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10 Best Backpacking Water Filters of 2023

10 Best Backpacking Water Filters of 2023

What are the best water filter and water purification treatment systems used by backpackers? That really depends on the quality of the water you need to filter or purify, the number of people you need to treat water for, and your personal preferences. 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)
Sawyer SqueezeSqueeze Filter100,000
Platypus QuickDrawSqueeze Filter1,000
Katadyn BeFreeSqueeze Filter1,000
Aquamira Purification DropsChemical Purification120
Platypus Gravity WorksGravity Filter1,500
Katadyn HikerPump Filter1,100
Steripen UltraUV Purification8,000
Grayl GeopressSqueeze Filter250
HydroBlu Versa FlowSqueeze Filter100,000
MSR GuardianPump Purifier10,000

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

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.

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2. Platypus QuickDraw

Platypus QuickDraw
The Platypus QuickDraw is a squeeze-style water filter that screws onto platypus bottles, reservoirs, and 28 mm pet bottles (including SmartWater bottles).  It’s sold with a 1L bottle shown here but can also be purchased by itself. The QuickDraw filter is a hollow fiber filter that physically removes, protozoa, 99.9999% of bacteria, and 99.9% of protozoa, with a flow rate of up to 3L/minute. It can be backflushed or shaken clean. Both ends of the filter can be closed between uses, preventing water from dripping over all of your gear. The weight of the filter and the bottle is 3.6 oz, while the weight of the filter alone is 2.2 oz. Read the SectionHiker review.

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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.

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4. Aquamira Water Purifications Drops

Aquamira Water Purification drops
Aquamira Water Treatment Drops use chlorine dioxide (the same stuff 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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9. 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.

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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 particulates, 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.

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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 sucks 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. This can be very handy when you can’t actually reach the water source, like down a steep embankment. They can also 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. Still, it’s one of the few options that works well for cold water when there’s a risk of freezing a filter or purifier and ruining it.

Some examples:

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  1. Is it KAT-a-dyne or kah-TAH-din?

  2. I’m quickly becoming a huge fan of the HydroBlu Versa Flow with two CNOC Vecto 3L bags. Makes a fantastic gravity filtration and water storage system at 7.8 ounces total, and requires a minimum of time investment. The inspection window and anti-leak caps are thoughtfully designed, and the HydroBlu’s ability to be an inline filter or even a straw filter makes it even more useful.

  3. Is this list in best-to-worst order? If so (having read your reviews of both) what makes you rate Sawyer best and Versaflow next-to- worst?

    • Everyone’s needs are different – so we pick the 10 best to help direct readers to the best products so they don’t waste time and money on crap. No ranking is implied.

      • I suspect most readers will see this and conclude Sawyer as ranked first, despite the Hydoblue review that says it is superior. I have been posting about this on lots of fora and social media sites for several years. At outfitter stored, i ask why they only carry the Sawyer, and make dure they know i will shop on line for filters due to their limited selection. The ubiquity of the Sawyer is a mystery.

        • It’s pretty simple. They were the first to market with a hollow fiber filter with bundled reservoirs and got the biggest market share because of it. That’s the benefit of being first. That said, they do test each filter before they sell it. Platypus is the only other manufacturer that I know of that does the same. So there is a quality benefit as well.

      • Are Aquatabs equal to Aquamira and Katadyn tablets?

  4. Thanks, Phillip; I was hoping that’s what you’d say!

    • That’s good to know. I had Cryptosporidium once, from a municipal water supply that sickened many people. it was an awful experience.

  5. You recommend the Katadyn hiker. Have you ever reviewed the hiker pro and do they both filter the same or is there a difference in filtering.

    • I’ve not reviewed the Pro, but it’s identical to the Katadyn Hiker, except for the transparent housing. Really. Hard to believe they charge more for it.

      • I like the Katadyn hiker because you can pump out of small water sources which is difficult to impossible with the bag or gravity types and is easy to pump. You can put a coffee filter over the inlet tube as a pre-filter if necessary. I also have an MSR trailshot and used it on the Colorado Trail but my experience is it can be difficult to pump. I have not had ill affects using either one.

  6. Personal ignorance – Are the Survivor line of filters inherently bad or is there a fatal flaw as to why I never see them mentioned anywhere?

    • I think it’s primarily a matter of trust before you even get to checking the specs. No one has heard of them and they’re not sold in REI.

      Incidentally, I just bought a pair of their soft bottles on Amazon to see if they’re any good. Haven’t used them yet.

  7. BeFree is only 32 g (no caps) which I think is by far the lightest. I also like the faster flow when working properly and large opening fills faster. After many years and a good amount of use mine did eventually slow down to around the speed of my Sawyer. I think my Sawyer has slowed down too, but was never near BeFree. I’d like to see actual flow rate comparison for new BeFree, Platypus, and Sawyer. The Platy claimed flow of 3L/M vs 2L/M for BeFree is compelling if that is actually true.

  8. I own the Platypus Quickdraw and absolutely love it. I have not been able to compare it to others because I just got started hiking this year and this is the only filter I have bought. In my opinion it is quick and does a great job. Took it on a 3 day trip on the AT from Three Forks to Hawk Mtn and filtered water for me and my senior aged cousin. Took no time at all to filter 4 liters of water.

  9. tried different squeeze filters and they didn’t relly suit. I ended up with a katadyn vario..Ueah it is heavier but it screws directly on to a big mouth bottle or bag, is fast and it takes out all those tannins. I know ir is just cosmetic but having clear water rather than filtered water that resembles tea is a bit of a psychological boost sometimes.
    The speed means I carry a smaller bottle and filter when needed which offsets the weight. It is also handy for hikingbwith others.

