Having clean water to drink in the backcountry is essential.
We can survive without food for a lot longer than we can survive without water!
But a backpacking water filter needs to fulfill certain requirements.
This article will list 15 of the best backpacking water filtration systems available right now and then explain the different types and what to look for when choosing one.
- TOP 15 Best Backpacking Water Filter Reviews 2020
- Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System
- Katadyn Pocket Water Filter
- MSR MiniWorks EX MicroFilter
- LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
- Sawyer PointOne Squeeze Water Filter System
- MSR TrailShot Pocket-Sized Water Filter
- Katadyn Hiker Pro Water Filter
- Platypus GravityWorks 4.0 Water Filter System
- LifeStraw Flex Advanced Water Filter
- Sawyer SP160 Gravity Water Filtration System
- Lifesaver Water Filtration Bottle
- Survivor Filter Pro Water Filter
- Lifestraw Steel Personal Water Filter
- Survivor Micron Portable Water Filter
- SteriPen Ultra Water Purifier
- How it Works
- Things to Consider
- Last Sip
TOP 15 Best Backpacking Water Filter Reviews 2020
Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System
Review: The Sawyer Mini is a popular water filter among many ultra-light backpackers.
Weighing only 2 oz. it’s the almost lightest filter you can find. It perfectly fits in the palm of your hand and it can filter 100,000 gallons of water before replacement.
What’s even more interesting is that it gives you different drinking options. You can filter into a water bottle, you can sip directly from a container or right from the water source using the included 7-inch straw, or you can attach the filter to a soda bottle using the threaded top.
Cleaning is also easy as it comes with a cleaning plunger and instructions.
- Removes 99.99% of bacteria.
- Filters up to 100,000 gallons.
- Offers various drinking options.
- Easy to clean.
- Comes at a reasonable price.
- It gets slower over time.
Katadyn Pocket Water Filter
Review: This pump-action filter is capable of removing 99.99% of bacteria and protozoa found in freshwater sources. Any micro-organism larger than 0.2 microns stands no chance with this filter.
It has a silver impregnated and a cleanable ceramic element to remove sediments and particles from up to 50,000 L of water.
At 20 oz. it’s one of the heaviest filters but it’s a favorite of backpackers, international travelers and the U.S Military.
With a filtration rate of 1 L per minute, you can be sure you have a reliable travel companion for your thirst.
- Cleans up to 50,000 L.
- Easy to handle.
- Sturdy construction.
- Parts can be split apart for cleaning.
- It’s expensive.
MSR MiniWorks EX MicroFilter
Review: The MiniWorks is also an effective filter against bacteria, protozoa and sediments that may be present in water. It uses an Airspring accumulator that works up to a speed of 1 L per minute.
Integrated with long-lasting carbon and ceramic elements, you can be sure of safe water even with heavy, consistent use.
The lifespan of the cartridge is 2000 L but the cartridge replacement indicator will alert you when its time is up.
- Fast flow rate.
- Reasonable cartridge life.
- Cartridge replacement indicator.
- Field maintainable.
- Lightweight at only 1 lbs.
- Easy-to-break plastic construction.
- Delicate filtering element.
LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
Review: This filter is recognized globally by humanitarian aid organizations and is estimated to be used daily by millions of people. The design of this life-saving filter allows you to drink directly from streams and other water sources.
LifeStraw is the perfect filter for international travel and hiking/backpacking trips. It weighs just 2 oz. and removes 99.99% of harmful bacteria and protozoa and will give you peace of mind when you come across unfamiliar water.
Cleaning is easy as you simply blow back through the straw after every drinking session to flush out any particles caught in the filter membranes.
- Can sip directly from a water source.
- Effective at removing bacteria.
- Filters up to 1000 L.
- Comes in a sealed bag for storing.
- Simple design.
- Short filtration life.
- Needs energy to suck water through.
Sawyer PointOne Squeeze Water Filter System
Review: This product is as lightweight as water filters can get. It is a super effective filter that removes 99.9999% of all bacteria and protozoa with a 0.1 micron filter.
It comes with three collapsible pouches in 16, 32 and 64-ounce capacities. The bags can be rolled for effortless packing and are reusable.
