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Best Backpacking Water Filters 2021

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Best Water Filter Drinking Very dirty water

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This is a gear review of the Best Backing Water Filters on the market in [Currentyear].

When you’re out hiking, clean water is important. In the wilderness, there’s plenty of water to be found, but it’s not necessarily clean. There are so many different bacteria, parasites and viruses that live in rivers, streams, and puddles, that you can’t just fill a water bottle with it straight away.

That’s why you need one of the best water filters for backpacking. I’ve done all the research and narrowed down to the Best Ultralight Water Filters for Backpacking in 2021.


Best Lightweight Water Filters for Backpacking

Here are the Best Water Filters for Backpacking in [Currentyear].


LifeStraw Personal Review

Pros:
> Ultralight – won’t take up too much room in your backpack and light to carry
> Effective – removes 99.999999% of waterborne bacteria, 99.999% of waterborne parasites, and 99.999% of microplastics
> Easy to use – filters as you drink the water
Cons:
> Best for the wilderness and not general travel
> Does not attach to water bottles

The LifeStraw Personal is the perfect choice if you’re looking for something that’s super lightweight.

This particular water filter only weighs 2 ounces, so will be an ultralight addition to your backpack. It actively filters the water as you use it to drink.

This means you won’t have to do any pumping, and there aren’t any batteries needed.

The LifeStraw personal works to remove 99.999% of waterborne parasites, 99.999999% of waterborne bacteria, and 99.999% of microplastics.

It uses its unique microfiltration membrane to do so, as well as reducing cloudiness, sand, and silt. All you need to do is stick your LifeStraw in the water and drink.

Another great feature is that it’s designed to last you for a long time. The microbiological filter gives you 4,000 liters of clean, safe drinking water.

The Lifestraw Personal does not attach to water bottles so it must be used like a straw by placing it into a water bottle and sucking. Also great for drinking directly from streams or when using a large mouth waterbottle.

The flow rate of the filter is OK and it works as promised.

This is a brand name water filter that is best when used in remote areas as a straw to sip water from remote streams.

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Sawyer MINI Review

Weight:
Pros:

> Effective – removes the vast majority of bacteria and parasites, as well as 100% of microplastics
> Compact – small, lightweight, and easy to stash away in your backpack
> Long lasting – filter life is up to 100,000 gallons of water over its lifetime
Cons:
> Clogs easily – silt and dirt build up quickly inside the filter due to it’s small size.

The Sawyer Mini water filtration system is very popular with ultralight thru hikers. Weighing only 2 ounces / 56 grams, it is one of the most popular water filters for ultralight backpacking when completing any of the Hiking Triple Crown Trails.

The Sawyer Mini attached to the end of a water bottle instead of the cap. You then squeeze the water bottle and suck the water through the filter.

It does a good job but as the filter is so small it will clog up easier than any other filter which makes for a much lower flow rate. It is easy to back flush sediments and dirt from the filter with the lightweight syringe that is supplied.

Its lightweight and compact nature makes it the perfect addition to your hiking gear. This particular water filter is highly effective.

It’s capable of removing 99.99999% of all bacteria from the water you filter as well as harmful parasites and microplastics that can lurk in water. Giardia and cryptosporidium are removed with this filter.

A handy feature is that it’s capable of filtering up to 100,000 gallons of water. In reality it will probably not last that long. I tended to replace this filter after every thru hike or around 150 days of very heavy use, which can be around 1500 liters of water. I just drop the filter a lot and wanted to make sure it was not cracked or broken.

For those wanting a slightly faster flow rate, take a look at the Sawyer Squeeze. The Sawyer Squeeze is one slightly heavier but for many hikers they are a better option.

This makes it the perfect filter to invest in if you are an ultralight thru hiker who wants one of the lightest filters on the market.

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GRAYL Ultralight Water Purifier Review

Weight:
Pros:

> Lightweight – ultralight filter that you can add to your backpack or clip to the pack for easy transportation
> Effective – removes the majority of bacteria and protozoa, parasites, and even many chemicals
> Travel – This is the best lightweight filter for international travel
Cons:
> Takes time – you will need to wait for the water to filter before it’s safe to drink
> Blocks Easily – can’t be used on water with much sediment which will restrict the flow rate

The GRAYL ultralight water purifier is great for lengthy hiking trips but much better suited to travel than backpacking in the wilderness.

