10 Best Backpacking Water Filters of 2020

10 Best Backpacking Water Filters and Purification Systems

What are the best water filter and water purification treatment systems used by backpackers? That really depends on your preferences, the quality of the water you need to filter or purify, and the number of people you need to treat water for. For example, squeeze-style water filters, UV purification, and filter bottles tend to be good for solo users and clear water sources, while chemical purification and pump filters/purifiers are good for larger groups and riskier or murkier water sources. Cost and filter longevity are also worth considering.

Make / ModelTypeLifetime (in Liters)Price
Sawyer SqueezeSqueeze Filter100,000$35
HydroBlu Versa FlowSqueeze Filter100,000$24
Katadyn BeFreeSqueeze Filter1,000$40
Aquamira Purification DropsChemical Purification120$15
Platypus Gravity WorksGravity Filter1,500$110
Katadyn HikerPump Filter1,100$70
Steripen UltraUV Purification8,000$110
Grayl GeopressSqueeze Filter250$90
MSR Miniworks EXPump Filter2,000$90
MSR GuardianPump Purifier10,000$350

Here are the 10 best backpacking water filters and water purification systems we recommend for backpacking, hiking, and camping in 2020.

1. Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System

The Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System  includes the Sawyer Squeeze Filter, two 32 fl. oz. pouches, a cleaning coupling and additional accessories for gravity and inline use. 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. Read the SectionHiker review.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

2. HydroBlu Versa Flow Water Filter

Hydroblu Versa Flow Water Filter
The HydroBlu Versa Flow Water Filter can be used as an inline, gravity, squeeze, or straw filter without requiring the purchase of additional syringes, connectors, adapters, or replacement gaskets; it’s compatible with all standard 28mm soda bottles and reservoirs including the CNOC Vecto; it comes with color-coded end caps to keep the intake and output spouts clean; it doesn’t leak between uses, and it has a transparent inspection window so you can determine when it needs to be cleaned. The Versa Flow 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria such as salmonella, cholera, and E.col and 99.9% of protozoa including Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Read the SectionHiker review.

Check out the latest price at:
HydroBlu | Amazon

3. Katadyn BeFree Water Filter

Katadyn BeFree Water Filter
The Katadyn BeFree Water Filter can be used as a squeeze filter or hung for group use as a gravity filter if you purchase the 3L version. 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. An integrated wide-mouth soft bottle, available in three different sizes, 0.6L, 1 liter, and 3 liters, 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. Read the SectionHiker review.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

4. Aquamira Water Purifications Drops

Aquamira Water Purification drops
Aquamira Water Treatment Drops 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 several liters of water at once. Read the SectionHiker review.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

5. Platypus Gravity Works

Platypus Gravity Works
The Platypus Gravity Works water treatment system is a gravity filter that includes 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 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. Read the SectionHiker review.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

6. Katadyn Hiker Water Filter

Katadyn Hiker Water Filter
The Katadyn Hiker Water Filter is a pump-based filter that removes particulates, 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, which removes large contaminants before they reach the main filter and increase its life span. Quick-connect fittings permit removal of input and output hoses: 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. The Hiker weighs 11 ounces.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

7. Steripen Ultra UV Water Purifier

Steripen Ultra UV Water Purifier
The Steripen Ultra is a water purifier that uses ultraviolet light to neutralize bacteria, protozoa, and viruses that can make you ill. The Ultra is USB rechargeable and fits in narrow or wide-necked bottles. It’s also one of the best solutions for purifying cold water, which will create tiny holes in most filters if it freezes when the filter element is damp in cold weather, thereby destroying them. To use it, you simply dip it in a container of water and stir, until an indicator lamp signals that the water is purified, after about 90 seconds. Weighing just 4.94 ounces, the Steripen Ultra has a UV lamp life of 8000 uses.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

8. Grayl GeoPress Water Purifier Bottle

Grayl Geopress

The Grayl GeoPress is a bottle-based water purifier that removes Protozoa, Bacteria, and Viruses from water sources. The GeoPress has an outer bottle and an inner bottle, with a filter at one end and a drinking spout with a screw-on top at the other. To use it, you pull the inner bottle out of the outer bottle, fill the outer bottle up with suspect water, and then push the inner bottle into the outer bottle like you would a french press. When finished, you can carry your purified water and sip it directly from the bottle for added convenience or decant it to a different container. Read the SectionHiker review.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

