We all know how important it is to keep hydrated, especially when you’re out in the wilderness, but lugging around heaps of water can be a real pain. Plus, it’s so hard to know how much you’ll need in the first place, and even the best planners can get caught out with little or no water. In fact, I’m sure more than a few of you have had moments out in the blistering sun where you’re running low on water and you’ve found yourself eyeing up the closest stream and wondering whether a little sip would hurt… but although freshwater sources can look harmless, they often contain bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other contaminants, capable of causing some serious tummy upsets and worse.
If only there was a way to make natural water sources safe to drink… oh wait, there is! Water filters are designed to convert potentially harmful water sources into safe drinking water, which means you’ll always have a drink close at hand – perfect for those of you that like to camp and hike. Plus, for all you explorers out there, water filters come in super handy when you’re traveling and you aren’t sure whether the tap water is safe.
Water filters work in many different ways – some are squeeze filters, others use chemical or UV purification, and there are also gravity and pump filters too – so choosing the right water filter can be a tricky task. Here, we’ve brought you a selection of the best backpacking water filters currently on the market, and we also highlight some key things to look out for when you’re shopping around – enjoy!
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Best For Large Volumes
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Best For Urban And Rural
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The first item on our hit list is the SteriPen Water Purifier. This device uses UV light to remove more than 99.9% of viruses, bacteria, and protozoa.
However, the major selling point of this water purifier is its simplicity – just pop the ‘pen’ in your water bottle, turn it slowly for 1.5 minutes and, hey presto, there’s your liter of safe drinking water.
Slightly unusually for a water filter, this device is battery powered – but don’t worry, you shouldn’t run out of juice in an emergency as it can be powered by solar as well as via power outlets. It’s also incredibly lightweight, so it won’t weigh down your backpack either.
It also has a modern interface that lets you know whether the water treatment has been successful, how far through it is and, crucially, how much battery is left.
The main drawback of this filter is that, as for all UV light filters, it won’t work with murky water, so you’ll be limited to drinking clear water from streams rather than brown river water. It’s also a little on the expensive side but, for a high-tech super simple filtration system, we think it’s totally worth it.
If you’re after an easy way to filter water on-the-go, then we’d certainly recommend the MSR Trail Shot. You can finally say goodbye to long wait times with this pocket-sized pump filter that lets you drink water directly from the source via its intake tube (but you can fill a bottle or hydration pack if you’d rather!).
This method enables you to take up water from very shallow sources, such as puddles, which can be a huge advantage if you’re not by any large bodies of water. You’ll probably have to get pretty close to the water source as the intake tube isn’t super long, but in an emergency, we don’t think we’d mind.
It’s also pretty speedy – in just 60s you can filter up to 1 liter of water using the one-handed pumping mechanism. Just be wary that, as with all pump filters, you might get a little tired of pumping day after day if this is your main water supply.
This system can be used with murky water and is effective against bacteria and protozoa but unfortunately not against viruses so bear that in mind. It’s lightweight and portable as well – you can easily slip it into an outer pocket for easy access – and overall we think it’s a great option for backpacking adventures in the wilderness.
See our full review of the MSR Trailshot.
Introducing the one and only gravity filter on our list – the Platypus GravityWorks 4L. This ingenious system makes gravity do the hard work so you don’t have to – there’s zero pumping involved (yay), simply hang the system from a tree branch and leave it to do its thing.
With the ability to filter 4L of water in 2.5mins, this is a great flow rate if you want to provide water for large groups with minimal effort. The kit itself includes a 4L dirty water reservoir and a 4L clean water reserve, plus the connecting hose, an off clamp, storage sack, and a universal bottle adaptor. Unfortunately, this means this gravity filter isn’t the lightest out there (but at 11 oz, it’s by no means the heaviest either), but if you want something ultralight, then why not opt for the 2L system instead?
The cartridge of this gravity filter is effective down to 0.2 microns, which makes it effective against more than 99.9% of bacteria and protozoa. We also love that it’s BPA-free and has a carbon element designed to remove those odd tastes that sometimes make their way into filtered water.
