Top 10 Best Backpacking Water Filters

Top 10 Best Backpacking Water Filters

The benefits of filtering water are obvious but when you are in a foreign land the need to purify water increases, here are our Top 10 Best Backpacking Water Filters for traveling. Backpacking around the world will hopefully take you through some of the planet’s remotest wilderness locations and some of the world’s most underdeveloped countries. Experiencing different ways of life is something that will open most people’s minds, and one thing you may never take for granted again is clean drinking water.

top 10 best backpacking water filters for traveling

Introduction

In the wilderness, fresh water can be hard to find and will still need to be processed before it is safe to drink. If you don’t have a water filter or purification tablets then realistically you are going to have to find a way to boil it. This requires knowledge of how to start a fire as well as having a heat-resistant container in which to collect and boil the water. This takes up a lot of time and is often impractical on the move, so it is better to always be prepared with a filter or purification tablets.

Drinking tap water or melted ice in some countries can be just as harmful as drinking from a river, and there are still many places around the world that don’t have access to clean running water. Unless you have a means of processing this water while backpacking, getting a clean drink can only be guaranteed by stocking up on bottled water. The immediate problem with this is that bottled water is not always available, nor is it good for the environment, or your backpacking budget.

These top 10 best backpacking water filters are great if you are planning to go traveling soon or are simply looking for a portable water filter to take hiking and camping. They are all incredibly portable and essential for processing water on the go, making hydration seem like less of a worry. Water purification tablets / drops are not included in this list of portable water filters because we feel they deserve a full list of their own (coming soon). I recommend always carrying some of these in your first aid kit as a backup and to use a water filtration system as your primary method of water treatment.

Better to be safe than sorry

The problem with drinking untreated water is that you run the risk of getting sick from any number of harmful bacteria, protozoa, and viruses that are lurking unseen to the human eye. The symptoms of drinking a contaminated water source can range from an upset stomach to a slow death, so a water filter is a small price to pay when you think about it. Anyone who has gotten ill from drinking contaminated water and survived will tell you how important it is to process all your drinking water when in the wild or backpacking.

I have never personally gotten sick from drinking contaminated water as I learned from a very young age about the dangers, and have never had to take a chance I was uncomfortable with. I often can’t resist taking a drink from the occasional stream when I am close to the source but I am always aware of the risks. If I am ever unsure about whether a water source is safe or not, I always err on the side of caution and make sure I process the water.

top 10 best backpacking water filters

Different ways to treat and purify water

BOILING – Boiling water for 1-3 minutes will kill any harmful pathogenic bacteria, viruses and protozoa and so is a very safe, tried, and tested method of processing water. The higher the elevation you are at the longer you should boil the water, if you are above 2,000 meters then you should be boiling the water for a minimum of 3 minutes. Filtering the water through some fine material like a t-shirt or compacted moss beforehand will remove larger particles of dirt.

When planning any backpacking adventure, you should think about taking a metal cooking pot to boil water over a fire, even if you only ever end up using it as a coffee mug in hostels. Having boiling water as your only purification method is not recommended unless you are talking about long-term survival in which case it is the most reliable. For some people, boiling water in the field will include using some sort of gas or fuel stove while others may have enough skill and knowledge to be confident in their fire starting abilities.

CHEMICAL – In the case of hikers and backpackers, purification chemicals such as Iodine, Chlorine, and Chlorine Dioxide can be bought in both tablet and liquid form. Chlorine Dioxide is the best as it covers almost everything, including Cryptosporidium which Iodine will not. It is more than double the price of its Iodine comparisons again I feel this is a small price to pay for life-giving H2O.

Water purification tablets are certainly the most lightweight and portable method of water treatment for short-term trips but also my least favorite. I really dislike the taste of chemicals in my drinking water and will avoid it at all costs if possible. That being said, because they are so small I always keep a dozen in my first aid kit and recommend that you do the same. They don’t cost much and normally have around a 3-year shelf life.

FILTRATION – Portable water filters have been around for a while now but technology is advancing at a rapid rate and there are some tiny filters out there that can process a lot of water without boiling or using chemicals. Suction, pumps, and gravity are the main driving forces behind most backpacking water filters as well as filters like the Life Straw. The advantages that a lightweight water filter has over other methods of water purification are clear to hikers but there are also other things to take into consideration.

