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How We Tested Backpacking Water Treatments

By Jessica Haist ⋅ Review Editor
Wednesday
To create the best review of backpacking water filter and treatment methods, we carefully researched and chose top models and then put them up to a series of rigorous tests. We polled other backcountry enthusiasts, including Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers, to see what treatment methods they chose to carry with them in the backcountry for months at a time. Then we brought them with us in the backcountry on multiple overnight camping trips over several seasons of use, determining their worth in real-world situations, passing on our comparisons to you.

The author psyched to be testing out water filters in the backcountry.
The author psyched to be testing out water filters in the backcountry.

Reliability / Effectiveness


Based on the manufacturers' specifications, we evaluated which filters were effective against certain contaminants. The main difference is whether they treat for Cryptosporidium and if they can purify out viruses. We did rigorous field testing and put each product to the test for durability with regular backcountry use to see where these products fail with use. We also researched online by reading the product reviews to see if there were trends in products based on other users.

We were surprised how easy and fast the MSR Guardian was to pump.
We were surprised how easy and fast the MSR Guardian was to pump.

Ease of Use


We used the products — a lot and in side by side comparisons, in the front and backcountry. We determined how easy there were to use and in what ways.

Luke Lydiard using the GravityWorks to rehydrate after coming down from Clyde Minaret in the Ritter Range. The whole system works surprisingly fast  so it is useful even for hikers on the go.
Luke Lydiard using the GravityWorks to rehydrate after coming down from Clyde Minaret in the Ritter Range. The whole system works surprisingly fast, so it is useful even for hikers on the go.

Treatment Capacity


We evaluated each filter on the quantity of water each cartridge or purification method could treat before it ran out or needed replacement based on the manufacturer's specifications. We also evaluated how much each water each product could hold at a time which significantly affects its treatment capacity. If it can only hold 20 ounces at a time its capacity is reduced.

You really have to get low to drink out of sources with high banks.
You really have to get low to drink out of sources with high banks.

Speed


We time-tested each product by filling a liter bottle. The pump filters were a bit more subjective in this department, as our tester's time was based on how quickly they could pump and we averaged the time of 3 fills versus just doing it once.

The Gravity Camp by Katadyn is so fast there is virtually no wait time to fill a liter.
The Gravity Camp by Katadyn is so fast there is virtually no wait time to fill a liter.

Weight


We did not take the manufacturer's word for it in this department, instead of testing these products on our scale with all the components we would want or need to bring with us in the backcountry.

The MSR TrailShot and Katadyn BeFree are both marketed for trail running  but the BeFree is much lighter and more compact than the TrailShot.
The MSR TrailShot and Katadyn BeFree are both marketed for trail running, but the BeFree is much lighter and more compact than the TrailShot.


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