The methods used to clean drinking water on a backpacking trip are getting easier and lighter.
Note: This is a long guide but we are confident that after reading it you’ll be a lot more comfortable in your choice of water filters for camping and hiking.
There are a variety of safe and practical treatment methods to suit most situations. Hiking water purification is essential because virtually any source of water can be contaminated with microscopic disease-causing pests or waterborne pathogens that can lead to cramps, diarrhea, fever, or vomiting.
Table of Contents
- 1 Best Backpacking Water Filter: A Buyer’s Guide
- 1.1 Sawyer Products Mini Water Filtration System
- 1.2 Methods of Use for the Sawyer Mini:
- 1.3 Summary:
- 1.4 Katadyn Hiker Pro Water Filter
- 1.5 Performance
- 1.6 Capacity
- 1.7 Speed of Treatment
- 1.8 Usability Ranking: Easy
- 1.9 Viable Applications
- 1.10 Limitations of the Katadyn Gravity Camp
- 1.11 Final Analysis:
- 1.12 Summary:
- 1.13 Katadyn Vario Water Filter
- 1.14 Performance:
- 1.15 Capacity:
- 1.16 Speed of Treatment:
- 1.17 Usability Ranking: Medium/Easy
- 1.18 Viable Applications:
- 1.19 Katadyn Vario Limitations:
- 1.20 Summary:
- 1.21 LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
- 1.22 Survivor Filter Personal Water Filter
- 1.23 Survival Water Filter
- 1.24 Platypus 2L GravityWorks Filter
- 1.25 Here is an overview of the effectiveness of each water filter system:
- 1.26 Different Methods of Water Treatment
- 1.27 Frequently Asked Questions:
- 1.28 Compare water treatment methods
This buyer’s guide discusses the best backpack water filter options.
Feel free to use the comparison table below or check out the individual reviews below the table to jump to each backpacking water filter that we’ve reviewed.
|Sawyer Products SP128 Mini Water Filtration System, Single, Blue||$$||Rating 4.7 out of 5|
|Katadyn Pocket Water Microfilter||$$||Rating 4.6 out of 5|
|Katadyn Vario Multi Flow Water Microfilter||$$||Rating 4.6 out of 5|
|LifeStraw Personal Water Filter||$$||Rating 4.7 out of 5|
|Survivor Filter - Reusable Portable Water Filter||$$||Rating 4.7 out of 5|
|Survival Water Filter with Compass||$$||Rating 4.9 out of 5|
|Platypus GravityWorks 2.0L System (Bottle Kit)||$$$||Rating 4.8 out of 5|
Best Backpacking Water Filter: A Buyer’s Guide
- Sturdy built
- Compact size
- Unable to remove viruses
The Sawyer Mini water filter system is a really great buy. It’s an affordable, highly-effective water filtering system. For the lone hiker. It has a small footprint in regards to size and weight. And, it has a huge lifespan at more than 100k gallons. But, is the Sawyer the best choice for you and your clan or is there something better out there?
So, use it as a straw or snap it onto a bottle. Let’s get ready for this little, powerful filter. BUT…it doesn’t win our “Best Buy” nod. For that, you need to see the Katadyn Gravity. And, for a “go to” page for all of your hiking and camping water filter needs, then you can visit this page: http://www.hikinghydration.com/best-backpacking-water-filter-a-buyers-guide/
Effective against bacteria, protozoa, and Cryptosporidium…but doesn’t treat for viruses. That’s because the 0.1 micron filter pore size is up there with the best in the business. Plus, there’s no real issue with this water filter ever not working. There’s no mechanics, no moving parts, no batteries, no crazy position that it has to be in when you drink. It just works well.
What about that 100k gallon capacity for testing? Let’s just say that the Lifestraw sits real pretty at capacity by touting a 1000 gallon shelf life. Oh, and let’s not forget that with the full Sawyer water treatment system…it can treat up to 1 million (yes, that’s 1,000,000) gallons. Imagine that? It could work for years.
