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The 8 Best Travel Water Filters In 2021
Written by Dylan Bartlett, from Just a Regular Guide.
Water is at the top of the list of things you can’t do without on a long hike or backpacking trip. It’s not practical or comfortable to bring all the water you’re going to need for the journey with you. A better solution is to use a filter, but there are many to choose from. So how do you decide which one to use?
We’ve assembled a selection of filters you can rely on to provide effective filtration in a practical package. Pick one of these, and you shouldn’t be disappointed.
Katadyn Vario Dual Technology MicroFilter
Katadyn is a name that has been trusted in the water filter space for a long time. The Vario is one of Katadyn’s better-known models, and it owes its popularity to an easy-to-use design, high-flow dual-speed pumping mechanism, and effective filtration system.
The Vario lands at a little under $100, which is a solid price point for a filter that will last you as long as this one. It can filter up to two quarts of water per minute in its faster flow mode. That’s enough to have breakfast and coffee on for a small group in no time, or more if you’re really efficient.
Sawyer Products Mini Water Filtration System
Sawyer is another well-respected name in water filters, and its Mini system is more of a personal solution than the group-focused Katadyn. The Mini filters out 99.99% of parasites and bacteria and offers excellent reusability. One cartridge can filter out 100,000 gallons of water.
If this solution has a downside, it’s that it is designed to work along with the included squeeze bag or a water bottle. If you’re looking for a solution that can be used for shower water or cooking water for a group, the Sawyer might not be the right choice.
Platypus isn’t the only company that offers a gravity-fed filtration system, but it is one of the most innovative. The Gravityworks system provides great convenience for a larger group by allowing you to stockpile dirty water and move it through the filter into a reservoir of clean water as needed. Like its competition, the Gravityworks system can clean over 99.99% of pathogens from your water.
This is a practical solution for larger groups who want to shower, make more elaborate meals, and plan to be on the trail for multiple days at a time. You can suspend the water reservoir from a tree or even from your tent if there’s nothing else around. It goes to work without you having to expend extra effort.
Grayl Ultralight Water Purifier
An innovative and colorful new addition to the world of water filters is the Grayl. It’s a cleverly named iPhone of a water filter that features a unique construction where you press the screen through the water, rather than the other way around. A single Grayl filter can purify about 40 gallons of water, so you won’t see quite as long a lifespan as alternatives provide. The tradeoff is a more convenient filtration system.
As promised, the system is relatively light at just under 11 ounces and could be used to filter bulk quantities if you had another reservoir to pour clean water into. However, you will need to be close to your water source to use the Grayl in this manner.
LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
Another long-time favorite on our list is the Lifestraw. It’s a compact, personal filtration solution with a neat backstory involving removing guinea worm parasites from water supplies in Africa. The special filter was so successful that the guinea worm is on the path to complete extinction due to LifeStraws distribution.
The 9-inch long filter weighs just 54 grams, perfect for ultralight enthusiasts, and can filter down to 0.2-micron particulates. It removes bacteria and protozoa and has a cartridge lifespan of roughly 1,000 liters. Worth noting: The LifeStraw doesn’t remove viruses, heavy metals, or chemicals smaller than the pore size of the standard filter. However, there is a LifeStraw Steel product available that adds a two-stage filter to address this issue.
When only the lightest will do, there is SteriPen. This solution eschews the filter element and instead opts for an ultraviolet light that is inserted into a canteen or water bottle to neutralize contaminants.
It might sound a little wonky, but many bottled water manufacturers actually use the same technology to purify drinking water. Of course, they are using very high-quality water to begin with. While the SteriPen offers an advantage in terms of portability, it cannot filter out chemicals, which are not killable the way protozoa, viruses, and bacteria are.
Still, for most outdoor pursuits, the SteriPen can get the job done. A single bulb can purify 8,000 liters of water, and the value for money is higher than its filter-element competition.
Lifesaver 4000 Uf
Self-contained filter/water-bottle combinations are extremely popular and have been critiqued in the past as touting convenience over functionality.
Developed for natural disasters, the Lifesaver 4000 UF doesn’t fall victim to that critique. It’s capable of filtering particulates down to .015 micron in size and removes chemicals and waterborne pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.
A potential downside to this solution is that it’s one of the largest of the group. Its self-contained construction makes it bulkier than other filtration devices, but as a bottle that was developed for emergencies, it makes sense. For the right buyer, it’s a great selection. A full Lifesaver 4000 UF can hold 750 milliliters of water, which is enough to get you far down the trail before needing to restock. However, it won’t leave anything for cooking or showers.
For the traveler who wants a sizable reservoir and method of filtration that’s self-contained, the Lifesaver 4000 UF is an effective choice.
Sometimes you need a compact, in-line water filter to supplement the system that’s already there for the group. At 5 ounces, the MSR TrailShot is the lightest system here. However, it doesn’t give up anything in terms of filtration. It can remove well over 99.99% of contaminants. The TrailShot can be used to squeeze water through the filter into a reservoir, or you can drink right from the source. The element doesn’t need replacing until you’ve filtered 2,000 liters of water.
The compact size of the TrailShot makes it one of the few options available to trail runners and outdoor marathoners who need something very practical for use during an outing.
Why Filter Your Water?
You’ve probably heard a lot about how critical it is to drink filtered water in your home. Municipal tap water can contain harsh chemicals like fluoride and chlorine that are best to avoid. It’s a good strategy that will help keep you healthy. However, you generally won’t risk illness drinking water from a faucet. Being in the wilderness is a whole different animal, though.
Obviously, there is no faucet to speak of in an outdoor situation. The water you do have access to can contain bacterial or microbial contaminants that will have much less manageable effects than a little extra fluoride in your diet.
Consuming unfiltered water in the wilderness can lead to giardia, a parasitic infection, or a nasty virus. Any of these things can make for an extremely uncomfortable trip home or could result in a bladder infection, which is why they are better off avoided. Whenever you can, use clear water from a fast-moving source. Always use a water filter and try to choose one that filters out protozoa and cysts like cryptosporidia, which are smaller than some other pathogens.
Evaluating Filtration Systems
The basic concept of each water filtration system is the same: Remove harmful substances from drinking water. There are multiple methods of accomplishing this. Most systems use a filter element that water is passed through to remove contaminants. There are also light- and chemical-based systems.
Ultimately, you should be concerned about how clean it gets your water, how long it takes to filter a usable quantity — which is variable based on your needs — and how long the system will last. When you consider lifespan, don’t just think about the water volume you can filter before the cartridge needs replacing. You should also determine how robust it is. After all, a broken water filter does you no good.
Finally, there’s value. It’s difficult to put a price on your health, but if your needs are only for a personal filter, you probably shouldn’t shell out for a large, group-oriented system.
Choose the Right Filter for You
What you need from a filtration system will vary depending on how you plan to use it. Perhaps you’re a world traveler looking for a trusty water bottle to remove harshness from tap water in far-off locales. Maybe you’re an ultralight backpacker who plans to make boiled meals for a family of four during a two-week trip.
This list contains our selections from a variety of different options in the water filtration world. Is there one we left out that you prefer? Let us know by dropping us a line in the comments section below.
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