Best portable water filters & purifiers for backpackers reviewed
Seeking the best backpacking water filter in 2019? Check out the good & the bad associated with each top portable water filter for hikers before buying.
Running out of water to drink when you are on a long hike can be a nightmare. Typically, there are a multitude of rivers & streams around which can be utilized for hydration or cooking purposes. So, how can one do so safely? That’s where these portable water filters come in. Curious as to which water treatment solution to buy for your backpacking and emergency kit needs? We’ve analysed a few different types of solutions that can best serve a variety of needs and scenarios. When you are out there in the wilderness you might not always have a pot handy to boil water, despite boiling still being the best purification method to remove parasites and bacteria. Hence a compact solution is more practical. That’s where filtration and purification systems come in to play. These systems come in a variety of types from tablets to the now very popular gravity filtration options. Carry on reading to find the top backpacking water filter for your specific needs.
Weight: 0.31 pounds
Filter: 0.1 micron
Value for money
Removes bacteria extremely well
Does not filter out viruses
Flow rate can be a tad slow
If you are thinking that you might need a compact filtering option to be used during an emergency, then the Sawyer certainly fits the bill. The 0.1-micron hollow fiber membrane filter does a great job of removing bacteria. This filtration system will also remove 99.9% of protozoa as well. The squeezable pouch (16 ounce) is something that separates this from the Lifestraw but also divides our opinion. Whilst it’s great for filtering and allows you to drink without having to crouch at your water source, the size is simply quite small. If you are looking to fill an entire bottle or two we suggest you get a bigger pouch (32 or 64 ounce) as this can take time. The sawyer is also not as small as the Lifestraw but performs very well. This, like a lot of other filtration systems, does not remove chemicals which have already been dissolved in water. Lastly, If we had to describe the Sawyer in three words it would be… slow but effective.
Weight: 1.16 pounds
Filter: 0.2 Micron
Type: Gravity Filter
Amazing flow rate of 1.75L per minute
Very light & compact
Great for groups
Wish the clean bag can be opened for quicker drying
The Platypus GravityWorks 4.0L is a complete solution for hikers and campers particularly in the United States and Canada. The picture might indicate that this product is big but in reality it is a neat compact and light solution ideal for a group of backpackers. The Carbon element can easily remove organic compounds and odours so that you get the best taste. This is a feature that most other filtration systems don’t have. The filter cartridge itself meets all the EPA standards for removing bacteria and protozoa. The 0.2 micron filter however will NOT remove viruses. The practicality and ease of use are the major selling points for this model. The flow rate is an amazing 1.75 litres which means you don’t have to pump or stand around waiting for a few ml of water to get filtered. The dirty and clean bags can be hung which makes it very easy to use. Back flushing for about 4 seconds cleans the device well. The clean bag can take some time to try after use but repeated blowing can help. This system can filter water directly into a bottle or even cooking pot which is why it’s one of our top choices for campers. Overall, we think the Platypus is a bit expensive considering that it doesn’t remove viruses but well worth it, if you factor in the features and the amount of people it can cater to.
Weight: 0.25 pounds
Type: Straw filter
Filter: 0.01 micron
Triple filtration is very effective
Cleaning syringe is handy
Slow water flow rate
At first glance, design wise we feel that this is far more thought out than other filtration type systems available for campers. The syringe to clean and the multiple filter layers make for a very effective yet practical system. Whilst there is a chance that one or two bacteria might slip through in products like the Lifestraw or Sawyer which uses a 0.1-micron filter. The Etekcity tries to eliminate that possibility. The 0.01-micron filter is definitely an overkill we feel for most streams, bacteria and the likes. This model employs a 3 stage filtration system which includes an antibacterial carbon filter, UF membrane filter and a pre-filter.
Just like most products out there, the Etekcity has some downsides too. Practicality is as important as portability in situations like this and the flow rate for the water is a bit slow. The pouch helps but if you are willing to sacrifice a level of filtration then other systems can offer a quicker flow. Overall, for the functionality on offer, we feel this is indeed one of the best water filters that can slot into any hiker’s emergency kits.
Weight: 0.31 pounds
Treats: 2000 litres per bottle
Can treat a significant amount of water
Kills viruses and bacteria, anything above 0.004 microns
Indefinite shelf life
A mild iodine smell
The Polar Pure is one for the experienced and frequent backpackers and climbers. Whilst most filters in the market remove bacteria and protozoa, the polar pure takes it one step further and removes giardia as well as any dangerous viruses too. The Polar pure exceeds minimum FDA standards by a long way, which is encouraging. This enables you to go hiking anywhere in the world and feel safe without having to worry about the equipment in your emergency kit. A lot of less developed countries have unreliable water supplies and this can kill pretty much any living organism in the water. However, it does not remove chemicals from the water.