How much do you hike? Does it matter with a system that can keep you hydrated for 100k gallons.
A few tips:
- After a few days it can get tough to squeeze your water out of the straw so you may need to back flush it.
- The soft bottle gets a little bit suspect after a week, as well. It’s tough but it can get a bit tweaked.
- Keep the filter clean and rinse before and after use so that sediment doesn’t build up.
- Don’t let the unit freeze if you’re hiking in cold weather.
Methods of Use for the Sawyer Mini:
- Drink directly from the source (like the Lifestraw). Think about getting the straw attachment.
- Attaching the Sawyer to a bottle and squeezing the water through the filter and into your mouth works real well, too.
- Inline Bladder Filtration. This means that you have to dedicate a bladder to the filter but the method comes in handy. Just connect it to the bladder and then use the Sawyer as normal. JUST REMEMBER that the bladder is handling contaminated water for the rest of the time.
As stated, 100k gallons for the lifetime of the Sawyer. However, it can’t compete with the volume of of people and speed that water can filtered in Katadyn Gravity (our number 1 choice).
Gravity filters like the Platypus and Katadyn are always going to faster and churn out more water than any straw filter.
You drink through the Sawyer and it’s pretty effortless, as compared to the Lifestraw which can be a little bit difficult.
1.6 ounces. It is by far the lightest and most cost effective option. The water tastes clean and drinkable. There’s no weird taste in it. It’s smaller and lighter than the Lifestraw if that has any bearing on you.
There’s no better option for a lone hiker to filter water. The Sawyer is the way to go for the backpacking and camping for one person so if you’re going to go as a group or family and insist on making the Sawyer Mini work for you then be sure to order more than one!
But it’s not going to filter at a rate that makes it acceptable for a group or family on camping trip.
But at less than $25 you can’t go wrong. That’s why you’ll often see these straws being packaged and sold as “one-off” or in packs of 2, 3, or 4.
Its weight is kept at a low 2-ounce and easily fits in the palm of the hand. Whether it is hiking, scouting, camping, cycling, emergency preparedness, or other outdoor activity, this convenient and small filtration system is certain to help in virtually any situation. This mini water filtration system has a high ability to cleanse the water. For instance, it can removes 99.9999% of all trace of protozoa (and cryptosporidium and giardia), while it also helps to remove 99.99999% of bacteria (E.coli, cholera, and salmonella). Sawyer Products are backed with a manufacturer’s limited lifetime warranty.
- Ultra light
- Easy to operate
- Nothing of significance
Sure, gravity filters are the “bee’s knees” right now and rightly so and maybe none are better than the Katadyn Gravity Camp.
In general, gravity filters are convenient, super-effective, and ultra-effective water treatment option for the trail or base camp. Some might argue that other items, like the Lifestraw are even more convenient, these gravity filters are the way to serve the masses needs for potable water.
In our testing and opinion, the Katadyn edges out some other gravity filters like the Platypus Gravity Works and our 2nd favorite, the Sawyer Mini. Keep reading to find out all that we loved about this WTU.
When it comes to how it performs, we don’t have one complaint. Easy to fill. Light weight and a great daily capacity and overall filter life put the Katdayn over the top in our reviews
- Able to filter out protozoa and bacteria with 0.2 micron pore size.
- Filters all sediment and debris.
- Filter in the bag aiding in faster water flow.
- Pleated glass fiber/ carbon filter.
- 1500 liters of water treated per filter.
- Filter protective screen that stays around the filter which stops larger debris and keeps the filter healthier longer. (Just rinse when dirty and no other maintenance is required for filter)
The Katadyn Gravity Camp is probably your best option if you’re hiking/camping in a group. The capacity and speed at which it renders clean water is awesome.
- Filter has a 1500 L capacity before needing changeout
- Basic model comes with 6 liters but there is a Base Camp PRO option which raises it even more to 10 L
Speed of Treatment
- Awesome and the fastest we’ve tested at just a mere 10 seconds per liter!