There are multiple types of water filter systems available today including carbon, carbon/ceramic, UV, micro-pore tubes and some other combinations which involve triple filtration methods. All have their own pros and cons but what I look for in a good water filter for backpacking is weight, capacity, reliability, and ease of use. Most portable water filters will either have parts that need replacing over a certain period of time or need regular maintenance to remain in working order so it is always worth getting a spare insert.

Types of portable water filters

The obvious benefits of using a portable backpacking filter are the convenience, reliability, and amount of water that can be purified in a short space of time. Nothing is being added to the water so there is no foul chemical taste like you get with purification tablets or drops. You can either filter the water directly from the source into your mouth or fill up a few bottles and filter water on the go. The best backpacking water filters are incredibly easy to use and very reliable even when processing large volumes of water.

Hollow Fibre Membrane – Using advanced materials and technology, micropores have gotten so small now that they are able to filter out 99.9999% of all bacteria. These filters do not protect against viruses however, they are incredibly useful for everything else and have a ridiculously long lifespan. While the lifespan is normally very good with this type of filter they do regular maintenance to stay optimal.

Carbon – Carbon filters are very reliable, long-lasting, and don’t leave a bad taste in your mouth which is why they are often used in conjunction with other purification methods as the final filtration barrier. Cost effective and natural, carbon filters are the tried and tested method of water filtration that has been used for centuries, only now, they are compact and engineered for efficiency.

Carbon/Ceramic – Ceramic filters have small pores which can block bacteria, protozoa, and cysts but do not protect against viruses. This is why many camping water filters have dual ceramic and carbon components and also to prolong the life of the carbon inserts.

UV – UV filters are a relatively new technology in the outdoor water filter space and while they are impressive, there are lots of ways it can malfunction as well as the risk of running out of battery in the field. UV water filters use short-wavelength ultraviolet light to kill microorganisms and inactivate their ability to reproduce.

Word of warning

While water filters are for the most part very reliable, things can always break or go wrong. For example, if you leave pretty much any of water filter out in freezing conditions, the water inside the filter will expand and damage all the internal parts beyond repair. To combat this it is sometimes necessary to keep your filter in your pocket during the day and in your sleeping bag during the night. For this reason, I always have a few purification tablets in my first aid kit as well as carrying a fire starting kit and more often than not a small metal container for boiling water.

Top 10 Best Backpacking Water Filters


Sawyer Mini SP101 Water Filter

sawyer-mini-water-filter-best-backpacking-water-filters

Weight: 51 g / 1.8 oz

Capacity: 100,000 gallons before replacement

Flow Rate:  1 liter per minute

Protects Against: Bacteria, Protozoa, Cysts, and Particulate

Filtration System: Hollow Fiber Membrane

The Sawyer Mini Water Filter really is in a league of its own when it comes to value, weight, and capacity. Using a series of U-shaped hollow fiber membrane tubes lined with micro pores, the Sawyer Mini removes 99.9999% of all bacteria, protozoa, and cysts such as giardia and cryptosporidium, as well as other harmful bacteria which cause E. coli and cholera. The Sawyer MINI does not protect against viruses, however, viruses are a rarity in backcountry water sources as most viruses can only result from fecal contamination by an infected human.

Without any parts to remove or replace and an estimated lifespan of 100,000 gallons, the Sawyer mini is over the top reliable. Some basic maintenance needs to be taken in order to keep the flow rate up but this literally takes 30 seconds to backwash clean water through the filter using a syringe every week when in heavy use. With a universal attachment that can be screwed onto almost any water bottle, used inline on a hydration pack, used as a straw, or used as a squeeze system, this really is a super lightweight water filter. So good, it is a wonder they are so cheap.

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MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter 2016

msr-autoflow-gravity-filter-best-backpacking-water-filters

Weight: 299 g / 10.5 oz (including the bag and all other bits)

Capacity: 1,500 liters before replacement

Flow Rate:  1.75 liters per minute

Protects Against: Bacteria, Protozoa, Cysts, and Particulate

Filtration System: Hollow Fiber Membrane

The MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter is our favorite gravity feed filter on the list and works by filling the main filter bag with fresh water, attaching the quick release tube with filter, and elevating the bag to let gravity do its work. There is a handy stop valve above the filter to control the flow and you can easily detach the filter line when not in use. While the system only comes with 1 water pouch included, MSR water pouches are available in 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, and 10-liter sizes you can mix and match to get a capacity that suits you and your trip.