9. MSR Miniworks EX Water Filter

MSR Miniworks Water Filter
The MSR Miniworks EX is a pump style water filter that screws onto wide-mouth Nalgene bottles and soft canteens. While the MiniWorks is heavier than simpler squeeze-style water filters, it’s a better solution for filtering turbid, cloudy, or tannic water sources like snowmelt, spring thaw, or algae-infested ponds and turning them into clear and pleasant tasting water. That’s because the Miniworks is a three-stage filter, with a pre-filter that removes larger solids, a ceramic filter to remove microorganisms, and a charcoal filter to remove unpleasant odors and tastes. Weighing 17 ounces, the Miniworks has an output of 1 liter per minute and filters out contaminants down to 0.2 microns in size. The expected filter lifetime is 2000 gallons. Replacement filters are also available. Read the SectionHiker review.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

10. MSR Guardian Purifier

MSR Guardian Water Purifier

The MSR Guardian is the most sophisticated and effective water purifier available today. Self-cleaning, it has a high flow rate and generates remarkably good tasting water. While it is an excellent tool for backcountry use and international travel to countries with suspect water, it’s also quite a nice product to have on hand for emergency preparedness at home. The Guardian physically removes viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and particulate, including hepatitis A, E. coli, giardia, and cryptosporidium, and has a pore size of 0.02 microns. Weighing just 17.3 ounces, the Guardian has a self-cleaning filter that constantly purges itself while you filter water so you never have to backflush or scrub the filter element. It also has an exceptionally high flow rate of 2.5L per minute, making it ideal for individual or small group use. Read the SectionHiker review.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

How to Choose a Backpacking Water Filter or Purifier

Many natural water sources contain microscopic organisms that can cause illness in humans. Most water filters intended for backcountry use will remove bacteria and protozoa, including giardia and cryptosporidium from these water sources. This is usually sufficient in the United States, Canada, and the UK. Viruses, often found in international water sources, are hard to remove because they are so small. Finer grained filters called purifiers are needed to remove them. They also can be neutralized with chemical purification agents such as chlorine dioxide or ultraviolet light.

There are a wide number of different water filter and purifier types available. Unfortunately, none of them are foolproof or perfectly suited for all kinds of trips and locales. They also differ in ease of use, the length of time it takes for them to process water, and whether they’re good for solo or group use. Here’s a brief summary of the different types and their strengths and weaknesses, with several examples to illustrate the available products in each category.

Squeeze Water Filters

Squeeze filters are single-stage filters that are good for removing bacteria and protozoa, but not viruses. They’re best used with clear water sources that are low in particulates and suspended organic matter to prevent clogging. Processing speed depends on the size of the “dirty” water bottle coupled with the filter and how much pressure the user exerts to push water through it. However, squeeze filters typically slow down with use and must be back-flushed with a cleaning syringe regularly to maintain their flow rate. Some examples:

Gravity and Inline Water Filters

Gravity water filters make it possible to process larger quantities of water at once using the power of gravity. A large water reservoir, called “the dirty bag” is hung from a tree with a hose leading to a water filter. The output of the filter flows out another hose to a clean reservoir, called the “clean bag.” A squeeze style, single-stage filter is typically used. Gravity filters are good for couples and small groups. An inline water filter uses a similar setup, but the user suck on the output hose rather than running it to a clean bag. Some examples:

Bottle and Straw Water Filters

Bottle and straw filters usually use the same single-stage, hollow fiber filters used by squeeze, gravity, and inline water filter systems. The user sucks water stored in a bottle or directly from the water source through the filter, rather than transferring it to secondary storage. They are best used by individuals in places where water is abundant. Some examples:

Pump Water Filters and Purifiers

Pump water filters filter out bacteria and protozoa, while pump water purifiers can also remove viruses. They have hand pumps that force water through the filter and out to secondary storage for future use. While pump filters do require some elbow grease to operate, they usually filter water quite quickly and are suitable for use by couples as well as individuals. Most have a pre-filter at the end of the hose that you drop into the water source to remove particulates and organic matter. They can be cleaned and replacement filters are usually available. Some examples:

Chemical Water Purification

Chemical water purifiers are available in tablet or liquid form. The best chemical ingredient is chlorine dioxide, which has virtually no taste or color and kills bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. Chemical purification is best used by individuals rather than couples or groups because it takes anywhere from 15 minutes to 4 hours to fully purify water, far longer than other methods. While it is very lightweight, it is relatively expensive when compared to other methods. Many hikers carry chlorine dioxide as a backup to a second primary filter or purification method, as a result. Some examples:

