64oz.org may earn commission for purchases made through the links posted on this page.

9 Best Portable Water Filter Reviews 2020 | Buying Guide (UPDATED)

When you’re in the backcountry, the last thing you want is to come down with sickness due to contaminated water. One of the best ways to protect yourself against bacterial or pathogenic illness is by only drinking filtered water.

Whether you’re traveling the civilized world or exploring the unknown corners of it, a personal water filtration system is a must. The Lifestraw Personal Water Filter is the most compact, safest, and highest-rated filter on the market.

You may be wondering, “How do portable water filters work?” You put one end of the filtration device directly into the water source and drink up potable water. It’s that easy! Don’t be caught in the wilderness without one!

In a Rush?

Get This!

Overall: Lifestraw Personal Water Filter


  • Ultralight Portability
  • Rigorously Tested
  • BPA-Free
  • Eliminates bacterias, parasites, and microplastics
  • Filter Capacity: 4000 Liters


  • Sawyer MINI
  • Lifestraw Go Bottle
  • Sawyer Squeeze
  • MSR MiniWorks
  • Etekcity
  • Katadyn Hiker Pro
  • Survivor Filter Squeeze
  • OxGord Aqua Marine

The Lifestraw Personal Water Filter is an ultra-portable with an award-winning filtration system and a must-have for any outdoor expedition.

Top Choices on the Market




  • Filter Capacity: 4000 Liters
  • Hollow Fiber Membrane Technology
  • BPA-Free
  • Filter Capacity: 100,000 Liters
  • Hollow Fiber Membrane
  • Removes 99.9% Viruses
Lifestraw Go
  • Filter Capacity: 4000 Liters
  • Activated Carbon Filters up to 100 Liters
  • 2-Stage Filtration
Sawyer Squeeze
  • Filter Capacity: 100,000 Liters
  • Hollow Fiber Membrane
  • Removes 99.9% of Salmonella, Cholera, and E.Coli
MSR MiniWorks
  • Filter Life: 2000 Liters
  • Ceramic Plus Carbon
  • Innovative AirSpring Accumulator
  • Filter Life: 1500 Liters
  • Hollow Fiber Membrane
  • 3-Stage Filtration
Katadyn Hiker Pro
  • Filter Life: 1150 Liters
  • AntiClog Technology
  • Durable and User-Friendly Design
Survivor Squeeze
  • Filter Life: 100,000 Liters
  • Triple Filtration Technology
  • Survivor Filter Lifetime Warranty
OxGord Aqua Marine
  • Filter Life: 1000 Liters
  • Multi-Stage Filtration Technology
  • 1-Year Limited Warranty

9 Best Portable Water Filter Reviews 2020 (UPDATED)

1. LifeStraw Personal Water Filter for Hiking, Camping, Travel, and Emergency Preparedness

LifeStraw Personal for Hiking, Camping, Travel, and Emergency Preparedness


  • Filter as you drink, no pumping
  • Ultralight Portability
  • BPA-Free
  • Eliminates bacterias, parasites, and microplastics

Filter Life: Up to 4000 Liters

Filtration Technology: Hollow fiber membrane technology

Ultralight Portability

Weighing in at only 2 oz. and with a slim, sleek build, Lifestraw is compact and light to attach to your backpack or wear around your neck. Many campers and hikers wonder, “How long does a Lifestraw last?” It filters up to 1,000 gallons of water.

High Flow Rate

If you’re wondering, “What can Lifestraw filter?”, the quick answer is: Almost everything. The ultimate in outdoor preparedness, Lifestraw filters non-potable water through the pores of fiber membranes in its core, catching debris and microorganisms while clean water flows into your mouth. For people wondering how to use Lifestraw, place one end into the water source and suck as you would a large straw.

Passes EPA Filter Standards

You may be thinking, “Is Lifestraw really safe?” Lifestraw filters 99.9999% of all waterborne bacteria and surpasses EPA filtration standards. If that isn’t enough, it also filters out 99.9% of waterborne protozoans up to 0.2 microns. It’s important for the pore size of the filter, which is measured in microns, to be as small as possible to catch waterborne pathogens, including viruses.


