Best Backpacking Water Filters: Get Clean Drinking Water
Get fresh and clean drinking water on the go with these backpacking water filters
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PUBLISHED ON October 13, 2019
If you’re planning a backpacking trip, you need a reliable backpacking water filter. Staying hydrated is one of the most important things to keep in mind while hiking, and you may not have access to freshwater. While you could take a chance and drink the water straight from the river, that may be unwise. Instead, here are the best backpacking water filters you should consider to filter out any contaminants.
- Best OverallSawyer Products MINI Water Filtration SystemSummarySummary
A compact, two-ounce water filtration system capable of filtering out 99.99 percent of bacteria and 100 percent of microplastics.ProsProsThe tiny filter is rated to filter 100,000 gallons of contaminated water. Plus, it comes with a drinking straw, reusable squeeze pouch, and cleaning plunger. It’s simple to use and understand, will last several hiking trips, and can be used for on-demand filtration, in-line filtration, or filtration on the move.ConsCons
The 16-ounce bag is small and can take a while to filter water. It will take a while to drip out the filtered water into a bottle, and the water flow rate when sucking through the straw can be a chore and time-consuming.
- Best ValueLifeStraw Personal Water FilterSummarySummary
A small yet powerful and reliable straw that is capable of filtering up to 1,000 gallons of water without chemical treatment.ProsProsThe whole thing is ultralight and is only 2 ounces, making it portable and easy to stow away for hikers. It’s strong enough to filter out dirt, sand, and mud to make crystal clear drinking water.ConsConsIt takes a bit of suction to raise the water’s flow rate, which can be more difficult in higher altitudes. This also means you will need more lung capacity.
- Honorable MentionPlatypus GravityWorks 4.0 Liter High-Capacity Water FilterSummarySummary
A filtration system that purifies up to 400 gallons of water before it needs a replacement cartridge. It can supply about two gallons at one time.ProsPros
The kit works to filter the water of up to 99.9999 percent of bacteria and 99.99 percent of protozoa. It requires no pumping and makes nearly a half-gallon of filtered water per minute. A storage sack is included for easy transport.ConsConsFilling up the unfiltered reservoir bag can be difficult without a deep water source. Accessories such as water bottle adapters are not included and sold separately.
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Benefits of Backpacking Water Filters
- Protects from harmful bacteria and protozoa. Rivers and streams in the backcountry can have contaminants that are unsafe for human consumption. A portable water filter system purifies river and stream water from bacteria, such as E. Coli and Salmonella, and protozoa, such as Giardia.
- Long-lasting. While the length of time varies for each backpacking water filter system depending on what type it is, many last for as little as hundreds of gallons and as much as millions. They tend to run cheap enough that when your filter runs out, you can simply purchase a replacement. It’s important for hikers to trust that a water filter will last the duration of a trip in the backcountry.
- Compact and ultralight. A hiker’s backpack can become weighed down on trips with essential items. You won’t notice a difference adding a backpacking water filter system, however. They’re small, can fit into pockets, and tend to only add an extra pound to your pack.
- Reduces plastic water bottle use. By using a backpacking water filter, you will not need to carry as many single-use plastic water bottles around. Not only does it help the environment but it also reduces the weight of your backpack. However, hikers should still take a bottle or two along to refill with purified water from the filter.
Types of Backpacking Water Filters
Straw Water Filter
Serving as a minimalist option, these systems work great for backpackers who want a lightweight option. This requires a sucking action to carry water from the source through small hollow fibers in the filter. A pouch may also come included that’s used to fill up with dirty water that’s filtered for later use. While practical, straw water filters are susceptible to clogging and will require you to back-flush after each use.
Squeeze Water Filter
A squeeze filter works exactly as you’d imagine. It comes with a pouch and the filter itself, which can attach to a water bottle such as a Nalgene. Once you come across a water source in the backcountry, you can fill up the pouch with water, attach it to your filter, and squeeze the pouch to get filtered water either directly from a nozzle or into a bottle to save it for later use.
