What is the Best Water Purifier for Backpacking?

what is the best water purifier for backpacking

One of the most overlooked parts of any good outdoor gear list is one’s water purifying system. Without a solid water purifying system, one can easily expose themselves to a whole host of diseases, thanks to the little pathogens floating around in natural water sources.

When you’re out and about in the wilderness, you need to be self-sufficient when it comes to water. Spending quality time outdoors is all about being self-reliant on your own skills and equipment when you’re far from the big city.

Luckily, a good water purifying system can protect you from what can turn into a serious illness when you’re in the backcountry. However, with so many options out there for water purifiers, it’s understandable if you’re a little bit overwhelmed.

That’s why we’ve put together our list of the 10 best water purifiers for backpacking, complete with reviews of the ten best models around so you can find the one that’s right for your needs. Let’s get to it!

The 10 Best Water Purifiers for Backpacking:

1. Aquamira

blue and white aquamira bottles on white background

Aquamira is a chlorine dioxide-based chemical water treatment system that works by killing off the bacteria and protozoans in your water bottle so you can drink worry-free. As a chemical water treatment system, Aquamira is both lightweight and compact, as it comes ready-to-go in a two-part package of two 1 ounce (30mL) bottles with easy-to-use eye droppers for putting the treatment into your water.

The main downside to Aquamira is that you have to wait five minutes after mixing the two parts together and then another 15-20 minutes before drinking your water for it to be fully treated. However, since Aquamira doesn’t contain any iodine and isn’t as large and bulky as a pump filter, it’s an ideal water treatment system for extended backcountry travel.

Best Scenario For Use: Extended backcountry travel

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to use
  • Long shelf life
  • Iodine free
  • Works on Cryptosporidium and Giardia
  • No water discoloration or weird taste

Cons:

  • Uses chemicals
  • Relatively expensive in large quantities
  • Requires a waiting period before drinking

More details: aquamira.com

2. Katadyn BeFree

blue and white squeezy waterbottle on a white background

The Katadyn BeFree is a revolutionary new water purification system for backpackers that integrates a water filter right into a collapsible water bottle. Although it doesn’t really feature any new technology, the combined filter-bottle system eliminates the need to carry a separate water pump, which can reduce pack weight and minimize time spent pumping water on the trail.

When using the Katadyn BeFree, one only has to fill the water bottle up with water from a stream or lake and then drink away. Since the bottle filters as you drink, there’s no waiting time, which means more time crushing miles on the trail.

Also read: Best Water Filter For Long Trail Running Days

That being said, the filter does clog up over time and it doesn’t filter out viruses. Plus, the bottle itself is known to leak and break after heavy use, but, thankfully, the filter itself is compatible with many other bottles, so you can re-use it on something more durable, if necessary!

Best Scenario For Use: Light and fast backpacking

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Compact
  • Easy to use
  • No wait time
  • No chemicals
  • No pumping

Cons:

  • Filter can clog quickly
  • Large upfront cost
  • Water bottle can puncture
  • Doesn’t filter out viruses
  • Not great for groups

More details: katadyn.com

3. Sawyer Squeeze

The Sawyer Squeeze is the ultralight backpacker’s go-to water treatment system, thanks to it’s incredibly lightweight and ease of use. This compact, lightweight filter system is incredibly robust, despite its tiny size.

In fact, the Sawyer Squeeze is actually three filter systems in one, as it allows you to either use a straw to drink directly from a water source, place the filter in-line in a hydration system, or put filtered water into your water bottle.

Since the Sawyer Squeeze is so lightweight and compact, it’s ideal for ultralight backpackers, though it’s not great for large groups or anyone traveling to an area with lots of viruses and heavy metals in the water. Plus, while the filter itself is projected to have a lifespan of over 3.5 million gallons of water, the bags it comes with do break after heavy use. However, when it comes to a manual filter this light, you really can’t beat the Sawyer Squeeze.