  • Works without batteries, electricity, or any moving parts
  • Easy to store and clean
  • Long shelf-life


  • Can’t filter directly into a cup or mug
  • Not useful for water transportation

2. Sawyer Products SP105 MINI Water Filtration System, Single, Black

Sawyer Products SP105 Single, Black


  • 99.9% Removes disease causing viruses on the water such as E.Coli, Salmonella, and Protozoas
  • Exceeded EPA recommended bacterial removal rates
  • Great for Camping, Hiking, and other outdoor activities

Filter Life: Up to 100,000 Liters

Filtration Technology: Hollow fiber membrane technology

Easy to Clean and Store

The handy 16-oz. pouch rolls up for easy storage, and troubleshooting your Sawyer filter is easy and straightforward. You can even do it in the backcountry! To learn how to clean a Sawyer water filter, consult the included handy guide with multiple, illustrated steps.

Multiple Drinking Methods

The lightest and most versatile of all the Sawyer line of filters, this pouch can hold up to 16 oz. of filtered water. Along with the MINI filtration system, you get disposable water bottles with the included pouch, as well as hydration packs and a straw so that you can drink straight from the source.

Kills 99.999% Pathogens and Bacteria

Bacteria and pathogens like E.coli, giardia, and salmonella don’t stand a chance against this filtration system. Some outdoor enthusiasts wonder how to use a Sawyer MINI water filter. Simply fill the pouch, screw the MINI filter on to it, and you are ready to enjoy fresh water and share with friends. But does Sawyer Squeeze filter viruses? With an o.1-micron hollow fiber filter, this product does not filter viruses, so check with local authorities regarding the water quality in the area you are hiking.


  • Tested in third-party labs for efficacy
  • Filter rated up to 100,000 gallons
  • Also compatible with standard soda or water bottles


  • Multiple parts may get lost or damaged
  • Cleaning the filter takes time

3. Lifestraw Go Water Filter Bottle

Lifestraw Go


  • 2-Stage Filtration
  • Removes harmful impurities and chemicals from the water
  • BPA-Free Tritan Bottle
  • Extra carbon filter are replaceable for lifetime bottle use

Filter Life: Up to 4,000 Liters

Filtration Technology: Activated Carbon Filters

Odor- and Taste-free

With its two-stage activated carbon filter, you never have to drink smelly, bitter water again! Carbon fibers clean the organic materials and other contaminants that are caught within the pore structure of the filter, ridding the water of any unpleasant odor or taste.

Convenient, BPA-free Water Bottle

A 23-oz. durable design in classic water bottle shape makes this filtration system easy to pack and carry. It is also made from BPA-free Tritan with a silicone mouthpiece designed for comfort. There is also a carabiner included for easy attachment and secure storage of this portable water filter bottle. If you want the best portable water filter other than water filter pitcher for home, this option is a great choice.

Award-winning Filter

Lifestraw’s award-winning filter technology consists of hollow microfibers with pores that are as small as 0.2 microns. Dirty water passes through one side, and clean water comes out the other. It filters 99.999% waterborne bacteria and 99.9% of protozoan parasites without the use of any harsh chemicals, so you know the water you’re drinking is clean and safe.


  • Lifestraw gives back to children in need with each purchase
  • Save money on bottled water when you travel
  • Water bottle design encourages proper hydration


  • Carbon filter must be replaced periodically
  • Water collects in the bottom

4. Sawyer Products Squeeze Water Filter System

Sawyer Products Squeeze


  • Removes 99.9% of salmonella, cholera, e.coli, and other bacterias threatening to health
  • Simply Backwash to restore normal flow rate
  • independently Tested by Certified Laboratories and Proven Effective

Filter Life: Up to 100,000 Liters

Filtration Technology: Hollow Fiber Membrane

Kills 99.9999% of Harmful Elements

If you’re wondering, “Does Sawyer Squeeze filter viruses?”, this filtration system features 0.1-micron absolute filtration, meaning that no pore on the core fibers is larger than 0.1 microns wide. Almost all larger pathogens, viruses, and bacteria are caught in the fibers, unable to pass through the tiny pores, leaving behind fresh water.