  10. Hiking in the southeast, a BeFree (or similar filter) is great while hiking because of the pretty reliable availability of water right along the trail. I’ve begun using the BeFree and Aquamira on trips, with the AM for in-camp treatment. I also have a Guardian, largely for home emergency use. But I used it last October in southeast Utah and because of flash flooding, the water was amazingly muddy. Eventually, the Guardian clogged – it’s self-cleaning ability was overwhelmed. Not the fault of the filter, though. Just something to keep in mind. I wasn’t prepared to strain my water before filtering.

  11. I own 5 of these filters and use is based on assumed quality of source. For a sobering treatise on water purification, I recommend watching the YouTube videos of the Gear Skeptic. It will take a couple hours but the quickest summary is those 9’s to the right of the decimal point are important. As backcountry usage and urban development increase, I think those parts per million of unwanted organisms will only increase and past success of a filter of choice may not continue. Off topic, I don’t get obsession of saving a minute or two filtering and boiling water. Most times, what’s the hurry?

    • Crypto comes from human feces. As humanity expands into the countryside, there will be more human waste leeching into the water supply. That’s when you should think about purification methods, not just filters. Purification: chlorine dioxide tablets, steripen, or pump purifier. Take your pick.

  12. I use the Sawyer Mini and Squeeze filters. They’re easy to use.

    But, if you want a good filter and feel good about your purchase then you should know, that Sawyer has donated over 1 million Squeeze filters to over 80 developing countries throughout the world. They work with non-profit groups to setup and train villagers to use the Squeeze in combination with 5-gallon buckets to provide clean drinking water.

  13. A good list. Our scout group is doing a 5-day backpacking trip on Isle Royale N.P. in late May. The NPS recommends a water filter + chemical treatment or water filter + UV treatment.

  14. There is no Sawyer that really EVER got 100,000 liters of use. Every one of these lightweight filters, either Sawyer, BeFree ect dies very early even with perfect use and seemingly pristine clear alpine streams. Honestly I always take an extra BeFree as a backup, and more times than not, end up needing it on long trips. I did hear of a guy who made a Sawyer last a whole AT thruhike, but don’t count on it. Be realistic. It’s a series of tiny filter tubes with near microscopic pores. Thus it WILL clog. My issue is if I don’t use it for 3-4 months (usually don’t winter section hike), these micro-filters dry out and without a LOT of white vinegar and hot water rehab, are unusable. Just wanted to reiterate what you have indicated in other articles. For me, just way too many failures over many years to rely on just one filter unless it’s a short weekender trip.

  15. Just returned from Bhutan. I regularly trek the backwaters of the world. The “ancient” water purifier, First Need Elite by General Ecology, has served as my clean water supplier for twenty years.

    The First Need does have its liabilities such as expense, bulkiness and weight. Yet it’s fast and actually purifies dirty, even dangerous-to-drink, raw water. I’ve obtained great tasting water from rice paddies and kludged ponds or contaminated rivers and never gotten sick from the purified water (local foods often).

    I am not alone among First Need fans when I ask the question, as a non-compensated, non-shill, why the First Need appears completely overlooked in comparisons of backpacking/emergency water purifiers? It truly seems like the product has disappeared from the conversation and we don’t know why.

    My suspicion is that when the company revised its published data from .1m to .4m “absolute” purification standard, folks dropped the product. In fact, I held several conversations with GE’s technical staff, who assured me the product hasn’t changed nor lowered its technical compliance with standards but the way the certification authorities re-worded their standards compelled company lawyers to change the published description. The product still purifies and not merely filters water according to these employees and I believe them.

    Anybody here know why the First Need isn’t discussed? Still curious after all these years.

    • I’d honestly use an MSR Guardian. It automatically backflushes itself as you pump and it uses a filter that people can comprehend. I’ve used a First Need pretty extensively myself before hollow fiber filters hit the scene and a glass matrix is a lot harder to comprehend and trust.

      • The continual backflushing technology is an aspect of excellence with the Guardian. However, it’s the Guardian being unable to even coarsely filter out non-biologic, chemical pathogens such as mine tailing arsenic and other heavy metals, petrochemicals, hormones, SSRIs, ill wishes and hexes, -cides, Deet, etc. that was a dealbreaker for me. Guardian even weighs more although granted some of this weight is continual backflush tech related. First Need backflushes but not continually, you must open a port, close a cover, and pump while water shoots along a cleansing pathway to remove prospective clogs.

        MSR, and I own their products, Guardian has zero activated carbon or charged surfaces. First Need does. Guardian raw water goes from 1 to 0.1 in a single, hollow tube purifying step. First Need raw water, ignoring sand pre-filter, goes from 1 to 0.4 “glass matrix” but then additionally from 0.4 to 0.1 activated carbon and charged surfaces such that most anything even considerably smaller than 0.1m is charged but the mass is low and thus the “plates” attract and adhere the particles permanently thereby removing them from your drinking/cooking/bathing water. The result is cleaner water but diminished purifying cartridge life in comparison with technology like the Guardian.

        Not appealing to authority as a cope here, but I am an active patent and federal trial attorney who argues technological distinctions frequently and I have the terminal degree fluff credentials and even outdoors useful credentials (blech). I am going to respectfully disagree with your reasoning despite this site is your operation, which is brilliant, just outta preference, custom and this and that technical knowledge. Hope to buy you cocktails someday after a great trip.

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