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MSR TrailShot Water Filter Review


The MSR TrailShot Water Filter is a highly compact and portable water filter that lets you drink directly from natural water sources like streams, rivers, lakes and ponds. It has an unusual design that’s a lot like a water fountain (with a built-in water filter) so you can hydrate on the go without having to carry a water bottle or hydration reservoir. Users who can benefit the most from the TrailShot include trail runners, ultralight backpackers, fishermen, and boaters.

MSR Trailshot Water Filter

Treatment Capacity
Ease of Use

Wilderness Water Fountain

The MSR Trailshot Water Filter is a highly portable backcountry water filter that has a water fountain spout so you can drink on the go without having to carry a water bottle. This makes it perfect for trail running and fast and light hiking when you want to carry as little gear as possible.

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The TrailShot has three components

  • A special squeeze bulb with a drinking spout that contains the filter element
  • A 16 inch hose
  • A pre-filter to remove particulates before they reach the filter element

When you want to drink some water, you stick the pre-filter end of the hose in the water and start squeezing the transparent bulb. This draws water up the hose to a comfortable height and pumps it through the filter. If you want to sip from the drink spout directly, simply remove the cap and aim the water at your mouth or slurp it like a water fountain. I’d caution you against touching your mouth to the drink spout because there is the potential for of cross-contamination if the drink spout gets wet from the hose or pre-filter when the unit is folded up and stuffed in a pocket. You can also use the TrailShot to fill water bottles, or reservoirs directly without removing them from your pack if your hose diameter fits into the TrailShot’s drink spout.

The MSR TrailShot is a lot like a waterfountain with a built-in water filter
The MSR TrailShot is a lot like a water fountain with a built-in water filter

The TrailShot uses the fast-flowing hollow-fiber water filter technology that has revolutionized water filters over the past several years and is used in other filters such as the Katadyn BeFree and the Sawyer Squeeze.

The TrailShot is rated to remove 99.99999% of bacteria and 99.9% or protozoa (giardia and cryptosporidium.) It has a flow rate of 1 liter per minute in ideal circumstances if you can keep squeezing your hand fast enough without tiring. The weight of the unit is 5.2 ounces and it’s easy to stuff it into a small pocket if you don’t mind the residual water in the filter dripping over stuff.

To clean the pre-filter, simply unscrew it and rinse out the tiny screen inside. To clean the filter inside the squeeze bulb section, pump it full of water and shake it vigorously. Then remove the hose and let the water pour out. This is easy to quickly do in the field, without the need to carry a separate syringe for backflushing.

I’ve been using the TrailShot for over 6 months, primarily when I go fly fishing on streams and small rivers. I like the freedom of drinking directly from a stream using the TrailShot without having to carry any additional containers. I’m literally standing in the water for hours at a time, so it seems silly to lug around bottles of the stuff or a hydration pack.

If you’re a hiker, there’s always a trade-off between the convenience of carrying water and resupplying more frequently. Personally, I’d rather stop once every 4 hours to filter or purify water, than every 30 minutes with the TrailShot. But if you’re obsessed with moving as fast as possible and only carrying what you need, I’d encourage you try the MSR TrailShot Water Filter. It’s a very different way to think about water resupply for highly mobile activities.

Disclosure: The author received a sample of this product for review.

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  1. I wrote “You can also use the TrailShot to fill water bottles, or reservoirs directly without removing them from your pack if your hose diameter fits into the TrailShot’s drink spout.”

    I don’t believe this product is really designed for hikers or for people who need to filter 2-3 liters at a time. It’s best used by highly mobile athletes who are in a big hurry and *maybe* carry very small water bottles in vests. While you can use it for refilling water bottles for hiking, I think a BeFree 3L, BeFree 1L, Sawyer Squeeze and better solutions for hikers because you can filter more water with less effort and they include the ability to transport water if you don’t need to use it right away. For example, the BeFree 3L filters water is just as fast without mechanical pumping, can be cleaned by shaking, includes a water bottle and is ideal for filling other containers. You can also put a cap on it so it doesn’t leak water all over your other gear. Though the form is different, the TrailShot is basically a pump filter. Remember pump filters?

  2. I have been using the Trail Shot for a couple of months now and I am very happy with it, even though it sometimes takes a bit of fiddling to get it pumping well. It has replaced my Sawyer Squeeze Mini as I find the the Trail Shot much easier to work with (I always found the Sawyer’s squeeze bags to be a hassle and a weak point in my hydration system).

  3. I was going to upgrade from an oh-so-slow Sawyer Mini to a Squeeze but ended up purchasing a TrailShot instead. I just used it for the first time on a three-day backpacking trip — it was great! The TrailShot was faster and simpler than the Mini. Even though it is heavier, I appreciated that my hands stayed dry (no more numb hands!) and I didn’t have to bother with a flat plastic squeeze bottle-bags (not easy to fill, especially from shallow springs) or a backflushing syringe.

  4. I’d had an MSR tent for years, and it’s amazingly cool. So I thought, “Their filters must be great, too”. Big mistake. The third time using this filter in my mountain trip, the filter slipped out of the body. The design is straightforward: the filter with a flexible rubber membrane (to pump) inside the body (the casing). That’s it. So the filter popped out, resulting in all the water spilling before reaching the tube. But I really needed to drink. Sometimes it happens — you get thirsty 20 km away from the outposts of civilization. The Ecologically Pure Water from a Pristine Mountain River did not look very clean to me, you know. Frog eggs, suspended solids and stuff. So I had to insulate this newly-formed gap with whatever I had in my backpack. A polyethylene bag was there, luckily. So I spent twenty (20) minutes trying to stick a circular piece of polyethylene correctly in that gap to insulate it and have the water going. Success, at last. Oh joyful moment. But I also had to press down the filter HARD down into the casing, in addition to the plastic film, while pumping. Now, with only 50% of water spilling (instead of 100%), I spent forty (40) minutes filling a 3-liter hydration pack.
    Don’t waste your money and time.

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