Portability and Flexibility

This system can fit in the palm of your hand and only weighs 3 oz. It comes with two 32-oz. and one 16-oz. pouches, all of which roll up for easy storage. Backed by the manufacturer’s limited lifetime warranty, you can use these filters indefinitely.

Backwash Feature Clears 98% of Clogs

You can use this filtration system again and again without having to replace anything. When the water flow decreases, simply perform a backwash, and you can restore your system to its original condition. The microfibers in the core are fully encased, so there’s no chance of pathogens passing through when not in use.


  • All elements are certified BPA-free
  • Comes with a squeeze cap to spray water instead of pour
  • Converts to a gravity water filtration system


  • Not ideal for group use
  •  Can clog more frequently than other filters

5. MSR MiniWorks Ex Microfilter Water Filter

MSR MiniWorks Ex Microfilter


  • Field-Cleanable for easy maintenance
  • Innovative AirSpring Accumulator
  • Fast Flow Rate up to 1 LPM
  • Carbon core eradicates bad tastes and odors
  • Limited Lifetime Warranty

Filter Life: Up to 2,000 Liters

Filtration Technology: Ceramic Plus Carbon

Compatible with a Variety of Wide Mouth Containers

This filtration system can be used with both hydration bladders and all types of water bottles, so it’s easy to share your filtration method with the rest of your party. The bottom of the MSR MiniWorks screws directly on to any threaded lid. Alternatively, the water can flow directly into the hydration reservoir drinking tube.

Taste- and Odor-Free Water

Ceramic and carbon filters guarantee odor- and taste-free water, every time you filter. Along with removing harmful bacteria and pathogens, the MSR MiniWorks also takes out particulate and organic compounds, resulting in a pure, clean product. The carbon filter makes the water taste- and odor-free by eliminating iodine, chlorine, or pesticides.

No Tools Required for Filter Maintenance

With its innovative AirSpring Accumulator, this filtration system can pump one liter of water per minute. The best thing about it is that you do not need any tools to fix this system in the field, so you can filter potable water any time you need it.


  • Reliable even with frequent, heavy usage
  • Limited lifetime warranty
  • Indicates when cartridge needs replacing


  • At one pound, it’s heavier than other products on the list
  • Must clean it if flow rate reduces

6. Etekcity Water Filter Straw Camping Water Purification Portable Water Filter Survival Kit



  • Meets EPA Water Quality Standards
  • Eliminates 99.9% legionella, chlorine, VOC, and other contaminants
  • Extension Tube allows users to drink from inaccessible depths
  • FDA Tested

Filter Life: Up to 1,500 Liters

Filtration Technology: 3-Stage Filtration Hollow Fiber Membrane

Advanced Filtration System

Equipped with an advanced filtration technique, Etekcity uses pre-filtration for the larger contaminants, an ion-exchange resin that removes chlorine and heavy metals, and carbon to take away any unpleasant smells from organic material. The Kit filters up to 396 gallons of water for safe drinking.

Excellent Accessories

Comes with a foldable pouch that holds 16 ounces, an inlet mouthpiece pre-filtration device, and a backwash component to maintain a consistent flow rate. Excellent for outdoor adventurers or emergency situations, the Etekcity can filter water from any lake, river, pond, or even puddles should you need to. Hook your straw up to your hydration backpack for convenience or use the D-hook to secure your folded water bag to your backpack.

Tested for Safety

Triple-tested for efficacy, the Etekcity meets EPA Water Quality standards and passed Germany’s Tüv Süd Exam. The pouch is tested separately to make sure it is FDA-compliant for safety and quality. With multiple five-star ratings, experts and consumers agree on its reliability and longevity.