Usability Ranking: Easy
While not as simple as some other filter systems (you need to screw the filter into place), the Katadyn Gravity Camp is still a super-quick and easy set-up. Then, once it’s up, it’s as versatile and high performing as there is.
- Roll top bag
- Take to the water source and fill.
- Hang and attach hoses for drinking or filling hydration packs. (Fits Camelbaks and others but not all).
To take full advantage of this filter it is best used with a group/family sized setting. It’s just that fast and provides great capacity. You can also get a shower attachment to make the outdoors feel like bathing at home (not quite but it sounds good). There’s even a way to warm the water by way of a window on the bag that you can point towards the sun for some time and let it warm naturally.
Limitations of the Katadyn Gravity Camp
- More fragile than other filters as a set-up even though the bag is sturdier than some. Pack and transport with care but not kid gloves.
- No water bottle attachment (1st World Problems) but it’s easy enough to just hold a bottle under the outlet, hose or not, and fill it.
The Katadyn Gravity Camp is light. It has a durable bag. It holds 6 liters of water and filter it at a rate of 10 seconds per liter. It is an great choice in most situations but even more so in a group setting or for use at a basecamp.
Rather than carrying enough water to last the entire backpacking trip, the pump-action Katadyn Hiker Pro system makes it possible to clean drinking water on the go. Its 0.2 micron glass-fiber filter is built to provide high output with minimal effort. The filter core has activated carbon, which helps to minimal chemical contaminant and improves the taste. Plus, a field-cleanable filter protector screen has the potential to prolong the usable life of the cartridge in difficult conditions. For ease in use it can connect directly to water bottles and hydration packs with ¼-inch tubes.
- Fast action
- No unpleasant flavors
- Easy to use
- Can refuse to pump
- Big and bulky compared to certain other models
- Occasional leak around the top
The Katadyn Vario water filter is built to provide maximum output via its dual-piston technology.
Works great at filtering out Protozoa and Bacterica but if you’re camping or hiking in areas where you’re worried about viruses then you’re better off getting the Sawyer above. It’s triple filtration system (ceramic filter, pleated glass fiber filter, carbon) works wonders.
It’s easy enough to learn (understand) after some study of the manual but it does come with a lot components and maintenance isn’t a breeze. There are a ton of different o-ring for gaskets so make sure to always have spare ones on hand as well as rough, scrubbing sponge (the green scrubs or backside of soft sponges with the material that scours is usually good enough) to scrub the ceramic filter disc.
By check out the reviews on Amazon and other spots we found that although the Katadyn seems ready for the rough and tumble world of outdoors, there are quite a few complaints about leaking. Personally, we didn’t have leaks or what seemed like a less than adequate unit, but the smoke mostly signals fire at some point.
This is another great group water filter choice. Although the upkeep is a little more involved, the Vario has a lifetime capacity of 2k liters and pumps out drinkable at a higher speed than many of the filters that we used. Most gravity filters like the Katadyn Gravity Camp (our #1 choice) and the Platypus GravityWorks really, really churn out drinkable, though, so the Vario won’t really compete with it. Still, the volume can easily handle groups and families.
Speed of Treatment:
Great speed and you have two options. You can opt the slower setting which will help to keep the filter system more long lasting or you can really filter water on the faster setting. How fast? We got a liter of water in 50 seconds on “slow” and another liter at 35 seconds on the faster setting. Now, that’s fast!
The Vario is easy enough to learn and use by reading the manual. It’s the pump handle is a simple, basic and well designed part of the pump and is probably the best water pump handle we’ve used. In short, the Vario is easy to use once you learn it but the necessary upkeep and the fear of o-rings breaking and gaskets failing may have some people (particularly those backpacking or hiking with families) a little uneasy. We can’t stress enough to make to bring extra o-rings and some water treatment pills just in case.
Group settings of experienced outdoors people. A family is fine as long as it’s not their first rodeo and they have knowledge to fix issues or find water in some other way. You can stock up on extra and replacement parts on Amazon as well.
