How to Choose the Best Backpacking Water Filter

Whether you are a runner, cross trainer, hiker, backpacker, or simply a nature enthusiast, you know that water is the most difficult challenge on the trail. When it comes to water, you only have two choices. You can either carry it with you or find a source wherever you are. Filtration is a lightweight and convenient choice, but there are many different considerations when choosing the right backpacking water filter system for your needs.

Why You Need to Have Purified Water While Backpacking

Water is the most important resource and the most difficult to manage when taking a trip to the backcountry. In the past, you only had two choices when you needed to purify water outdoors. You had to carry it with you or take your chances drinking from a natural source. Both of these options are problematic, but now there are much better ones available.

Weight and Convenience

First off, weight is an issue. Water weighs 8.34 pounds per gallon. At a minimum, you will need one or two gallons, depending on the length of your trip. When you combine this with the additional weight of your pack, you can see that this can become unwieldy quickly. If you are a runner, it may not be possible to carry enough water for your needs. In addition, if you use water from your tap, there is no guarantee that it will stay fresh if you plan on a long expedition.

Drinking From a Stream

If you decide to go the natural route and drink from a stream or other natural water source, you are taking your chances. Backcountry water may look clear, but it can still harbor dangerous viruses, bacteria, and parasites, including nasties such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, norovirus, E-coli, and Listeria. Contracting one of these is the best way to ruin a relaxing trip.

Boiling May Not Be an Option

You could always boil your water, but this means that you have to carry the equipment to do it and take the time to build a fire. This is not always feasible or desirable. In addition, there is no guarantee that the water is properly sanitized. This is especially true if there are animals near the water source. Boiling will not remove substances such as chemicals that are dumped upstream or urine.

Now, let’s examine some of the different types of filtration systems that are available to purify water outdoors.

Types of Backpacking Water Filters

Water filters and water purifiers are not the same. A water filter works by physically straining contaminants from the water. On the other hand, water purifiers use chemicals to combat viruses that are too tiny for most filters to catch. Many different types are now available to meet your needs.

Water Filters

Water filters work by passing the water through an internal filter or cartridge. One of the disadvantages is that over time matter builds up and clogs the pores of the filter. If this happens, it will need to be cleaned or replaced. The ease of cleaning and ability to be cleaned are some of the key factors that separate different types of filters. Some filters include activated carbon to remove things that cause an off taste in the water, such as leaf tannins. Carbon can also reduce chemicals such as pesticides, urine, or other industrial chemicals.

Water Purifiers

Some water purifiers contain a water filter but also use chemicals to kill viruses. One of the most common chemicals used is iodine, but some use a type of chlorine. These types of products come in either tablet or liquid form. Some of the liquid ones require that you mix two different components together.

UV Filters

Another popular method is to use UV light to treat pathogens. UV filters require no element and never need to be replaced. When larger quantities of water are needed, multiple treatments will be needed. If you intend to use a UV purifier on non-clear water, you will need to run the water through a filter first because sediments in the water can prevent the UV rays from reaching all of the microbes and properly killing them. One of the advantages of a UV filter is that you never need to worry about running out of tablets or solutions.

Getting the Water Through the Filter

If you have large quantities of water to process, a pump filter may be your best choice. Many of them require you to hand pump. Gravity filters are another choice, but these are often much slower than methods that do not use pumping mechanisms. Bottle filters pass the water through the filter when you drink from it. Straw filters allow you to place a straw directly in the water source and suck the water through it.

Best Backpacking Water Filters

Let’s explore some of the best portable water filters for backpacking on the market. The following list is not in any particular order. We reviewed several types of water filters for different purposes. This is a sampling of the best so that you can pick the right one for your needs.

Platypus Gravityworks 4L

If you must supply water for a group, we think that the Platypus Gravityworks 4L is the right choice. You simply put the dirty water into the dirty side and hang the system from a tree. Gravity does the rest while you wait.