Best Scenario For Use: Ultralight backpacking

Pros:

  • Very lightweight
  • Highly versatile
  • Can be used in-line for hydration systems or as a filter
  • Affordable
  • The filter can be back washed in the field

Cons:

  • Not great for groups
  • Doesn’t filter out viruses
  • Squeeze bags break over time

More details: sawyer.com

4. MSR Guardian

red and black pump filter on white background

When it comes to removing every pathogen from your water, there’s nothing better than the MSR Guardian Filter. This top-of-the-line pump filter has a teeny-tiny filter size of just 0.02 microns, which means it is one of the only commercially-available filters that can actually remove viruses from your water.

Plus, the MSR Guardian is self-cleaning and each filter cartridge can treat upwards of 10,000 liters of water in the backcountry. Of course, all this awesomeness comes at a cost, and the MSR Guardian is no exception. The Guardian is one of the heaviest filters out there at 17 ounces (0.49 kg) and with a price tag of $350, it’s certainly not cheap.

But, if you need to protect yourself from all pathogens, the MSR Guardian is your go-to.

Best Scenario For Use: International Travel

Pros:

  • Filter size of 0.02 microns filters out viruses, protozoans, and bacteria
  • Self-cleaning system
  • 10,000+ liter filter cartridge lifespan
  • Easy to pump
  • Requires minimal wait time

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Very expensive
  • Requires pumping

More details: msrgear.com

5. Platypus GravityWorks

black and white platypus gravityworks filter on white background

If you’re sick of pumping water through a filter in the backcountry but don’t want to use chemical treatments, the Platypus Gravityworks Filter Kit just might be for you. With the ability to filter up to 1.5 liters a minute, this gravity-powered kit requires minimal energy to produce clean water.

At just 6.3 ounces (180g) for the 2L version (a 4L version is available), the Platypus Gravityworks is lightweight and compact while also being large enough to treat enough water for 2-4 people. Plus, the microfilter can be cleaned in the field for on-the-go upkeep in the mountains.

That being said, it can be tricky to gather water in shallow streams and ponds while using the Gravityworks kit and the filter does tend to clog up in particularly silty water. At a price point of about $110, the Gravityworks Filter certainly isn’t cheap, however, it’s a quick and easy way to treat a large amount of water for a group in the mountains. What more could you want?

Best Scenario For Use: Group Backpacking Trips

Pros:

  • Minimal effort involved
  • No pumping
  • Good for large groups
  • Can be cleaned in the field
  • Fast water production

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Can be tricky to set up
  • Not good for filtering viruses

More details: platy.com

6. Polar Pure

brown glass bottle with black cap on white background

Back in the day, Polar Pure was one of the top water disinfectant systems out there and there’s still a lot to be said about Polar Pure’s efficiency and cost-effectiveness. These days, Polar Pure is still going strong and is a good, reliable water treatment system, especially for infrequent backcountry travelers.

Polar Pure is an iodine-based chemical water treatment system that doesn’t use drops or tablets that constantly expire or get used up. Essentially, Polar Pure’s bottle contains small iodine crystals at the bottom, so all one needs to do is fill the bottle up with river or lake water. After a short amount of time, the iodine-soaked water becomes a refillable water treatment system for backcountry travel.

Since the Polar Pure bottle is constantly refillable and has no shelf life, it’s great for people who go on infrequent backcountry trips but don’t want to worry about maintenance and upkeep for their water treatment system. Plus, when you travel with Polar Pure, you never have to worry about running out of costly purification tablets or a clogged filter – just treat and go!

