What are the best water filter and purification treatment systems used by backpackers? We asked 565 backpackers whether they preferred filter-based systems, pump water filters, gravity filter systems, chemical purification or purification using an ultraviolet light. Here are their top 10 picks.
1. Sawyer Mini Water Filter System
The Sawyer Mini Water Filter System ($20) includes a filter, a 16 oz. soft bottle, a drinking straw, and a plastic syringe to backflush the filter periodically. The Mini can be screwed on standard soda bottles, the included water pouch, or used with a straw to drink directly from a water source. It’s also easy to use to create an inline or gravity filter with hydration system tubing. The Mini removes 99.99999% of all bacteria, such as salmonella, cholera and E.coli, as well as, 99.9999% of all protozoa, such as giardia and cryptosporidium. The filter is made using hollow filter technology and rated to 0.1 micron absolute. It weighs 1.3 ounces. Click for details.
2. Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System
The Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System ($49.95) includes the Sawyer Point One Water Filter, 2 x 64 ounce and 1 x 16 ounce soft bottles, a plastic syringe for cleaning, hydration system adapters, and a straw. Like the Sawyer Mini, you can drink directly from the Sawyer Squeeze but most people squeeze untreated water through it from a soft bottle to a clean container. The filter uses a hollow-fiber membrane filter that removes 99.99999% of all bacteria, such as salmonella, cholera and E.coli and removes 99.9999% of all protozoa, such as giardia and Cryptosporidium. The filter itself weighs 3 ounces. Click for details.
3. Aquamira Water Purifications Drops
Aquamira Water Treatment Drops ($15) use chlorine dioxide (used in municipal water treatment plants) to kill 99.9% of bacteria, viruses and cysts, including Cryptosporidium and Giardia. Each package of Aquamira contains two bottles, Part A and Part B, which you mix together before treating your water. The drops are effective in clear, muddy, warm and cold water and have a shelf life of five years, making them an excellent solution for international travel, hiking, backpacking, and emergency preparedness. Each Aquamira package contains enough drops to treat 30 gallons of water. Many people carry Aquamira as a backup in case their water filter breaks or for purifying a lot of water at once. Click for details.
4. Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets
Aquatabs ($9.95) kill bacteria, viruses, and giardia (but not cryptosporidium) in untreated water sources and have a 30 minute treatment time. They come in individually packaged tablets, but are also available in bulk. A 30 tablet pack can treat 60 liters of water and has a shelf life of 3-5 years, depending on the package. The active ingredient is sodium dichloroisocyanurate, a slow release form of chlorine, which imparts minimal taste and does not include iodine. Aquatabs are used by emergency services worldwide and a popular item in home emergency kits due to their widespread availability. Click for details.
5. Katadyn Hiker Pro Water Filter
The Katadyn Hiker Pro Water Filter ($85) is a pump-based filter that removes particles, protozoa and bacteria down to 0.2 microns in size, including giardia, salmonella, and cryptosporidium. It includes a pre-filter at the hose outlet, that filters to 150 microns, good for use with cloudy or sediment-filled water, that removes large contaminants before they reach the main filter to increase its life span. Quick-connect fittings permit removal of input and output hoses and the hoses also connect directly to hydration reservoirs with 0.25 in. drink tubes. The expected filter life is 1150 liters before replacement is required. Click for details. It weighs 11 ounces.
6. MSR Sweetwater Water Filter
The MSR Sweetwater Filter ($90) is a pump-based water filter that removes 99.9999% of bacteria, and 99.9% protozoa including giardia, salmonella, and cryptosporidium. It also has an 80 micro pre-filter for removing particulates, good for murky or sediment-filled water, and an activated carbon core that helps eliminate taste and odors. It has a unique lever-action pump that forces water through the filter on both up and down strokes. The Sweetwater filters up to 200 gallons and has a built-in replacement indicator that keeps track of usage. It weighs 11.5 ounces and packs down small. Click for details.
7. Platypus Gravity Works
The Platypus Gravity Works ($120) water treatment system is a gravity filter that include two x 4 liter water reservoirs, a water filter, and connecting hoses arranged in a gravity filter configuration. It’s ideal for filtering water for couples or families when you need to filter a large quantity of water quickly. The Gravity Works filter physically removes particles, protozoa and bacteria down to 0.2 microns in size, including giardia, salmonella, and cryptosporidium. Quick-disconnect valves and and a hose clamp make cleaning easy. Filtration speed is over 1 liter per minute and requires no effort once the “dirty” bag is hung.The expected filter lifetime is 1500 liters of water. The entire system weighs 10.75 ounces and stows smaller than most 1L bottles.
8. Sawyer Complete Water Treatment System
The Sawyer Complete Water Treatment System ($140) is a high-capacity gravity filtration system that removes particles, protozoa, and bacteria down to 0.10 micron in size, including giardia, salmonella, cryptosporidium. It includes 2 x 4L heavy-duty hydration reservoirs an a Sawyer Point One 0.10 Absolute Micron Water Filter. It’s a good solution for base camping or families when you need to bulk filter a lot of water at once, with a filtration speed of 1 liter per minute. Setup is simple and the system packs easily with a weight of 12 oz. Click for details.
9. SteriPEN Classic
The SteriPEN Classic ($70) uses ultraviolet light to neutralize bacteria and protozoa in your water, including giardia and cryptosporidium. The Classic takes four easy-to-resupply AA batteries which can purify up to 150 liters of water. Fast and easy to use, it purifies a half liter of water in 48 seconds or 1 liter in 90 seconds. However, a pre-filter must be used to remove any sediment because the SteriPEN is only effective in clear water. The SteriPEN Classic is also an excellent water treatment option for colder weather and even winter, when ice can damage a water filter and cold temperatures slow chemical reactions. Weighs 6.3 ounces w/ batteries. Click for details.
10. LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
The LifeStraw water filter ($20) weighs just two ounces and is extremely portable, making it an excellent option for day hikers as well as backpackers. It removes 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella and 99.9% waterborne protozoa, including giardia and cryptosporidium. While you can sip water through the LifeStraw directly from a stream or pond, most people scoop up water using a small bottle or cup. The LifeStraw can filter up to 1,000 liters. To clean the LifeStraw, blow air back through the filter to drain any residual liquid after use, effectively backflushing it. Weight: 2 ounces. Click for more details.