The GRAYL is one of the best backpacking filters and purifiers which is quite compact and will easily fit in with the rest of your hiking or travel equipment.

It removes harmful waterborne pathogens to leave you with clean, safe water. Not only that, it works to make the water taste better overall, too.

The GRAYL ultralight water purifier is able to remove sediment, silt, as well as many chemicals such as chlorine and benzene. But when the water is filled with a lot of sediment it is very difficult to filter. Better for pre filter the majority of sediment first. For that reason this is not the best lightweight filter for thru hiking where water quality can be very poor.

This water filter is capable of holding up to 16 ounces of water. This makes it the perfect addition for hiking as you can fill it up at a water source, then carry on with your hike while the water filters.

It’s easy to use. All you need to do is fill the container, press down on the lid, then drink once the water has had time to filter through.

An interesting feature is that it’s been designed for harsh environments. The filter itself contains two layers of media to ensure that you’re drinking safely during your adventures. This works to enhance impurity removal, and also gives you a second layer of protection.

Overall, this is the best backpacking water filters and purifiers for overseas travel to areas with very sketchy water sources.

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Katadyn Vario

Weight:
Pros:

> Versatile – can be used with a water bottle or adapter hose for larger containers
> Fast – produces 2 quarts of water per minute
> Replaceable components – you can easily replace some of the internal filters to keep it working for many years to come
Cons:
> Expensive – costs a bit more than some competitor filters
> Heavy – Not lightweight but very effective

If you’re a passionate hiker who’s looking for something that will last you for several adventures, the Katadyn Vario water pump filter is the perfect choice.

The Katadyn Vario is pricier than some competitor products, however, it includes a range of features that make it a worthy investment. You can even replace some of the internal components for longevity.

I used one of the early versions of this filter back in the 1990s when I hiked my way around Alaska and South America. It worked perfectly to filter all the worst water sources back then and this model is no different.

This pump filter is super easy to use. All you need to do is give it a simple turn to make use of the ceramic pre-filter. Add the suction end into your water source, then use the pump to filter clean water through into your water bottle.

It is capable of producing up to 2 quarts per minute in the faster flow mode. If you want to ensure that your filter lasts you for longer, you can choose the longer life mode, which produces 1 quart of water per minute.

A wonderful feature of the Katadyn Vario is how versatile it is. The adapter base can be used with water bottles directly, or you can attach it to an output hose to fill larger containers. This will make it a versatile addition to your hiking and camping gear.

This is one of the best expedition water filters for remote areas.

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Katadyn Hiker Pro Transparent

Weight:
Pros:

> Compact – easy to carry and pack away with your hiking gear
> Transparent – see the filtration process in action
> Effective – proven to get rid of harmful bacteria and protozoan cysts
Cons:
> Requires rinsing – you will need to rinse the water filter first before you use it
Heavy – Not ultralight but very effective

The Katadyn Hiker Pro transparent water pump filter and purifier is the essential piece of kit that you need for your hiking expeditions.

It’s been proven to protect users from bacteria and protozoa, as well as harmful parasites that can lurk in natural water sources.

The Katadyn Hiker Pro makes use of activated carbon in its core to make water taste better. The activated carbon works to reduce the chemicals that appear in the water, too.

A great feature of the Katadyn Hiker Pro is that you can see the filtration process working. Thanks to its transparent nature, you’ll be able to see the filtration process in action, giving you extra peace of mind.

It also comes with features to ensure it lasts you a lifetime, including a cleanable filter protector screen.

You won’t have to worry about this water filter purifier system being a burden to carry. It may not be the lightest filter in this review but it is very effective. The compact size can easily be fitted in with the rest of your hiking essentials ready for you to use when you need it most.

Another great backpacking water filter system for expedition style trips or when hiking in groups in remote areas.

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Katadyn BeFree 0.6L Water Filter

Weight:
Pros:

> Compact – features a collapsible flask for easier portability
> Effective – removes 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.9% of harmful parasites
> Long lasting – filter life up to 1,000 liters of contaminated water
Cons:
> Biological filter – not designed for chemically polluted water

Another great product from Katadyn, the Katadyn BeFree 0.6L water filter is the perfect choice if you want something even more compact.