Ultraviolet Light Water Purification

Ultraviolet Light is an effective form of water purification that neutralizes bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. It is best used with clear water since it doesn’t remove any particulates or organic matter. While UV purification is relatively fast, it’s not good for processing large quantities of water. It also depends on working batteries, which can run out of power. Some examples:

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  1. would love to see some light weight carbon filtration solutions.. even if they’re inline adaptors to some of the filters in this list. it’s my understanding they help cut out farming chemicals/pesticides and generally improve taste.. something not to be sneezed at if it’s your second week drinking from cattle ‘ponds’

    • Both the MSR Miniworks and the Grayl Geopress (both above) have activated carbon components to improve taste and the Grayl is particularly effective in removing chemicals.

      • The Katydyn Hiker has an “Activated-carbon core” which apparently “absorbs chemicals and pesticides to improve taste of water” You have to flush the loose carbon on first use. As to what protection it actually provides from chemicals I couldn’t say but the water always tasted good from it. The sources I was filtering were pretty clean though so ymmv. It is fairly light weight at 11oz but replacement filters are expensive at around ~$40 . Even though it is a bit heaver compared to a Squeeze it might be a better choice to take where agricultural run off is an issue.

    • There is also the Water-to-go line of products that does chemical contaminants filtration and would deserve to be more mentioned around. They use a 3-in-1 filter technology with mechanical filtration, electrical action and integrated activated carbon to not only remove bacterias but also viruses and most chemical contaminants. It is pretty impressive to compare the difference in taste with just tap water for example, with all the chlorine filtered out and no “mouldy” taste.
      Originally it was designed to provide safe water in India and I have never had an issue since I started using it. Available in the US as well as Europe (they were UK based I think).

      • Same technology used in the Grayl listed here and the Rapidpure line of water purifiers sold by Adventure Medical at REI. The nice thing a=bout it is that it can withstand at least 1 round of accidental freezing.

  2. First Need water purifier by General ecology has been my choice for backpacking for the last 14 years. They may be bulky and weight a bit more than the others’ but has never fail me on any trip. I do run two pre-filters inline which help the longevity of the purification canister, which should be done with all purifiers and filters. MSR Silt Stopper pre-filters were a good choice, but they stopped selling them for some unknown reason. Clean water is very important in the backcountry, cause getting sick out there definitely ruins the adventure.

    • The first water filter I ever bought was from General Ecology. In fact, I still have it tucked away in my water filter/purifier museum. It is a great filter but bulky and you had to worry about bottle compatibility when using it. I don’t really need a purifier where I hike (I usually have very clean mountain water) and have never gotten sick with some of the smaller filters I’ve used a lot in recent years including the hydroblu, the sawyer squeeze, and the Be Free.

  3. I’ve been using Aquamira for years but I always think that I should get a filter. Then I read your review of the Hydroblu Versa and I was convinced that it was better than the Sawyer Squeeze since you said it was larger, faster, simpler, and cheaper. I am considering buying one for the spring but I am surprised that you ranked it below the Sawyer Squeeze in this list. Do the numbers 1-10 here represent a ranking or could they just as well have been bullet points in a list?

    • They could have just been bullets on the list. Everybody has different needs when it comes to filters. Some people need to filter for a group, some for only 1 person. Some people need to kill viruses, others not, and so on. I like the HydroBlu because it’s less expensive than a Sawyer and can be used in so many different configurations without the need to pay for extra attachments. It also doesn’t need a syringe for cleaning, and of course, it’s fast.

  4. Like to see the HydroBlu getting some attention. I really like having it threaded on both ends. Makes backflushing and inline filtering so easy.

  5. If buying a Sawyer Squeeze get the “Faucet Adapter” version currently about $25 on Amazon then add a Sawyer SP150 coupling and a CNOC Vectro bag. That way you won’t be buying a bunch of stuff you don’t need. I also suggest getting some Camco 20183 1″ Hose Filter Washers to replace the washer between the squeeze bag and the filter. This should keep larger particles out of the filter. You need spare washers anyway since you will lose them and the Squeeze doesn’t work without one.

    Optionally get a Sawyer SP110 Inline Hydration Pack Adapter which you can combine with the tube from the faucet kit to make a more effective gravity feed system. It’s cheap vinyl tube so you need a zip tie to seal it on the barb but I found this worked better than the squishy tube that comes with other Sawyer packages because it can rotate while still staying sealed making it easier to attach the filter to a full Vectro bag.

    • Or you could just by a Hydroblu Versa and not have to buy any of that extra crap.

      • Fair point but it looks like you still need the Vectro and technically the other parts I suggested are optional.

      • Also to be fair the Sawyer Squeeze SP129 package includes all the bits for an equivalent gravity setup to the Hydroblu Versa package. The Versa only adds a tube closure clip which is nice but unnecessary. SP129 now includes the back flush coupler to allow you to attach the clean water bottle. My suggested alternative setup using the SP182 package gets the Squeeze a bit cheaper and imo better than the stock Sawyer setup assuming you are going to use a CNOC Vectro which is why I thought it was worth mentioning.

        The Hydroblu Versa does appear to beat the Sawyer Squeeze on price and I like its features. However it does seem to have a couple of “cons”…

        1) As with the Sawyer it doesn’t come with a good backcountry water gathering tool and you have to buy the CNOC Vectro for a practical system.

        2) To use the popular Smart water bottles as a dirty water or backfllush bottle you have to find a washer that can provide a good seal. While it seems you can use other disposable bottles, the Smart water bottles are popular for their oddly convenient shape and durability. I see no reason you can’t use Smart bottles as clean water containers but the incompatibility is annoying for US users.

        3) It is not clear to me how you use the Versa as a “straw” with a bottle as a reservoir which is a very popular way to use the Squeeze. There doesn’t appear to be a way to connect one of those sport bottle caps. The Squeeze comes with a push pull one but I like the much nicer soft nozzle flip top kind come “free” with some bottled water. The Versa’s built in capped tube seems an imperfect substitute if that is the intent. I haven’t tried the Versa yet so it may be less of an issue than I think.

        4) Like the Sawyer SP129 the Hydroblu gravity package comes with a couple of bladders you are probably not going to use if you buy a CNOC Vectro and use disposable bottles. I suppose you might carry one for an impromptu extra water carry if you suddenly decided to dry camp but you can carry dirty water in the CNOC for the same effect. Unlike the Sawyer, the bags are almost free so this is less annoying but it’s still extra clutter in the “too good to throw away but honestly I will never use” gear box we all have.

  6. Thanks Philip, the amount & quality of content you generate is mind-numbing. I wasn’t sure where to post this but I found it helpful in designing a compatible water ecosystem. Hope it helps. Credit Vecto. Steve H

    …. we wanted the Vecto to work well with as many threads as possible. Despite the “28mm neck” claims of so many filters, in reality, they often end up having different threads. Even more frustrating, the thread can sometimes be different for each product. To solve that, we opted for a hybrid of threads to provide the most options for you when in the field: The Vecto uses thread shape from the ISBT PCO 1823 and fits them on the PCO 1817. This allows it to use the pressure seal of the PCO while working with SP threads (that are thin) like the PCO 1823.

    Just to give some context, here are some of the threads out there:
    • Cola bottle: PCO 1881
    • Old Cola bottle: PCO 1810
    • SmartWater bottle: PCO 1817
    • Sawyer collapsible bottle: SP 415
    • Platypus bottles: SP 400 (old), SP 410 (new)
    • Evernew bottles: SP 415
    • Sawyer mini filter: SP 410
    • Sawyer Squeeze filter: SP 415
    • HydroBlu Versa Flow: SP 425

    The above makes you wonder, why do the SmartWater bottles work so well with the Sawyer filters but not the HydroBlu? Simple: the PCO 1817 has thicker threads that won’t fit well into the HydroBlu’s thinner grooves. This is why we used the thinner threads of the PCO 1881 on the 1817 shape, so they both fit!

    Last Note About Threads and Vectos
    The one thing we have heard the most from you is that you find the Vecto’s threads to be too soft to get a good seal with some filters, mainly the Sawyer Mini. The reason for this problem is that the Mini has the oddest thread of them all (it works well with old soda bottles) but works well with everything else. To solve this, we are increasing the density of materials on the neck so you can use more torque to seal the Mini on properly.
    All available Vectos are now updated according to your feedback: they feature a stiffer and longer neck that allows all filters, caps and hoses with a 28mm thread to connect securely. We are proud that we can make a product that actually fits everyone’s needs.

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