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10 Best Backpacking Water Filters of 2018

10 Best Backpacking Water Filters of 2018What are the best water filter and purification treatment systems used by backpackers? We asked 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 Squeeze Water Filter System

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.

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REI | Amazon

2. Sawyer Mini Water Filter System

Sawyer Mini Water Filter
The Sawyer Mini Water Filter System ($25) 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.

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REI | Amazon

3. Aquamira Water Purifications Drops

Aquamira Water Purification 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.

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REI | Amazon

4. Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets

Aquatabs Water Treatment 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.

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REI | Amazon

5. Katadyn Hiker Pro Water Filter

Katadyn Hiker Pro Clear 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. It weighs 11 ounces.

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REI | Amazon

6. Katadyn BeFree 3.0L

Katadyn Befree 3.0 water filter
The Katadyn BeFree 3.0L Water Filter ($60) can be used as a personal squeeze style filter or hung for group use as a gravity filter. It has a 0.1-micron microfilter that is EPA tested to remove protozoa (99.99%) and bacteria (99.9999%). It can filter water up to 2 liters per minute, which is very fast for this style of filter. The integrated widemouth soft bottle is easy to fill in streams and folds up compactly when not in use. Weighing 3.5 oz total, the filter alone has a life expectancy of 1000 liters. Replacement filters ($25) are available and sold separately.

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REI | Amazon

7. Platypus Gravity Works

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.

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REI | Amazon

8. LifeStraw Flex Multi-Function Water Filter System

Lifestraw Flex Water Filter System
The Lifestraw Flex ($35) is a screw-on style backcountry water filter that is compatible with a wide range of soda-sized water bottles and reservoirs. While it comes with its own 22 oz soft-bottle, you can also screw it onto standard-sized soda bottles, Platypus or Evernew reservoirs, integrate it into a hose-based hydration system, use it in a gravity filter configuration, or as a drinking straw. It’s 0.2 micron filter is EPA tested to remove 99.999999 % of bacteria and 99.999 % of parasites and includes an add-on activated carbon capsule which reduces chlorine, lead, and improves water taste. The filter has an expected lifetime of 2000 liters and weighs 3.5 oz dry.

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REI | Amazon

9. SteriPEN Classic

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.

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REI | Amazon

10. LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

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.

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REI | Amazon

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32 comments

  1. Last year you were ecstatic over the BeFree Gravity Filter system as it was so light and compact you made it your main filter system. Have you changed your mind? I bought one and it replaced my Sawyer Mini system as it is much quicker when you squeeze the bag and it has the 3 liter bag which I personally find usable.

  2. Any reason you didn’t include the MSR Trailshot? I used one cycling the Divide last year and it was faster than the Sawyer filters some people were using.

    • I view it as a niche product, mainly designed for runners or sports people who want to carry the minimum amount of water necessary. It’s a fine product, but most hikers are willing to batch filter/purify and prefer to carry water with them.

      • wow. I section-hiked the pct last summer and used the trail shot. surprised that you think its a niche product and dont agree

  3. Friar Rodney Burnap

    I am a pump filter water guy personally. I would not use a filter that does not come with a charcoal insert of some type. I believe you’re only filtering partially without charcoal. Without charcoal you’re leaving a lot of things in the water like taste chemicals and then other things you don’t want to leave in your water if you going to drink it.

  4. HI Phillip, I’ve noticed your posts on different sites as I look for a water filtration bottle to travel abroad with. I was down to two options. The Grayl and the lifesaver and I don’t see either on here. Can you tell me your opinion of these two and which you’d choose if either? I’m headed to Scotland and would like to have something for my backpack to filter drinking water.
    Thank you

    • I only post here on SectionHiker, or I have for the last 6 years or so exclusively.

      But the filter you want for Scotland is the Sawyer Squeeze. I’d take that or Aqua Mira. I’d take both. I have taken both to Scotland.
      I think the Grayl is nice, but a bit on the heavy side although it’s perfectly adequate.
      I think you mean the lifestraw. That’s ok too. Just figure out what kind of container you’ll use with it.
      They don’t make my top 10 list though.

  5. Philip, have you evaluated the Befree gravity system now? I see in a prior post you were looking into some other people’s concern and had removed it from your top list. I’m new to hiking and am in need of purchasing a purification system. I have done some research myself but since I’m new too this I have no clue as to what is best and light weight.

    • I have. I like the 3L just fine.
      But if you want something that’s easier to backflush and virtually foolproof, get the Sawyer Squeeze. There’s a reason it’s the most popular filter/purifier used by hikers

      • Philip, did you ever have a strong plastic taste with the 3L BeFree? If so, did it go away? If it did go away, was it over time and use or via some effort of yours?

      • Hmmm. Mine is lousy with it. I was hoping for a tip. Guess I’ll start with soaking the bag in a baking soda solution. It’s such a handy and lightweight piece of equipment.

  6. Sazerac,
    This is a known issue, and there’s even an FAQ on it. Pretty sad to have to do this to a brand new product, they should treat it at the factory. I returned mine, not worth the hassle for the price.

    —-
    TASTE
    Some users may initially notice a plastic-like taste when using any of our products made with TPU. This taste typically subsides over time and can be eliminated by simply squeezing juice from a lemon into the product, filling it with water, and then freezing it. After frozen, remove, thaw, and rinse.

