The Best Backpacking Water Filters and Purifiers in 2020

Putting everything you need to survive into a backpack and leaving behind the noise, stress, and crowds of everyday life are among the most satisfying activities in the world. With every footstep, you bring yourself deeper into the peace and beauty of nature. The key to happy backpacking is making sure that what you carry is not heavy, which makes carrying a large amount of water unlikely.

Purifying water used to look like stopping at every stream or lake, unpacking your bag, taking out your portable stove and a pot, and bringing the water to a boil for five minutes before drinking it. It also used to mean dropping in bad-tasting iodine tablets to the water you scooped from the ground.

Thankfully, neither of those old-fashioned water purifying methods is necessary today. You can have clean, cool, delicious water almost immediately, no matter how deep into the woods you’ve walked.

Our Picks For Great Backpacking Water Purification

  • For a durable, long-term use water filter that cleans even the dirtiest water in the backcountry, check out the Survivor Filter Pro.
  • For a super-lightweight option that fits in your pocket, the MSR TrailShot is a great option.
  • If the water you encounter doesn’t need filtering and only needs purification, the extremely lightweight SteriPen Ultra has what you need.
  • The LifeStraw water filter is a low-cost, lightweight option for short trips or as a backup to a larger-volume water filter.
  • If you need to purify a larger amount of water, the Platypus GravityWorks gets the job done quickly.
  • The General Ecology First Need XLE removes impurities as small as viruses and screws right to the lid of your favorite water bottle for easy pumping.
  • For a low-maintenance, durable water filter, the Katadyn Hiker Microfilter is a great option.
  • GRAYL Geopress uses no hoses, pumps, or batteries to remove microscopic contaminants, which means you can have clean water without waiting.
  • With a fast flow rate of almost two liters per minute, the Purewell Water Purifier Pump is able to provide 3000 liters of clean water before the filter needs replacing.
  • The LifeStraw Flex with Gravity Bag works without pumping or squeezing, and every purchase helps supply clean drinking water to a child for an entire year.

Who Needs To Purify Water?

The short answer is this: Are you a hiker or backpacker? If the answer is yes, then you do!

The longer answer includes some unpleasant details. There are many times when you need to think about purifying water for drinking and cooking: Backcountry camping and backpacking, through hiking, canoeing, kayaking, or just a long walk in the woods where carrying a lot of water with you is not possible.

Additionally, keeping a water purifier in an emergency kit is always a good idea, since contaminated water affects survival quickly. A person can live for weeks without food, but for only about three or four days without water.

Water can be contaminated by human or animal waste, microplastics, chemical runoff from farms and factories, bacteria, viruses, and naturally occurring water creatures called protozoa. Two of the most well-known protozoa to experienced backpackers are giardia and cryptosporidium.

A quick overview of both common infections is all you need to know that water filtration is extremely important! Since it only takes one sip of water to become infected, and since infections of that sort can quickly put a miserable end to your trip, filtering every single drop of water that you put into your body is necessary.

Microplastics are a relatively new problem that hikers and backpackers face. Pollution and littering near bodies of water have caused plastic to become present in even the most pristine places in the wilderness. Plastics break down over time into nearly microscopic pieces, and ingesting them is something that can cause long-term health problems.

Additionally, chemical runoff in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are a dangerous presence in water that should be avoided.

Human and animal waste in water is difficult to predict or control in highly-trafficked areas. There are many diseases that can be contracted from contaminated water, including typhoid and cholera.

Contracting either of those diseases is at best unpleasant, and at worst life-threatening! Many kinds of harmful bacteria live in stagnant water, and even free-flowing water can contain harmful disease vectors. Water purification is not just a matter of taste – it can be a matter of life and death.

But the water looks so clean! The bad news is that you cannot tell by looking if water is safe to drink. Impurities, harmful bacteria, and protozoa are all microscopic and even tasteless, which means that unless you are certain that water is potable, you should not drink it.

I saw someone else drink it, and they are fine. There is no way to know if that person is indeed ‘fine,’ since some water-borne illnesses take days or even weeks to develop. There are also long-term, cumulative effects of drinking contaminated water. You should not make safety decisions for yourself solely based on another person’s risky behavior.

Just this once! Remember that even a sip of water containing harmful protozoa can cause weeks of diarrhea and intestinal agony, so the risk is definitely not worth the possible bad outcome.

Best Backpacking Water Purifier: What To Look For

The most obvious thing to look for in a water purification system is an assurance that it will remove harmful contaminants and things that will make you sick. Nearly every water purifier on the market will state that they remove 99.99% of these things from water, which makes it safe for healthy people to drink. Since that is the purpose of the purifier, you will be unlikely to encounter water purification systems that do not meet that standard.

What makes a purifier the best choice for you will depend on your needs. Here are some questions to ask when looking at different systems:

  • How many liters of water will this system purify before the filter needs replacing or the battery needs charging?

This varies significantly depending on the type of water purifier, and depending on the method of purification. A UV purifier will have no filters or tubing to be replaced, but it will not work if the battery dies, which can be a problem in the backcountry. Likewise, a pump might clog if very dirty water has to be cleaned, but with no batteries to replace, you will at least be able to have clean water once the filter is cleaned.

  • Can the purifier be easily cleaned when I am away from home?

A dirty filter will purify water slowly, so easy-to-clean filters and tubing make a big difference when it comes to how quickly you can purify water away from home. Some types of filters clog more easily than others, so consider when looking at different systems.

  • How long does it take the system to purify a liter of water?

You do not want to have to wait for water when you are thirsty, and even a few extra minutes every day adds up to a lot of time when you are on the trail.

  • How heavy is the purifier?

Every ounce counts when backpacking. However, smaller purifiers might not be able to purify a large amount of water at once, so if you are traveling with a group or you require a large amount of water for cooking, you should consider your needs.

  • Will this purifier be a good fit for my lifestyle and plans?

Suppose you know you will be using water sources that are very polluted or muddy. In that case, a good pre-filter on your purifier will be important to help keep biological elements from reaching the main filter. If you know that you will only be using clear, running water from a stream for drinking, a pre-filter is less important.

Some filters leave a chemical residue flavor in the water, which can be minimized by a carbon filter, so if the taste of the water is very important to you, consider that. A UV sterilizer will not filter the water or alter its taste in any way, which can be both a good and bad thing! Keep your potential water sources in mind before committing to a purification system.

Best Backpacking Water Purification: Our Picks

These ten backpacking water purifiers all have features that make them good choices for people who are far from home and traveling with everything they need to survive. Are you ready to pack up and hit the trails? Let’s go!

1. Survivor Filter Pro

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The Survivor Filter Pro is a pump-style water purifier that can move a lot of water from the ground into your water bottle or cook pot quickly. The prefilter prevents algae and other biological contaminants from entering the carbon and internal filters, helping to preserve their longevity. Simply place the pre-filter into a body of water, place the clean tubing into your water bottle or hydration pack bladder, and start pumping. The faster you pump, the faster the water is drawn through the filter.

Why We Like It:

  • The Survivor Filter Pro passes water through three filters, so even very dirty water will be thoroughly filtered.
  • It is easy to move a large amount of water at once
  • Filters up to 100,000 liters over its lifespan, so it will last for many years.

Why It Might Not Be For You:

  • Pump filters require physical work, so it means that in order to purify the water, you will need to hand-pump every last drop up from the ground and into your container.
  • At sixteen ounces, it is one of the heavier purification systems for backpacking.

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

2. MSR TrailShot

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The ultralight MSR TrailShot can squeeze into your pocket and add almost no weight to load. Because you can drink immediately from any water source, it is a good choice for times when you do not want to carry water with you. If you have a hydration pack, you can fill the bladder, attach it to the MSR TrailShot, and drink directly from your hydration pack.

Why We Like It:

  • The TrailShot is incredibly light and weighs just 5 ounces, so it is a good choice if you do not want to add weight or bulk to your pack.
  • Since it is a filtration-based water purifier, it removes debris from the water as well as harmful bacteria and protozoa.
  • It works as quickly as you squeeze it, so you can either place it directly in your mouth or use it to fill a water bottle or hydration pack.

Why It Might Not Be For You:

  • The flow rate can decrease if the filter is clogged by very dirty water.
  • It might be a challenge to filter large amounts of water.

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

3. SteriPen Ultra

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SteriPen Ultra is a pocket-sized ultraviolet device that will sterilize contaminated water quickly. You can go from an empty to a full water bottle in just a few minutes. The sterilization method of purifying water means that there are no added chemicals to affect the taste of the water. Using a UV sterilization device also means that you have no tubing or filters to clean when you are in the backcountry.

Why we Like It:

  • The SteriPen Ultra is a very small, very lightweight option.
  • No pumping is required, so it is a low-work way to attain water.
  • It has a long battery life and is easy to recharge.

Why It Might Not Be For You:

  • Since this is a sterilization device and not a filter, the water will remain cloudy, and it will taste the same as it did right from the lake.

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

4. LifeStraw Water Filter

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The LifeStraw water filter is a hand-held device that allows you to drink water right from the source. When you are thirsty and come upon a body of water, you can either fill your water bottle with the water and drink with the LifeStraw, or you can drink directly from the body of water with the LifeStraw.

Why We Like It:

  • With a very long life of filtering 4000 liters of water, the inexpensive LifeStraw is a good investment.
  • Since there is no pumping or waiting for a UV light to purify the water, you can consume water instantly wherever you find it.

Why It Might Not Be For You:

  • It is challenging to use this version of the LifeStraw for anything other than drinking, so if you need to purify water for cooking, you would need a different device.

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

5. Platypus GravityWorks

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Platypus GravityWorks is a low-work way to purify a lot of water at once, which can be a big help if you are cooking a larger quantity of food at camp. It is also helpful if you need to have larger amounts of water for cooking or filling a hydration pack, so having a gravity filter in addition to another purification system can be a great option for groups.

Why We Like It:

  • No pumping! The Platypus GravityWorks allows you to simply fill the reservoir with contaminated water, hang it from a tree, and purify it while you do other tasks.
  • Purifying a large amount of water (four liters) at once saves time, and is useful for groups or for cooking and cleaning up.
  • The filter removes water-clouding elements.

Why It Might Not Be For You:

  • Over time, the flow rate slows if the filter becomes clogged with debris from dirty water.

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

6. General Ecology First Need XLE

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General Ecology First Need XLE is a low-maintenance, solid water purifier that will clean water for years. The simple design of this water filter has not changed over the decades because it works so effectively. Like other pumps, you place one end of the tubing into a body of water, and place the clean end of the tubing into your water bottle. The base of the First Need also fits directly into the mouth of a standard Nalgene bottle, which makes filling that kind of water bottle simple and effective.

Why We Like It:

  • This pump can purify water either by pumping or by using a gravity feed bag.
  • The nearly two liters per minute output means that you can quickly acquire a lot of clean water, which means more time on the trail and less time pumping.

Why It Might Not Be For You:

  • Larger and heavier than some systems, the First Need’s durability means that it might take up a little more space in your pack.

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

7. Katadyn Hiker Microfilter

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The Katadyn Hiker Microfilter is one of the lowest-maintenance water purification systems available, so it is a good choice for beginners or people who do not want to spend a lot of time cleaning or maintaining their water filter. It is a compact and lightweight trail companion without a lot of bells and whistles.

Why We Like It:

  • The simple design means that there are fewer parts to maintain and clean.
  • Activated carbon in the filter improves the taste of the clean water.
  • The clean water tubing fixture fits directly to a wide-mouth Nalgene for easy filling.

Why It Might Not Be For You:

  • Since it works by pumping, it requires more physical work than gravity systems or UV purifiers, and the filtration rate may slow if the filter becomes clogged with debris.

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

8. GRAYL Geopress

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If you are looking for a no-work solution to water purification on the go, the GRAYL Geopress is the water purification system for you. Simply fill the outer container with contaminated water, place the filter and lid on top, and press down to purify the water. There are no tubes to clean or filters to backflush, so if you like products with a very simple design, this might be the water purifier for you!

Why We Like It:

  • With no pumping, batteries, chemicals, or waiting for a gravity filter, this is a low-work way to purify water.
  • The very fast purification time, just 8 seconds per half liter, is among the quickest available.
  • With very few parts, there are fewer pieces to break or lose!

Why It Might Not Be For You:

  • Since it requires some upper body strength to press the pieces together, people who are smaller may have a difficult time generating enough force to press the water through to complete the purification process.

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

9. Purewell Purifier Water Pump

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The sturdy, classic design of the Purewell Water Purifier Pump means that all you have to do to fill your water bottle is drop one end of the tubing into dirty water, place the other end of the tubing into your container, and pump the purified water into your water bottle. The pre-filter helps keep biological elements out of the filter, although it always helps to find a water source that is not full of algae to keep the filter from clogging and slowing down the flow rate.

Why We Like It:

  • A fast flow rate of almost two liters per minute can provide you and your companions with clean water in just minutes.
  • The replaceable carbon filter can clean 3000 liters of water before it expires.

Why It Might Not Be For You:

  • The strength and stamina needed for pumping a large amount of water might be more than you are able or willing to exert.

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

10. LifeStraw Flex with Gravity Bag

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The LifeStraw Flex with Gravity Bag offers all the confidence-inspiring quality of the LifeStraw with the added convenience of a gravity bag, so you are able to purify a larger amount of water for yourself. You can use the LifeStraw on its own, with your water bottle, or with the included gravity bag, which means that you can either stop on the trail for a quick drink from a stream or fill the entire gravity bag for cooking once you set up camp.

Why We Like It:

  • The gravity bag system allows you to simply fill the bag, hang it, and go about other tasks while your water is being purified.
  • The microbiological filter purifies up to 2000 liters of water.
  • Each purchase of a LifeStraw product provides clean water to a student for one year.

Why It Might Not Be For You:

  • The flow rate of this purification system is slower than a pump, so it will take longer to purify a similar amount of water.

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

One Step at a Time, One Sip at a Time

The challenge of backcountry hiking and backpacking should be in the journey itself, not with the technology that you bring along. The right water purifier for you will not weigh you down, either with its size or its complexity. Having a trustworthy source of water is something that should be the least of your concerns when you are far from home.

It might take a few extra minutes out of your hiking day to purify the water that you drink, but the enjoyment of staying healthy definitely outweighs that very small inconvenience. Technology has improved our lives in many ways over the years, and that technology extends to making water safe to drink. It has never been easier to spend time in nature and has access to safe water, and that is something to be excited about. In fact, let’s raise our water bottles full of purified water in a toast to how wonderfully easy it is.

Cheers!

Which water purifier will you bring for your next backpacking trip? Let us know!

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