The Best Backpacking Water Filters of 2023
We pumped hundreds of liters of dirty water to find the fastest and most reliable filter
Imagine this: you’re in the backcountry, nearly out of liquids on a scorcher of a day, when you hit the first water source you’ve seen for hours. You sit down, pull out your bladder and your pump, and drop the intake tube into the water. But when you go to pump, the pressure goes slack. Or the nozzle jams, barely a drop coming out no matter how much you squeeze. Chances are, if you’ve spent enough time in the backcountry, you don’t have to imagine this scenario: It’s happened to you. Maybe more than once.
It’s certainly happened to me. So for Outdoor Life’s test of the best backpacking water filters, we decided to see which models from the top brands—including MSR, Lifestraw, Katadyn, Grayl, Platypus, and RapidPure—could handle the gnarliest water conditions backpackers can expect to find: stagnant water with high levels of bacterial contamination, the dark-tea tannin-filled water of a wetland, and silt-filled glacial runoff.
- Fastest Flow: Platypus QuickDraw
- Easiest to Use: Katadyn BeFree
- Best Value: Sawyer Squeeze
- Best Lightweight: Sawyer Squeeze Mini
- Best Gravity: Katadyn Gravity BeFree
- Best for Groups: Platypus GravityWorks
- Most Reliable: MSR Guardian
- Best Treatment Drops: Aquamira
- Best Backup: Aquatabs
- Best UV: SteriPEN Ultralight
A 20% DEET Premium Controlled-Release Lotion will work well against mosquitoes, but Dr. Zimring says he prefers the 20% Picaridin lotion since it also protects against ticks, gnats, chiggers, and flies. (In both instances, he recommends Sawyer brand.)
Part of spending time outside means battling ticks, mosquitoes, and other biting insects. For this, Nelson swears by permethrin.
And out of the products we tested, Dr. Zeichner highly recommends Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent.