Are you looking for a backpacking water filter? There are hundreds of them on the market today, but finding the best option is a daunting task. There’s no way you can survive in the wild without the basics: food, shelter, and clean water. If you’ve ever experienced stomach parasites, then you understand just how critical clean water is. If you haven't, you never want to.

Water naturally contains biological pathogens that can damage your body and digestive system. Instead of allowing dirty water to ruin your backcountry trip or hiking experience, you’re better off packing a water filter. Trust me, nothing ruins a good backcountry trip quicker than giardia.

We’re quite fussy about the quality of binoculars we choose. Enhancing your visual field is a Faustian bargain if you’re gaining a migraine with your newfound far-seeing ability. To be the best binoculars on the market, the product had to have features that outweighed its cons, a reasonable price, and a favorable brand reputation.

Comparison Table

What Is a Backpacking Water Filter

bottled water with filter placed in a cement floor

Image via Flickr

In simple terms, a backpacking water filter is a device that’s used to remove unwanted substances like bacteria, protozoa, viruses or harmful chemicals from drinking water. It is essential if you intend to go on a multi-day outdoor adventure. It works by filtering out the bad and letting only clean water pass through, allowing you to drink clean water right away. Most water filters require pumping or squeezing, which can be pretty annoying.

Backpacking water filters come in different types, the main ones being the squeeze or sip water filters, pump water filters, and gravity water filters. The sip or squeeze backpacking water filter is a lightweight personal filtration solution best for day hikes. Pump water filters have a pump mechanism that lets you filter large amounts of water and are best for filtering water quickly for yourself or for a small group. Gravity backpacking water filters are suitable for large groups.

FAQs About Backpacking Water Filters

If you plan on venturing into areas where untreated surface water may be your only source of drinking water, then a backpacking water filter is a must. Water treatment is the only way backpackers can avoid picking up unpleasant illnesses caused by pathogens that hide in the water. Unless there's a sign that clearly states the water is safe for drinking, you must take precaution and treat it.

How does a backpacking water filter work?

Are backpacking water filters any different from purifiers?

Why should I use a backpacking water filter over other filtration methods?

What to Look for in a Backpacking Water Filter

Water treatment goes a long way in maintaining your health while out on the hiking trail or the outdoors in general. Water sources vary in terms of safety levels for drinking water, but that doesn’t mean that a pristine-looking source can’t make you sick. What makes for a good backpacking water filter? Consider the factors below when selecting one for your next backcountry trip.


1. Purification vs. filtration

It is important to know the difference between a water filter and purifier. The main difference is in the size of the pathogens each fight. While purification eliminates viruses, filtration removes bacteria and protozoa, while removing debris and silt to ensure the water is more pleasant to drink. Purification, however, doesn’t remove the debris and silt.


2. Type of backpacking water filter

Some water filters are easy to set up, while others require your full participation such that you’d have to filter the water by pumping it or squeezing physically. The type of filter also matters because some are ceramic and shouldn’t be exposed to extreme weather temperatures.


3. The water source

man opening bottled water near the river

Image via Flickr

How clear is your water source? This affects the water filtering process, and subsequently the type of backpacking water filter to choose. Elements such as leaf debris, glacial sediment or mud can murk up the water source, so you need a water filter to remove the dirt and debris.

You can also use a prefilter, like a cloth or a bandana, depending on how congested the water is so that you don’t clog up the water filter itself before filtration. Other considerations include the reliability and endurance of the backpacking water filter, the type of chemical treatment you are using, and the average filter life.


4. Pore size

The pore size is the size of the holes in the water filter through which the water passes and is squeezed. The smaller the pore size, the better to capture pathogens while permitting the passage of water. Before buying a backpacking water filter, especially mechanical ones, review the pore size (measured in microns) against the size of pathogens to be filtered out as not all filters can remove all pathogen types.


5. Weight of the backpacking water filter

For any backpacker, just like other travelers, weight is significant when it comes to all your gear, and your backpacking water filter isn’t an exception -- especially for longer trips. There’s usually a tradeoff between the weight and speed of filtering, but a small and light filter will tend to take longer to filter the water.


6. How long it takes to filter a liter of water

There are speedy water filters, and there are those that take some time. What you need to consider here is how many people you intend to filter water for, because you’ll need more time in such a case. While using chemicals can purify large volumes of water, it can take longer to do, compared to a backpacking water filter that can do it within minutes. Ultimately, you’re here for the experience, so you want a treatment method that will help you save on time too.


7. Availability of replacement parts

Water filters have a filtering element which when used over time tends to wear out and will need replacement. In some cases, both the water filter and its unit are disposable, and thus need to be replaced entirely after its lifespan. The price of the filter and replacement cartridges is also something to consider along with their availability.


How We Reviewed

katadyn microfilter bottle

Image via Amazon

We researched more than 20 different backpacking water filter models before reviewing them, to help you find the best choice for specific applications. We reviewed each model through the lens of the traits of a good backpacking water filter and evaluated each contender’s weight and bulk so you can make an informed decision on the best option for your camping or hiking activity. We’ve laid out the best options for the most common circumstances as well as the best backpacking water filter of the bunch.

Pricing

There are many choices in backpacking water filters. The least expensive may cost less than $5, while more expensive filters can cost up to $490. The average user can find a perfectly functional backpacking water filter for less than $100.

- Best Backpacking Water Filters of 2019 -

There are different types of backpacking water filters you can choose from. The main ones are pump filters, gravity filters, bottle filters, squeeze filters, and straw-style filters, all of which you will find in the list below. The list is in no particular order and isn't exhaustive, but these serve as an excellent place to start when looking for a backpacking water filter.

