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What’s the most important thing to pack when you step off for a hike, camping trip, or field exercise? Famed collegiate football player and hydration expert Robert Boucher Jr. will tell you it’s none other than high-quality H2O. Water might not always be the single most critical thing on your list, but it’s certainly near the top, so you better have plenty. Notice we said to have plenty – not to pack plenty – because water is also very heavy. If you want a gallon a day, that’s more than eight pounds you need to lug around, not to mention all those empty containers. You’re much better off packing a hydration bladder or water bottle and a water filter to turn every stream and lake into your own water fountain.
Being able to purify water on the go isn’t just a great way to reduce your pack’s weight: it’s a reliable, sustainable way to stay hydrated for as long as you need.
The MSR MiniWorks EX is a powerhouse of a filter that’s a strong contender for anyone’s packing list. Just dunk the intake hose into a body of water and use the hand pump to deliver safe drinking water. An adapter fits most hydration bladders and water bottles, so one person can easily fill them without spilling. Purify up to one liter per minute. The carbon and ceramic filter is very effective at trapping not just dirt and particulates, but harmful bacteria and protozoa that can make you sick. You’ll still want purification tablets for the nastiest contaminants, but this is a great start that works in most situations. Each filter last for 2,000 liters. That should be sufficient for just about anyone. If you prioritize durability and don’t mind a little extra elbow grease, this is the one to have.
Grab a safe sip on the go with a LifeStraw personal water filter. This option doesn’t fill your water bottle or hydration bladder, but it’s probably the fastest way to get a drink without risking a trip to the ICU. The microfiltration membrane catches a long list of dangerous bacteria and parasites as fast as you can drink. It also reduces sediment and debris in the water significantly. Each straw is capable of cleaning 4,000 liters of water with no additives, moving parts, or attachments. Just stick the intake end into a body of water and drink away. At one inch in diameter, nine inches long, and weighing only two ounces, adding this as a primary filtration system or reliable backup is a no-brainer.
The Grayl purifier bottle offers about as much convenience as we can hope for. Dip this 16-ounce bottle in a lake or stream to fill it, apply some quick pressure to the base, and be on your way. As you drink, multiple stages of filtration provide 150 liters of safe water between filter replacements. A ceramic-fiber filter and ion exchange technology remove pathogens and particles. Next, activated carbon removes heavy metals, odors, and flavors. Not only is this system a quality piece of camping gear, it’s a considerate travel companion, too. While traveling in areas where water quality might be questionable, you can discreetly fill your bottle to clean the local drinking water without making a scene and insulting your hosts. We’ll drink to that.
The Katadyn Hiker Pro is another excellent hand-pump filter with a few tweaks to make it stand out from the crowd. A simple hand pump sucks water into the filter after an intake screen catches large debris like dirt and sand. Watch the glass-fiber filter go to work through the translucent housing. The 0.2-micron openings are effective against common bacteria and protozoa that cause illness. Inside, activated carbon neutralizes unpleasant odors and flavors caused by chemicals in the water. Keep the removable filter clean by occasionally rinsing it with clean water to get the most out of it–up to 1,150 liters. The whole system weighs just 11 ounces. The compact size and unique features make this a great addition to your gear list.
You get enough of a workout between water breaks, so let the Platypus GravityWorks cut the manual labor out of purifying your water. This system uses gravity to draw water from a dirty water bladder through a filter into a clean water bladder. Both are clearly marked to prevent a mix-up. Built-in straps let you hang the bags from trees when available, but you can also just lay them on the ground as long as there is a slight incline. This system can process four liters in under three minutes without breaking a sweat. A six-liter version is also available. The hollow-fiber filter is effective against bacteria and protozoa, and it also removes sediment to provide safe, fresh-tasting drinking water. The replaceable filter is good for 1,500 liters. Work smarter, not harder, folks.
Don’t let the Sawyer Products miniature filtration system’s size fool you; it just might be the last camping water filter you ever need. The filter weighs two ounces and fits in the palm of your hand. Either fill the bag with dirty water or attach the straw to drink right from the source. The enclosed hollow-fiber membrane is rated at 0.1 microns, making it almost completely effective at filtering out bacteria, protozoa, and cysts. Buy with confidence, knowing that every filter that leaves the factory is tested at three points in the manufacturing process for quality control. Each filter is disposable, but with a lifespan of an impressive 100,000 gallons, you’ll probably never need to replace it. Bottoms up!
Related: 7 ways to upgrade your campsite
Types of camping water filters
Camping water filters can basically be classified by the amount of convenience they offer. You’ll probably be able to process the highest volume of water with an active unit operated by a hand pump. These function like a backwoods faucet, turning any water source into your immediate supply. Next up are gravity-fed options that use two bladders separated by a filtration system. These do all the hard work automatically, but you have to be patient and keep track of which bladder is for clean water and which is for unfiltered water. Lastly, there are personal options like filtered water bottles and filtration straws. These are fast and easy, but not designed for filtering large volumes of water at once.
Key features of camping water filters
Capabilities: Not all camping water filters are created equal. Some filter out anything you throw at them, while others can’t separate every kind of contaminant out there. Do your homework on your region to determine if you need to be more concerned about particulates, bacteria, heavy metals, or other pollutants.
Method: There are several methods used to purify drinking water, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Decide how much water you need to filter and how much work you want to do before choosing a particular system.
Capacity: Some camping water filters are designed for the whole group, and some are for personal use only. You’ll see filtered water bottles, hydration bladders, and open-ended systems.
Price: Features come at a premium, but you might not need to spend top dollar to get what you need. Before assuming the price is directly tied to quality, read the product specs to see if you really need everything you’d pay for.
Portability: The whole point of camping water filters is eliminating the need to carry around gallons of water. That being said, some filtration systems are more portable than others. While none are what we’d call cumbersome, some require more time to set up and use than others.
Benefits of camping water filters
The heaviest filter on our list weighs 1.3 pounds. That means if you’re planning on drinking more than 2.5 cups on your trip, you’ll save weight by using a filter compared to packing water. With a filter, you only need enough to get you to the next natural source. For camping trips, this means you can pitch your tent near a lake or stream and be taken care of indefinitely. If you’re traveling abroad, a small filter can protect you from questionable drinking water coming out of the tap, too. If you still need convincing, do a quick search for waterborne illness.
Camping water filter pricing
Because there are several styles and brands of portable water filters, you have a wide range to choose from to fit your budget. Basic, personal filters cost as little as $15. These are designed to clean relatively small amounts of water, and sometimes don’t provide as much protection against contaminants as more advanced systems. The best camping water filters cost around $100 and boast protection against a wide range of dangerous pollutants. Both types have their place, so match your needs to the option that works best for you.