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What Type of Water Filter is Right for You?

This article originally appeared on Backpacker

Unless you have a stomach of steel, you probably want to treat your backcountry water before you drink it. Luckily, there's no shortage of options for hydrating safely. While products like tablets, drops, and UV light work fine to treat water, filters are a popular choice because they're effective, long-lasting, and reliable. Even within the filter category, hikers can choose between hundreds of products that vary in style, price, and mechanism.

When choosing the right water filter for your needs, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who do I backpack with? Do I need to filter water for a large group, a small group, or just myself?
  • How long is my outing? A multiweek backpacking trip demands different filtration than a long dayhike or overnight.
  • Is water abundant where I tend to hike, or will I go for miles between fill-ups?
  • Do I prefer to drink from a bottle, bladder, or straight from my filtration device?
  • What is the quality of the water sources where I most often backpack? Do I need to filter especially silty or mucky water, or do I hike mostly near clear streams? Am I concerned about viruses in addition to contaminants like bacteria?

Filters vs. Purifiers

First things first: Know whether you need a water filter or a water purifier. For most backpackers, a filter is suitable. What's the difference? Filters remove waterborne bacteria and protozoa, which is all that's necessary for most mountain lakes, streams, and ponds in North America. Purifiers offer an additional level of protection by also removing viruses from water, and occasionally heavy metals as well. While they're not necessary for most backcountry water sources on domestic backpacking trips, purifiers may be wise for international hiking trips where contaminated water is a concern. Purifiers tend to be more expensive and heavier than filters.

Gravity Filters

As the name suggests, these harness the power of gravity to treat water, allowing you to sit back and relax (or pitch your tent, cook dinner, or dig a cathole) while waiting for clean water. If you plan to filter most of your water in camp, a gravity filter like the MSR Guardian Gravity makes it easy. Simply fill a dirty water reservoir, hang it from a tree or place it on a slope, and let physics do the rest. These reservoirs often have capacity to filter a significant volume of water at once, making them great for large groups or families. For the same reason, they're often bulky and might be overkill for the solo backpacker.

Great for: Large groups, car camping, lazy hikers

You can find more information regarding the right water filter to carry, written by Zoe Gates here.

LAST UPDATED

October 20, 2023

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Zoe Gates

Backpacker Outside

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"Compact, easy to use lifesaver. There's really not anything to dislike about this water filter. It's small enough and light enough to just be thrown in my pack before heading out, whether I'll be hiking, fishing, camping, or just swimming at a lake.

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