  • Small and compact at only 2.08 oz.
  • Great for emergency kits
  • High filter capacity with an excellent flow rate


  • Pre-filtration device uses disposable cotton pads
  • Hard to draw water through

7. Katadyn Hiker Pro Transparent Water Filter, Lightweight, Compact Design for Personal or Small Group

Katadyn Hiker Pro Transparent


  • removes dangerous waterborne contaminants like bacteria and protozoas
  • Activated Carbon Creates Great Tasting Water
  • Durable and User-Friendly Design
  • Lightweight and portable for on-the-go adventures

Filter Life: Up to 1,500 Liters

Filtration Technology: AntiClog Technology

Pump Action Convenience

Katadyn water filters’ unique technique produces rapid results. To understand how to use Katadyn water filters, imagine the convenience of a lightweight system with strong pump-action performance. With its quick-connect features, you can attach this filtration system in one swift step.

Glass-Fiber Filter and Protector

The glass fiber filter removes any traces of giardia, cryptosporidium, and bacteria. The cleanable protector prolongs cartridge longevity by shielding it from wear and tear. A primary concern for outdoors people is, “How long do Katadyn filters last?’ Each cartridge can filter up to 300 gallons. However, the protector allows for on-the-go maintenance, increasing the longevity of the parts.

Easy to Use and Clean

When researching different water filtration systems, one typical concern is how to clean Katadyn Hiker Pro water filters. The screen of the filter protector is easy to clean in the field. If the flow rate becomes an issue, simply take a few minutes to clear any debris from the screen in clear water. At 0.2 microns wide, the quality of the filter fiber is made for high output.


  • You can see the filter work through the transparent body
  • Pumps up to one liter per minute
  • Activated carbon granulate erases bad odors and taste


  • Best for solo use
  • You eventually have to buy a replacement cartridge

8. Survivor Filter Squeeze Water Filter Kit 2 Canteen

Survivor Filter Squeeze Kit 2 Canteen


  • Survivor Filter Lifetime Warranty
  • Eliminates 99.9% of tested bacteria, virus, and other impurities
  • Field-Cleanable
  • Improves water taste and odor
  • BPA-Free

Filter Life: Up to 100,000 Liters

Filtration Technology: Triple Filtration Technology

Squeeze Bottle System

Fill up the two included canteens and attach to your water container for swift and easy filtration by gravity or squeeze bottle method. This filtration system cleans down to a level of 0.05 microns. The ultra-membrane lasts up to 26,000 gallons. The carbon filter and cotton mesh pre-filtration system both last up to 1,000 liters or 264 gallons.

Three Levels of Filtration

For the cleanest water possible, this system has three different levels of water filtration. This filter consists of a pre-filtration stage in which water filters through mesh cotton pre-filters, an ultra-membrane filter that removes 99.9% of staph and bacteria, and a carbon filter that reduces heavy metals and improves water’s taste and smell.

Independently Tested in Multiple Labs

Tested at multiple labs in the United States, the Survivor Filter Squeeze has the highest-rated filter efficiency on the market. Lab results prove that this filter removes 99.999% of a tested virus – Phi-X 174 – and staph, bacteria, and pathogens.


  • Can be taken apart for easy cleaning
  • Special mouthpiece and integrated cup for effortless drinking
  • Lifetime warranty


  • You have to repeatedly unscrew it for a lengthier session
  • May leak

9.  OxGord Aqua Marine Personal Water Filter Purifier Straw for Survival Kit and Emergency Gear

OxGord Aqua Marine Personal Water Filter Purifier Straw for Survival Kit and Emergency Gear


  • 1 Year Limited Warranty
  • MIR High Iodine Bactericidal Resin Filter
  • Coconut Husk Granule Active Carbon Layer
  • Activated Carbon Fiber Layer
  • BPA-Free

Filter Life: Up to 1,000 Liters

Filtration Technology: Multi-Stage Filtration Technology

Chemical-Free Filter

The first stage of filtration removes all the larger particles to make the water look and taste exceptionally clean. Next is the MIR High Iodine Bactericidal Resin Filter Layer that has a sterilization rate of 99.999% by killing bacterial pathogens like E.coli, salmonella, and cholera. Finally, the activated carbon fiber removes contaminants that cause bad odors and taste.

