A water filter is a very useful gadget for backpacking, hiking and mountaineering because it allows you to treat water from rivers, streams, lakes and other sources. Note that even far away from civilization, many water sources may not be safe due to fecal contamination from cattle, wild animals and people. If you have a water filter, you can carry less water in your backpack which will enable you to hike faster and easier due to the lighter load. Check out our article How much water to take on a hiking trip to learn more about hiking hydration.
Every water filter has a cartridge which catches bacteria and protozoa. The cartridge should be cleaned regularly and replaced after some time (usually after filtering 1000 liters or more). Many water filters also feature activated carbon which reduces contaminants such as pesticides and chemicals. However, water filters do not remove viruses (rotavirus, norovirus etc.) as these are too small to be caught in the filter. Viruses in water are especially common in third world countries, and if you are planning to go backpacking or hiking in such countries, a water purifier is probably a better option for you. Water purifiers work in a similar manner to water filters, but also feature chemicals or UV light technology to eliminate viruses. Read more about the difference between water filters and water purifiers in in this blog post from MSR.
If you have a backpacking stove, you can also make water drinkable by simply boiling it. This method is not optimal because it requires a lot of time (the water needs to cool down before you pour it into a hydration bladder or a water bottle), but it is completely safe.
In the following we listed and reviewed the best backpacking water filters. We only listed high-quality water filters which are lightweight and provide great functionality and durability.
1. Buying a Backpacking Water Filter – What is important?
There are four types of backpacking water filters available; pump filters, gravity filters, bottle filters and straw filters. In the selection below, we listed all types.
Pump Water Filters:
Pump water filters feature two hoses, a pump and a filter. You put one hose into a water source and the other one into a water bottle or a hydration bladder. Then you pump the water through the filter. Pump water filters allow you to pull water from very shallow water sources. The disadvantage of such water filters is that they tend to be heavier than other types of water filters and less reliable, meaning they have a shorter lifespan. They also require regular maintenance. The hoses must be dried after use as they will get moldy otherwise.
Gravity Water Filters:
Gravity water filters usually feature two water reservoirs and a hose with a water filter. You fill one water reservoir with water from a river, lake etc. and hang it higher than the other reservoir. The gravity will do the work for you and after a few minutes the water will be cleaned. Gravity water filters are especially suitable for larger groups because they can process large amounts of water without requiring any work (unlike pump water filters). However, gravity water filters also have disadvantages; you need trees to hang the reservoir and they are hard to use with shallow water sources. Like with pump water filters, the hose must be dried after use because it will get moldy otherwise.
Bottle Water Filters:
Bottle water filters are very easy to use and require little maintenance. The included water bottle has a water filter attached to the mouthpiece and when you drink you pull the water through the filter. The only downside of such water filters is that the water quantity is limited by the bottle size. Bottle water filters are obviously not suitable for more than one person.
Straw Water Filters:
Straw water filters are best for emergency situations. You put one end of the straw into a water source and drink the water through the other end. These water filters are very light, but they have one big downside; you can only drink while you are at the water source.
The output tells you how effective the water filter is. It is measured in liters per minute – the higher the number, the faster the water gets cleaned. The output is especially important if you are planning to treat water for larger groups.
Weight and Size:
Smaller and lighter water filters are easier to carry and pack. We recommend purchasing the smallest and lightest water filter that fulfills your demands. In this review we only listed lightweight water filters.
We only list top-tier products. Read how our selections of best hiking products differ from others here.
We use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases at no extra cost to you.
