Best Backpacking Water Filter (Buying Guide)
Along the many paths and trails that course around the world, streams and rivulets trace the track traversed by backpackers in search of a connection with the natural world. Rivers often cut through the route and lakes feature into backpackers’ most hallowed destinations, rest stops, and camping sites. No matter if they’re at their intended destination or simply stopping to admire their surroundings, hikers and backpackers are frequently reminded of their growing thirst by water features journeyed over in the backcountry. At these moments many a backpacker has pondered the water before them. “It’s nice,” they think, “but can I drink it?”
A filter can turn any river or lake into a water source, making dirty water from any source potable to quench the backpacker’s thirst. From clear water that tastes a bit brackish to turbid water that could contain heavy metals or dangerous bacteria like e.coli or parasites like cryptosporidium, the right water filter can be paired with a suitable water bottle to make them all into drinking water. Clean water is absolutely essential to any outdoor journey and the right water purifier on the right water bottle can cut down on the amount of drinking water backpackers have to carry with them along the way.
What a solar charger can do for your electronics, a water filter can do for your body when you’re out backpacking. Some places that might have seemed off-limits, especially in foreign countries where the drinking water might be unpotable for visiting backpackers. There are tons of advantages to this little piece of equipment compared to the small weight it will add to a rucksack.
We’ve taken a look at many of the best water filters for backpacking on Amazon and selected a few to mention here. Take a look at what we found, as well as our top pick for the best backpacking water filter, in the list below. Add one to your pack of gadgets and stay hydrated and refreshed the next time you go out backpacking.
Best Backpacking Water Filter – Overview
1. Lifestraw Personal Water Filter
- Award-winning LifeStraw water filter is a must-carry tool for hiking, camping, travel, and emergencies; no disaster kit is complete without it
Lifestraw has a few solid water purification products, but this personal water filter is an award-winning ultralight tool that no backpackers or hikers should ever leave out of their rucksack. Each Lifestraw personal water filter will filter a minimum of 1000 gallons of water, a large quantity of water for such a compact purification system. Lifestraw has designed this straw filter to work without any moving parts or batteries and designed it to operate without chemical treatment of any kind, such as chlorine dioxide or iodine. It’s a great choice for backpackers who are looking for alternative purification methods and don’t necessarily want to invest in a filter bottle.
Even with its intuitive ease of use, the Lifestraw personal water filter does a good job purifying dirty water. All the user needs to do is remove the caps at both ends, prime the filter end for 10 seconds by leaving it in the water, take a few quick sips to start the water flowing, and then it’s ready. Make sure to empty the filter of water by blowing into it after each use. This Lifestraw has a high flow rate to make drinking directly from the water source easy. It has an impressive water filtration system, which is primarily a hollow fiber membrane with pores smaller than bacteria, parasites, and microplastics that filters at 0.2 microns and will remove 99.9% of waterborne protozoa parasites such as cryptosporidium and giardia, as well as waterborne bacteria like e.coli.
This is definitely one of the best backpacking water filters for emergency use and quick outings, but users should bear in mind that while it can be used for general purifying in any water source, this Lifestraw personal water filter is not equipped to filter out heavy metals, chemicals, or human waste. Be wary of streams near industrial plants and tap water in some countries. It will not work on seawater or other saline water sources. All that being said, Lifestraw has crafted a lightweight, portable, effective way to filter water in this long-lasting straw filter.
- 0.2-micron filtration
- High flow rate
- Ultralight & portable
- No power source required
- Does not clean water of heavy metals or chemicals
- Not a water purifier for seawater
2. MSR MiniWorks Ex Water Filter
- Microfilter water filter pump for hiking, backpacking, camping, travel, survival, and emergency preparedness
This hand-pump operated water purifier by MSR is a step up from smaller pen filters. Rather than drinking directly from the water source like with the Lifestraw personal water filter, the MSR MiniWorks Ex is designed to fit almost any water bottle, such as Nalgene or CamelBak. There is a simplicity and ease of use designed into this product that makes it a great way to clean water for backpackers and hikers, and it’s portable enough to bring along on the trail as well. The bottom of this filter screws onto the water bottle and then the hose goes directly into the water source. The hand pump will push water up through the filtration system and into the water at an impressive one liter of water per minute.
