Backpacking in the wilderness or through foreign countries can be an incredibly fun and rewarding activity. It can also be extremely challenging if you’re not properly prepared. There’s a lot that can go wrong, so it’s important to have the proper knowledge and gear before setting out. All your backpacking gear will be important, but perhaps nothing is as essential as a water filter. In this guide, we’ll help you choose the best backpacking water filter for your adventures!
The benefits of a good water filter for backpacking are obvious: you get reliable access to clean, safe drinking water, without having to lug around a bunch of water on your whole trip. Humans need a lot of water, so anything you can do to help reduce the amount of water you need to carry on your back can help make your backpacking journey far more enjoyable. Keep reading for backpacking water filter reviews and our top recommendations.
Quick Picks for the Best Backpacking Water Filter of 2018
There are several different styles of backpacking water filters, so we picked a top recommendation for each style. See the full backpacking water filter reviews below!
Price Range: $$
The Survivor Filter PRO is one of the best backpacking water filters on the market. This unit has some impressive stats: it’s rated and third-party tested to remove 99.999% of protozoa and parasites, and 99.999% of virus, bacteria and staph contaminants. It’s also rated to reduce lead, mercury and other heavy metals. The manufacturer even provides copies of test results for interested customers!
This is a pump-style system, which means there’s a hose that you place in the water and another hose you place in a drinking water container, and a pump filter in between. This style requires a bit more work than some other styles of backpacking water filters, but they are quite effective.
The Survivor Filter also has a very fast flow rate of 17oz per minute. So it’s pretty quick to fill up drinking water stores, or a pot of water for cooking. And the unit is built to last, made from high quality, durable materials. It’s even backed by a lifetime warranty and a satisfaction guarantee from the manufacturer!
Key Features: No pumping required; meets NSF/EPA guidelines; very fast filtering; high capacity for groups and cooking
Price Range: $$$
The Platypus GravityWorks 4L is a gravity filter for backpacking that offers a lot of useful perks. Most importantly, it’s very effective in filtering out dangerous contaminants. The Platypus removes up to 99.9% of protozoa (giardia, E. coli, etc.) and 99.9999% of bacteria. And it’s not just an empty claim – the Platypus is EPA certified for the removal of these contaminants. Overall, it’s one of the best backpacking water filter options – particularly for folks traveling in a group.
This is a gravity-style filter. As you could expect, this means it uses gravity to essentially push water through the filter. This also means that there’s no pumping involved on your part. You just need to fill up the first bag and hang it from a tree, and let gravity do its thing!
Another big benefit of this unit is capacity. It can filter 4 liters (about 1 gallon) in just 2.5 minutes. If you’re traveling with a group, or need lots of water for cooking, this is a huge perk compared to manual pump filters.
Price Range: $
The LifeStraw is an innovative filter that is built into a “straw” style design. It’s ultra-lightweight at just 2 oz, and provides a good solution for solo backpackers and adventurers. With the LifeStraw, you can drink directly out of the water source, or you can fill up a container and drink out of that (using the straw). This means it’s somewhat limited for groups, but great for single backpackers.
For ultra-lightweight backpackers, the LifeStraw’s compact and light design are awesome. The whole unit weighs just 2oz, and is about the size of a small flute. There’s no pumping or setup required – just dip the straw into a water source, and start drinking! The LifeStraw meets EPA standards for bacteria, microplastics and protozoa.
The LifeStraw is a best-seller that routinely earns great ratings in backpacking water filter reviews. That said, it does have some limitations – you can’t fill a container with clean water, so it’s not very useful for cooking, and it’s not fit for group use. Some people carry a LifeStraw in addition to a larger filter, in case their big filter breaks. Regardless, at the price point, the LifeStraw is a must-have for any hiker. It’s also very affordable, so if you’re looking to stick to a budget, this may be the best backpacking water filter for you.
Key Features: No equipment required; easy to use; great backup option for broken filters; affordable
Price Range: $
Aquamira Chlorine Dioxide water treatment liquid provides an alternative to actual backpacking filters. This comes as two small bottles of liquid, containing the active ingredient chlorine dioxide. You simply mix the drops into water, wait a while (about 4 hours), and the water is safe to drink.
Note that while many people use these products to treat backcountry water sources, the manufacturer doesn’t necessarily recommend that. Aquamira says the product is fit for “kill odor-causing bacteria” and “enhance the taste of potable water”. Many people do successfully use it to treat stream and river water, but caution is advised.
One common use for this type of water treatment product is to serve as a backup option, in case your main filter stops working for any reason. They are very cheap and super lightweight, so they make for a good addition to any pack.
Getting the right gear for backpacking is essential. And few things are as important as keeping a reliable water supply. Here’s why we recommend all backpackers carry water filters:
Safety – Unless you’re carrying water on your trip from a clean source, you’ll have to drink from streams and rivers. Without the proper filter, this can be dangerous. Although it may look clean, backcountry water sources can be rife with bacteria, viruses, contaminants and parasites. Consuming these contaminants can lead to illness, and particularly diarrhea. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration rapidly, as it’s very hard to maintain fluid levels in your body. In the backcountry, diarrhea can be life-threatening, and contributes to about 45% of the emergency wilderness evacuations reported by hikers.
Pack Weight – A huge struggle for many backpackers is figuring out what to bring and how heavy their pack can be. In general, the lighter your pack is, the better – but, that doesn’t mean you can head out without the necessary gear! A water filter can help, by reducing the amount of fresh water you need to actually carry. The typical recommendation for drinking water is around 1/2 gallon per day, but that could easily be doubled for active hikers. So, backpacking drinking water requirements could easily exceed 1 gallon a day. And since 1 gallon of water weighs more than 8 pounds, you really don’t want to have to carry fresh water supplies for your whole trip! Most backcountry water filters weigh just 0.5-1.5 pounds.
Peace of Mind – In some situations, you can get away with drinking unfiltered backcountry water sources – but it’s NOT recommended. You can get very sick and have to end your trip early – or worse. The best backpacking water filter can help give you peace of mind, knowing that you’re never far from your next drink.
Lastly, keep this in mind: Even if you carry a water filter, you should still carry some fresh drinking water. You never know how far away that next stream or river is – or if it’ll be a dry creekbed when you get there. It’s important to still carry a reasonable amount of drinking water at all times.
There are a lot of different options out there – so how did we choose the best backpacking water filter? These are the factors we focused on:
Filtration Technology – The backcountry is not somewhere you want to cut corners with cheap products. And not all water filters are created equal. We chose models that utilize effective, proven filtration technology to safely remove viruses and bacteria common in backcountry water sources.
Size & Weight – As backpackers ourselves, we know the importance of shedding excess weight from your pack. Thus, we picked lightweight, compact models that won’t add much to your pack weight.
Value & Quality – Water filters are very important additions to your backcountry gear, so we don’t recommend cutting corners. That said, you also don’t need to spend a fortune. We picked units that offered excellent value at their price points.
Durability – The last thing you want is for your water filter to break halfway through the trip! We focused on units that had a good reputation for being durable and long-lasting. The best backpacking water filter should last you a long time!
Hopefully this guide has helped you find the best backpack water filter for your needs. Didn’t quite find what you were looking for? Our guides to the best camping water filters, best portable water filters and best water filters overall may help!