Small and Compact

At 7.5” long and weighing just under 3 ounces, this filtration system is an excellent addition to your gear bag or emergency kit. Despite the compact design, it can filter up to 264 gallons of water without the addition of harsh chemicals.

Trusted Brand in Outdoor Gear

OxGord is an established, trusted, and well-known purveyor of outdoor goods. This company prides itself on client loyalty. This filtration system offers the brand’s same reliability and quality but at a much lower price than some of its big brand competitors. If you’re experimenting with this type of filtration system, this brand is a great choice.


  • Bright coloring makes it easy to find
  • Very durable and tether is secure
  • Comes in 1-pack, 2-pack, or 3-pack


  • Not a high volume filter
  • Storage temperature limits storing in a car

Final Verdict

Lifestraw Personal Water Filter

Portability, weight, efficacy, type of filter, and flow rate are all factors for deciding the right one for travel or camping is. If you’re wondering, “Which one you should bring with you?” review the specifics of why you need one.

If you need a water filter that can fit easily into your pack, is highly effective against many waterborne contaminants, and holds up well under heavy usage, then the Lifestraw is an excellent choice to keep you hydrated on your next venture. It is one of the top choices as the leading portable water filter for survival outdoors.

The best portable water filter for survival is undoubtedly the Lifestraw Personal Water Filter. Its affordability, effectiveness, and convenience make it one of the most important pieces of gear you’ll bring on a trip. Its low price point makes it one of the cheapest portable water filter and its many five-star reviews from satisfied customers confirms the Lifestraw as the top product in the market for camping.

The last thing you need when you’re miles from nowhere is to come down with flu-like symptoms due to waterborne pathogens from the water you’ve been drinking. Make all of your travels as safe and enjoyable as possible by packing the compact, lightweight, and highly effective Lifestraw with you every time.

What Is It?

A water filter removes contaminants from a water source by one of three methods – biological, physical, or chemical. Portable water filtration systems are mainly used by campers and hikers, humanitarian relief outfits, and the military because they are compact and easy to transport.

Most personal water filtration systems are small and lightweight and create potable water by pushing potentially contaminating water through a filtration system to remove particulate matter and harmful microorganisms.

If you’re an outdoors person who camps often and is in the backcountry for extended amounts of time, you’ll need a water filtration device to guarantee your health and safety on your trip.

How to Pick the Perfect One for Your Needs

To buy the perfect portable water filter, consider what type of trip you’re taking, how long you’ll be gone for, and how often you’ll be filtering water. Some features of a portable water filter to look for include:

Container for the non-potable water

Filtration system with pore size under 0.2 microns

Reservoir for the filtered water

Water filtration systems use either physical barriers or chemical methods of filtering water. Iodine and chlorine are two chemicals often used in filtering non-potable water, but you can also use a chemical-free filter. Some filtration systems have a carbon filter to reduce unattractive smells and taste from the water.

When you’re deciding on a water filtration system, check to see how often you need to replace parts or if you can repair your device in the backcountry. Many systems have a backwash feature that lets you reset your filter on-the-go, so you don’t have to stop for lengthy repairs.

The type of trip that you’re taking will determine what kind of water filter you need. If you are going on an extended camping or hiking trip, you need a personal water filtration system that is compact, easily stored, and doesn’t add a lot of weight to your pack. If you’re going by car or boat, you can look at some of the bulkier water systems that have a larger water capacity.

Many want a personal water filtration device for a bug-out bag or emergency kit. Look for filters that come with a sealed bag or long shelf life, so you don’t have to worry about any parts expiring or aging.

You also need to consider if your filtration system will be heavily used. If you’re going on a lengthy trip and will be sharing the system with other people, you need a high volume water filter to fill everyone’s canteens consistently. On the other hand, if you’re only filtering water for yourself, you can use one of the straw design filters, and drink water straight from the source.