Introducing the MSR Guardian, a pump filter that can convert even the dirtiest of water into a safe, thirst-quenching drink.
This military-grade water purifier is, unsurprisingly, built like a tank, can handle being knocked around, and definitely won’t let you down in extreme temperatures.
Medical-grade fibers provide protection against the smallest of threats, including bacteria, sediment, protozoa, and, crucially, viruses. In fact, this water purifier is so efficient that it meets the NSF protocol P248 standard of the US military – if that doesn’t fill you with confidence then we don’t know what will!
We love the self-cleaning mechanism, which rids the water filter of contaminants on every stroke, so you don’t have to worry about flow interruptions. Plus the flow rate itself is pretty decent, pumping 2.5 liters every minute.
Sadly, this is by far the most expensive water filter on our list, but in this case, we think you really do get what you pay for. Plus, the super-durable construction has the flip-side of making this a very heavy bit of gear. However, all things considered, if you want something that won’t let you down even in the harshest of environments, is super safe, and will most likely never need replacing, then this is a great investment and worth the extra weight.
Katadyn is renowned for its expertise in producing reliable water treatment, and the Katadyn Hiker Pro has to be one of the best pump filters currently on the market.
The 0.2-micron water filter will protect you from bacteria and protozoa, and the intake tube can be placed directly into the source, enabling you to filter water from the shallowest of pools. It also has a sleek design and is fairly lightweight at just 11 oz. Plus, we love the activated carbon in the filter that improves the taste of your water – a feature you don’t always see in hand pumps.
We like that it’s simple to use – you don’t have to be an experienced survivalist to figure this one out – but remember that hand-pumping can be a pain if you’ll be needing big quantities of water.
It’s also a little bit on the pricey side for a hand pump filter, but we reckon it’s worth the extra if you want a carefully designed and super reliable pump.
Introducing the LifeStraw, a super simple, affordable bit of gear that should be in every set of emergency backpacking kit.
The LifeStraw is, as you might have guessed, essentially a straw with an integrated filter system. It doesn’t have a huge capacity, and it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take water with you, but it is an excellent bit of emergency kit. It allows you to drink water straight from the source and provides you with clean water quicker than tablets can.
Weighing just 2 oz, you can pop this in the bottom of your bag and barely know that it’s there – although you’ll be glad it is if you run out of water. Don’t let the small size fool you though – it can still remove more than 99.9% of bacteria and protozoans from freshwater sources.
It comes with a storage bag included and we love that the materials are all BPA-free. The main drawback is that you have to use it very close to the source or fill a container with dirty water that you can then drink from using the straw.
However, if you’re in a pinch, you’ll be glad you’ve got it and, at this price, it’s hard to say no.
We love the design of the GRAYL Bottle and the fact that it comes in a range of color schemes.
The outer bottle acts as a container for suspicious water, while the inner bottle provides the filtering function. This squeeze filter system makes this super simple to use – just fill the bottle with questionable water, place it on a solid surface, and drink.
The cartridges provide protection against protozoa, bacteria, and viruses, but they do need to be replaced every 2-3 months, so make sure that you grab a few.
It also uses an activated carbon system to make your water taste as fresh as possible. The cool design of these bottles makes them great for everyday use as well as for use on the trail, and it makes a far more eco-friendly option than buying disposable water. On top of that, 1% of every purchase goes towards environmental non-profits.
With a capacity of 16 oz, this isn’t the best option for providing water to groups, but if you’re traveling solo and want a sleek, safe, and eco-friendly option, then this is the water filter for you.
The Sawyer Squeeze is another squeeze filter option, and while it might not look as cool as the GRAYL Bottle, at just 3 oz, it weighs considerably less. It’s also collapsible (enough to fit in the palm of your hand!) so it will save you some precious space in your backpack.
To use, fill the squeeze pouch with potentially unsafe water and screw on the filter – you can now guzzle straight from the filter. Alternatively, you can also use this system on top of soft bottles (sold separately) to filter larger amounts of water, which is probably a good thing as the pouches don’t hold much water.
