Every backpacker needs a portable water filtration device. You can’t just pack all your water in for an extended period of time. This need goes beyond just backpackers though. Campers and hikers will also find plenty of use for a portable water filter.
With that in mind, this guide will cover the best portable filters for your next
trip. We’ll give a brief review of each portable water filter and provide our
Our Top Pick: LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
You can’t make a list of portable water filters without
including the LifeStraw on it. This system is pretty famous amongst the
backpacking community thanks to their famous marketing campaign.
Anyway, we aren’t here to discuss the LifeStraw’s marketing
campaign. We’re here to cover the filtration.
The filtration on this thing is great for removing
pathogens, which are what we’re mostly concerned with when backpacking. In
fact, this unit can remove up to 99.999999% (yes, 6 9’s) of all bacteria. It
removes slightly less, 99.9999%, of all parasites.
You can pretty much count on the LifeStraw to filter out all
the microorganisms found in water thanks to the hollow filter.
These claims aren’t exaggerated either. They have literally
been tested in laboratories. More importantly, LifeStraw has sold millions of
units across the world with little complaint. The market in this case is a much
better test than some random laboratories.
The lifespan on these things is pretty long too. You can
expect about 1000 gallons of filter life assuming you properly maintain it.
This also depends on the cleanliness of the water.
Finally, the LifeStraw only weighs 2 ounces. So you can easily carry it on a backpacking trip. It’s also small in size too. You can literally stuff one of these in your pocket and you’re good to go.
Filters out microorganisms from water.
Weighs 2 ounces and is small enough that it fits just about anywhere.
Very budget friendly.
Can use in very shallow water or in a water bottle.
Long life span.
Suction can be difficult while at a high altitude.
Can’t store water in a CamelPak with this. You must store dirty water and then use the straw.
Runnerup on our list is the Katadyn Vario filter. Now, I’m
an avid backpacker and have used this specific model myself while backpacking
the Appalachian Trail. It’s actually my preferred water filtration device while
backpacking, but the LifeStraw makes a great backup.
We really liked the two pumping modes and the light weight
design of the Katadyn. Plus, it has an activated carbon to reduce (some)
chemicals found in water.
One of the pumping modes is for use in dirty water. This
activates a pre-filter, which will save the life of the main filter. The other
pumping mode is just the normal glass filter.
The pumping speed is the biggest issue I had with this unit.
It only pumps out at 2 quarts per minute on the fastest speed. The slower speed
is 1 quart per minute.
If you have limited water resources and have to fill up a
lot of water, then it will take a long time to fill up all the water
containers. Of course, you can store clean water in a water bladder that you
can drink from without the use of your hands. This is the biggest advantage of
this unit and why I prefer it to a LifeStraw.
Just make sure to replace the O-rings as they can get leaky. We had a leaky O-ring on the Appalachian Trail and it was a total mess filling up water.
Can use it store water.
Easy to collect water from a shallow water source.
Long filter life.
It’s mechanical, so it can break.
Kind of slow pumping speed.
LifeStraw Family 1.0
This solution is what I would call a semi-portable water
filtration solution. Meaning that you probably won’t use this while
backpacking. I know I certainly wouldn’t use it while backpacking because it is
kind of large and annoying to setup.
However, this would really work well for a camping trip
where limited water might be available at a semi-permanent campground. It also
would work great as a backup system for an RV or camper.
The LifeStraw Family 1.0 is what is referred to as a gravity
water filter. It uses gravity to push the dirty water through a filter. In this
case the water is stored in a reservoir above the filter and then goes down
into the LifeStraw via a small rubber tube.
What really sets this filter apart is the amazingly long
filter life. It can filter 4755 gallons of water, which will last a family of
four about three years. That is pretty amazing, especially considering the
excellent price of this unit.
The flow rate is still somewhat slow, but not too bad. It
will produce approximately 9-12 liters per hour. That is about 2 to 3 gallons
per hour for us Americans.
All in all, we definitely like this filter and we can highly recommend this to any campers, hunters, or people living in rural areas. It really is an excellent choice.
Long filter life.
Easy to use.
Filtered water can be stored in a container.
Too big to use on a backpacking trip.
Survivor Filter PRO
The Survivor Filter PRO is another one of the preferred
units for backpacking or any type of survival. It’s small enough to use while
backpacking. Plus, it allows you to put the water into a container.
It removes the usual assortment of viruses, bacteria, and it
can even reduce some heavy metals. This makes it one of the better filtration
units on the market. It even makes the water taste better, which is something
that you won’t find in many of the other filters. The filter is a .01 micron
filter, which removes just about everything from the water. It is comparable to
most home filters and better than most water pitcher filters.
What we really makes this stand out is the ease of use. You
pump this like a bike pump. The one complaint about the Katadyn is that the
pump tired our hands out after a lot of use. The Survivor Filter PRO pumps up
and down, which makes it much easier to use.
Finally, this unit has a really fast flow rate. It can pump
17 ounces per minute, which is insanely fast. You could have all the water for
the day within a few minutes with a flow rate that fast.