If you are carrying your filtration system in your pack, consider how many working parts it has and how long it takes to set up and break down. Much like a quality tent, it won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to put it together.

Finally, think about how the filtration system works. Does it use gravity to push the water through the filter, or do you have to hand-pump the liquid through? The ease with which you can filter your water will determine what kind of personal water filtration system you’re after.

You can buy a personal filtration system wherever there’s an outdoor outfitter that sells sleeping bags, mess kits, and other outdoor essentials. You can also buy an excellent selection on Amazon. If you have a particular brand in mind, buy it from the manufacturer’s website. Testing out the filtration device in-person or having access to multiple reviews of the product is crucial in choosing the right one for your active lifestyle.


Using a portable water filter is a necessity for any backcountry adventurer. These compact, lightweight devices diminish waterborne pathogens, odor, and taste, and heavy metals and chemicals from the water.

Top-of-the-line Filters

Most portable water filtration systems on the market have excellent, rated filters that use carbon, ceramic, or microfibers to clean water. Some test their filters for efficacy multiple times in third-party laboratories to ensure an unbiased assessment of their utility. Others have a triple-filtered system for optimally clean water, diminishing unpleasant smells and taste, heavy metal and industrial contaminants, and waterborne pathogens.

Crucial for Survival

Even if you think you’re in an area with pure, potable water, you don’t want to take the chance of getting ill in the backcountry by drinking unfiltered water. Waterborne pathogens can cause many conditions like giardia or cholera and getting sick while you’re camping or far out in the woods is a nightmare situation.

Lightweight and Easy-to-use

Most portable water filtration systems are designed to be extremely compact, many of them weighing under 3 ounces. With minimal moving parts, no batteries or electricity needed, and easy maintenance in the field, portable water filtration is a must-have for every outdoor expedition or emergency bug-out bag.

Odor-free and Tasteless

With activated carbon filters trapping organic elements, the liquid these filtration systems produce water that will taste and smell like you got it from the cooler. It’s important to stay hydrated when you’re trekking and having good-tasting potable water will inspire you to keep your body healthy and hydrated.


Most of the filters on the market are reasonably priced, depending on how complicated their filtration process is. Regardless of cost, there’s no putting a price on the security you get from knowing you’re drinking uncontaminated water. The alternative is packing in massive amounts of potable water yourself, which is ineffective and inconvenient.


With all the different models of filtration systems available, you would be hard-pressed not to find one that suited your needs. Offered at a range of prices and capabilities, some of these filtering systems latch onto other threaded lids, making sharing potable water easy and quick. Some attach to a reservoir backpack so that you can hydrate on the go, and still, others produce large quantities of water at a fast pace. Whatever your needs are, you can find a portable water filtration system to match them.


There are four basic types of portable water filtration systems – straw, pump, bottle, and gravity. These types use a physical method of filtering non-potable water. There are other ways to purify water in the backcountry, like boiling it or treating it with either iodine or chlorine. If you prefer the sweeter, clearer product of a filtration system, you have to decide between these four filter methods.

Chemical means of purifying water or using one of the newer UV light tools does not remove particulates from your water source. This can become challenging as these particulates can also hinder the purification process by getting in the way of the water moving through the filter.

Any filter that you choose must have an excellent filter that removes up to 99.99% of all harmful pathogens like protozoa and bacteria. You should also be able to clean and store your filter system easily to make sure it is working at its top level.

Straw Filter

With a straw filter, you place one end of the device into your water source and suck, as you would a large straw. Dirty water is drawn through the filter and cleaned, depositing potable, filtered water in your mouth. This is one of the most convenient, compact, and effective filtration methods available. Straw filters are exceptionally good for emergency kits and deep-country camping.


