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MSR TrailShot Water Filter Review

Drinking from a MSR TrailShot Water Filter
Drinking from a MSR TrailShot Water Filter

MSR Trailshot Water Filter

Reliability
Weight
Treatment Capacity
Speed
Ease of Use

Excellent

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 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.

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 filers 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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9 comments

  1. 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).

  2. Can you please clarify this statement: “Personally, I’d rather stop once every 4 hours to filter or purify water, than every 30 minutes with the TrailShot.” Are you suggesting that the TrailShot can only be used to drink directly from the source?
    I’ve been using the TrailShot for a few months and love it. I use it to fill up my water bottles. It is faster and more convenient (to me) than my Sawyer. I am able to filter about 1L per minute without worrying if I’m going to pop a bag while squeezing. I do wish the intake hose was a bit longer, but otherwise, I think the product is great.

    • 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?

  3. Phillip, do you think this filter would gravity feed if you hooked a bag to the inlet hose and suspended them? I do this with my Sawyers….hang them on a tree and let gravity do the work in place of squeezing.

    • Maybe, but I doubt it was designed for that. I get the impression that a mechanical pumping motion is required to force the water through the filter. If you want a gravity feed, the Befree 3L probably the best way to go.

  4. 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.

  5. Does anyone know if there is a replacement top for the Trail Shot? My flipped off when I fell into a stream. I don’t see anything on the MSR or REI sites. The top is a disadvantage of this thing, as it does flip off easily.

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