Katadyn Vario Limitations:
It’s not a “small” filter system. In fact, it’s bulkier than most of the ones that we’ve reviewed to date. If there’s an issue with a segment (ceramic disk, filter, hand pump) then there are going to be issues unlike gravity systems that don’t require manual pumping. And, of course, the before mentioned leaking issues.
This technology has the ability to provide ease in handling with three filtration parts: active charcoal (eliminates odors), a ceramic pre-filter (adjustable to match the cloudiness of water), and a high-end glass fiber filter (cleanse the water of cysts and bacteria). Plus, the ability to change out the carbon core means it is possible to reduce pesticides, chemicals, and avoid issues with bad taste over the long run. The maximum output is stated at 2 liters per minute with an acceptable runtime for the cartridge at 1875 liters. Also, the weight of the Katadyn Vario water filter is 15 ounces and height at 6.5 inches.
- Low cost
- Fast action
- Easy to operate
- It’s pretty long
The LifeStraw personal water filter is built with no moving parts, has no batteries, and contains no chemicals.
It is ultra light at 2 ounces and great for backpackers, travelers, hikers, campers, or emergencies. This water filter has been able to meet the EPA standards for water filtration. While it has the ability to prevent contaminants at 0.2 microns or large getting through the filter system, it isn’t designed to filter taste, heavy metals, viruses, salt, or chemicals. The life expectancy of this LifeStraw personal water filter is in the region of 1000 liters – over this limit the micro filtration system will start to clog with debris. After sucking on the tube for 3-5 seconds the filtered water will start to flow.
- Great taste
- Sucking quite hard to pull the water through
The Survivor Filter Personal Water Filter is built with triple filtration (mesh, carbon filtration, and UF filtration) which has the potential to block contaminants to 0.05 microns – which is virtually 4x more effective than other personal filters rated at 0.2 microns.
The filter system is removable which makes it possible to clean or replace as needed. It is 7 inches in length and 1 inch in width, while it is light at 3.5 ounces. It is perfect for all types of outdoor activities, from backpacking, trekking, hiking to prepping or fishing. Can attach to a Dasani or Smart Water water bottle or used directly with a fresh source of water. The slow rate is reported at 7 ounces (or 200 ml) per minute.
- Easy to use
- Includes extras (paracord, firestarter, and whistle)
- Plastic parts are subject to breaking
The Survival Water Filter has the ability to remove bacteria to .1 microns and removes 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites.
It has an attached whistle and fire starter to create the most versatile piece of equipment. This personal water filter is great for outdoor activities (hunting, camping, backpacking, and hiking) and has the potential to save your life. At less than 3 ounces, the Survival water filter is light to carry and has the potential to filter up to 396 gallons of drinking water. The filtration system works on chemical-free technology for healthier drinkable water. The Survival Water Filter is a must-have item of backpacking equipment for those that love to explore the great outdoors.
- Fast filtering
- No work needed
- The filter needs a regular back wash
The Platypus 2L GravityWorks filter is an easy to use, fast acting, pump-free filtering system that has the potential to filter 1.5 liters per minute.
It is ultra-compact in size with a total weight of 7.2 ounces. It uses hollow fiber technology to meet the NSF and EPA guidelines for cleansing the drinkable water to eliminate protozoa and bacteria, such as cholera, salmonella, E. coli, cryptosporidium, and giardia. Because it has zero moving parts and minimal work to get ready, there is low risk of malfunction issues while in the wilderness. The Platypus 2L filter has a pore size of 0.2 microns with a useable lifespan of 1500 liters and ability to clean 1.75 liters per minute.
Here is an overview of the effectiveness of each water filter system:
Chemical – a chemical-based treatment can have a negative impact on the taste of the water, but will help to eliminate viruses and bacteria. Plus, it can clear microscopic parasites (cryptosporidium) but needs a long incubation period.
Filter – a filter-based treated is effective at eliminating bacteria and microscopic parasites (cryptosporidium), but not so reliable on viruses. Plus, the filter treatment is appreciated for its ability to improve on the taste of water.