Large Capacity Takes up pack space
No pump needed Need to find a place to hang it
Fast filtration rate

Katadyn Hiker Microfilter

Katadyn is one of our favorite microfilters for several reasons. It is lightweight and the perfect choice for one or two people. It does have a prefilter, and we found that it will sufficiently clean cloudy water and it leaves no bad taste.

Good reputation for clearing microorganisms Does not work well with muddy water
Comes with a bottle adapter and carry bagYou have to pump it
Fast and easy to pumpNot suitable for larger groups
Small and lightweight

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter

We like this one because it is small and easy to transport, weighing only 3 ounces. This filter works just like a water bottle. You squeeze the bottle and drink from it like a normal water bottle.

Lightweight and packs small Needs to be back-washed occasionally
Can be converted into a gravity filtration system
The filter also fits most standard disposable water bottles

SteriPen Adventurer Opti

The SteriPen Adventurer is a favorite because it is good for up to 8,000 liters. This is a good backup device if you want to make sure the water is safe by using a secondary treatment.

Lightweight and small Does not remove sediment
Good for up to 8,000 litersWater that is not filtered has off taste
No filters to get clogged Need to carry batteries
Doubles as a flashlight

Katydyn Vario Water

Katydyn makes the list again, this time with a smaller unit that uses a hand pump to move the water through the filter. The hand pump is small and fits comfortably in the hand. It uses a dual action, which makes pumping easy and quick.

Dual action pump Must replace the carbon filter frequently
Fast filtration Must clean the ceramic filter
Has a carbon filter
The adapter attaches directly to water bottles

Aquamira Water Treatment

Water treatment chemicals are a low-cost method for treating water sources. They use chlorine to create potable water. A one-ounce bottle can treat up to 30 gallons of water.

Lightweight and easy to packWater has a taste that is detectable
Treats a large amount of water Need to remember to check the shelf life
Has a 4-year shelf life

Katadyn Micropur MP1 Tablets

As with other Katadyn products, they do an excellent job of removing microorganisms. Unlike other chemical treatments, this one does not leave a taste in the water. One tablet treats one liter of water.

Easy to useDoes not remove particulate
Packs small May need to filter the water
Can be used anywhere
Leaves no taste

LifesStraw Water Filter

We like this filter because it has a long lifetime and can filter up to 4,000 liters of water. You can use this straw to drink right from the water source.

Removes microplastics and has a long lifetimeReduces turbidity but does not remove all of it
Can drink directly from the water sourceHave to use your own suction to move the water
Effectively cleans microorganisms
Convenient and portable

MSR MiniWorks Ex Microfilter

We like that unit has a carbon filter, which removes other chemicals and off taste in the water. This one is lightweight and does not take up any more space than a regular water bottle. It only weighs a pound and has its own storage bag.

Efficient filter for contaminant removal Need to replace carbon and ceramic filters
Lightweight and small footprint Must pump it by hand
Filtered water has no off taste
Filters at a rate of 1 liter per minute

Sawyer Mini Filter

The Sawyer Mini Filter allows you to use it like a straw and drink directly from your water source. One thing that we liked about this mini folder is that the filter is rated for up to 100,000 gallons.

Removes 99.99 percent of contaminants Needs cleaned occasionally
The unit fits in the palm of the hand and can
drink directly from the water source
Filters will eventually need to be replaced
Comes with a carrying bag and cleaning plunger
Water tastes fresh and pure

Boston Fortis Personal Portable Water Filter

What we like about this unit is that it has a three-stage filtration system, including a carbon filter, ceramic filter, and KDF filter. This one also has an integrated compass, flashlight, mini knife, fire flake, and whistle.

Three-stage filtration system Slower than others
Excellent tasting water The pump took more hand pressure to operate
Comes with other camping accessories
Compact and lightweight

Final Word

Now you know some of your best options for a backpacking water filter as you set out on your wilderness adventures. All of the portable water filter systems reviewed in this article are highly effective at removing a majority of the dangerous microorganisms.

We recommend going with one that has a carbon filter because it gives you an additional assurance that the water is safe and tastes good too. It is time to go check out these top backpacking water filters and choose the one that is right for you.


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