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10 Best Backpacking Water Filters of 2019

10 Best Backpacking Water Filters and Purification Systems

What are the best water filter and purification treatment systems used by backpackers? We asked backpackers whether they preferred squeeze-style water filters, pump water filters, gravity filter systems, chemical purification or purification using an ultraviolet light. We surveyed 1275 hikers in 2019 to ask them what water filters and treat methods they prefer. We found that 80% of them use just 10 different makes and models, which we list below, together with their average satisfaction ratings on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most favorable.

Make / ModelPercentageRatingTypePrice
Sawyer Squeeze29.2%4.3Squeeze Filter$40
Sawyer Mini16.3%4.1Squeeze Filter$20
Katadyn BeFree7.5%4.4Squeeze Filter$45
Aquamira Water Treatment Drops5.3%4.5Chlorine Dioxide$15
Platypus Gravity Works5.3%4.3Gravity Filter$110
Katadyn Hiker4.9%4.4Pump Filter$70
Steripen Ultra3.9%4.4UV Purification$110
MSR Trailshot 3.3%4.1Squeeze Filter$50
MSR Miniworks EX2.5%4.3Pump Filter$90
Sawyer Micro1.9%4.3Squeeze Filter$29

Why does it matter what water filters and purifier methods other backpackers use? Your hiking peers have very similar needs as you. That doesn’t mean that you have to use the same water filters as everyone else, but it gives you a good place to start looking if you’re thinking about buying a new water filter or trying out chemical or ultraviolet water purification.  So, don’t just take our word for it. Here are the 10 best backpacking water filters and water purification systems recommended by other hikers and backpackers in 2019.

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. Sawyer Mini Water Filter

Sawyer Mini Water Filter
The Sawyer Mini Water Filter System 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. Read the SectionHiker review.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | 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 widemouth 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 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 a 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. MSR TrailShot Water Filter

MSR Trailshot water Filter
The MSR TrailShot is a handheld pump water filter that you squeeze with one hand to draw water up through the hose and through the filter. Clean water comes out the other end, much like a water fountain, although you can also capture it in a water bottle for future use. While the primary filter is a hollow fiber style filter, limited to bacteria and protozoa removal, the TrailShot also has a pre-filter at the end of the hose to remove particulates and organic matter. The Trailshot is best used as a single person filter for processing smaller quantities of water, because squeezing the pump is tiring for any length of time. It’s ideal for people like runners who don’t want to be burdened by carrying water bottles. 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 snow melt, 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 by 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. Sawyer Micro Water Filter

Sawyer Micro Water Filter System
The Sawyer Micro Water Filter is virtually identical to the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter, except that the filter weighs 2 ounces or 1 ounce less than its big brother. Being smaller, the flow rate is slightly slower, but still faster than the Sawyer Mini. The Micro filter is rated for 100,000 gallons and includes 32-ounce reusable squeeze pouch, drinking straw, cleaning coupling, spare gasket, and cleaning plunger. If you already own the larger Sawyer Squeeze, there’s no real reason to replace it with the Micro.

Check out the latest price at:
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 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, protzoa, and viruses. Chemical purification is best used by individuals rather than couple 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:

Methodology

How do we know what the top 10 best water filters and purification systems are? We survey our large readership to ask. If you’d like to participate in our surveys, be on the look up for the gear raffles we run every few weeks on SectionHiker, where we give survey participants a chance to win. Or sign up to the weekly, award-winning SectionHiker newsletter, so you never miss out on an opportunity to participate. We hate spam, so we’ll never share your email with anyone else and you can unsubscribe at any time.

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16 comments

  1. I wonder about boiling as a method. I would appreciate you sharing your experience.

    • I only boil in winter in conjunction with melting snow, so usually with a fairly heavy liquid fuel stove. If you’re hiking and backpacking, it’s also rather inconvenient to stop every time you run out of water to boil a few more liters. It’s the same reason most people don’t cook their lunches at mid-day. The other filtering and purification methods are much faster.

  2. It isn’t popular enough to score highly on your survey, but some of my ultralight friends use ordinary (unscented) laundry chlorine bleach drops to purify water, being very careful to get the concentration correct.

  3. Why does the list refer to the “Sawyer Point One” and not the “Sawyer Squeeze “, that confused me. Oh well.

  4. Most of the filters don’t remove virus. Is that not a concern on most trails?

    • Not in the United States, Canada, or the UK. Where are you hiking?
      As for purification (which includes viruses) aquamira and steripen’s take care of that.
      You can also buy a type of filter that removes viruses, which is called a purifier. The MSR guardian is the best one available.
      https://www.rei.com/product/891193/msr-guardian-purifier

    • Correct me when i’m wrong, but as far as i know virusses are mostly species-specific, at least in temperate and boreal climat zones. So killing virusses in water is mainly needed in area’s where water could be soiled by human waste (like near designated campgrounds, downstream villages etc. When it’s only animal life surrounding you, virusses shouldn’t be a concern and cleaning water then is about removing bacteria and protozoa.

      Can anyone back that up?

      • Thanks for the info Philip and Ralph. I’ve been to a lot of underdeveloped countries, so try to get the virus too. In ths USA, I suspect that enough humans don’t follow the rules for keeping waterways clean of human waste. So I just assume that water just about everywhere I hike has human virus’ in it. Might be overboard. Usualy use aquamira. Sometimes filter first to remove the protazoa that extends the treatment time from 15 minute up to 4hrs for the chlorine dioxide to kill them and their cysts.

      • Well, currently Norovirus, which is extremely hard to kill, is making the rounds on sections of the AT. Having had Norovirus, I can’t fathom having it while hiking.

      • You don’t get it from drinking bad water. You get it from touching something that someone else with noro touched.

  5. Filter Schmilter! My “filter” is a #1 coffee filter in a little funnel. Haven’t used a filter in 15 years. too much weight & no good for winter camping. (They freeze)

    My PURIFIERS are:
    1. Katadyn chlorine dioxide tablets (for hydration bladder/hose)
    2. Steripen Adventurer

    If I was hiking in the tropics, Philippines, for example, then I would use an EPA certified purification filter AND Katadyn tablets.

  6. Philip, your in my age group so I have an age related question.
    I’m 63 and last March I suffered a heart attack while backpacking on the Quachita Trail. I had to hike the last two hours stumbling from tree to tree. I had to get up to a higher elevation to get communication coverage and was successful in reaching my wife and putting in motion a rescue. Next day after a helicopter retrieval I had an open heart double bypass surgery and a month later I had a defibrillator pacemaker installed.
    I am now walking 3 miles a day and watching my diet. In another month I plan to add my backpack to my hike with 20 lbs in it. Level ground for the first two months and then add some changing elevation.

    Have you had the opportunity to talk with other outdoorsman who have had similar issues and if so how has that worked out for them?

  7. I recently got a Hydroblu Versa Flow Filter that I really like. It is a hollow fiber filter with the same specifications as a Sawyer Filter. It is the same shape as a Sawyer Mini, but closer in size of the full sized Sawyer (with as good or better flow rate at a lower price). What I really like is that it has female water bottle threads on both ends along with hose fittings. This allows more versatility in how it is used (squeeze, gravity, etc…). There are a number of after-market fittings and adapters that people use to make connections to the Sawyer filters that have different or no threads on one end or the other, depending on which version you have. I am surprised this filter hasn’t gotten more attention.

  8. Is the Katadyn Hiker Microfilter a new version of the PUR filter? The photo looks the same as my old PUR filter and I just want a replacement filter for it. thanks

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