Backpacking Water Filter – What To Consider

camping water filter

Best Backpacking Water Filter Selection

We’re looking at the importance of hydration, while out hiking or camping. Clean, safe drinking water is essential and we’re going to advise you on why. Then we’ll make 4 suggestions for products. These are ( in no particular order );

  1. Sawyer Products MINI Water Filtration System. A well known brand with a wide product range.
  2. The LifeStraw Personal Water Filter is second. World famous for the lightweight filter.
  3. A heavier duty one is Survivor Filter PRO – Virus and Heavy Metal Tested 0.01 Micron Water Filter for Camping, Hiking, and Emergency.
  4. Last but no means least WakiWaki Straw Filter, Straw Water Filter, Hiking Water Purifier, Camping Straw Filter for Backpacking.

We’d also strongly suggest investing in a TDS meter. For a few bucks, a TDS meter can be really helpful in testing water. Choosing the right water treatment product for your trip is essential. Possibly more important than choosing comfortable hiking footwear. There are several things to consider when you choose a product. Some of the common things you need to consider are size, weight, treatment time, filter size. Also price &  the longevity of the product and which organisms can every product eliminate. If you select one particular backpack water filter to buy, choose the best.

With our article, we have tried to take an initiative to tell you all about the best backpacking water filters. We will also advise you to consider the most important aspects of the product and help you select the one that suits you.

Why Do We Need To Treat Water With Backpacking Water Filter?

Since we are to talk about the importance of a backpack water filter, let us have a thorough idea about why it is at all required. Have you ever thought about why we purchase water filters? What does the system eliminate to make the water pure? Is it necessary to treat water?

After some detailed study, researchers recently concluded that back-country sources of high altitudes are cleaner than what we thought. You might not have to treat every water source you, but the clinch is, you will never know which source is contaminated and which one is not. Suppose you are at a high elevation with no cattle grazing around, no packs of animals, very little human invasion – the source of water in such a condition can be pure and drinkable. However, if you travel a path that is frequently traveled by other backpackers or have animals around, it is better to treat the water available in that area. Let us go through the possible risks of contaminated water, to know why we need quality products to ensure safe water.

portable water purifier and camping gear


Pathogens are different types of water-borne elements that can cause discomfort in our intestinal tract. Below are their types:

  1. Protozoa: the two types of protozoa – Giardia and Cryptosporidium, are the most common water-borne elements and also the most feared ones. These single-celled parasitic organisms lead us to intestinal issues. The symptoms start showing after 2 to 15 days of consumption. These elements survive in cold waters for several months. Cryptosporidium withholds a strong and protective outer layer, which can be tough to treat by several.
  2. Viruses: Hepatitis A and Rotovirus are common viruses found in water. Viruses are an uncommon threat if you hike in U.S. or Canada, but anywhere else, viruses are well prevalent. These are tiny organisms and are tough to filter out. If the pore sizes are smaller than .02 microns, it is tough to treat.
  3. Bacteria: Bacteria that survive in water include the ones like E. coli, Dysentery and Campylobacteriosis. These are quick to clean out as they are larger than viruses.


Now that you know about the pathogens and their risks, it would be easier for you to select a product. Before you select a backpacking water filter, go through the differences between purifiers and filters. One reason we really like the Survivor Filter PRO, is their quality.
“Tested at Multiple USA labs to show Log 5 Removal 99.999% of Protozoa (Cryptosporidium, Giardia and Parasites) Log 5 Removal 99.999% of tested VIRUS (Phi X-174), STAPH and BACTERIA. 99.5% Mercury and 93% Lead Removal which Matches or Exceeds Most Home Systems. “

Granted the Survivor Filter Pro comes in at the top of the price breaks out of these 4 products, but we think this is worth that extra expense. After all, can you put a price on health?

