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MSR Aquatabs Review

Price:   $13 List | $4.36 at Amazon
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Pros:  Lightweight, easy to use
Cons:  Limited treatment capabilities, expensive, does not treat cryptosporidium
Bottom line:  A great choice for a backup purification method.
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   MSR
By Jessica Haist
Tuesday May 23, 2017

Our Verdict

Weighing in as an ultralight water purification method, the Aquatabs from MSR remain a great portable option. They treat against bacteria, viruses, and giardia cysts, but not cryptosporidium. These tabs are a great backup purification method to carry in your kit in case your primary filter method breaks down, as they are lighter than Aquamira Water Treatment Drops. However, the Aquamira version is not as versatile for different volumes of water.

Updated Packaging - May 2017
Since we last reviewed these tabs, MSR has updated the packaging. We've contacted the manufacturer, who has confirmed that the product has not changed whatsoever since we last tested them.


RELATED REVIEW: Best Backpacking Water Filters and Treatment of 2017

Our Analysis and Test Results

Updated Packaging - May 2017


We recently contacted MSR who has confirmed that while the packaging has been updated, the tabs themselves have not changed. The photos below show a photo of the new look (on the left) compared to the packaging when we tested the product (right). Rest assured that our review is based on MSR's current offering.

Aquatabs

Hands-On Review


A great backup or secondary purification for any backcountry traveler, throw these bad boys in your first aid kit and forget about them until you need them.

Performance Comparison


The AquaTabs are a simple and easy back up purification solution.
The AquaTabs are a simple and easy back up purification solution.

Reliability/Effectiveness


Aquatab's active ingredient is sodium dichloro isocyanurate which will treat your water for various bacteria, protozoa, and viruses, but we were disappointed to discover that they do not treat Cryptosporidium, protozoa known to be present in backcountry water sources in North America. Most filters will not get rid of viruses; since their size is so small, it requires super small pores, so chemical treatment seems to be the most effective method. However, the MSR Guardian and the Lifestraw Mission both manage to filter out viruses with a pore size of .02 microns. Aquamira Water Treatment also kills Cryptosporidium but you have to wait for up to an hour to be certain. The Editors' Choice Platypus GravityWorks, MSR Autoflow Gravity Filter, and Sawyer Mini scored towards the top of our fleet.

These small tabs purify two liters of water at a time.
These small tabs purify two liters of water at a time.

There is no maintenance required for these tablets and just a mild chlorine-ish taste from the chemicals.

Ease of Use


These tabs are one of the easiest methods to use; just rip open the package and drop them in. Directions say to "mix for 10 minutes" which, let's be honest who is going to do that? We hope that mixing it in our hydration bladder for one minute and then walking around with it on our backs counts as mixing! All the gravity filters in this review, with the exception of the Lifestraw Mission, like the MSR AutoFlow Gravity, were also extremely easy to use and a great filtration method.

Just drop the tablet in and give it a stir. (MSR says to mix for 10 minutes!)
Just drop the tablet in and give it a stir. (MSR says to mix for 10 minutes!)

Treatment Capacity


The package of 30 tablets will treat up to 60 liters. This is not a great amount of water to treat compared to carrying a gravity filter like the Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L or the Sawyer Mini that can treat up to 1500 and 100,00 liters respectively. It was also strange that these tablets treat two liters at a time. This would make it difficult to treat water that we store in odd sized containers, like a one-liter water bottle or a three-liter hydration bladder.

It can get tricky if your hydration pack holds an uneven amount of water (like three liters  when these tabs treat two liters at a time).
It can get tricky if your hydration pack holds an uneven amount of water (like three liters, when these tabs treat two liters at a time).

Speed


These tablets take 30 minutes to effectively purify your water. This is on the slow side considering you can filter a liter of water in roughly a minute using a gravity filter like the Platypus GravityWorks.

Weight


The Aquatabs are the lightest method of purification in this whole review. Their weight is a negligible .2 ounces for all 60 tablets.

Best Applications


As mentioned before, the best application for these tabs is to have them as a backup purification method in case your primary filter or purification method fails or to use in addition to a filter like the Katadyn Vario to treat for viruses. If you're just going out for a day or two and don't want to carry a heavy filter, these could be a decent solution that weighs virtually nothing. Just make sure that there is no cryptosporidium present in your water source. For more information about evaluating this, check out our How to Select a Backpacking and Water Treatment System article.

These packages are super small and light  a no-brainer to throw in your pack if your primary filtration method doesn't work.
These packages are super small and light, a no-brainer to throw in your pack if your primary filtration method doesn't work.

Value


As a backup that you can store in your first aid kit for a long time before using them, the Aquatabs are a decent value at $13 - which works out to 22 cents per liter. We think the Aquamira Treatment is a much better value since it can treat up to 30 gallons for $15, which works out to 13 cents per liter, almost half the cost as the Aquatabs.

Conclusion


The best and primary purpose for MSR's Aquatabs is as a backup purification method. They are a bit too expensive and cumbersome to use as your primary water purification and do not eliminate cryptosporidium. For a filtration system that can eliminate all possible water contaminants, check out the MSR Guardian.

Jessica Haist
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