered solutions to both sources of leakage!  They claim to be ISO-9001 quality certified, which shows just what crap that certification is, since any actual quality control program would’ve noticed all the customer reviews and complaints about leakage, and would’ve revised the products to not leak, by shipping them with blank caps and a separate spigot, and by molding all the vent holes to take a screw-on cap instead of a friction-fit plug.

The Aqua-Tainer stores as much water as the Jumbo-Tainer, but in an almost cubical form factor that’s hard to store.  They CANNOT be stacked when filled with water, despite misleading photos.  The Jumbo-Tainer fits into many places that the fat Aqua-Tainer won’t, like behind a seat in a car.  Aqua-Tainers are hard to pour from, since they only have one handle and it’s on top, next to the opening, not on the side.  I recommend avoiding the Aqua-Tainers if you can find Jumbo-Tainers, and also skipping any Aqua-Tainer that doesn’t have a screw-on vent cap.

There is an Aqua-tainer that comes with a filter, for twice the price. Don’t get it! The filter is useless. It doesn’t filter for drinkability, only for looks. And whatever idiot designed it put the filter INSIDE the jug cap, but the storage location exposed to the outside air. So do you put the dirty water inside the jug, and filter it as you pour it out? (Wrong answer - save your jug for clean water, since you can’t reach inside it to clean it.) Then if you filter it as you pour it in, your filter will be full of dust, crud, and particles that it’s picked up while it was in storage. You’ll have to insert that nice dirty filter into your nice clean water, because it’s misdesigned to be on the inside of the cap. The right answer? Don’t use the *($%(#$*# filter!  Get a real filter like a Katadyn, and run your dirty water through it before you ever let it into your jug.

It looks like the cheapest place to get the Jumbo-Tainer is Target, $15 each. Direct from Reliance they’re $20. REI also has them, for $17, and Amazon, for $18.60.

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