Difference Between Purifiers And Filters

Both purifiers and filters are used for treating water, but their difference lies in the effectiveness. Filters mechanically push water through their filtering element, which helps to strain out pathogens. They specialize in treating bacteria and protozoa, but might not kill all viruses. Most purifiers require chemical or have UV light functions, for treating the same. Sadly, no miracle product can be a perfect solution for cleaning deeply contaminated water. Manufacturers usually recommend carrying a backpacking water filterwith chemical treatments, as those are the fastest ones to kill harmful pathogens.

Effectiveness of Backpack Water Filter Systems

Filters: If you buy a backpacking water filter, it frees you from bacteria and Cryptosporidium, but viruses can still prevail. Filters help you enhance the taste of the water and strain out particulates. Pore sizes of an average hiking water filter don’t filter viruses, so you need to choose the ones with small pores.

UV Purifiers: Purifiers work well for all pathogens. UV treatments don’t kill the pathogen but scramble the DNA of these microorganisms, so that they don’t reproduce anymore. You cannot treat water with purifiers and then allow it to come to light, as these organisms have a tendency to reactivate. The UV purifiers don’t filter particulate until you use a pre-filter.

best backpacking water filter

What Are Chemical Treatments For Water Purification?

The most common chemical used for cleaning water are forms of chlorine, iodine, or oxidizing agents. All these do their job within 20 minutes after adding the chemicals to the water. The time consumed can be more for colder water, as chemicals work slowly on them. Let us read through the chemicals used for this purpose:


It is the least effective and unstable chemical, which adds taste to water and leaves residue behind. The residue can be slightly relevant to cancer. Thus, this should be your last option for water purification.

Household Liquid Bleach

It contains around 5.25% sodium hypochlorite. You are recommended not to use scented and colored bleaches as cleaners. About 3-6 drops of bleach per quart is fine. Mix well and allow it to sit for about 20 minutes.


Iodine is way more helpful than chlorine but doesn’t help if brought under sunlight. It does leave behind an unpleasant taste. It is good for people facing a certain type of thyroid issues. The bad taste of iodine counters if you add ascorbic acid or vitamin C. However, this process can be done after a recommended time span, as it neutralizes the effectiveness of iodine. Iodine is known to have negative impacts if used over prolonged periods, although there is no such medical study to prove this accurately. Liquid Tincture of Iodine that sells at pharmacies can be a possible source. Adding several drops at every quart of water, and giving 20 minute time for reacting, can be one of the best options for water treatment.


Oxidizers are the fastest possible chemical for water purification. It doesn’t alter the taste of the water and produces the least residue. It is one of the most expensive options since it works better compared to other chemical solutions. Most public water systems use this system of water purification.

If you follow chemical treatments for purifying water, you will be able to eliminate bacteria and viruses. You need to check the labels, reviews and descriptions if they filter out cryptosporidium as well. The negative aspect of chemical treatment is that they don’t strain out particulate and leaves the water with a sour taste.

How To Eliminate Certain Pathogens?

Cryptosporidium: This can be filtered with good water filters and effectively disabled by UV purifiers. Chlorine dioxide tablets can also keep water free from Cryptosporidium for 4 hours.

Viruses: This can be filtered with UV purifiers, iodine, chlorine dioxide and selective filters.

Bacteria: This can be filtered too with many products. Bacteria are the easiest to eliminate.

Particulate: This is not a harmful pathogen, although silt and dead bugs make water taste bad. Filters and Pre-filters can strain particles out of the water.

water filtration camping

Bottom Line

In order to have an effective treatment, it is important to judge which product suits us the most. We conclude that a backpacking water filter would be a perfect solution. You just need to make sure if you are going to a virus free water zone or not. If you are, then you can do with any water filter. However, you need to be sure about the pore size if you go to places other than the U.S. and Canada.