  • Compact and lightweight
  • Excellent for backcountry expeditions or emergencies
  • Some come in 2- or 3-packs for multiple usages
  • No batteries or electricity needed for use


  • Hard to suck water through
  • Not made for group use

Pump Filters

Pump filters have three working parts – the lines, the pump, and the water container. They are not as small as other types of pumps but still fit in a backpack. Pump filters are excellent to use when you are supplying potable water to multiple people in your party. If you are camping long-term and need a sustainable, potable water source for multiple users, a pump-action is your best choice.


  • Beneficial elements in the water are not eliminated
  • Carbon filters only changed once a year
  • Produces odor- and taste-free liquid


  • If not changed regularly, the filter can become contaminated and start to smell
  • Carbon granules are large, so they let some smaller things through

Bottle Filters

With a water bottle combined with an embedded filter, these filters are great for backcountry exploring, as you can both purify and transport your water. With the convenience of a water bottle and the safety of a filter, you get the best of both worlds. These are exceptional choices for world travelers who need the comfort and ease of a personal water bottle with the power of a filter.


  • Useful even when you don’t have to filter but want to carry water with you
  • Effectively diminishes heavy metals in water
  • Compact, easy-to-use design


  • Doesn’t reduce cadmium, which is detrimental to humans

Gravity Filters

This type of filtration system uses gravity to move liquid from an upper chamber through a filter and into a lower chamber. Two containers with a filter in-between clean water using gravity; they are great for expeditions where water isn’t always available. These types of filtration systems are also very useful for larger groups that are staying in one place for a while.


  • Filters out man-made contaminants like pesticides and herbicides
  • Can filter chlorine out of water, which can be harmful to humans
  • Produces the best quality water


  • Larger than other filters so inconvenient on a camping expedition
  • Has multiple parts to keep track of and pack in and out


One of the most effective methods for purifying water, even from the smallest viruses, is boiling it. This may not be convenient for you if you are on the trail or have only one heat source to use for cooking. In a pinch, boiling is an excellent way to know that the water you are drinking is free of pathogens. However, boiling will not clear the water of particulates.

You can also purify water through chemical means, with chlorine. These generally come in pill or drop form. If you want to treat water with chlorine, you have to make sure it is warmer than 16 degrees Celsius for the chlorine to purify the water effectively. It also has a slightly bad taste that some people are averse to.

Iodine tablets do an excellent job of killing off anything in the water that can make you sick. This method also should be used on room temperature or hot water, never below 21 degrees Celsius. Iodine tablets also have a distinctive taste, and some people can be allergic to the substance.

UV light purification is a very effective method of purifying water but doesn’t clear all particulates. Using a pen-style device, dip the tool into a limited amount of your water source and wait. After 60 seconds, the water is clean. As this method requires batteries, it should not be your only method to purify water that you bring to the backcountry.

All three of these methods require a pre-filtration method to eliminate dirt or particulates in the water source. These methods alone won’t diminish the sediment or silt in the water and can even impede the purification process. For a complete filtration process, look for systems that have different types of filters, all working together to create clean, safe water.

Water Filters vs. Water Purifiers

Some outdoor enthusiasts wonder, “What is the best portable water filter purifier?” While these products are similar, some distinct differences could impact your choice of portable water device.

The main difference between a water purifier and a water filter is that purifiers are more effective against viruses than filters. Bacteria and protozoa are bigger than viruses, so the hollow fibers and microscopic pores of a water filter will not catch the smaller viruses.

Traditionally, UV light, chemical treatment, or boiling were the only methods to kill viruses. Unfortunately, particulates in water can impede the efficacy of other treatments, especially UV light or chemicals, which is why it is vital to pre-filter your water. In more modern times, mechanical pump purifiers have made killing the tiny viruses in water sources easier and more convenient.

However, water purifiers are unnecessary if you are traveling in a developed country. In lesser-developed countries, where sanitation methods aren’t always effective, a water purifier may be a better choice than a water filter.

A water filter should be graded for backcountry water sources with a filter width no wider than 0.03 microns. However, when it comes to water filters, the smaller the micron size, the better. Check product descriptions and with the employees at your local outdoor outfitters to make sure the water filtration system is made to catch waterborne pathogens and bacteria, and not just to remove the unpleasant taste from the water.

