Updated March 2017
Spring is here, and we updated this review to help you stay healthy and hydrated in the wilderness. As filtration technology diversifies, the once ubiquitous pump filters are giving way to other types, including ones that utilize gravity to push the water through the filter or sterilize via ultraviolet light. Our latest award winners are models that stood out from the pack for overall performance, value, or specific applications. For clarity in our test metrics, we inserted charts and tables which highlight the performance differences between each contender.
Best Overall Water Filter
Fastest treatment time
Easy to use
Requires little maintenance
Can treat and store up to 8L
No separate storage for clean and dirty hoses
Hard to collect water from some sources
The Platypus GravityWorks
encompasses our most favorite backpacking characteristics — lightweight, fast, easy to use, and versatile. This product took us by surprise, and it was definitely pleasant. We're not all backcountry plumbers, and we were stoked that this model proved durable (with no breakable moving parts) and needed almost no maintenance. The ability to treat small or large amounts of water quickly, as well as store and transport it, is clearly advantageous. It doesn't treat for viruses, and so be sure to check the water quality of your planned destinations, especially outside of the U.S. and Canada. This filter was closely followed in scoring by the MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter
, which has the same filter unit and a more durable bag, but no extra capacity. The new Katadyn Gravity Camp
is hot on their heels as a contender for the best.
Read full review: Platypus GravityWorks
Best Bang for the Buck
Doesn't treat large quantities well
When it comes to performance-to-price ratio, our Best Buy Award winner gets it done. The Sawyer Mini
only costs $25, lasts for 100,000 gallons, and is one of the lightest and smallest treatment methods reviewed. At 1.4 ounces for the filter, or a total of 2.4 ounces if you carry the straw attachment and a 16 oz soft bottle, this filter is light. Versatile for several different uses, we like the Mini over the LifeStraw
, which can only be used as a straw. The Mini can be used as a straw to drink from a source, it can be screwed onto a small-mouthed bottle to drink from, or it can be attached inline to a hydration bladder hose. At this price and weight, there is no reason not to protect yourself from possible water contaminants while in the backcountry.
Read full review: Sawyer Mini
Top Pick for Ultralight
Aquamira Water Treatment Drops
Smallest, lightest, most economical method
Effective on viruses
Somewhat long incubation time
Adding chemicals to water
If you are on a small budget, and the initial price of a filtration system is setting you back, the cheapest method is chlorine dioxide treatment, such as the Aquamira Water Treatment Drops
. Fifteen dollars covers two single ounce bottles of drops, which treat 30 gallons. This is an effective and lightweight system that earns our Top Pick for Ultralight users. This system is small, light, and can treat a large or small amount of water. It eliminates viruses and also kills Cryptosporidium if you wait one hour, which iodine, the other leading chemical treatment, does not. Aquamira is the top choice among ultralight backpackers and long distance hikers, but also a great choice if you're heading out for a leisurely backpack. The only downside is that this treatment does not filter out particulate, so it is best used in locations with relatively clear water.
Read full review: Aquamira Water Treatment Drops
Top Pick for International Travel
MSR Guardian Purifier
This purifying pump takes our Top Pick Award because it is easy to use, maintains itself, and, best of all, filters viruses
. We were amazed by the smooth handle operation and were able to fill a liter bottle in 47 seconds. This unit back flushes with each stroke so it is always maintaining the same level of performance. This is a great choice for an urban, rural, or wilderness international traveler. It is painless to pull out the Guardian to give your drinking water some extra security. We would not recommend taking the Guardian on backcountry trips in Canada and the U.S., since viruses are not much of a concern there. It weighs in at 22 ounces and has a steep price tag of $350. This is a worthy investment to protect yourself from pathogens that are more commonly found abroad.
Read full review: MSR Guardian