How to Choose a Backpacking Water Filter

A water filter may be the most important piece of equipment for any backpacker. Ask Bear Grylls. He’ll tell you the same thing from the inside of a camel carcass. He’ll also agree that the deeper you venture into the wild, the more you’ll need your filtered companion.  But don’t think of it as a burden. Instead, think of it as a way to rely less on the civilized world and more on nature. 

Let’s take a look at four types of water filters that’ll keep you alive in the backwoods. And while we’re at it, I’ll give you some personal recommendations along the way.

1. Pump-Style Filters

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Ah, pump filters. The type of filter that requires you to crouch down near the water’s edge, pump it like you mean it, and look like you’re pleasuring yourself from a distance. In all fairness, you’ll find these to be the most popular water filter among backpackers. This could be because of their reliability or affordability. Maybe both.

To pump out a bottleful of freshly squeezed drinking water, simply screw your Nalgene water bottle into the receiving end of the filter, then toss the hose into a water source. Once you’ve accomplished these quick tasks, it’s time to get those paws a pumpin’!

The downside to pump filters: they tend to be super slow. Don’t be surprised if it takes you a good chunk of an hour to fill up your Nalgene bottle. The upside: your forearms are going to be so swoll by the end of your trip.

Convenience/Ease of Use: 7

Affordability: 7

Reliability: 9

2.) Gravity Filters

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While your buddies pump away to get their potable water, you can lie back in your lightweight hammock and let gravity do the work for you! Gravity filters effectively rid backwood water of harmful protozoa, bacteria and viruses by dripping the tainted water through a filtration system. To use this backpacking water filter, simply fill up the bladder, hang it from a tree, then place a container underneath it to catch the clean water droplets.

In my experience, gravity filters are great for small groups and those looking for an easy way to filter water fast.

Convenience/Ease of Use: 8

Affordability: 7 (You can find a good one for $75 here)

Reliability: 8


3. Water Straws and Filtering Bottles

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Thanks to the smart minds at LifeStraw, you can now suck water straight out of a scummy pond without dying a horrible death. This company uses advanced “hollow fiber membrane technology” to filter out 99.999% of waterborne protozoan and bacteria, including E. Coli. All you’ve gotta do is get past the whole slurping-from-a-stream thing and you’re golden!

Although super useful and ultra light (weighing only two ounces), the LifeStraw is intended for short trips and emergency situations. LifeStraws require you to be near a water source at all times. And we all know that this doesn’t always work for our backpacking adventures.

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Using the same filtration technology as the straw, the bottle version is also equipped with a carbon capsule that reduces bad taste. Cheers to that! And to top it all off, these little guys are capable of filtering 264 gallons before a new filter is in order. For $49.99, these LifeStraw Go’s are also good for the short hike or overnighter (if you’re near water the entire trip).

Convenience/Ease of Use: 9

Affordability: 9 (You can find a good one for $75 here)

Reliability: 6 (If we’re taking into account long excursions)

Well my friends, there you have it. A handful of water filtration systems to bring into the backcountry. If I were to recommend one, I’d tip my cap to the gravity filters. They’re light, easy to use and do exactly what they’re meant to do.

Please note that these are only a few of the water filtration options available. If you have one you’re especially happy with, please let us know in the comments below!




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