Ultraviolet light – UV purifiers are effective at treating all types of harmful pathogens (bacteria, protozoa, and viruses). Ultraviolet light isn’t intended to kill the viruses and bacteria, but stops the ability to reproduce by damaging the DNA. It doesn’t impact the taste of the water. Remember to avoid leaving treated water exposed to visible light because this can cause the reactivation of the organisms.
Different Methods of Water Treatment
|Method||Protozoa||Bacteria||Viruses||How it's done|
|Boiling||Yes||Yes||Yes||Boil the water for at least 1 minute...pretty simple.|
|Filter||Yes||Yes||No||The water is strained through the filter element which is internal (by pump, gravity, or squeezing/sipping.|
|Purifier||Yes||Yes||Yes||Pretty much accomplished like the filter but with purifiers there may be a chemical element involved.|
|UV (Ultraviolet Light)||Yes||Yes||Yes||So, 90 seconds per about 32 fl. oz. of water exposed to UV light.|
*Not effective against Cryptosporidium
|Yes||Yes||Popular in the military. The iodine comes in the form of tablets, crystals or drops and dissolved in water for at least 15 to 30 minutes prior to drinking. It is important to note that this method should not be used by those with a thyroid condition or pregnant women.|
|Chlorine Dioxide||Yes||Yes||Yes||Tablet form. Once dissolved, wait 15 to 20 minutes prior to drinking.|
A primary concern relates to the weight of the backpacking water filter system. The weight varies drastically, with some light and easy to carry at 2-3-ounces, while others can go up to 24-ounces or more. The hiker’s ability to carry a loaded backpack largely depends on the activity and length of hike. A long-distance hike is certain to benefit from the compact size chemical system. For the average US-based hike, a pump or gravity fed filter is a practical solution. But for the international travel, a pump styled system with gravity filter option is a great option.
Speed (or the time it takes to treat the drinkable water) can vary significantly with the different portable water purifier systems. For instance, a filter using UV light technology can treat up to 1 liter of water per 90 seconds, while iodine tablets can take 25-30 minutes or more.
For most hikers on a backpacking trip, a fast and efficient filtration practice is certain to be the most desirable. In general the pump or gravity-fed filters are faster acting than the chemical-based alternatives – even though this method is typically small and light to pack. Ultraviolet light treatments are also fast. Plus, a gravity-fed filter is a great option for those in need of a lot of water for a group of hikers or when water is needed for cooking.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Question: Is it really necessary to filter water on the trails?
Answer: Many who read that question sit in disbelief that it was even asked. Others, though, really want to know why it’s necessary to filter water while hiking, backpacking or camping.
No matter how clean and pure water looks it can still be tainted. Any water on the planet can have microscopic pathogens (herein referred to as “little baddies”) in it.
There are recent findings, however, that water found at elevation is actually much cleaner than previously believed. That being said, why take the chance? Get a water filter for your backpack and drink with peace of mind.
Question: What’s in the water that can affect me? Is wilderness water that bad?
Answer: When it comes to water illness, you can usually blame it on one of these 3 types of little baddies:
- Protozoan Cysts: Also known as Cryptosporidium parvum and Giardia lamblia, these little baddies are real tiny. They range in size from 1 to 300 microns. Is that tiny? Well, 1 micron is equal to 1/1,000,000 (one millionth) of a meter.
- Bacteria: Range in size from 0.1 to 10 microns and include (among others):
- Escherichia coli
- Campylobacter jejuni
- Yersinia entercolitica
- Leptospira interrogans
- Viruses: It gets tinier, but not much, these little baddies range in size from 0.005 to 0.1 microns. Included in these are Hepatitis A, Norwalk Virus, enterovirus, and rotavirus.
Question: Is it possible to tell if any of these elements exist in a water source or if a water source is tainted in anyway?
Answer: If you’re a scientist with proper testing equipment, sure. Let’s put it this way: The US military has entire occupational specialty to treat water. It’s that important. Your best bet is to invest in a water treatment device, like a hiking water filter, just to be sure.