One more thing. It has a lifetime warranty and a satisfaction guarantee. If you don’t like the unit, then you can return it and get a 100% refund on the purchase. That is some amazing customer service right there.
Removes some heavy metals found in water.
Very fast flow rate of 17 ounces per minute.
Lifetime warranty and satisfaction guarantee.
Up and down motion is much easier than the side-to-side motion found on the Katadyn.
It’s mechanical, so it can break. Always have backup filtration available.
Sawyer Products MINI Water Filter
Sawyer Products makes an excellent water filter system. This
one is a little more unique than the other ones listed.
It’s a gravity filter, but it’s more like a squeeze assisted
gravity filter. You load water into a drinking pouch and then squeeze the water
through the filter. You then point the filter into your water container.
I used this one while backpacking the Colorado Trail. It
looks cool, it is light (2 ounces), and it has no mechanical parts. However, my
backpacking crew all preferred the Katadyn Vario (personal preference). We
actually ended up using that after using the PointOne a few times.
The one nice thing about the PointOne is that it is super
easy to use and ultralight. You just squeeze the water through the filter. Honestly,
it doesn’t get any easier than that.
It just leaked a lot, which made things messy when loading
it back into our bags. I won’t blame the leaking entirely on the filter though.
We were at a high elevation (over 10k feet) and probably messed something up.
All in all, it’s a good filter for the right person. It makes an excellent backup filtration system too because it only weighs 2 ounces.
Ultralight at 2 ounces.Super small and easy to store.
Removes bacteria, protozoa, and viruses.
Can load water into a container, which makes it great for backpacking.
No mechanical parts to worry about.
Might leak and get everything wet.
We had to include a UV light filtration unit on our list.
Everyone always wants to know about these units just because of the novelty
They work by placing the UV light into the water and turning
it on. Ultraviolet light will then kill any of the organisms in the water.
There is literally no way for organisms to survive exposure to ultraviolet
This thing is also light at 3.2 ounces, so it’s fine for
backpacking in that regard. It also can be used as a flashlight. The one thing
we don’t like about it is that it requires batteries to use. If you run out of
batteries, then you have no way to get clean water.
It is especially important to have a backup unit with this.
Electronics fail and they fail a lot. You don’t want to be hundreds of miles
away from civilization and have no way to get a clean source of drinking water.
Other than that potential downfall this unit is great. It’s easy to use and very effective.
Lightweight at 3.2 ounces.
Easy to use and fast.
It doubles as a flashlight.
Has an 8,000 liter filter life.
Line by line Pros here
Electronics are prone to be breaking. Always have a backup.
Portable Water Filter Buying Guide
You should always drink clean water no matter your location.
Fortunately, portable water filters make it easy even in the most remote
locations. Some portable filters are small enough to fit in the palm of your
We know that finding the right filter for your needs can be
a pain. There are hundreds of different ones available on the market and they
all claim to be the best. The real question then becomes which one is actually
The answer just depends on what you need. We already made a
list of things that you should look at before purchasing a water filter. Make
sure to look at the items listed below before purchase.
Weight is the most important thing to look at before
purchasing a portable water filter. The lighter the weight the easier it is to
carry. This is especially important if you plan on using the water filter for
backpacking or otherwise carrying it on your person.
Every water filter on the market has a filter life. I know,
it’d be awesome if a filter had infinite filter life, but that doesn’t exist.
You don’t want a filter with a super short life because that means you will
have to frequently change it out. In fact, you might even have to change it out
when you are away from civilization. Not ideal.
All these filters are relatively easy to use with some basic
level training. Some, however, are much easier than others. The LifeStraw is
one of the easier ones to use, but it might pose a problem at higher elevation
or for those with lung problems.
Most portable water filter only remove microorganisms like
bacteria and parasites. Some, like the Survivor PRO, remove some heavy metals
and chlorine. Just make sure to check the lab results before your purchase. You
probably don’t need the heavy metal removal, but it’s a nice to have feature.
Cost is important, but it isn’t the most important feature.
Obviously you want something affordable. However, you don’t want to sacrifice
your safety for a few dollars. Fortunately, excellent quality water filters can
be purchased for under $20.
Filter speed is another important factor. It isn’t super
important compared to other aspects. It’s just super boring to wait for the
water to trickle out of the filter, so we included it on the list.
The Different Types of Portable Water Filters
These filters aren’t exactly small. However, they are light
enough for backpacking and easy enough to fit into a backpack. I prefer a pump
filter as my primary water filtration device.
They work by placing the rubber hose in the water source and
connecting the outflow hose to a water bottle. You then just pump the handle
and water is pushed through the filter and into the container.
These systems usually use a ceramic filter or fiber filter. Some, such as the Survivor PRO, use a carbon filter to remove even more contaminants. Those with a carbon filter will improve the smell and taste of the filtered water.
You can store the water in a container or water bladder for easy access.
Those with a carbon filter will improve the smell and taste of water.
A little bulky and heavy for an ultralight backpacker.
Mechanical parts (pump handle), so it can break.