What’s great about this Katadyn BeFree is that you can easily fold up the bag when it’s not in use. This means it won’t take up loads of room in your pack.

This filter is highly effective. It works to remove harmful bacteria and protozoa from your water sources. So you won’t have to worry about whether the water you’re drinking will harm you or not!

The filter itself is super easy to clean after your hiking trips, too. Simply shake or swish the filter to get rid of any debris.

The Katadyn BeFree water filter is capable of filtering up to 1,000 liters of contaminated water. This makes it the perfect addition to your hiking equipment and should last you for ages.

A simple water filter that is great for traveling and trail running. Just fill from a stream when trail running and off you go.

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EHS Water Filter Straw Review

Weight:
Pros:

> Lightweight – only weighs 2.4 ounces
> Versatile – can be combined with tubing or a bottle for easier drinking
> Effective – removes the vast majority of bacteria, harmful parasites, and other unwanted contaminants
Cons:
> Tubing not included – if you want to use tubing this will need to be bought separately

The EHS water filter is a great choice if you have your heart set on a water filter straw. Slightly cheaper than the Lifestraw but just as effective.

This particular filter has been designed to be attached to tubing so that you don’t have to get close to the water source in order to use it.

Simply attach the tubing to the end, dip this in your water source, and drink away. You can also easily attach a water bottle to the end instead of the straw instead if you would prefer to use it that way.

This water filter is highly effective. It’s capable of filtering out 99.99% of particles and other harmful materials. It also works to reduce the amount of microplastics, silt, and waste that may be present in the source water.

The EHS water filter is super lightweight and only weighs roughly 2.4 ounces. This will make it the perfect addition to your hiking backpack as it won’t take up too much room, and won’t be noticeably heavy in your pack.

A great alternative to the Lifestraw Personal Water Filter at a cheaper price.

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Waterdrop Gravity Water Filter

Weight:
Pros:

> Highly effective – removes 99% of harmful substances
> Gravity operated – no need to get pumping for cleaner water
> Long lasting – can filter up to 100,000 gallons of water
Cons:
> Gravity reliant – needs gravity in order to filter properly

The Waterdrop gravity water filter will be a welcome addition to any hiker’s equipment. This particular water filter uses gravity to filter the water you find from natural sources.

Simply fill up the water bag, then wait for gravity to do the hard work for you. You can even attach this to any water bottles you have if you want the water to go into an easy to use container.

The equipment itself is lightweight, and won’t take up much room in your backpack when empty. This smaller frame also gives you a much larger capacity than competitive water filters. It’s capable of filtering up to 100,000 gallons of water, so will last you for many years to come.

The Waterdrop gravity water filter for backpacking is quite efficient. This water filter reduces 99% of harmful substances, leaving you with clean water that’s safe to drink. It even makes use of an activated carbon filter to help improve the taste of the water it filters.

One of the best basecamp or group gravity filters. Also great when hiking in the desert where large amounts of water need to be filtered between water sources.

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SimPure Water Filter Straw

Weight:
Pros:

> Compact – small and lightweight for easier portability
> Effective – removes 99.9999% of harmful bacteria, parasites, and microplastics
> Portable – comes with a carry strap for easier portability
> Cheap – Not many cheaper water filter straws than this one
Cons:
> Pricey – pricey compared to some similar water filter straw products

You’ll have all the filtering power you need with the SimPure water filter straw. This particular product comes with 4 different straws for you to use while hiking.

You can easily have one for all your family and friends who will be accompanying you on your adventure. Or you can save the additional water filters for the next time you need them!

The SimPure water filter straw is highly effective and easy to use. This particular water filter works to remove 99.9999% of unwanted bacteria and parasites, as well as microplastics.

You can even drink straight from the water source. So you won’t have to worry about waiting ages for the straw to filter the water beforehand!

An interesting feature of this backpacking water filter straw is that it comes with a carrying strap. This means you can easily carry the straw around your neck for easier access. You won’t have to go digging through your backpack to find it if you want to get a drink!

Yet another budget version of the Lifestraw Person Straw.