2,000 liters of water can be treated by this unit before the ceramic filter needs to be replaced. On the bright side, replacing the ceramic filter is cheaper than buying a new water purifier. The MSR MiniWorks Ex will filter bacteria, protozoa, and organic compounds out of dirty water at 0.2-microns. It’s field maintainable without any extra tools, but for maximum longevity, the ceramic filter should be boiled and the hose cleaned back at home and allowed to dry before stored away. This MSR product is not designed to filter out petroleum-based products so it isn’t ideal for use at a lake where boats are on the water. However, for clean drinking water without any chemical treatment, the MSR MiniWorks Ex is dependable and a bit more robust than some of the ultralight options on Amazon.
- Replaceable ceramic filter
- Filter lasts for 2,000-gallons of water
- Field maintainable
- Fast hand pump
- Fits Nalgene bottles
- Not good for use around boats
- Not for saline water sources
- Not ultralight
3. Katadyn Hiker Pro Transparent Water Microfilter
- Proven protection against bacteria and protozoan cysts down to 0.2 micron with pleated glass-fiber filter media
Another hand pump-operated water purifier operating on squeeze filters, this Katadyn Hiker Pro is ultralight and has the same ease of use you’d expect from water filtration systems that don’t use a chemical treatment to clean water. The pleated hollow fiber filter keeps out bacteria and protozoa down to 0.2-micron. Activated carbon in the core reduces chemicals and delivers drinking water with a clean water taste. The transparency of the Katadyn Hiker Pro allows you to see the water filtration system working and an included protector screen for the hollow fiber filter extends the life of the cartridge and can be cleaned in the field.
Katadyn has designed this mini hand-pump model to be compatible with hydration bladders so backpackers won’t need to bend over or lie down next to a water source in order to drink. Simply attach the Hiker Pro to a hydration bladder, put the hose directly in the water source, and use the hand pump to fill the bladder. This means fewer stops for stopping to filter water and refill water bottles. The Katadyn Hiker Pro doesn’t screw on to Nalgene bottles but can still refill them.
It’s probably best used with hydration bladders and not water bottles. The hollow fiber filter is good for purifying 300 gallons of water, which is not as long-term as some other models. Like other water purifiers in this guide, this Katadyn is not designed for brackish or saline water sources. For an ultralight water purifier that does the job well, the Katadyn Hiker Pro is a good option for backpackers.
- Hand pump
- Hollow fiber filter
- Simple ease of use
- No chemicals
- Doesn’t screw on to Nalgene water bottles
- Shorter lifespan per filter
- Not for brackish or saline water sources
4. Katadyn Gravity BeFree Microfilter
- 0.1 micron water filter removes harmful organisms like bacteria 99.9999% and protozoa like Giardia & Cryptosporidium 99.9%, surpassing EPA standards
Another water purifier option from Katadyn, this BeFree is a model called a gravity filter. Basically, what that means is the 3.0-liter soft bottle flask has its 0.1-micron filter at the bottom and lets gravity do the purifying work as water leaves the bottle and travels into a water bottle or hydration bladder.
The hollow fiber membrane in the filter is smaller than most, and so filters out a range of smaller-micron protozoa like giardia and cryptosporidium that other models might allow through. The filter is also easy to clean, requiring a simple shake in the water source to remove debris. The Katadyn BeFree has a high enough flow rate that backpackers and hikers can rehydrate quickly or use the hose to dispense water into cooking pots or dog water bowls.
With 3 liters of storage space, the Katadyn BeFree is ideal for backpackers who are going to camp overnight or establish a base camp. It rolls up when empty of water and packs easily. It is ultralight but still durable so even backpackers not looking to establish a camp can bring it along with them. The gravity filter purification system means this Katadyn will have to be suspended from a branch or other high point, but the included hose and carry strap make it fairly easy to accomplish this.
There is no carbon element to improve the taste of the drinking water, but that could slow down the flow rate so there is a tradeoff. It will require a dedicated stop to fill and wait, but the large size could cut down on refill stops overall. In any case, for backpackers who are planning to camp, the Katadyn BeFree is a solid option.
- 3 liter size
- 0.1-micron hollow fiber membrane
- High flow rate
- Gravity filter takes time
- Requires hanging
- No carbon element for taste
5. Sawyer Products MINI Water Filtration System
- Ideal for outdoor recreation, hiking, camping, scouting, domestic and International travel, and emergency preparedness
The Sawyer MINI is super-portable and ultralight, taking up about as much space as a few granola bars would, making it ideal for backpackers and hikers. The filter is made from a hollow fiber membrane that traps everything smaller than 0.1 micron like protozoa and cryptosporidium. Sawyer has designed the MINI to attach to its Sawyer squeeze pouch, which is included, and also to standard disposable water bottles, hydration packs, or for use as a straw filter by inserting it into the wide mouth of a Nalgene water bottle or similar product.
Sawyer has taken its time with this MINI water purifier, testing each and every hollow fiber filter three times to ensure quality. They assure this product will last for 100,000 gallons of dirty water, a much higher filter rating than competing models.
Sawyer Products has also included a cleaning plunger with the Sawyer MINI. The cleaning process is slightly more involved with the MINI than with easy-clean models, but it is still simple enough. The plunger should be filled at the water source, or else with clean water than has gone through the Sawyer MINI already. Then, simply insert the plunger through the end opposite the drinking end and push the water through backward.
After a few rounds of this, the water should come out clean and the Sawyer MINI filter is clean for the next use. For its ultralight weight, ease of use, tiny size, and versatility in terms of water bottle pairings, this Sawyer MINI is probably the best backpacking water filter for ultralight backpackers who aren’t looking for water purification in large quantities of water.
- Ultralight & portable
- 0.1 Micron hollow fiber membrane
- Fits water bottles and hydration packs
- Ease of use and simple cleaning process
- Not for brackish or saline water sources
- Individual use only
- Doesn’t remove heavy metals
- LONG-LASTING HEAT - The high capacity, insulated 11-liter soft Helio tank heats water using sunlight; Heated water stays piping hot for hours so you can clean up on your schedule
The Platypus GravityWorks is the most complete water filtration system we reviewed on the Amazon market. Especially when matched with its portability: though it’s larger than palm-sized straw filters or small hand-pump filters, it’s still very packable for backpackers considering it is capable of purifying 4 liters of dirty water within 2.5 minutes.
It’s a gravity filter with two reservoirs, one for clean water and the other for dirty water. Platypus has outfitted the GravityWorks with a hollow-fiber microfilter that will keep out harmful protozoa and cryptosporidium larger than 0.2-micron, which is not the smallest of the water filtration systems on this list but is enough to keep the family or group from getting sick from most water sources.
Ideal for backpackers hiking in groups from 2-4 people, the Platypus GravityWorks is compact when empty and the purifying time is negligible. Water stops along the trail are more enjoyable because no one needs to stay near the water source busying themselves with a hand-pump. The hose dispenses quickly, with a great flow rate, so everyone can share. This is a great model for base camps, campsites, and brief water stops on day-hikes.
Like most other models in this guide, the Platypus GravityWorks is not suitable for water sources where harmful materials are dissolved in the water, like brackish or saline sources. But for the size, the quick filtering time, and the ultralight-weight and portability, the Platypus GravityWorks is our top pick for the best backpacking water filter.
- Portable complete water filtration system
- Good for groups of backpackers
- No hand pump
- Great flow rate
- Quick purifying time
- Not for saline or brackish water sources
7. Aquamira Frontier Straw Filter
- Emergency water filter System for hiking, camping, and emergency situation
This Aquamira straw filter is great to keep handy for emergency situations or backpacking trips. Certainly not as robust as a gravity filter or hand-pump water purifier, this straw filter nonetheless works for immediate use at the water source. It’s effective on protozoa and filters up to 20 gallons of water. The flow rate is not shabby and this is absolutely the most ultralight option in this guide.