Next on our list are gravity filters. For our purposes,
we’re going to include the squeeze filters such as the Sawyer MINI on this list
These filters work by using gravity to push water through the filter. Some of these, like the LifeStraw Family 1.0 work by placing water in a reservoir and having it go down through a filter. This makes it great for semi-permanent use.
Others, such as the Sawyer MINI, are not automatic. Instead, you must squeeze the water through the filter. However, these squeeze style filter are much lighter than the typical “automatic” gravity filter.
Ultralight weight if you purchase a squeeze filter.
Long filter life.
Can filter out chlorine.
Some of these are bulkier than other types of filters.
Straw filters are pretty well-known nowadays in the
backpacking industry. The most famous brand by far is LifeStraw. Now, these
might look cool, but they don’t really make an effective choice for backpackers
for one reason.
That reason is that you cannot use them to place water into
a container. Sure, you can put dirty water into a container and then use the
LifeStraw to drink.
However, that is not comfortable and it also means you
cannot use a water bladder. You can’t even make a flavored cold drink. Really,
the most effective way to use a LifeStraw is to get on the ground and suck the
water out of the stream.
Further, a LifeStraw requires a decent amount of suction.
This might not be a problem at sea level. However, when you get up to a high
elevation it becomes difficult to inhale with enough force to get the LifeStraw
For those reasons, we list the LifeStraw as a great backup water filtration device, but not a good primary water filtration device.
Lightweight and compact.
Clean water cannot be placed in a container.
It requires a decent amount of suction for it to work properly.
UV filters are another one of those water filters that you see but probably have never used while backpacking. These ones are probably a little better than a LifeStraw, but not by much.
These work by placing a special UV light in the water. This UV light will call all the pathogens and microorganisms. It works extremely at killing all of that nasty stuff. That isn’t a problem.
The problem with these is that they rely on batteries and
electrical components. This, combined with their proximity to water, makes them
very susceptible to breaking. The last thing you want is your only water
filtration device to break while you’re 3 days away from civilization.
A UV water filter can be used as a primary water filtration device. However, you will definitely want a backup in the event that the batteries die or the device breaks.
Eliminates pretty much all pathogens and microorganisms found in water.
Somewhat lightweight and compact.
Battery or electric components can break.
What Water Treatment Method is Best For You?
There are a few different kinds of water filters. Finding
the right one is difficult. Here is a small list of the best filter for each
scenario based off of personal experience.
Deep Wilderness Backpacker
I’m a deep wilderness backpacker. I’ve hiked in Virginia,
Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, and Georgia. My personal recommendation is
to use a pump filter because they can produce the most amount of water in the
shortest period of time. This means you can fill up all your water bottles at each
creek that you cross.
You should have a backup filtration device too. I recommend
the Sawyer MINI. A LifeStraw also works as well, but it does have some
limitations in the event that you have to use it while backpacking.
This is going to campgrounds and pitching a tent alongside
your car. Honestly, I did this a lot growing up and we just used bottled water
(or soda) purchased in bulk in town. If you want to save plastic, then a
LifeStraw Family 1.0 is a great option.
Most of the time you will have a small daypack and probably
pack all your water. You honestly don’t need a water filtration device, but I
like to be prepared (I am an Eagle Scout after all). A Sawyer MINI is light and
easy enough to stash in a day pack.
A LifeStraw and a Sawyer MINI are the best options for an
international traveler. Water purification tablets are excellent as well. They
just want make the water look pretty like a LifeStraw or Sawyer MINI.
Ultralight (Weight Weenie) Backpacker
Ultralight backpackers almost always carry water tablets
because they are extremely light. If you aren’t so concerned with every single
ounce, then a Sawyer MINI makes a great choice. It weighs 2 ounces though.
Do I need a Water Filter While Backpacking?
Yes. I know the water looks clean and it flows fast, but
that doesn’t mean it is clean. A deer could have died one mile upstream for all
you know. This would obviously be bad.
Now, would you be safe drinking clear water that flows fast?
Probably. The risk is just too big for me to take. It could
result in a case of diarrhea or severe stomachaches. That could be deadly while
backpacking deep in the wilderness.
Don’t take the chance unless you’re in an emergency. Some of
the contaminants found in otherwise clean looking water include the following:
Giardia – This is probably the most common pathogen
found in water. It will cause nausea, diarrhea, and cramps. It can lead to
death in some rare cases.
Cryptosporidium – Another common pathogen found in water. This has the usual nausea, diarrhea, and cramps. Not the kind of stuff you want to happen while you’re backpacking and trying to enjoy the great outdoors.
Hepatitis A – Yes. You can find Hepatitis A in water. Fortunately, the symptoms don’t appear until 3 or 4 weeks after initial exposure. Unfortunately, the symptoms are pretty typical and include nausea, diarrhea, cramps, and just an overall bad feeling.
Well, that about sums up everything there is to know about
portable filters. It’s not too difficult to find the right type when you know
what you need it for and what to look for.
In general, we prefer the pump style filters over any other
type. However, you should try each type to find one that you enjoy. Just make sure
to carry backup filtration.