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Best Backpacking water filter for the desert
Filtering water in the desert from a water source used for cows

More Great Water Filters

Here are some great hiking water filters that are not on the main list. Most have not been tested yet:

  • Platypus Gravityworks – The Platypus gravityworks is a great for groups. It uses hollow fiber technology to filter the water. If traveling in groups of 4 or more then this would be the best backpacking gravity filter for groups.
  • Sawyer Squeeze : The Sawyer Squeeze water filter is one of the best hiking water filters that will be added to the main list very soon when testing is completed.
  • MSR Miniworks EX : The MSR Miniworks EX is a great filter for remote areas and expedition travel but the Katadyn filters are also great.
  • MSR Guardian : The MSR Guardian is just too expensive for anyone other than a Guiding Company looking for a top quality hollow fiber gravity filter and water purifier.
  • Lifestraw Flex : I am currently using the Lifestraw Flex and will add to this water filter review when I have had a good chance to test it.
  • Steripen Ultra : I have used the Steripen Ultra for several years. It uses UV Light to kill the bugs in the water. The UV Light system takes a while to give you the confidence that it is doing the job of water treatment by killing protozoa, bacteria and viruses. Despite some warranty issues early on I still use it. Review coming soon.

Ultralight Water Filters for Hiking Buyer’s Guide

Best Water Filter Drinking Very dirty water
This was some of the worst water I ever had to drink. Water was taken from an almost dry dam complete with cow poo and smelled like piss. The Sawyer Squeeze did the job.

Trying to find the best lightweight water filter for thru hiking or backpacking is not an easy task. There are so many different types of water filter to choose from, and with so many different weights.


Types of Filtration Systems

There are 8 main types of water filtration systems:

  • Pump Filters
  • Chemical Treatments
  • Gravity Filters
  • Straw Filters
  • Squeeze Filters
  • Filtered Water Bottles
  • UV Light Filters
  • Boiling Water

Pump Filters

Pump Filters use a hand pump and are generally heavier than all the other filters and best suited to expedition style trips into the backcountry. It takes a lot more effort to use these filters but they have the advantage of usually having the best filters that can also act as water purifiers.


Chemical Treatments

Chemical treatment generally use chemicals to kill the bacteria, protozoa, viruses and other nasty things in the water. Chemicals such as chlorine dioxide tablets, iodine and odorless bleach are among the best and should be a part of any purification system. Chlorine Dioxide is the most common chemical treatment and this system should be in every backpackers rucksack. The main downside of this method is the wait time, which is usually 30 minutes.


Gravity Filters

A Gravity filter is the best water purification method for backpacking in large groups. They are able to filter large quantities of water very quickly and when hiking in a large group it is often very weight efficient compared to each group member carrying their own filters.


Straw Filters

Straw Filters are the small lightweight water filters that are simple to use and only need to be placed into the water and used like a normal drinking straw. The straw filter lacks the functionality of most of the other water filtration devices in this review but they still work great and are very simple. The 0.2 microns filters are good enough to remove all the nasty bugs but not viruses.


Squeeze water filter
Squeeze water filters are the choice for ultralight thru hikers

Squeeze Filters

Squeeze filters are the best choice for the ultralight hikers and solo hikers. They are lightweight, simple and do a great job. These filters can be attached to inline hydration bladders or to a drinking bottle such as a smart water bottle. They can be easily cleaned by back-flushing while out in the field. These 0.2 microns filters are my choice for ultralight thru hikers but they cannot remove viruses.


Filtered Water Bottles

Filtered Water Bottles are the best choice for travelers and not really the best for taking into the backcountry. Some can filter not only the bacteria and protozoa but also plastics. Some have carbon filters which is the preferred treatment method to reduce the smell and chemicals in the water for the total purification systems. The bottled filters usually last a long time can can be replaced when they have reached their end of life.


UV Light Filters

Using a UV Light Filter is great as a water purifier for backpacking trips. They use UV light purifiers to kill the protozoa and bacteria and viruses present in the water. This water purification method is great for traveling and great in the backcountry when the water is not too dirty.

The best ones use a rechargeable battery and can treat 1 liter of water in 90 seconds. When it comes to killing protozoa, bacteria and viruses, the Ultraviolet Light Water Filter works best.