What Are the Common Risks of Untreated Water?

The three most common pathogens in untreated or non-potable water are protozoa, bacteria, and viruses. When you drink untreated water, you are also at risk of ingesting chemical contaminants or other waste. You can filter particulates and harmful pollutants out, or kill pathogens by boiling the water, but the most effective sanitizing method for potable water is through a personal filtration system.

Protozoan pathogens that live in water sources include cryptosporidium and giardia. These are single-celled organisms and mainly pass through fecal matter, either animal or human. Bacteria like E.coli and cholera also pass through human and animal waste and live in water. You can also find viruses like the rotavirus or Hepatitis A, which are the smallest known waterborne pathogens.

Pathogens cause serious conditions like diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, and more. In certain areas, you can contract parasites as well. If you ingest one of these harmful pathogens, you can get sick in as little as 24 hours with flu-like symptoms.

Even if you think you’re well away from human interaction and do not need to worry about contamination, think again. High-traffic hiking and camping areas are also breeding grounds for a number of nasty bugs. Water is the perfect ecosystem for bacteria and pathogens to flourish, so you need to filter any water to ensure that you aren’t drinking these harmful elements.

Chemical contaminants include elements such as heavy metals, lead, asbestos, mercury, or even industrial waste. Since you will probably be hiking or camping in a pristine area, the chemicals that are found in untreated water close to industrial sites may not be an issue.

Other waste in untreated water results from sub-standard sewage systems or agricultural methods. Any amount of fecal matter in untreated water could result in an outbreak like cholera.

When & How to Change or Replace

How often you change the water filter in your portable filtration system depends largely on what kind of water filter system you purchase. Some water filters can be taken apart, cleaned, and dried while you’re on the trail, while others have a backwash feature that can help increase flow rate while you’re on-the-go.

  1. Try not to overburden your filter with unnecessarily complicated filtering sessions. This means looking for the cleanest running water instead of stagnant sources.
  2. If you have an intake hose on your system, don’t let it settle on the bottom of the lake or riverbed as it will suck up sediment and pebbles, which can significantly impede your flow rate.
  3. You can also collect water in a pot or other container and wait a while for the sediment to settle on the bottom, while you filter water from the top.
  4. A backwash feature in your filtration system can diminish the need for maintenance. If you can, sanitize your filter with diluted bleach after you use the backwash feature to unclog any caught dirt.
  5. Additionally, periodically scrub the filtration screen with a coarse brush or toothbrush to amplify the cleansing effect, and flush and disinfect the elements after every expedition.


How can you tell if a portable water filter needs to be replaced?

If you detect an unpleasant odor or taste to your water, it is time to clean or replace your filter. Many filtration systems have a backwash feature to flush the filter while you’re in the field. Other filters have indicators that let you know when it’s time to change the filter. If there is a change in the flow rate – how fast the water is filtered  – then you need to change the filter.

Is there a need to wash the portable water filter?

Keep your water filter clean and free from particulates as a dirty screen or filter can reduce your flow rate and make the filtration system less effective. After heavy usage, it is wise to disinfect the specific parts of the system and let each part dry fully before reassembling.

Can a portable water filter also purify snow?

Frozen water is still an excellent source of water, and you can purify snow if you let it melt first. Be wary of harvesting snow from high-traffic areas that allow pets to avoid using tainted snow. Even in the most remote of campgrounds, ensure that the snow is clean. Let the snow melt over a heat source and filter it.

Can you filter urine using the portable water filter?

Yes, you can filter urine to make it potable. A carbon-based filter removes some of the acid, and hollow fiber filters eliminate the majority of bacteria or pathogens as it would with any other water source.

Do portable water filters remove viruses?Most bacteria have a size of approximately 0.2 microns; however, viruses are much smaller and require finer filtration. You need a filter with very small pores (less than 0.03-micron width) to trap viruses as well as other waterborne pathogens.

Last Updated on September 9, 2020