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

Lifestraw is a straw-style backpacking water filter best for personal use. The solo straw is dipped into a water source, or into a water bottle, and removes almost 100 percent bacteria and protozoa. You can wear it around your neck with its lanyard or stash it on your hip belt for on-the-go drinking while hiking, or in case of emergencies. You can buy it on Amazon, or you could purchase it from the Lifestraw brand website.

Pros

  • Lightweight, compact and portable
  • Great for day hikes
  • Affordable
  • Removes 99.9999 percent of waterborne bacteria and protozoa
  • Filters up to 1000 liters
  • Good for emergencies
  • Instant water treatment

Cons

  • Small treatment capacity
  • Not durable
  • Doesn’t filter viruses
  • Not practical as you need to lay down to use it
  • Not good as a primary backpacking treatment method

Sawyer Product

Sawyer Products SP128 Mini Water Filtration System, Single, Blue
  • Ideal for outdoor recreation, hiking, camping, scouting, domestic and international travel, and emergency preparedness
  • High-performance 0.1 Micron absolute inline filter fits in the palm of your hand and weighs just 2 ounces; 100% of MINI...
  • Attaches to included drinking pouch, standard disposable water bottles, hydration packs, or use the straw to drink...

The Sawyer Mini Water filtration system is a straw-style and squeeze backpacking water filter, so you get two types in one. It is great because you can attach it to the reusable squeeze pouch and drink directly from the filter, or, you can squeeze the water directly into a water bottle. It screws onto most disposable water bottles and attaches inline on a hydration pack without the need for adapters. You can also sip from the personal drinking straw and drink directly from the source. It also removes almost 100 percent of bacteria and protozoa. 

Pros

  • Lightweight and portable
  • Adaptable
  • Inexpensive
  • Ideal for a long day hike or backpacking trip with one or two people
  • Easily attaches to the mouth of the pouch or water bottle
  • Extra straw included for drinking directly from a water source
  • Can filter large volumes of water up to 378,500 liters

Cons

  • Squeezing process can be tedious and annoying
  • Squeeze bags tend to wear and break
  • Doesn’t filter viruses
  • Doesn’t treat large quantities
  • Gets hard to use

Katadyn Hiker Pro

Katadyn Hiker Pro Transparent Water Microfilter
  • Material: ABS plastic
  • Purifying Element: filter
  • Eliminates: protozoa & bacteria

The Katadyn is one of the bestselling water filters, with a great niche that other backpacking water filters don’t fill. It is the best pump water filter for use in small and shallow water sources, besides being light, sturdy and fast. If you plan to go on a multi-day backpacking trip with three or so people, this filter will fit snugly in your backpack. It uses an active carbon core to eliminate bad odor or taste and reduce chemicals while removing pathogens and silt at a liter per minute (48 pumps). It has a bottle adapter and can filter up to 1,150 liters of water.

Pros

  • Has an attached pre-filter
  • Dependable and fast
  • Good for use with cloudy or sediment-filled water
  • Removes large contaminants
  • Prefilter increases life span
  • Sturdy and can pull water from tough to reach sources

Cons

  • Requires heavy pumping
  • Doesn’t filter viruses
  • Bulky
  • Pricey

Platypus GravityWorks

Platypus GravityWorks 2.0L Filter Bottle System
  • Bottle Kit: Minimalist setup uses a Universal Bottle Adapter to connect the system directly to an existing water bottle...
  • No pumping: Just fill the dirty reservoir, hang it, and let gravity do the hard work.
  • Fast: Filters up to 1.5 liters of water per minute; filter lifetime up to 1,500 liters of water.

The Platypus Gravity Works is a complete water treatment filtration kit that has two four-liter water reservoirs, a water filter, and connecting hoses. It is ideal for filtering large quantities of water quickly at a speed of over one liter per minute while removing pathogens and particles. This makes it the most efficient backpacking water filter for large groups of people.

Pros

  • Effective against protozoa, bacteria and other biological pathogens
  • Fast
  • Easy to use
  • Convenient for large groups
  • Requires little maintenance
  • Treats and stores up to eight liters of water

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Heavy
  • Hard to close
  • Doesn’t treat viruses
  • Hard to collect water from some water sources

Renogy Water Purifier

Renogy Water Purifier High Filtering Rate Virus and Heavy Metal Tested...
  • 【High Filtering Rate with Replaceable Filters】 Precise UF Membrane Filter removes 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria...
  • 【Perfect for Survival】Pumps water directly into any portable hydration bottle/pack. Ideal product for outdoor...
  • 【Compact and Portable】5.8 inches long, produces a fast flow rate of 600ml/min. Perfect for filtering large jugs of...

Survivor filter pro is a portable backpacking water filter great for camping, hiking and emergency. It filters water in three stages, with two cleanable 100,000-liter membranes and a carbon filter to eliminate bad taste and odors. It filters fresh water, which you can also store for emergencies, and is ideal for one person or larger groups.

Pros

  • Small and easy to use
  • Lightweight (10 oz)
  • Useful for groups
  • Removes viruses, bacteria, and staph
  • Reduces heavy metals
  • Replaceable carbon filter
  • Good flow rate
  • Longer filter life
  • Triple filtration

Cons

  • No straw
  • Too large for solo backpacking
  • Hand pump not sturdy
  • Cannot be frozen

Final Recommendations

Now that you know what to look for in a backpacking water filter, and have narrowed down your options based on the top picks we've listed here, we believe you'll be able to pick the best one for your hiking or camping activity. Our pick for the best personal backpacking water filter would be the Lifestraw personal water filter. The water filter that offers the best bang for the buck is the Sawyer mini filtration system, as it offers a three-in-one water filtration package that can be used in different ways. However, if you prefer a pump backpacking water filter, the Katadyn Hiker Pro is right for the job. But overall, the Lifestraw backpacking water filter takes the crown.

Featured Image: Pixabay

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