The bottle is made of glass so it probably should be kept well protected and not allowed to freeze to avoid breakage. The iodine crystals do have a bit of a strong taste but it’s much better than having unsafe water. What makes this particular product different from most aqua tablets out there is its ability to treat 2000 litres just from a single bottle. Another added advantage is that this water can be used for cooking too! The other standout feature is its indefinite shelf life. So if you do happen to forget to check the expiry on some items in the emergency kit then this will serve you well. Overall, we think this is a must have to make any emergency kit complete and combination with a filter can serve as a thoroughly effective solution.
Weight: 1.1 pounds
Filter: 0.01 Micron
Filters viruses well
Gets clogged pretty quickly at times
Some users also reported durability issues with respect to the pump
The survivor filter Pro is the first virus filter on our list. Triple filtration coupled with a 0.01-micron ultra-filter produces extremely clean drinkable water. Most viruses, as we will touch on in the guide below range between the 0.1-0.25 mark size-wise, making this a great option. The survivor was more compact and smaller than expected. The portability aspect is great due to the combination of size and weight. Some of the downsides, however, are related to practicality. The flow rate of this is extremely low which means it will take you a while to pump out water. This was a letdown for us, considering the cost. Survivor says the carbon filters last up to 2000 litres only despite the other filters lasting 100,000 litres. Changing components can be a bit of a hassle. During use, since the filtration is performed for many levels the water clogs often which results in an even lower flow. Overall, we think this is a good option for a single hiker looking for virus removal but not so great for groups.
Type: Tablets + neutralizer
Treats up to 25 quarts
Great at altering taste & clarity of water
Time taken for water to be drinkable is long
Does not remove viruses
The portable aqua is another tablet based solution to treating water and making it drinkable. The portable aqua tablets along with the PA plus tablets are something we found most effective. Whilst the iodine tablets alone are sufficient to remove bacteria and Giardia, the PA plus neutralizes the taste of the iodine which is much stronger than that of chlorine. For those who are indeed allergic to iodine look for a chlorine based option.
We really liked the fact that these tablets are great at treating large amounts of water at the same time. The process, however, is time-consuming and it’s important that you have something to store the water. If you happen to lose your water bottle then this on its own might not be of much help. Products like the other filtration systems might aid you best. These portable aqua solutions are best used after employing a filtration system like the Sawyer for maximum effectiveness. This way you can guarantee the quality of water. The tablets come in a dark bottle as iodine cannot be exposed to light. This is highly portable and will barely take up any space in your backpack. A definite must have in the emergency kit for those who like their water to taste better.
Buying guide for the best backpacking water filter or purifier
The state of the water itself has a big say in the effectiveness of any water purifier, filter or tablets. If you go backpacking within America alone then a system that removes bacteria and protozoa is sufficient. If you travel and backpack globally then you need to look for a system that treats viruses as well as bacteria. Systems like the Polar Pure iodine treatment, the Survivor filter can help remove viruses as well.
The other factor you need to consider is how often you expect or wish to use the purification system. If you intend to use a filter or purifier as a backup then the iodine treatment or even compact filters like the Sawyer Mini are great. If you expect to use this system often then go for a gravity filter like the platypus.
Ease of Use:
The convenience aspect is extremely important especially on multi-day hikes. Again needs can be subjective but we generally outline design, flow rate and quantity as important factors.
When we compare devices like the Lifestraw and the Platypus they are vastly different to one another. If you foresee needing a large quantity of water for an entire group or simply wish to be able to filter large amounts of water quickly then solutions like the Gravityworks 4.0 will do the trick. They can filter litres of water in minutes. Other systems like the Sawyer, the survivor filter Pro and straw filters can only handle a few ml of water per minute.
There are a multitude of designs involved that are the hallmark of each filter. These also affect its effectiveness and functionality. The common types are
Pump Filter – Like the Survivor Pro where water has to be pumped into a clean bag or bottle. This can be time-consuming
Tablets – These are powerful iodine tablets that kill bacteria & viruses over a 30 minute period typically. Even though they can purify a large amount of water they would require time and a suitably sized vessel or bottle to hold the water. An alternative to iodine is Chlorine tablets. These tend to have less of a strong taste when compared to iodine.
Straw – The solution like the Etekcity, Sawyer & the Lifestraw require the water to be sucked through a filter. These would require you to be close to a water source or possess a suitable water bottle.
Gravity Type – Products like the Gravityworks are growing in popularity due to the volume of water they can filter and letting gravity do the work instead of having to pump. In these models, a mechanism to automatically regulate the water comes in really handy.
Any amount of weight you can reduce on your backpack is always a boon. Look for a system that suits your needs but doesn’t make you add significant weight to your backpack since you will be carrying your water bottles along with your as well. Most of the solutions outlined above are similar in weight ranging from 0.25 pounds to about 1.1 pounds.
Whilst filtering water removes its murky appearance, Iodine & chlorine tablets are great at altering the taste too. Chlorine solutions will make the water taste slightly similar to swimming pool water. Iodine has a stronger taste but it can be neutralized using tablets like the PA plus.
Bottom Line: There are a number of different systems that suit different scenarios. However, if you are looking for a complete all around solution then we would recommend a combination of a straw or gravity filter and tablets.