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MSR TrailShot Water Filter Review

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.

Written 2017.

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17 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?

      • I trying out a Trailshot, with a 1L and 3L Nalgene Cantene (collapsible wide-mouth bottles), as my water treatment system. (The system weighs 10 ounces – only a couple ounces more that a Sawyer Squeeze with its backflush syringe and 4 liters of Evernew water bottle capacity.) After one trip, so far so good. I agree that this thing loses its shine when you have to filter more than one liter – say, when you’re making a dry camp. The first day, I filled both Cantenes with filtered water at the last stop. That was a real chore, with a pause after each liter to let the hand uncramp. The second day, not being eager to repeat the marathon pumping session, common sense set in. I pumped one liter at the water source, and filled the 3L Cantene with unfiltered water. Then, through the evening and next morning, I just dropped the hose into the 3L Cantene to filter what I needed at a given moment. I still did the same amount of pumping, but spreading it out over several hours made it feel like less of a chore.

        Having read many stories about clogging, I do carry a replacement cartridge as an ounce or so of insurance.

        I’m still a little uncertain about the lack of solid attachments to the water bottle. A collapsible container, like the Cantene, could tip or collapse, I suppose, if not placed well, and cost you some hard-won water – but so far, so good.

      • It really is for runners who don’t want to carry a bottle…

      • Hmm. Don’t agree with you. As a hiker I don’t want to carry more than a litre of water (1kg weight) at any one time if I don’t need to. The only time I will is when I have an arduous stretch of hiking where there will be no water. No point in carrying an extra 1 or 2 kg of water if you don’t need to!

  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.

  6. Bill in Roswell, GA

    I can see the usability of the Trailshot, but the 2000 liter filter life is short for those into long distance hiking. Replacement filter is $35. For LD hikes I prefer a gravity system for 3 liters at one stop.

    For bikers, runners, paddlers and fisherman the Trailshot is a wonderful tool.

  7. Based on positive reviews my friend and I both purchased this filter for our end to end hike of the Vermont Long Trail this past September. Within 3 or 4 days both of our filters failed. We could barely get a trickle from them. We both cleaned them following the instructions but their was no improvement. I cannot recommend this filter.

  8. Two of us had our own Trailshot filters and used them on the JMT. They simply did not perform to expectations at altitude and took far too long to pump 2l of water. I did figure a simpler way to prime it by removing the hose and eliminating the air from the squeeze bulb, but it simply took too long compared to the others with gravity and pump systems. Especially at the end of the day filtering 3l of water for dinner, nighttime, breakfast and the start of the next day the group would be waiting on us. I’ve since switched to a squeeze and cnoc bag.

  9. I’ve been using the TrailShot for over a year, without the issues a couple others here have reported. My only complaint is that the hose is too short. For some water sources, you need to be a contortionist the use it. MSR was not helpful at all on the phone in suggesting how to resolve this. No longer hose option directly from them, no reference to a source, not even accurate info about what I should search for (inside/outside diameter or material). I did finally find one that worked online, and now the TrailShot is the best filter ever. MSR, please increase the hose by at least 18″. You have the genesis of a great product with the TrailShot, but that (and your unwilling CSRs) are a detriment to building market share.

  10. I bought a Trailshot for a Long Trail hike last summer. It was slow, tiring, and started leaking after less than a week. My wife was meeting me in Rutland, and she brought my trusty but heavy Katahdin Hiker Pro and a Sawyer squeeze (not mini) that I had not used. I played with them, and ended up with the Sawyer, which worked well with a big Nalgene 3L canteen for campsite use. I am not ultralight, but I am lightweight, and appreciate decent quality and trustworthy equipment. MSR should stick to their proven designs in both stoves and filters. This is a piece of consumer junk, unfit for backcountry use. When I took it back, the only response from MSR was “buy a new one. There is no repair possible.” Bah.

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