To prepare drinking water, start by filling up the pouch at the nearby water source. Then, screw the filter onto the bag and press the pouch to filter water into a container and you’ll be ready to drink.
You can flush out a build-up of sediment easily using the syringe included in the box.
- Removes bacteria and protozoa effectively.
- Comes with collapsible bags.
- Includes a syringe cleaner.
- Simple maintenance instructions.
- The filter cannot be used in temperatures below freezing.
MSR TrailShot Pocket-Sized Water Filter
Review: This tiny little pump filter is ideal for people prioritizing weight and space. It only weighs 5 oz. and takes up no room in your bag.
It consists of a one-handed pump that you squeeze to draw the water up from the water source through the hose, and then through the filter to your mouth or bottle.
The filter is capable of removing both organic sediment and 99.999% of microorganisms down to 0.2 microns.
- Very small, lightweight and compact.
- Can be drunk from directly or pumped into a bottle.
- Pumps easily with one hand.
- Filters 2000 L.
- Any build-up of sediment can be removed with a good shake.
- Your hand may get a little tired so not really suited for large volumes of water at once.
Katadyn Hiker Pro Water Filter
Review: This filter uses pleated glass fiber to remove protozoa and bacteria down to 0.2 microns but also has a pre-filter for removing sediment down to 150 microns. Finally, it even has an activated carbon core resulting in extra great tasting water!
It uses a pump action to draw the water through the filter and into your hydration bladder or bottle via two long attached hoses.
However, perhaps the best part is that it is easy to dismantle and clean on the go to extend the life of the filter.
- Filter protector screen can be cleaned in the field.
- Lightweight and compact at 11 oz.
- Fast and effective filtering with a 1L/min flow rate.
- Can be used in temperatures below freezing.
- Pumping can be a bit of an effort, but it’s quicker than gravity options.
Platypus GravityWorks 4.0 Water Filter System
Review: This filter uses gravity to draw the water through its replaceable cartridge filter. It comes with two 4 L bags, one for dirty water and one to catch the clear water, making it ideal for couples or groups who want to filter a larger amount without needing to put any elbow grease into the process.
Despite its large capacity, it weighs just over 11 oz. and packs away smaller than some of the other filters on this list.
- Uses gravity instead of pumping – less effort and less likely to break.
- Replaceable filter can filter up to 1,500 L.
- Fast flow rate, filtering 4 L in 2.5 minutes.
- Can be easily back-flushed in the field for a quick filter clean.
- The 4 L reservoir doubles as extra water storage at camp.
- The plastic holes in the reservoirs that allow them to be hung up could the weak point of this design and could do with being reinforced before a multi-day trip.
LifeStraw Flex Advanced Water Filter
Review: This filter uses the same gravity-driven filtering technique as the Platypus above but has a more durable hanging system and includes a carbon filter as well as the Lifestraw 0.2 micron filter.
It doesn’t come with a second reservoir for filtered water so you’ll need to have plenty of water bottles if you’re camping an inconvenient distance from the water source. But, the filter lasts 2000L before it needs to be replaced.
And, as an extra bonus, as with all Lifestraw products, for every filter purchased, a child in need receives filtered water for the duration of the school year.
- 2 micron hollow fiber membrane couples with carbon filter for excellent quality water.
- The 3.8 L dirty water reservoir is durable and hangs securely.
- Easy to use and lightweight.
- Produces extremely good quality drinking water, exceeding drinking water standards for both organic and inorganic pollutants.
- The carbon filter needs replacing after 100L, so much more often than the main filter.
Sawyer SP160 Gravity Water Filtration System
Review: This is another excellent and reliable gravity filter, this time by Sawyer. It comes with a 3.8L reservoir and a hose that attaches to the 0.1 micron filter.
The mini-filter that comes in this kit can be used by itself if you forget the reservoir or want a quick drink on the move.
But, the advantage of the gravity kit is the flexibility it offers you to set it up to filter larger volumes of water while you do other things.
If you still need convincing – check out this video.
- Comes in a single or dual reservoir option.
- Removes 100% microplastics.
- Filters 100,000 gallons.
- Can be back-flushed easily with the included syringe.
- The plastic reservoir is effectively a heavy duty plastic bag and will need careful treatment if it’s going to last as long as the filter.
