Best Backpacking Water Filters of 2021
From ultralight chemical purifiers to gravity filters for large groups, we break down the top outdoor water treatment options
Everyone exploring the backcountry needs water, but staying hydrated is not as simple as drinking straight from streams and lakes. To protect against protozoa, bacteria, and even viruses, there is a wide range of water filtration and purification systems built specifically for backpacking (many options on this list are great for day hiking, trail running, and travel too). Our top picks for 2021 below include everything from ultralight bottle filters and chemical drops to pumps and large-quantity gravity filters. For more background information, see our backpacking water filter comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Our Team's Backpacking Water Filter Picks
- Best Gravity Filter for Groups: Platypus GravityWorks 4L
- Best Ultralight Filter for Solo Backpackers: Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter
- Best Bottle Filter for Trail Running: Katadyn BeFree Collapsible Bottle 1L
- Best Combination Water Filter/Purifier: MSR Guardian Purifier System
- Best Chemical Water Treatment for Backpacking: Katadyn Micropur MP1
- Best Inline Filter for a Hydration Reservoir: MSR Thru-Link Inline Water Filter
Best Ultralight Filter for Solo Backpackers
2. Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter ($37)
Type: Bottle/inline filter
Weight: 3 oz.
Filter life: Lifetime
What we like: Super lightweight, fast flow rate, long-lasting.
What we don’t: You’ll have to buy extra gear to optimize your setup.
The Sawyer Squeeze epitomizes ultralight water treatment and has been a mainstay on the thru-hiking scene for years. It has a number of things going for it, including a streamlined 3-ounce build, lifetime warranty (Sawyer doesn’t even make replacement cartridges), and a very reasonable price tag. In its simplest application, you fill one of the two included 32-ounce pouches with dirty water and squeeze into a clean bottle or reservoir, a pot for cooking, or straight into your mouth. And Sawyer also includes adapters so you can use the Squeeze as an inline filter on your hydration bladder or in a gravity setup (great for groups and basecamping) with additional bottles or reservoirs.
But for all its benefits, this versatile water filtration system does have its downsides. Our biggest gripe is with the pouches: not only do their small openings make water collection challenging in shallow or non-moving sources, but they suffer from serious durability issues. In the end, you’re better off pairing the Sawyer with a smartwater bottle or more durable Evernew or CNOC reservoir. Because tweaking your setup will cost you both time and money (and require some additional research), beginner backpackers might want to opt for a more user-friendly system like the Katadyn BeFree below. And for those who want to go even lighter, Sawyer does offer “Mini” and “Micro” versions, but both have painfully slow flow rates that aren’t worth the 1-ounce (or less) weight savings.
May 9, 2022
Outdoor Life: Do You Really Need a Water Filter for Backpacking and Mountain Hunting?
My only complaint is that eventually, backflushing won’t be enough. These can clog up after some time and no amount of back flushing will fix its low flow. I went through 2 on the AT. However, it will attach to Smart Water Bottles and most bladders!
Built for backcountry reliability and portability, the Sawyer Squeeze filter is our pick for the best portable water purifier.
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).