With a super fast 1.75 liters per minute rate of purification, this water filter is perfect for personal use as well as small groups. While there are no indications of how long the filter will last, with regular backwashing and care we would expect it to be similar to the Platypus GravityWorks. A super durable backpacking filter that will process a lot of water as well as transport it in the handy bladder. Very easy to use and ideal for the backpacking lifestyle, the MSR Autoflow is the best gravity filter for travel.

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Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter

platypus-gravityworks-4l-water-filter-system-best-backpacking-water-filters

Weight: 340 g / 12 oz

Capacity: 1,500 liters before replacement

Flow Rate: More than 1 liter per minute

Protects Against: Bacteria, Protozoa, Cysts, and Particulate

Filtration System: Hollow Fiber Membrane

The Platypus GravityWorks is very similar to the MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter, other than the bags being made of a different material and coming with a second bag included for clean water, these filters are pretty much the same. The zip lock closings on the Platypus are not for everyone and I prefer the handles on the MSR when carrying a full bag back to camp but apart from that, the ease of use is top notch.

With easy clip attachments, you don’t need to have the filter connected between the two bags all the time. This allows you to use the bags as hydration packs and carry a full 4 liters of water (2 clean and 2 dirty) using the 2L system or more with larger bags. An easy to use gravity fed water filter for backpacking that also incorporates water storage to take care of all your hydration needs.

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Sawyer PointOne Squeeze Water Filter


sawyer-pointone-squeeze-water-filter-best-backpacking-water-filtersWeight
: 76 g / 2.7 oz

Capacity: 1,000,000 gallons before replacement

Flow Rate: 1 liter per minute

Protects Against: Bacteria, Protozoa, Cysts, and Particulate

Filtration System: Hollow Fiber Membrane

The Sawyer PointOne Squeeze water filter is the slightly larger predecessor of the Sawyer Mini and works in pretty much the same way but with some slightly different specs. It has a longer life expectancy than the MINI by about 900,000 liters as well as a better flow rate of about 1 liter every 2 minutes. The Sawyer Squeeze also needs far less backflushing than the Sawyer Mini which means it will maintain a steady flow for longer.

The slightly larger size makes this filter a little harder to keep in your pocket on freezing days but not impossible and the heavier weight is something that most backpackers do not desire. Still, a very good portable filter that will remove particles down to 0.1 microns including bacteria, protozoa, and cysts and is backed up by a lifetime guarantee.

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Survivor Filter PRO-LE 0.01 Micron Nano Filter


survivor-filter-pro-le-0-01-micron-water-filter-best-water-filter-for-backpackingWeight
: 320 g / 11.2 oz

Capacity: 2,000 liters before replacement

Flow Rate:  500 ml per minute

Protects Against: Bacteria, Protozoa, Cysts, and Particulate (independently tested to protect against viruses)

Filtration System: Triple Filtration – Pre-filter, Internal Filter, Replaceable Carbon Filter Insert

The Survivor Filter PRO-LE 0.01 Micron Nano Filter is possibly the most impressive filter on the list and has really gone as far as possible to create the most protective water filter on the market. With no filter on the market able to effectively protect you against viruses without the use of chemicals, the Survivor Filter PRO gets closer any other filter has before.

  • Read Our Survivor Filter Pro-LE Review Here!

Independently tests in the USA have shown that the Survivor Filter Pro removed 99.9% of Viruses, Staph, and Bacteria with a reduction of Heavy Metals to 99.5% of Mercury and 93% Lead which surpasses all EPA standards for water filters. With a steady flow rate of about 500 ml per minute, it doesn’t take long to fill a few canteens. Whether the studies are true or not, this water filter will remove as much if not more of the bad stuff than any other water filter and is just fine for backpackers.

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Katadyn Mini Ceramic MicroFilter


katadyn-mini-ceramic-microfilter-best-backpacking-water-filtersWeight
: 210 g / 7.4 oz

Capacity: 8,000 liters before replacement

Flow Rate: 500 ml per minute

Protects Against: Bacteria, Protozoa, Cysts, Algae and Particulate

Filtration System: Silver Impregnated Ceramic Filter with Carbon Core

The Katadyn Mini Ceramic Micro Filter is great for solo backpacking trips where you don’t want to carry a lot of water or need a large filter for groups. Slimline and portable for fitting in the outside pockets of your bag or jacket, the pump action system is easy to store and always close to hand when you need it.