Because of its small size and the short lifespan, this Aquamira straw filter is better thought of as a throwaway water purifier, but it merits a mention in this guide for situations where backpackers might want a quick drink without taking out the hand-pump or gravity filter water filtration systems.
- Quick access, quick-use
- Good flow rate
- Effective on protozoa
- Not for long term use
- Individual use only
8. MSR TrailShot Water Filter
- Pocket-sized lightweight water filter cleans water on-the-go for hiking, camping, traveling, and emergency preparedness
MSR has this pocket-sized option available on Amazon for backpackers and hikers that like to jog or go for a run. The TrailShot has many features familiar to regulars on the water purifier market. Its hollow fiber membrane operates with squeeze filters and keeps out small-micron protozoa like giardia and cryptosporidium along with harmful bacteria like e.coli and salmonella. With an almost unrivaled ease-of-use, the TrailShot has been designed by MSR for immediate use at the water source for backpackers who want to make a brief pit-stop in the middle of a run. The TrailShot is also handy for drinking from a water bottle or hydration pack for use away from the water source.
One-handed operation with the hand pump will filter one liter of drinking water in 60 seconds, so you’ll be able to catch up with the rest of the group after a few minutes of rehydration. The filter lasts for up to 2000 liters of dirty water. The TrailShot is ultralight and super-portable, but for large quantities of water backpackers will want to invest in one of the more robust models like the Platypus GravityWorks. Still, in tandem with other water purifiers or as a standalone option for day-hikes, the MSR TrailShot is handy for emergencies, jogging, and international travel.
- Hollow fiber membrane
- Fast ease of use
- Individual use only
- Not designed for large quantities of water
9. SteriPen Ultra
- UV light destroys germs' ability to reproduce and make you sick; The SteriPEN destroys over 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa
The technology in the SteriPen Ultra is enough to merit a mention in this guide. Rather than relying on a water filter system like a straw filter, hand-pump, or gravity filter does, the SteriPen Ultra uses an ultraviolet light UV purifier to change the DNA of micro-organisms so they can’t reproduce and cause harm. While the ultraviolet light tech is futuristic and honestly pretty cool, the micro-organisms do stay in the drinking water even after treatment from the UV light, so for those put off by that idea, better stick to the water filtration systems earlier on in this guide. The UV light in the SteriPen Ultra also isn’t going to remove anything from dirty water drawn from a turbid water source.
Since this is one of the only models in this guide that operates by a power source, it’s more ideal for international travel backpacking where the water source is a questionable tap and not drinking directly from a river or stream. After a USB charge, the SteriPen Ultra works for 50 treatments so it’s still useful on the trail, but the water will have to be drawn from the water source in a water bottle. The UV purifier light doubles as a flashlight so it can be useful on backpacking trips if you’re going to the water source at night. Overall it’s more limited than analog water purifiers but it’s very handy and the UV light technology is impressive, making the SteriPen Ultra a useful addition to your rucksack.
- UV purifier
- Top of the line ease of use
- Good for international travel
- Not suitable for turbid water sources
- Micro-organisms stay in the drinking water
- USB charge-operated
For the volume of drinking water it can store, the superior flow rate, and the phenomenal ease of use, the Platypus GravityWorks 4L Complete Water Filter Kit wins our top pick for the best backpacking water filter. It’s ideal for backpackers and hikers that travel in pairs or in small groups and works wonderfully at a campsite or at a pit stop next to the water source. The hollow fiber water filter system keeps out almost all protozoa and cryptosporidium, along with harmful bacteria like e.coli and salmonella.
The Platypus GravityWorks is really packable considering its output, and while many of the ultralight and even hand-held water purifiers have marginally quicker access, this Platypus has similar ease of use. The smaller models are for backpackers who like to go running or take a qucik jog, but this Platypus GravityWorks is for backpackers whose main goal is to go out into the great outdoors and take a bit longer to really take in the majesty of the natural world. For its overall usability and the ability to share it with fellow backpackers, the Platypus GravityWorks has ably earned our top pick for the best backpacking water filter.
Bonus tip: Curious about our top pick? Check out this video to see the Platypus GravityWorks in action!