Lifesaver Water Filtration Bottle
Review: This filtering system uses a slightly different style. You fill the bottle with water and then carry it with you unfiltered until you want to drink.
The water then gets filtered as you drink, with only freshly filtered water flowing through the mouthpiece.
- Filter includes activated charcoal for extra filtering of non-organic contaminants.
- Filter lasts for 6000L before it needs to be replaced.
- No need to carry a separate filter as it’s built into the bottle.
- 5L/min flow rate.
- Only really suitable for one person to use unless you carry other clean bottles to filter into instead of drinking directly.
Survivor Filter Pro Water Filter
Review: This filter has a pore size of an incredible 0.05 microns which is the smallest on this list.
The filter comes in 3 separate parts, all of which are individually replaceable. It can be used to drink directly from the water source or from a bottle or bladder.
- Very affordable.
- Incredibly fine 0.05 micron filter.
- Ultra lightweight at just 3.5 oz.
- Carbon filter component lasts 1000L, Membrane Ultra filter lasts 100,000 L, Cotton pre-filters last 1000L.
- Flow speed slows down pretty quickly with use.
Lifestraw Steel Personal Water Filter
Review: This is a stainless steel version of the Lifestraw Personal Water Filter that uses a 2-stage 0.2 micron filter, including carbon for improved taste.
As with the other straw style filters, it allows the user to drink directly from the source. This could be convenient or annoying.
It’s likely to be more annoying if you need to filter water for cooking in a camping situation, but great if you just want to drink from a passing stream.
- Filters 1000L.
- Carbon component of the filter is replaceable.
- Weighs just 4.2 oz.
- More durable than the plastic version.
- Only suitable for one person.
- Can’t be dropped accidentally or the filter could break.
Survivor Micron Portable Water Filter
Review: This is a hand pump water filter that still manages to be surprisingly compact. It uses a 3-stage filtration system with a 0.1 micron pre-filter, a 0.01 micron filter and a carbon filter.
It doesn’t get much more thorough than this. It can filter 100,000L (the carbon component 2000L) before the filter part needs to be replaced and can be easily back-washed using a syringe in the field.
- Relatively lightweight at 12.8 oz.
- Incredibly high filtration rate with 0.01 micron pores.
- Easy to use.
- Comes with 2 hoses for drawing water from source and delivering it to a clean vessel.
- Requires pumping.
SteriPen Ultra Water Purifier
Review: This isn’t a water filter as such, it doesn’t physically remove microorganisms, but it kills them.
Unfortunately, this means that it won’t remove any contaminants or sediment so it can only be used in clear, otherwise good quality water. But, you’ll be safe from parasites!
The UV light kills and/or stunts the microorganism’s ability to reproduce, meaning they pass through you without setting up residence in your gut and causing damage!
It can be used 50 times before the battery needs to be recharged and it can be recharged 300 times via a USB.
- Neutralizes all microorganisms so there’s no risk of pathogen based illnesses.
- Effective in very cold water which some filters can’t handle.
- LED viewing panel shows battery status.
- Extremely lightweight and compact.
- Doesn’t remove sediment and non-organic contaminants.
How it Works
Backpacking water filters have an internal cartridge that contains microscopic pores to allow water to pass through but not bacteria, protozoa and sediments.
Most cartridges also contain carbon because the compound is effective at removing odor and unpleasant tastes caused by organic materials.
Some filters also reduce chemical contaminants like pesticides and other industrial chemicals.
But you shouldn’t rely on this – most filters are designed for microorganisms and not chemical pollutants.
Things to Consider
Water filtration is a must whenever you find yourself in places where you can’t guarantee the water quality.
Just like a good backpacking knife, a reliable water filter is something that should permanently live in your hiking kit.
If the water is dodgy, at best you might get away with a 24-hour diarrhea bug, at worst, you could end up with something like Giardia that hangs around and requires antibiotic treatment.
When you want to buy the best water filter for hiking, look out for the following aspects:
Type of Filter
There are different types of filters and they all matter in terms of the amount of effort and time required for the water to be ready to drink.
Pump filters come with intake and outlet hoses attached to the filter. All you have to do is drop the intake side into a source of water and connect the outlet into a water bottle of your choice.