    Bottle Bright has also been proven to resolve those having taste issues. If the problem persists, please reach out to our customer service team.

    https://hydrapak.com/support/care/

    • Thanks. I saw that, but didn’t find a whole lot else. I guess I didn’t look thoroughly. But I have run about ten bagfuls of nothing but water through it this weekend and the plastic taste has greatly reduced. I agree that it is disappointing and unacceptable that a product comes on the market with such obvious problems.

    • Every manufacturer of filters has said in the past to NOT FREEZE the filter as it would damage it. This post from hydrapak seems to be a bogus post from someone not entirely ethical.

  7. It appears the MSR Sweetwater has been discontinued. That’s a shame because I was hoping to buy one this year.

    • I’ve noticed it being marked way down at several retailers. I was hesitant to pull the trigger on it as the filter has a shorter life (200 gallons) vs several other options (1000+ gallons.) Also, I don’t know how long I’d be able to buy replacement filters (though I’d imagine that’s true with any filter choice.)

  8. Phillip; you got me curious about the problems with the BeFree 3L Gravity System’s reported problems. I just filled my unit with tap water, which incidentally in my area tastes like a barnyard puddle. The water from my filter made it taste like a High Sierra spring trickling through sunbathed rocks. I then put a cup of lemon juice and three liters of water in my bag. The water once again tasted like a spring but maybe in a high area of the AT ecosystem. Not a hint of plastic aftertaste ever since I purchased it.
    I did a filtration rate test also. Filled with 3L of water, the gravity produced 1L of water in almost exactly 8 min. Next, I filled the bag with 3L of water and this time SQUEEZED the bag continually. This method produced 1L of water in approximately 1min 40seconds.
    All in all, this system has shown me NO problems such as leaking, stink or back flushing problems and the effort required to acquire clean water is negligible if you use gravity system as you do other chores such as eat lunch or commune with Mother Nature. The squeezing of the bottle for 100 seconds to get a clean liter in your cookpot is easier than combing your hair after waking up. I’ll stick with my BeFree 3L Gravity Filter.

  9. Phil, any thoughts on the Sawyer S series of filters?

    • They sent me a bunch to review but They seem awkward for a backpacker to use. They include a filter called the Sawyer micro which is a short version of the Squeeze filter, but there’s effectively no weight savings there. I can see them being useful in extreme water pollution situations but I hike in the USA not India orAfrica.

      • My thought as well. There is an idea that the actual filter may come as an upgrade/switch out to the squeeze system.

      • I asked the Sawyer Product manager about this. He said they don’t have plans to market the “micro” as a standalone product at this time.

  10. I’ve used my Katadyn pro for over 14 years. Love it. Works great but I could really use a filter that will not freeze in the winter. I do alot of my hiking close to or below 0 and my filter freezes instantly on the first pump. Any ideas for filtering besides tablets.

  11. Not bad … for a change a test report where the products that I actually use myself all rank in the top ten. With my somewhat quirky selection of outdoor gear, in most tests, my products are otherwise usually not even featured :)

    I am using #5 (Katadyn Hiker) since 2004, and #1 (Sawyer Squeeze) since 2015. I like the form factor and versatility of the Sawyer, but I also very much like the rubber hoses of the Katadyn. In some environments, like for example the friendly giardia beaver ponds of the Adirondacks, cross-contamination between clean and raw is a very real issue, and with the Sawyer, I somehow always end up getting my hands wet with untreated water. Slipping up in your water routine happens, particularly if you are tired at the end of a long day hiking. With the Katadyn, this is much less of an issue, with the inflow separated 3ft+ from the clean end, thanks to the rubber hoses.

    For all practical purposes, both filters suck equally in the silt rich waters of the desert southwest. On a recent hike, off the Escalante Canyon, carrying the Sawyer, of every liter that I cleaned, I ended up having to use half of the clean water to backflush the filter to keep it functional. It took me a hour to get the 6 liters that I needed, but I got them all right, and that’s what finally counts.

    In the prior year, in a similar setting off the (aptly named) Dirty Devil River, I ended up rupturing and breaking off the handle on the Katadyn because the resistance of the silty water was too strong and I foolishly kept pumping. Katadyn replaced the filter for free once I was back out, but still … with the broken handle, I would have been in trouble without the Sawyer Mini (#2) that I carry as an emergency backup.

    As one more similar issue, while hiking the Florida Trail, down in Ocala NF, one of the lakes that I took water from looked clear enough, but it totally wrecked my Katadyn, and also the one of my travel companion. Field stripping and diligent cleaning didn’t make it functional again, it remained clogged. Katadyn support later said that it was “abundant microscopic plant matter” that caused the issue. No free replacement this time.

    Aquamira (#3) is what I use in addition to filtering, when the water source is particularly questionable, like a stagnant puddle in the Buckskin Gulch that had a dead blackbird in it :). I am using 5ml Topwel “Dropper” bottles that I bought off Amazon. The two tiny bottles take up no space at all in my pack, but I have been *very* happy to have them with me, on numerous occasions.

    As for stats, in spite of the filtering, treating and careful attention, I got giardia three times in the past 12yrs.
    1 x UT/Escalante (Katadyn)
    1 x NY/Adirondacks (Sawyer)
    1 x AZ/Arizona Trail (Katadyn)
    If Sawyer looks better here, it is probably because only because I’ve been using the Katadyn for more than a decade, and the Sawyer only for the past three years. In any case, your intestinal mileage might vary :).

    My bottom line so far: For serious backpacking,
    – in the northern states, where water is abundant, carry a Katadyn, Aquamira, plus a Sawyer Mini as backup
    – down south and in the dry southwest, carry a Sawyer Squeeze, Aquamira, and a Lifestraw or Sawyer mini as backup

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