A major plus is the fact that the cartridges don’t need to be replaced if you clean them every now and then, cutting down on extra costs. However, you’ll need to keep an eye on your pouch as this might need replacing from time to time. It’s BPA-free too, which we love, and protects against 99.9% of bacteria and protozoa.
The Katadyn BeFree filtering bottle is another super simple way to make sure you can get fresh, safe drinking water wherever you may be.
Just fill up the main bottle, give it a swirl, and let the internal filter do its thing for protection from 99.9% of bacteria and protozoa (not viruses, unfortunately). The soft bottle is super lightweight, making it great to pop in any daysack, whether you’re in the city or up a mountain.
Again, this bottle is intended for personal use, not supplying water to the masses, and it’s not the most durable option out there. One other slight problem is the security of the flip cap – it sometimes opens accidentally, so it’s best to keep this bottle in an exterior pocket if you have one.
However, we still reckon this bottle is a great shout if you want an incredibly easy way to get fresh water in the wilderness or in the city.
Okay, so we know this is a water treatment rather than a water filter… but we thought the classic water treatment option deserved a shout out anyway.
The Aquamira Water Treatment drops are a popular water purification option and are very affordable too. Plus, with a shelf life of 4 years, you don’t have to worry if you over purchase and don’t use them all on your trip – simply save them until the next one. These drops work using chlorine dioxide to kill harmful pathogens (including viruses) and make water drinking friendly and, unlike other drops, they don’t make your water taste funny.
You will have to wait at least 20 minutes for the drops to work and, obviously, you’re going to need a container – if you don’t have one and all you can find is a puddle then they aren’t very useful – and we do prefer the filter options above. However, it’s always worth having some drops in your bag as a back-up just in case.
As you’ve seen, water filters work in many ways, each with their own pros and cons. As a general rule of thumb, filter systems are effective against bacteria protozoa, but if you want protection against viruses, you’ll need a purification system. But here’s a little bit more information on each type:
These are great options if you want something you can use in the city as well as on the trail as they often come in the form of a bottle with an integrated filter. They’re also super simple to use and generally pretty lightweight, but they won’t protect you against viruses.
These are designed to filter dirty water from one reservoir and deposit clean water into another. Seeing as gravity does the hard work for you, these are great for handling large volumes of water so are great for groups or if you need clean water to wash up on the campsite.
If you want something small for a first aid kit, then straws are fantastic as they’re super lightweight and compact. Plus, you can dip them straight into the water source, so you can even drink from a puddle if you have to. These really are made for emergencies though and shouldn’t be your primary water supply for a trip.
Pump systems are very reliable, but the obvious drawback is the fact they require some physical exertion and so aren’t great for large volumes of water.
UV has the power to protect you against viruses as well as bacteria and protozoa. However, it doesn’t work well with cloudy water, so you’ll have to decide what’s most important to you.
Adding drops to your water requires a longer wait time than filter systems, and you’ll need some kind of container too. However, they’re super cheap and portable so there’s no harm in popping some in your bag just in case.
Capacity, weight, price, and speed are other key factors to consider. Do you need water for yourself or for lots of people? Will you end up buying lots of expensive replacement parts? Are you driving to the campsite and don’t care about weight or will you be carrying your filter on your back for days? These are all important things to think about!
Phew, that was a lot of information. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here are our top three to help you decide:
Our top choice for purifying large volumes of water at once has to be the Platypus GravityWorks 4L system. We love that all you have to do is hang this by a tree and you’ll get 4L of safe drinking water in no time – perfect for trips with large groups!
It’s also lightweight – way lighter than 4L of water would be – and has a carbon system to get rid of weird tastes, yay.
Our favorite option for urban and rural use has to be the GRAYL Bottle. With protection against protozoa, viruses, and bacteria protozoa, this makes a great option for traveling in countries with dubious tap water (and it means you don’t have to buy plastic bottles that are bad for the environment) as well as for drinking from rivers.
They also look super cool and some of the profits go to good causes – what a winner!
Our best all-round water filter is the simple yet effective MSR Trail Shot. It’s pocket-sized, you can drink straight from the water source or you can fill a bottle, it’s ultralightweight and it’s not ridiculously expensive; in other words, it’s everything you need – go on, you know you want to…