2. The Best Backpacking Water Filters Review
The Best Backpacking Water Filters – List
- Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter System
- MSR MiniWorks
- LifeStraw Go Filter Bottle
- Katadyn BeFree Collapsible Water Filter Bottle
- Sawyer Mini Water Filter
|Feature/Product||Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter System||MSR MiniWorks||LifeStraw Go Filter Bottle||Katadyn BeFree Collapsible Water Filter||Sawyer Mini Water Filter|
|Weight (without canister)||11.5 oz. (326 g)||1 lb. (460 g)||5.9 oz. (168 g)||2.3 oz. (68 g)||2 oz. (57 g)|
|Dimensions||3.25 x 9.5 in. (8 x 24 cm)||2.75 x 7.5 in. (7 x 19 cm)||3.14 x 9.25 in. (8 x 23 cm)||3.5 x 11.3 in. (9 x 27 cm)||1 x 5 in. (2.5 x 13 cm)|
|Type||Gravity Water Filter||Pump Water Filter||Bottle Water Filter||Bottle Water Filter||Straw Water Filter|
|Best for||Large groups||Small groups||Personal use||Personal use||Personal use, survival kit|
|Output||1.75 l/min||1 l/min (85 strokes)||n/a||2 l/min||n/a|
|Material||ABS Plastic||Polyurethane||Tritan Plastic||Polyurethane||ABS Plastic|
1. Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter System
The Platypus GravityWorks water filter is a great option for large groups and basecamps. It features two water reservoirs (a “clean” and a “dirty” water reservoir) and a hose with a water filter. Each water reservoir has a capacity of four liters and the water filter cleans 1.75 liters of water per minute without any work from you – you just hang the dirty water reservoir higher than the clean water reservoir. The water filter has a lifetime of 1,500 liters and removes 99.9% of bacteria and protozoa. In addition to its great performance, the whole kit weighs only eleven ounces and stows smaller than most 1-liter water bottles. The water filter can be also easily cleaned in the outdoors and allows you to collect water from shallow sources.
2. MSR MiniWorks
The MSR MiniWorks is a pump water filter, but unlike traditional pump water filters, it only has one hose. The other side of the water filter attaches to the MSR Dromedary bag or any wide-mouth water bottle (Nalgene, Camelbak etc.). The MSR MiniWorks water filter comes with a long hose which allows you to easily collect water from shallow and remote sources. The output is measured at one liter per minute which requires approximately 85 strokes. Note that if the filter is dirty and clogged, the output will decrease significantly. However, the MSR MiniWorks water filter is field-cleanable, meaning that you don’t need any tools to clean it. It removes 99.9% of bacteria and protozoa and the cartridge has a lifetime of 2,000 liters. The MSR MiniWorks water filter is a great option for small groups.
3. LifeStraw Go Filter Bottle
The LifeStraw Go bottle water filter is very easy to use. You simply fill up the bottle, screw on the lid and while you drink the water gets cleaned. The filter is attached underneath the lid and eliminates 99.9% of bacteria and protozoa. The filter can easily be detached and cleaned in the outdoors (no tools required) and has a lifetime of 4,000 liters. The bottle is made of BPA-free Tritan plastic for good durability and low weight. It has a capacity of 0.65 liters and is thus best for one person. It comes with a carabiner so you can easily attach it to a backpack or other gear.
4. Katadyn BeFree Collapsible Water Filter Bottle
The Katadyn BeFree is like the LifeStraw Go mentioned above a bottle water filter. However, the Katadyn BeFree water filter comes with a collapsible water bottle which thus takes up very little space in your backpack. The whole system is also very light – it weighs merely 2 ounces. The Katadyn BeFree features the EZ-Clean Membrane water filter which removes 99.9% of bacteria and protozoa. The EZ-Clean Membrane water filter is also very easy to clean in the outdoors and lasts for around 1,000 liters. The water bottle has a capacity of 0.6 liters and a wide opening for easy filling. The Katadyn BeFree water filter is best for one person.
5. Sawyer Mini Water Filter
The Sawyer Mini is a straw water filter and therefore it is very small and light. Unlike most straw water filters, the Sawyer Mini can be also attached to standard water bottles (twist-on). Therefore, you can also use it when you are not at a water source. Furthermore, it comes with a 16-ounce water pouch in which you can store water for later. The water filter does not require any tools for cleaning and has a lifespan of 380,000 liters, according to Sawyer. The Sawyer Mini is a great option for those who need a super small but functional water filter for their backpacking adventures.
3. Questions and Answers
Can water filters remove viruses?
Water filters only remove bacteria and protozoa. If you want to remove viruses, you will need a water purifier which utilizes chemicals or UV light to remove viruses.
Do water filters remove Giardia?
Giardia infection is caused by protozoa (parasites). Water filters remove protozoa and therefore there is little chance to get giardia infection by drinking filtered water.
What is the best survival water filter?
For survival situations it is best to have a straw water filter because these are very small and light. The Sawyer Mini is a great option for survivalists.