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Top 10 Backpacker Recommended Water Filter and Treatment Systems – 2017

Top 10 Backpacker Recommended Water Filter and Treatment Systems
Top 10 Backpacker Recommended Water Filter and Treatment Systems

What are the best water filter and purification treatment systems used by backpackers? We asked 565 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 Mini Water Filter System

Sawyer Mini
The Sawyer Mini Water Filter System ($20) 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. Click for details.

2. 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. Click for details.

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. Click for details.

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. Click for details.

5. Katadyn Hiker Pro Water Filter

Katadyn Hiker Pro 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. Click for details. It weighs 11 ounces.

6. MSR Sweetwater Water Filter

MSR Sweetwater Filter
The MSR Sweetwater Filter ($90) is a pump-based water filter that removes 99.9999% of bacteria, and 99.9% protozoa including giardia, salmonella, and cryptosporidium. It also has an 80 micro pre-filter for removing particulates, good for murky or sediment-filled water, and an activated carbon core that helps eliminate taste and odors. It has a unique lever-action pump that forces water through the filter on both up and down strokes.  The Sweetwater filters up to 200 gallons and has a built-in replacement indicator that keeps track of usage. It weighs 11.5 ounces and packs down small. Click for details.

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.

8. Sawyer Complete Water Treatment System

Sawyer Complete Water Treatment System
The Sawyer Complete Water Treatment System ($140) is a high-capacity gravity filtration system that removes particles, protozoa, and bacteria down to 0.10 micron in size, including giardia, salmonella, cryptosporidium. It includes 2 x 4L heavy-duty hydration reservoirs an a Sawyer Point One 0.10 Absolute Micron Water Filter. It’s a good solution for base camping or families when you need to bulk filter a lot of water at once, with a filtration speed of 1 liter per minute. Setup is simple and the system packs easily with a weight of 12 oz. Click for details.

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. Click for details.

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.  Click for more details.

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  1. I was thinking of bringing some Aquatabs as a back up in case my Sawyer filter fails. Do you know if cryptosporidium is found in the water supplies along the AT? I lived in Milwaukee back in the early 90’s when crypto got in their public water supply. I hope to never get a bug like that again.

    • Google “cryptosporidium on the Appalachian trail” and you’ll see reports and medical papers of people who got it. For a few bucks more you can bring aquamira or katahdin tablets which have chlorine dioxide and not worry about it as much, provided you wait the recommended treatment time.

  2. Re Sawyer filters – http://gizmodo.com/uv-water-purifiers-are-bullshit-and-so-are-some-filters-1704387492

    “NAD found that the million-gallon claims conveyed a message of indestructibility and longevity that was not supported by the evidence on record,” they concluded in January. “NAD recommends the advertiser discontinue such claims.”

    And there’s proof that Sawyer’s inline filters suffer from service life far shorter than claimed. A field study conducted by Tufts University School of Engineering found that the filters’ ability to remove pathogens began to reduce after just two months of frequent use and fell from a 99.999% effective rate when new to removing just 54% of E. Coli bacteria after 23 months of regular use. In case you’re not aware, E. Coli comes from poop. The filters are allowing 46% of poop bacteria through before they’re two years old.

    I have read before that to filter the particle size Sawyer claims is impossible with this type of device though I can not locate that reference now.

  3. Aquamira for life

    • I’m a big fan of aquamira drops. Easy. Fast. Cheap. Long shelf life.

      • Agreed. The only “downside” is the 5 minute activation on the Part A and B mixture, and then the 15-30 min downtime on letting it work it’s magic. Even then, the 15-30 min can be spent still on the move as it’s purifying in your pack. But if you’re too impatient to pull up a seat out in the wild and just chill every now and then, you’re living life all wrong.

  4. Philip, what’s the weight of the Katadyn Hiker Pro and Steripen systems? All the others have weights listed.
    Thanks for a good round-up!

  5. One correction on the Platypus Gravity works: the water reservoirs actually come in 2 litre versions as well (that’s what I use).

  6. I trained as a microbiologist, so I’ve always had a thing about water purification. Thus, when pump filters became available in the late 80s (the First Need) I got one right away. We’ve had probably a half dozen different filters over the years – Sweetwater (when it was still Sweetwater, MSR Waterworks and Miniworks, Pur Hiker and ??? what was their big one?. I’ve also used the original Katadyn. The ergonomics have improved dramatically over the years; the flow rates when faced with turbid water have not. I respect the technology built into these devices, but there seems an intractable problem – a filter course enough to not be rapidly disabled by debris in the water doesn’t catch much beside amoebic cysts. Fiilters fine enough to catch most or all bacteria gunk up far too quickly to be useful.

    We moved to Aquamira with the change of millennium and haven’t looked back. We do run a somewhat higher dose per liter, and let water disinfect for twice the recommended time – just to be sure.

    I have also used a friend’s Steripen on a trip. Intriguing system, though we did filter water through a coffee filter to remove turbidity a couple times. That and stirring ought to assure exposure to the killing UV rays.

    • Has anyone used the ancient Egyptian method of turbidity removal that is still used today in water treatment plants ???… a.k.a. Alum powder (marketed as a pickling spice by McCormick, has at least 10-15 different other uses as well)

  7. I have 2 sawyer mini which in most cases I just use the one but every now and then the water source can be a little nasty looking. That is when i use he straw to connect them together just in case and this seems to do the job because it hasn’t killed me yet.

  8. The sawyer mini is absolutely useless from a practical point of view. For starters, its incredibly slow to get the water to pass from the bottle through the filter. The flow rate slows down over time (usually after 750ml of filtration for me) requiring you to “backwash” the filter constantly. Using a “standard soda bottle” is an arduous task because you have to squeeze the bottle to get the water out effectively crushing the bottle rendering it useless for the next use.

    The sawyer mini is good for a sip of water along a creek. Impractical for all other purposes especially for usage with bottles.

  9. Some things to consider: What will be your water source? On the AT, JMT, Long Trail, VT, mountain terrain of the PCT, most water sources will be clear water. However, if you are canyon hiking,(Arizona) the water source might be an opaque puddle in a sandy river bottom. A filter might well become clogged with your water bottle only half full. Solution? Carry a filter with a removable and, therefore, cleanable ceramic filter as found in MSR filters. The filter, if clogged with silt, can be removed and cleaned easily and quickly with a brush.

    The pills, or Aquamira systems are light to carry, but waiting half and hour can be an issue. Time sometimes on the trail is indeed “of the essence”. For me the easiest, is the Steri-pen. The only issue is the battery. Although becoming more common outside of camera stores, they might not be as readily available as standard AA, or AAA sizes. So, be aware of the freshness of your batteries. Include them in a drop-box. Carry a liter pot on the outside of your pack, have your pen handy. What could be faster or more convenient? Those small in-line filters “mini systems”, work great for a drink on the go, but not so great when you want to filter a liter or more for a meal.

    Probably should not admit to using iodine pills to sit in water overnight, so I have a water supply ready for morning!

  10. Thanks for the reviews. I’ll be based in London for 2 months staying with friends who don’t filter their tap water. Can you please suggest a water bottle I can use? I drink 1.5L of water daily so don’t want to drink from their faucet. Thanks

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