Best Scenario For Use: Car camping, infrequent backcountry travel, paddling trips

Pros:

  • Very affordable
  • Indefinite shelf life
  • Easy to use
  • Compact

Cons:

  • Glass bottle
  • Different disinfectant times based on water temperature
  • Not good for people with thyroid issues or iodine sensitivities
  • Doesn’t kill some protozoans
  • Changes water flavor and color

More details: polarpurewater.com

7. LifeStraw

light blue lifestraw on white background

When LifeStraw first hit the market, it made waves, thanks to its ability to filter clean water from any water source, regardless of how dirty it is. This lightweight, easy to use system can quench your thirst anywhere in the world. Plus, it’s incredibly affordable, making it perfect for a lightweight solo trip in the mountains.

However, the LifeStraw doesn’t actually store any water, so it either needs to be used every time you come up to a water source, or it can be used as a filter to treat dirty water in your water bottle. Thus, it’s best used for trips where there’s plenty of water or as an emergency filter for those just-in-case moments

Best Scenario For Use: On-the-go filtration for solo trips or emergency use

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to use
  • Can drink directly from a stream

Cons:

  • No water storage options
  • Not good for large groups
  • Can’t filter out viruses
  • Difficult to clean

More details: lifestraw.com

 

8. SteriPEN Ultra

blue and green steri pen ultra on white background

Unlike the other water treatment systems in this review, the SteriPEN Ultra neither removes dangerous pathogens from your water nor kills them with chemicals. In fact, it doesn’t kill pathogens at all – it simply uses UV light to destroy the DNA of dangerous microscopic organisms, preventing them from reproducing and making you sick.

Although that might sound a bit weird, it’s a very effective way of treating a bottle of water while on the go, without having to rely on chemical treatments or finicky pumps. However, since the SteriPEN Ultra relies on batteries to operate, it certainly comes with a risk of malfunctioning.

Thus, the SteriPEN Ultra is great for avoiding the runs while traveling internationally, though its reliance on electronics means it has limited use as your sole water treatment system in the backcountry.

Best Scenario For Use: International travel

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Lightweight
  • Waterproof
  • Kills viruses, bacteria, and protozoans

Cons:

  • Relies on electronics
  • Can only treat one liter at a time
  • Expensive

More details: katadyn.com

 

9. Katadyn Hiker Pro

black katadyn hiker pro on white background

Simple and relatively affordable, the Katadyn Hiker Pro is a revamped take on the classic backpacking water filter. This hand pump is strong and reliable, with the ability to filter out both bacteria and protozoans.

Plus, the Hiker Pro’s small tube and intake valve mean that it can eek its way into small holes and filter water from very shallow streams. However, despite the pump’s ease of use, it does tend to clog up quickly with sediment, which can make pumping a pain. That being said it’s a solid all-around hand pump for regular backcountry aficionados who don’t want to use chemical treatments.

Best Scenario For Use: Regular backcountry travel

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Reliable
  • Good for use in shallow streams
  • Relatively affordable

Cons:

  • Bulky
  • Relatively heavy
  • Clogs up in silty water
  • Requires pumping

More details: katadyn.com

 

10. MSR Aquatabs

black aquatabs box on white background

Ultralight and simple to use, the MSR Aquatabs are a simple way to protect yourself from dangerous pathogens in the backcountry. The MSR Aquatabs are highly packable chemical water treatment tabs that fit easily into a first aid kit, making them perfect for emergency use in the backcountry.

Although they’re relatively expensive when compared to similar models, these iodine-free tablets are the lightest water treatment system on the market today. That being said, they do leave behind a chlorinated taste in your water, so they’re often best used as an emergency treatment system

Best Scenario For Use: Ultralight Backpacking and Emergency Use

Pros:

  • Very lightweight
  • Simple to use
  • Highly packable
  • Good in emergencies
  • Iodine-free

Cons:

  • Taste like chlorine
  • Somewhat expensive
  • Require waiting 30 minutes

More details: msrgear.com

 

Up Next In Backpacking Gear:

Are Backpacking Water Filters Safe? A Beginner’s Guide

Choosing the Best Size Backpack for Backpacking

How to Choose a Sleeping Pad for Backpacking

Osprey Atmos AG 65 Backpack Review

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