Other Considerations To Keep In Mind

After all the basic requirements and features, there are some more aspects that we cannot neglect. Let us read through the following to know more:

  1. Weight

After the effectiveness of a filter or purifier, your main concern would be the weight of the product. You will need to carry it all throughout your journey and it is one of the must-takes, so you cannot do without it anyway. Even the most conventional products can have a drastic difference in weight, which ranges from 2 ounces to 22 ounces. Your activity can also differ the weight you want to carry. If you hike for long distances, you would like a light filter. This could be a WakiWaki Straw Filter, for instance. Whereas for short trips, you can carry heavy and more effective treatments.

  1. Time before drinking

Every water system treats water in different processes. The time consumed by each varies from one another. It can take you about 40 seconds to 30 minutes to treat water, according to the system you choose. Backpackers usually do not like time-consuming water treatments, as they cannot afford to waste time. Thus, you must keep the time consumption process in mind before selection.

If you travel to an international destination, where you know you’d get contaminated water resources, or you reside at a campsite, where you have water around you, then you can spare time for water treatment. Ask yourself if your water treating processes are going to immediate or can you spare a lengthy span of time. Chemical treatments are the best hacks for emergency cases. However, they are not recommended as the best water filtering method. The backup water filters which are gravity-fed or have pumps can work quicker than chemical methods. UV treatments can also be quick, but not as quick as the other two.


Here Are Our Four Featured Products Which We Feel Are The Brand Leaders.


We have bought, used and still use each of these. All are great products.

Product Name:Sawyer Products MINI Water Filtration System
Brand:Sawyer Products
Product Name:LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
Product Name:Survivor Filter PRO – Virus and Heavy Metal Tested 0.01 Micron Water Filter for Camping, Hiking, and Emergency
Brand:Survivor Filter 


Product Name:WakiWaki Straw Filter, Straw Water Filter, Hiking Water Purifier, Camping Straw Filter for Backpacking



Other Details Of Backpacking Water Filter

  1. Quantities to treat

Single hikers or hikers going for short trips, do not require huge filters.  This is where Sawyer Products MINI Water Filtration System, could be the answer. Easily portable and available in different sizes. So you can buy for a group of people, but you will need a bigger system. Pump water filters work better when you need less amount of water, whereas, gravity-fed filters are good for treating and storing a lot of water.

  1. Filter Medium

The water filtering medium is the main element that helps catch the organisms. There are several types of products to serve as a filter in the market. We list the main ones below:

Micron Size

When you purchase a filter, you must keep a note of the micron size. It gives you the measurement of pore size. The smaller the size of the pore, the more pathogens can strain out. The simple thumb rule is to note, that the smallest bacteria are of 0.2 microns, so your filter size should be smaller to that, to provide the concerned level effectiveness. Filters as good as a pore size of .02 will be able to kill viruses, although they’d be immensely slow. Most products with small micron sizes delay the filtering process, but there are some brands like MSR or Guardian, that are leveling up on this note.


Suppose you buy a pump filter for water treatment, and you get it along on a multiple days tour. You need to make sure that the pump is field maintainable. So, you can service the product when clogged. Ceramic filters need frequent scraping, but that is relatively easy. Most pump filters are designed to back-flush for clog removal, but you need to be sure about the complexity of the process.

You also need to know how long a filter can last before it requires replacement. Ceramic products can filter about 2,000 liters of water, while most other products aid you by filtering 500 liters. You can purchase cartridges once the filter goes above its watercourse.

Electronic methods like UV purifiers are completely different. They have battery and bulb life in concern. The UV lamps last for about 8,000 treatments. However, you need to replace the battery after 40 to 100 treatments.

In Conclusion

Consider where you are planning on traveling to. If the area is known for a specific water problem, then this should be a factor. Understanding requirements leads us to choose one suitable product.

People, who want to travel light and for long distances, keep all the probable considerations of weight, time is taken to purify, price and upkeep. People traveling alone or for short distances would not want to wear out soon as well. Most filters are heavy to carry, which is why they prefer choosing an ultralight backpack water filter. We have provided detailed descriptions of all recommended products, which can suit you in different circumstances. You will be able to judge them thoroughly, know their reviews, tally their pros and cons, and then finally select the one that fits in your journey.


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