You then work the pump to channel clean water into your bottle, ready to drink.
Some models come with threaded bottles that store filtrated water. The cartridges or internal elements can also be replaced after several uses.
Pump mechanisms allow you to filter the amount of water you need at a time. They are also great at pulling water from shallow streams.
The main downside with pump filters is the routine work involved to make clean water. Another thing is they tend to be heavier because of the pump itself.
Bottle filters come in fill and sip design. The bottles tend to have built-in filtration cartridges.
They offer a simple way to drink clean water through a suction valve. The elements are replaceable, and they are lighter and cost less than pump filters.
However, the bottles come in different sizes and can be limiting if you have a small one. The internal element also needs cleaning in the field after every drinking session.
Press filters look almost the same as bottle filters except you have to squeeze water through the cartridge.
They come with small bags for you to fill up with water first. These filters are easy to use and water becomes ready to drink within minutes.
On average, they are smaller and the elements are also replaceable. The filter may also need cleaning while in the backcountry.
Straw-design filters come in cylindrical shapes with built-in filtration elements. The good thing is they allow you to drink directly from the water source.
This approach treats water quickly and lets you drink on demand. They are also lightweight.
But that face that these filters need you to be present at the water source is inconvenient in places with few water sources. Field maintenance is required but it’s usually simple.
Straw-design filters are generally meant for one person to use so they might be limiting for two or more, unless you are comfortable sharing.
The size and weight of every item you want to carry for backpacking are always important to consider.
Keep in mind the amount of space the filter will take in your hiking backpack and how much it will weigh.
The filter is an essential part of your backpacking cooking equipment but it shouldn’t add a significant amount of weight to your kit.
Find out how fast the filter can produce clean water.
It’s important as you need to know how long it will take to filter a gallon or liter of water.
The best pump filters produce 1 liter per minute on average. Output rate might not matter much for straw-design filters as you can only filter as fast you drink anyway.
It is important to look for a filter that you can clean and maintain while you’ll be away, especially for multi-day hikes.
Most pump filters can be back-flushed to remove clogs or sediment build-up when necessary. This is simple and easy to do.
Try and avoid filters that need to be taken apart to be cleaned unless they can be used for a significant amount of filtering between cleans to make it worth your time.
This is one technical detail to pay attention to. The tiniest bacteria are usually 0.2 microns so your filter needs have pores equal to this or smaller.
The best water filters for backpacking come with a pore size of 0.1 microns, but 0.2 micron filters are still very effective for the majority of harmful microorganisms.
What to Look for in a Backpacking Water Filter
The factors above sum it up well: style (gravity, pump, straw, etc.), micron size, size and weight, flow rate and ease of cleaning.
How to Clean Backpacking Water Filter
Most backpacking water filters clean easily simply by backwashing or forcing filtered water back through the filter in a reverse direction to force out any build-up of sediment.
The specific technique will depend on the filter type but it should come with instructions for cleaning.
How do Backpacking Water Filters Work?
Backpacking water filters draw contaminated water through a membrane with microscopic pores.
Only the water molecules are small enough to pass through, leaving harmful microorganisms like parasites and bacteria behind.
Some also include carbon filters which soak up chemical contaminants too.
How to Use Backpacking Water Filter
Most are really easy to use but different water filters work in different ways. The straw style requires manually sucking the water through the straw to filter it.
Other styles either use gravity, a hand pump or squeeze the water through.
How Long do Backpacking Water Filters Last?
This depends on the quality of the water you are filtering and how often you clean it, but most last between 1000L and 100,000L before the filter component needs to be replaced.
How to Test a Backpacking Water Filter
All backpacking water filters are tested by the manufacturer before release, but if you really want to test yourself, you’ll need a water testing kit that can test for a range of microorganisms and contaminants.
Home kits vary in their accuracy so if you really want reliable results, you’ll need to send your water sample to a laboratory for trained scientists to analyze.
But for this to be accurate, you’d also need to guarantee that the unfiltered water source you used was actually contaminated in the first place.
If you want to get back from a backpacking trip in good health, a water filter is essential.
Yet, only the best backpacking water filter can ensure your safety.
Pick one from the best backpacking water filter reviews in this article and you’ll avoid uncomfortable stomach embarrassments.
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