Capable of processing half a liter of water per minute, it doesn’t take long to fill up your water bottles. Removing bacteria, protozoa, cysts, and algae down to a level of 0.2 microns, you are protected against most things but not viruses. Similar to the MSR Miniworks, we found the Katadyn to be a slightly better design and longer lasting.

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Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L Water Filter


katadyn-gravity-camp-6l-water-filter-best-water-filters-for-backpackingWeight
: 326 g / 11.5 oz

Capacity: 1,500 liters before replacement

Flow Rate: 2 liters per minute!

Protects Against: Bacteria, Protozoa, Cysts, and Particulate

Filtration System: Pleated Glassfiber / Carbon Filter

The Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L is another gravity fed filter which allows for super fast and hands-free filtration in large amounts. Unlike the Platypus GravityWorks or MSR AutoFlow, the Katadyn Gravity Camp does not have a filter inline with the tube, instead, it houses the filter inside the main pouch. While this design may help increase flow rate, it is not something I am a personal fan of and found it makes the whole thing feel more fragile.

Because gravity fed water filter systems are so fast, lightweight, and easy to use, I prefer them over most pump action filters for backpacking. While not quite as good as the Platypus or MSR equivalents, the Gravity Camp by Katadyn is still a force to be reconned with in the water filter industry and can do just as much as the other filters. Filtering down to a size of 0.2 microns you can be sure that is removing all bacteria, protozoa, and cysts but not viruses.

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The Survivor Filter


survivor-filter-straw-best-backpacking-water-filtersWeight
: 99 g / 3.5 oz

Capacity:  1,000 liters before replacement

Flow Rate:  200 ml per minute

Protects Against: Bacteria, Protozoa, Cysts, and Particulate

Filtration System: 3 stage filtration down to 0.05 microns using a cotton particle filter, ultra membrane, and carbon filter combination.

With a leisurely flow rate of 200 ml of water per minute, the Survivor Filter is a great personal piece of gear that will give you highly filtered and drinkable water from fresh water sources all over the world. The combination of screens will give you triple absolute filtration down to 0.05 microns without chemicals and at a very reasonable price.

Lightweight and compact with a nifty flip off lid to keep the mouth piece clean, you can keep this in your daysack without even noticing it. With an adaptable screw thread, you can attach the survivor filter to multiple canteens and standard water bottles as well as use it like a straw. An all round superb lightweight filter which suits most wild campers just fine but may be a little too slow for impatient people.

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MSR SweetWater MicroFilter


msr-sweetwater-microfilter-best-water-filter-for-backpackingWeight
: 311 g / 11 oz

Capacity: 750 liters before replacement

Flow Rate: 1.25 liters per minute

Protects Against: Bacteria, Protozoa, Chemicals, and Particulate

Filtration System: Silica Depth Filter

The MSR SweetWater is a handy little pump action Silica Depth Filter which is perfect for shorter backpacking trips or casual use. If used in conjunction with MSR SweetWater Purifier Solution (chlorine-based), it will also protect you from viruses while removing the taste of chemicals afterward. The capacity is fairly low but the flow rate is quite good so while the filter may not last a lifetime, it will work well while it lasts. The large handle allows you to get a good pump action going and can be removed to make packing it easier

The capacity is fairly low but the flow rate is quite good so while the filter may not last a lifetime, it will work well while it lasts. The large handle allows you to get a good pump action going and can be removed to make packing it easier. Even though we really liked this filter, the fact that it will only process 750 liters of water before a replacement is needed may put some people off.

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MSR Miniworks EX MicroFilter


msr-miniworks-ex-microfilter-best-water-filter-for-travelingWeight
: 510 g / 18 oz

Capacity: 2,000 liters before replacement

Flow Rate: 1 liter per minute

Protects Against: Bacteria, Protozoa, Cysts, and Particulate

Filtration System: Carbon/Ceramic

The MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter has been a popular water filter for backpackers and hikers in the past however it is slowly being overtaken by newer designs and only just makes this list of the top 10 best backpacking water filters. Designed for intensive use, you get long-lasting and maintainable purified water in challenging environments. The ceramic filter with carbon core removes particles down to a size of 0.2 microns which is small enough to remove bacteria, protozoa, and cysts but not viruses

Capable of processing 1 liter of water per minute for 2,000 minutes before the filter needs changing, it is recommended that you regularly disassemble and clean the filter using the scrubber (included). Still a reliable water filter for backpacking but at 18 oz it is a little on the heavy side and compared to other portable filters is not so mini.

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