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Tested: 6 Compact Water Filters for Backcountry Mountain Biking

Bikepacking or bikecamping, gravel riding, and backcountry exploring are experiencing a massive surge in popularity. It’s like the millennial generation’s recreational back-to-the-land movement. We enjoy the urban lifestyle during the week but when it comes to the weekend, we’re off into the land of no pavement, no reception, no civilization, and thus, no amenities.

If you’re thinking of heading into the backcountry on two wheels, you may want to invest in a water filtration or purification system. Sure, you can carry all the water you may need, but that gets heavy and cumbersome quickly. And drinking straight from a river, lake, or stream is ill-advised. Even the clearest water can be teeming with bacteria.

Luckily, portable systems have come a long way. Not only are they highly effective in making the water human-safe, they’re also lighter and more compact than ever before.

Water filtration and purification systems are commonplace in the hiking market already, and there are lots to choose from. Prioritizing compactness, weight, and simplicity, I chose to review systems with the fewest number of attachments while also considering the limited space of a waist pack or backpack. This meant excluding pump or gravity-bag based systems, which are efficient for filtering larger quantities of water but they’re also quite bulky.

Also, a quick note on the difference between purification and filtration. Water filters, like the majority of the systems reviewed here, will effectively filter out 99.99% of bacteria (like E. coli) and protozoa (like Giardia). They won’t, however, filter out viruses (like hepatitis). If you’re traveling in North America or Western Europe, this isn’t a concern. But if you’re traveling in some developing countries, you’re going to want to back up your filtration with a Dioxide pill or a SteriPen as mentioned below.

Systems included in this review

  • SteriPen American Red Cross UltraLight UV Water Purifier, $89.95
  • Lifestraw Flex,  $34.95
  • Waterdrop Portable Camping Filtration System, $28.99
  • Sawyer Micro Squeeze Filtration System, $28.99
  • Sawyer Mini, $22
  • Sawyer Squeeze Kit, $39.95

Find detailed reviews about each system written by Anne-Marije Rook here.


May 6, 2022

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Media Mentions from Singletracks is your source for mountain bike information, including the largest MTB trail map database in the world!


While DEET products may be more familiar by name and their chemical smell, sprays with 20 percent picaridin, like Sawyer Products, offer comparable protection without the harsh odor and oily feeling on your skin.

Kevin Brouillard
Travel & Leisure


The Sawyer Squeeze was (by far) the most common Pacific Crest Trail water filter this year – for the fifth year in a row. It’s a $39, 3 oz / 85 g hollow fiber filter that rids your drinking water of protozoa and bacteria (and floaties). It can be used with Sawyer bags (included with the filter) or with compatible water bottles (Smartwater is the bottle of choice for many hikers).

Halfway Anywhere
Media Mentions from Halfway Anywhere


SAWYER MINI WATER FILTER, $22 This has been my water filter of choice for years now. The bags can be iffy — I have had a few break – so carry a couple. However, the filter itself is reliable, light and inexpensive. -Logan

Bikepacking Team