Best Backpacking Water Filters
As anybody who paid attention during biology class will remember, almost two thirds of the human body is comprised of water. This is something to bear in mind when hiking and burning up countless calories – sure, it’s fantastic exercise, but that’s a lot of fluid that you’ll be losing in the process!
Any hiker will be advised to pack plenty of water when they embark on their latest adventure, but eventually that supply is going to run low – after all, nobody wants to weigh themselves down with excessive bottles strapped to their person, and one of the golden rules of trekking through unfamiliar woodland is to find and follow running water if you find yourself lost.
It’s advisable to always pack a water purifier or filter, however, to ensure that your rehydration from such a source doesn’t do more harm than good in the longer term.
This guide will talk you through what to look out for in such a product. It is important to remember that man can live without food for a period of time, but it only takes 3 days to suffer the consequences if you are dehydrated – a sobering thought.
Best Water Filters Comparison Table
Built into bottle
Clear LCD read outs
Reduces bacteria 99.99%
Meets NSF protocol P231
Activated carbon core helps eliminate tastes/odors
Flow rate 9-12 liters an hour
Purifies 18,000 liters
Surpasses EPA standards
Filters up to 1000 liters
Surpasses EPA standards
Trusted for over 20 years
Fast acting - ready to drink 30 mins after mixing
Buyers Guide to Hiking Water Filters and Purifiers
OK, first thing's first - you'll need to decide whether you're looking for a water filter or purifier; these products fulfill broadly similar functions, but there are some key differences.
Filter or Purifier?
Filters are a little more simplistic, as they concentrate on removing dangerous bacteria from a water supply (including such potentially lethal pathogens as E.Coli and Salmonella).
A purifier, meanwhile, will step up the protection by using chemicals to kill the threat of viral infections such as norovirus or hepatitis. The choice is yours, depending whether or not you don’t find chemicals a problem – many people do.
Purifiers recommended in less developed countries...
If you're staying on the vaguely familiar soil of the USA or Canada then you'll ordinarily be fine with a water filter, but purifiers are strongly recommended to global travelers who may find themselves in less developed countries, particularly third world countries where fresh water supply is a unique experience.
We can't stress enough, however, that you really should invest in at least one of these products - river or lake water should not be trusted, no matter how clear and blue it may look to the naked eye.
You could just boil your water using a hiking stove, but this can be a time-consuming process - you'll have to wait for the heat to do it's work, then for it cool enough to be drinkable.
Hardly ideal when you're thirsty and need to make a quick rest stop before moving on to reach your destination before dark.
Type of Filter/Purifier
Next up, you'll need to decide what type of filter of purifier you are looking for - there are a sizable number of options!
- Pump filters, for example, can be added to your water bottle and used to apply a fixed amount of clean water to your supply, though they're a little cumbersome and require a degree of hard work.
- Gravity filters are great for groups as they quickly process a large amount of water and are light to carry, but they need to be hung up on a tree or similar.
- UV Light Purifiers are charming little space-age gadgets that are pushed into your water bottle and typically clear the h2O of anything undesirable within sixty seconds or so, though you may have to use it several times to work on a larger bottle. It is, however, well worth the extra effort.
- Bottle and Squeeze Filters and Purifiers can be slipped into the top of your bottle and sipped from directly, making them arguably the most compact and simple device to use if you will only be using a small bottle.
You could pick up a straw filter, a large, hollow vessel that means you can lean down and drink your fill directly from the river or lake whilst enjoying all the benefits of purification.
Finally, you might wish to consider Purification Chemicals, which are typically solubfle iodine- or chlorine-based drops or pills that dissolve in your bottle and kill of any unwelcome viral strains - though they may also leave an unpleasant chemical aftertaste.
As always, the choice depends on your priorities in terms of weight and dimensions.
Basic Safety Tips
Even when you use a water filter or purifier, you should follow some basic safety tips.
Don't attempt to gain drinking water within 200 meters of where you may have washed or emptied your bladder, and ensure your hands are clean before beginning the purification process - sanitizer is your friend here.
Pack Spare Cartridges
If you're using a unit that involves cartridges you'll need to ensure that you pack some spares and change or clean them regularly - as your filter or purifier removes anything untoward from the source and pours into your bottle, it's likely to gunk up and become blocked before too long.
With all these options in mind, it may feel a little overwhelming to know where you should even start looking for the ideal water filter or purifier.
Here are five models that we recommend to get you started, all of which are easily obtained online.
Whether you are in the middle of a hot and dry climate, or tramping through wastelands or thick forests, water is the key to survival – but it has to be clean water and safe from infection.
As a handy all in one at a reasonable price, the All Clear UV Purifier comes highly recommended.
Filtering and purifying a capacity of just under a liter of water in roughly one minute it’s fast acting, and the fact that it comes with a bottle eradicates any concerns about vessel compatibility.
The LCD display also makes it clear as to exactly what has made its way into the bottle, while the bottle weighs in at just over 1lb.
PROS – Hugely effective, lightweight, sleek and aesthetically pleasing and user friendly – there are plenty of reasons why this is an ideal inclusion to your backpack when preparing a lengthy trip.
CONS – The UV runs from a rechargeable lithium battery that requires a USB port to juice up – this may be tricky to source if you are backpacking for a particularly long time with no access to such technology.
The MSR SweetWater Microfilter may be slightly bulkier and heavier than some of the other products that we’ll be discussing (it’s 12” long and weighs in at a little over a pound), but it’s an undeniably thorough pump filter.
Combining a chemical solution with the pump action, you’ll be able to sip a liter of pure, purified water in just a minute if you use this product (though if you’re applying the chemical anti-viral solution you’ll have to wait a further five minutes for that to take hold), and it certainly lives up to its ‘SweetWater’ name – h2O tastes hugely refreshing when pumped through this model, which specializes in removing unpleasant silt as well as protection from viruses, making the taste even more palatable to the human tastebuds.
PROS – Water tastes great, the pump is fast acting, and the gadget is built to last – you always know where you stand with an MSR product, and you can be assured that quality craftsmanship has gone into the SweetWater Microfilter. The chemical compound also ensures that you have a filter and purifier in one.
CONS – Like all pump-operated gizmos, you’ll have to clean the filter regularly – the faster you pump water, the quicker it will fill with gunk. Not as lightweight and mobile as some of the items on our list. You may think that the extra weight is more of a hazard than a beneficial addition to tour backpack if you want to travel light.
The perfect solution for a family or large group of hikers, the LifeStraw Family is one of the most reputable gravity filters on the market and is available for a very reasonable price.
Utterly user-friendly, built to last (this model will pump a minimum of 18,000 liters of water before it begins to show signs of wear and tear), and chemical-free, this is a fantastic option for any group that may be setting up a base camp close to a river or lake and looking for a regular supply of clean drinking water.
PROS – Pitch up your camp and fill the LifeStraw Family and you’ll be away – you’ll have a steady stream of clear, refreshing water that is simple to top up again and again without the need to constantly clean the filter.
CONS – Gravity filters will never win any prizes for speed, and this is no exception – it’s not recommended for anybody looking for quick breaks or spend a lot of time and mileage hiking through the area – a fast and refreshing cup of water is just not going to happen. It’s also comparatively heavy and bulky, making it far from ideal for solo travelers. If that’s your aim, look below…
If you are keen to travel light but also have a quality, fast-acting product then this is one for you.
The LifeStraw Personal Water Purifier is essentially a sturdy plastic straw, the use of which entails simply finding your water supply, crouching before it and sucking the water through the device – in the process of doing so, this device will remove the risk of infection and bacteria.
Weighing just a couple of ounces and slipping into a pocket without fuss, anybody looking to hydrate themselves quickly and efficiently will love this.
PROS – All the benefits of the family purifier, with none of the heft and bulk – if you’re traveling alone and looking for a small, quick solution to your water purification needs, you can’t go far wrong.
CONS – You need a strong lung capacity to manage to pull the water through the straw on the first few occasions that you use the LifeStraw Personal Water Purifier – even after it could be up to five seconds before you start to see results.
You must also seriously consider whether to ‘share’ a straw motivated filter – whilst the water may be filtered, anyone sharing may already have picked up some germs, which will be passed on very quickly.
And so, onto the finest tablet purification on the market. Aquatabs are a cheap and compact solution to your needs, slipping neatly into a pocket and getting to work in 30 minutes – pop them into your water source and wait for the soluble materials to take hold, and you’ll find yourself protected from all manner of nasty germs or bugs.
With a five-year expiration date there’s no need to worry about using the lot in one trip, and the purification lasts for quite some time – you can apply Aquatabs to a bottle and return to it up to week later to find it tasting every bit as fresh, and happily there is no chalky aftertaste to these particular pills.
PROS – No aftertaste, nothing of any weight to carry in your backpack beyond a blister pack of tablets, and a hugely cost-effective solution to water purification for 100 tablets.
CONS – These tablets take up to 30 minutes to take hold – this may annoy anybody looking for a quick pit stop, drink and move on.