Every backpacker needs a portable water filtration device. You can’t just pack all your water in for any extended period of time. This need goes beyond just backpackers though. Campers and hikers will also find plenty of use for one as well.
With that in mind, this guide will cover the best portable drinking water filters for your next trip. We’ll give a brief review of each one and provide our insight.
Best Portable Water Filter Reviews
Sawyer Products MINI Water Filtration System
Weight: 2 ounces
Filter Pore Size: 0.1 microns
Contaminants Removed: Bacteria (99.99999%), Protozoa (99.9999%)
Filter Lifespan: 100,000 gallons
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. That’s my picture on the right. 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.
Survivor Filter PRO
Weight: 14.4 ounces
Filter Pore Size: .01 microns
Contaminants Removed: Viruses, Bacteria, Parasites, Protozoa (99.999%), Mercury (99.5%), Lead (93%)
Filter Lifespan: 26,000 gallons
The Survivor Filter PRO is our preferred unit 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.
Weight: 15 oz
Filter Pore Size: 0.2 microns
Contaminants Removed: Bacteria, protozoa, taste, smell, odor, sediment, chloorine
Filter Lifespan: 500 gallons (long life setting)
Next 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 Personal Water Filter
Weight: 2 ounces
Filter Pore Size: 0.2 microns
Contaminants Removed: Bacteria (99.999999%), Parasites (99.999%), microplastics (smaller than 1 micron), smell, taste, sediment
Filter Lifespan: 1,000 gallons
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.
Weight: 3.2 ounces
Filter Pore Size: N/A
Contaminants Removed: Bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and other microorganisms (over 99.9%)
Filter Lifespan: 2100 gallons
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 about them.
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 light.
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.
- Electronics are prone to be breaking. Always have backup.
LifeStraw Family 1.0
Weight: 1.6 pounds
Filter Pore Size: .02 microns
Contaminants Removed: Viruses (99.99%), Bacteria (99.9999%), Protozoan cysts (99.9%)
Filter Lifespan: 4,750 gallons
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.
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 hand.
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 best.
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 too.
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 a 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 to work.
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.
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 the 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 have happen while you’re backpacking and trying to enjoy the great outdoors.
Hepatis 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.