Boiling Water

The age old method of boiling water never fails to kill all the nasty bugs in the water. Just be sure to make sure the water is on a rolling boil for at least 2 minutes. Also take int account altitude. If at high altitude the water will boil at a lower temperature which limits how well it can kill all the bugs.


Filtering Bacteria, Protozoa, Viruses and Parasites

Need a water filter for bad water in the desert
You need one of the best backpacking water filters for the desert when hiking the Continental Divide Trail

The most important factor to consider is what kind of filtration your chosen water filter is able to offer you.

There is all manner of harmful viruses, bacteria, protozoa and parasites lurking in natural water. I found this out the hard way. I have picked up both Giardia and Cryptosporidium while in the backcountry on hiking trips. Cryptosporidium and Giardia are both unpleasant and preventable with a good filter.

It is worth noting that not all filters will kill all bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. Viruses usually are so small they are not filtered from the water by most filters.

Good water filters for backpacking can also remove harmful chemicals. This will of course depend on where exactly you go hiking, as there may be no need to worry about human interference if you’re out in the wild.

The best backpacking water filters can remove microplastics. These are known to slip through water treatment plants and get released into water systems around the globe.


Removing Taste and Chemicals

An activated carbon filter attached to the main filter is best to remove chemicals and the bad smell of polluted water sources. But carbon filters need to be replaced regularly, often after as little as 100 liters of filtering. I have used activated carbon filters many times over the years. In my opinion they work best when traveling overseas and filtering water from sketchy hotel rooms. Overall, the activated carbon does a great job of reducing chemicals and taste from water.


Pre Filtering

In really bad areas you will need to pre filter the water. Many years ago I was backpacking trip in the remote sections of Denali National Park and my only water source was from a heavily silted glacier. The dark grey water for so silty I had to put the water into my pot and allow it to sit for at least an hour before I could filter it.

If I had something a pre filter I could have filtered the water much easier. Pre filtering with something such a clean cloth or pantyhose can be used to great affect when on backpacking trips where the water is disgusting.


Flow Rate

The flow rate refers to the amount of water that can be filtered in a given period of time, usually measured in liters per minute. Most of the units in this review had a flow rate of between 0.5 L/min to 2.5 L/min. Gravity filters do well with this metric and units such as the straw style filters are the slowest.


Filter Life

Most of the filters in this review have a filter life of at least 1000 liters. To put that in context that is a lot of water and is enough for most people to use for 100 nights of use or more.


Lightweight

You will of course want a water filtration system that’s lightweight. This makes it easier to carry around while you go hiking.

Take a look at how much the backpacking water filters weigh. A compact filter will also be easier to stash away in your backpack when it’s not in use.

When hiking in a group it is possible to share the weight of the larger bulkier filters. A gravity filters may be heavier than an inline filter that attaches to a water bottle but when the weigh is shared between 4 people or more they work out to be lighter.

Take a look at other customer’s reviews. This should be a good indicator of how easy the water filter is to carry, as some customers will make a note of how heavy or light the water filter was to carry on their own hiking expeditions.


Easy to use

The easiest water filter is no filter at all! In the backcountry it is always best to use some sort of filtration system

There are so many different types of water filters available. You should opt for a water filter or purifier that’s easy for you to use.

The last thing you’ll want while you’re out hiking is a water filter that’s too complicated to use in a pinch! Take a look at the style of water filter that you would prefer.

Collecting water from a small desert stream before attaching a Squeeze Filter

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you filter water while backpacking?

You can filter water while backpacking by using a water filter! There are many different types to choose from.
Some feature a straw design that you stick into your water source; some require you to pump the water through the filter; some even use gravity to do all the work for you.
You can take a look at the best ultralight water filters for hiking above to get you started with the best water filters for your backpacking needs.


Another one of the Best Hiking Gear Reviews from BikeHikeSafari.


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Complete Guide to the Best Water Filters for Backpacking

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About the Author:
Brad is an Australian who has completed the hiking Triple Crown after he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail. He has hiked on every continent (except Antarctica) and has cycled from Alaska to Ecuador. He is an expert on outdoor gear currently living in Sydney, Australia.

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