Gravity Water Filter
If you’re in the backcountry with a group of other hikers and need large quantities of purified water, gravity water treatment is a great solution. These typically come in the form of two bags that you hang up on a tree. One bag contains water you fill up from the source, which filters it through a hose that collects in another bag where clear water goes.
Platypus makes most of its hydration-related products in the United States. It is one of several outdoor brands owned by Cascade Designs, a company that’s been around since 1972. Two engineers who were passionate backpackers started the company after falling victim to layoffs at Boeing. It makes the Platypus GravityWorks 4.0 Liter High-Capacity Water Filter.
Based in Safety Harbor, Fla., Sawyer Products makes outdoor protective equipment aimed at guarding against bad water and mosquito bites. Sawyer’s water filtration systems don’t require chemical treatment or a power source to operate. A good backpacking water filter option it offers is the Sawyer Products MINI Water Filtration System.
Best Backpacking Water Filters Pricing
- $15-$20: Backpacking water filters in this range will allow you to drink directly from rivers and streams while out in nature. They tend to be straw filters, which rely on a source of water to draw from and are unable to store water.
- $20 and up: Not only will these backpacking water filters let you drink from rivers and streams on the spot, but they will also allow you to store it for later use. Filters can vary in cost depending on their features and added accessories.
It's important that water filters remove any harmful contaminants drawn from a river or stream. Water filters have microscopic pores that remove such substances as they pass through. While cartridges are able to catch bacteria and protozoa, they are not small enough to prevent viruses. Some pump filters, however, are able to remove viruses.
Being out in the backcountry means the terrain can get rough, so it’s best to have a water filter that can put up with a bit of punishment. That’s why a backpacking water filter is going to differ from a ceramic filter you might use at home. It’s nice to have one with a plastic encasing that protects the exterior and uses cartridges that need replacing less often. A filter’s life can vary drastically and last as little as a couple hundred gallons to as much as millions.
Backpacking filters are best used when day hiking, hunting, and of course, during long backpacking trips. When you’re going off the beaten path and plan on packing plenty of items, it’s nice to have a water filter that won't take up much space and feels ultralight. Many fit in the palm of your hand, while larger ones can fold up for easier storage.
Every water filter has a micron rating, which tells you the pore size of the hollow fiber membrane that’s going to block bacteria and protozoa. It’s typical for a water filter used on backpacking trips to have a 0.1 micron or 0.2 microns rating. Contaminants such as E. coli, Salmonella, Giardia, and others are too large to pass through pores that are this small. However, heavy metals such as copper and arsenic are smaller and can still pass through.
- Adapters: Backpacking water filters have adapters that connect with other hydration apparatuses. They enable you to hook up your water filter to a hard bottle such as a Nalgene or even a sink faucet.
- Maintenance: Water filters require you to properly clean them by back-flushing them after each use. This process can vary depending on the type of water filter, but it tends to be quicker for gravity filters. You can clean straw filters using a syringe or a coupling that connects to a standard water bottle that's full of clean water.
- Virus protection: While filters can remove unwanted bacteria and protozoa from a water source, viruses tend to be small enough to slip through hollow fiber membranes. There are water treatment options for viruses, and water purifiers are able to remove viruses with two methods: chemical treatment or ultraviolet light. A UV purifier actually gets clear water by harnessing ultraviolet light, though it relies on a battery charge in a backcountry setting.
Best Backpacking Water Filters Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Overall: Sawyer Products MINI Water Filtration System
The Sawyer MINI offers a basic inline filter solution with some added attachments. It comes with the MINI filter, 16-ounce squeeze pouch, drinking straw, and cleaning plunger. It’s a versatile product that gives you multiple ways to drink from it. Plus, if none of those methods work for you, it also attaches to water bottles.
Not only does it remove bacteria and protozoa but also microplastics. What we really like is how long it lasts, as it’s able to filter water up to 100,000 gallons. The company doesn’t even offer new cartridges considering that a brand-new filter doesn’t cost much. This filter is very tiny and will fit anywhere, even in your pocket. It provides a 0.1 micron rating.
However, while it comes with a handy pouch you can fill up and drink on the go, it takes some time to fill up. The water’s flow rate doesn’t always come easily and can often prove laborious to suck through the straw.
Best Value: LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
This is the best bang for your buck when it comes to backpacking water filters. The LifeStraw is a fraction of the cost compared to a higher-end pump or gravity filter. It has the benefit of being one piece and doesn’t require other parts to operate it. All this filter needs is a water source to draw from.
We like that it’s small and slips into your backpack. Plus, at only two ounces, you won’t even notice it’s taking up space. It only filters about 1,000 gallons, but it’s so inexpensive that it won’t set you back to pick up a new one. It removes 99.9999 percent of waterborne bacteria and 99.9 percent of waterborne protozoa. It filters down to 0.2 microns.
One of its drawbacks is that it can require more suction to work properly. Where you use it can also factor in, as higher altitudes can make it harder. It’s more delicate than other portable water filters and doesn’t come with much protection, leaving it vulnerable in the backcountry.
Honorable Mention: Platypus GravityWorks 4.0 Liter High-Capacity Water Filter
As the name suggests, this water filter uses gravity to do all the work. Water goes into the “dirty bag,” which flows through a hose connected to a microfilter into a “clean bag.” One of the best parts about this filter is that it provides a gallon of water in minutes. It works great when you need large quantities in group settings or for cooking. The Platypus GravityWorks comes with two water bags, a microfilter, connecting hoses, a shutoff clamp, and a pouch for storage.
Most importantly, it removes 99.9999 percent of bacteria (such as E. Coli and Salmonella) and 99.99 percent of protozoa (such as Giardia). The best part is it doesn’t require any effort on your end to filter it, as you only need to fill the “dirty bag” and hang it from somewhere up high. Usually, a tree works best as it has branches to hook the bag’s straps around.
Other accessories, such as a bottle adapter, are available separately. The cartridge needs a replacement after you filter about 400 gallons. The cartridge works down to 0.2 microns. While it’s able to fold up into a storage pouch, there are a lot of pieces necessary to make it work, with the two reservoir bags and hose being the bulkiest. It also depends on an abundant water source to draw from in the first place, which could limit its use in certain settings. Also, it’s a little pricey.
- Bring a few water bottles with you on your hike if you have the room. It can take a while to filter out fresh water from a pond or river, and you don’t want to stay out until dark. You can fill empty water bottles with contaminated water then and then filter them back at the campsite.
- Filtering water on the go can be time-consuming and take a few minutes, so make sure you leave yourself enough time to get to where you are going before it gets dark.
- For an easier time carrying the water filtration system, get a backpacking backpack. It allows you to carry more gear more conveniently.
- Clean the filter when necessary. If you continue running water through it after its recommended to change the filter can damage the straw and the filtration system.
Q: How long will a backpacking water filter last?
A: This varies by the type of bottle and manufacturer. For instance, if the filter says it can filter up to 1,000 liters of water, then after it reaches 1,000 liters, it will no longer function as intended. You then need to purchase a new filter or a brand new water filtration system.
Q: How can I tell when the filter is close to running out?
A: Keep a record of how many liters or gallons you have filtered with the filter. You can easily do this by pouring the water into a water bottle and taking notes of how many liters it fills. Some are designed to stop working once they reach or surpass their intended limit.
Q: Will a backpacking water filter work on seawater?
A: No. They are not intended to filter out salt from the ocean or sea. It is advisable to never use them on saltwater.
If you want a reliable and long-lasting backpacking water filter, check out the Sawyer Products MINI Water Filtration System.
There’s also the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter, which is less expensive, ultralight, powerful, and filters 1,000 gallons of water.