Best Water Filters And Purifiers For Backcountry Camping

Paddling Buyer’s Guide

No matter how much you like to rough it, clean and safe drinking water is one thing no camper can do without. Untreated water may look and taste perfectly fine, but various contaminants can lurk within, with the potential to put your health at serious risk. Fortunately a wide range of water treatment options is available, but which one is right for you? From gravity filters to pumps, water treatment tablets and more, here are our picks for the best filters and purifiers for your next backcountry camping trip.

1 Best Pump

Katadyn Hiker Pro filtered water bottleKatadyn Hiker Pro

$90 |

According to Katadyn, the Hiker Pro is the best-selling microfilter in the U.S. outdoor market. This isn’t surprising. The Hiker Pro is lightweight, relatively inexpensive and reliable. This filter removes all the usual suspects: particles, protozoa and bacteria down to 0.2 microns in size, including giardia, salmonella, cryptosporidia and others.

It takes about a minute to pump a liter, and the activated carbon does a good job removing the boggy taste from standing water. Clean the Hiker Pro regularly so it can last you the rated 1,100 liters. If the filter takes some muscle to pump, it’s clogged. Unscrew the bottom, remove the filter, scrub it clean, then put it back together.

The five-year-old Hiker Pro pictured in the article header is still going strong. Newer versions of the Hiker Pro feature transparent housing, so you can see if your filter needs cleaning and identify potential blockages.

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2 Best International

MSR Guardian water purifierMSR Guardian

$389 |

Up to the challenge of purifying the filthiest water, the MSR Guardian is probably the world’s most advanced portable purifier for campers. This unit removes bacteria, protozoa, and viruses like Hepatitis A and Norwalk.

In 2015, when the Guardian was first released, it was accompanied by a promotional video featuring a bunch of outdoor adventure tourists drinking from an inner city stream with possible sewage runoff. The thirsty travelers maintained their health, even though locals—and viewers at home—were horrified.

Is the Guardian overkill for the relatively clean, could-almost-drink-right-from-the-lake waters of canoe country? Absolutely. Yet, after purchasing one for an international trip in 2017, I’ve often brought mine with me on paddling trips closer to home. Why? It efficiently pumps 2.5 liters a minute. And, with each stroke, the unit self-cleans, so no backflushing or filter scrubbing is ever required. The downside? Its price. But given that the Guardian can treat up to 10,000 liters over its lifetime, it may be the only pump you ever need.

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3 Best Gravity Filter

Platypus GravityWorks water purification systemPlatypus Gravityworks 4L

$119 |

Sit back and let your water filter itself. The pump-free GravityWorks system from Platypus offers a high-flow capacity without the labor. Just fill the four-liter reservoir labeled “dirty” and hang it high. In under three minutes, four liters of clean water—free of particles, protozoa and bacteria—will be filtered into the second reservoir. The four-liter capacity is perfect for groups at a basecamp; just remember to backflow regularly for optimal performance and to reach the unit’s lifetime of 1,500 liters filtered.

The convenience of gravity filters tends to make them a hit with almost everyone—bring this baby on a trip once, and your friends will never want to go back to pumping. We recommend pairing a gravity filter with a backup chemical treatment method for treating water on the go. Platypus’ GravityWorks is also available in a six-liter option.

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4 Best Chemical Treatment

Aquatabs water purification tabletsAquatabs

$10 for 30 |

For easy on-the-go treatment and as a backup method in case of primary filtration method malfunction, almost weightless Aquatabs are the go-to choice. Dissolve one tab in one liter of water, wait 30 minutes and chug to your heart’s content. Yes, there is a minor taste present in any chemical treatment. For folks sensitive to this, add some juice crystals after the treatment time has elapsed.

Aquatabs are iodine free. I’ve treated my water with Aquatabs for months at a time with no ill effects. While effective against giardia, bacteria and viruses, they have not been proven effective against cryptosporidium. Particulate will make Aquatabs less effective, so if filling up from a murky source, consider a cotton t-shirt prefilter and/or double the dose, according to instructions.

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5 Best Versatility

Sawyer Squeeze water filtration systemSawyer Squeeze

$38 |

How do you stand out in the crowded water treatment market? With the Squeeze Filter, Sawyer has created a three-in-one design. You can drink directly from the source via the filter, connect the filter to your hydration bladder, or squeeze water into another bottle. The filter itself is palm-sized and weighs just three ounces. The kit has two one-liter pouches and additional accessories for inline use.

Sawyer has several other smaller squeeze-controlled filters, including the Mini and Micro. Still, this Squeeze kit stands out for its ability to provide for groups, filter out particles, protozoa and bacteria, and provide a liter of water in about 30 seconds flat.

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6 Best Travel

RapidPure insulated water bottle with lidRapidPure Purifier+ Insulated Bottle

$99 |

It’s as easy as fill and drink. This insulated bottle is a one-liter superhero, ready to protect the thirsty drinker against viruses, bacteria and even heavy metals.

The RapidPure Insulated Bottle offers fast and effective purifying—no pressing, squeezing, priming or backflushing required. This is a good option for a solo paddle-in camper who’s never far from the water. However, we think this bottle will really shine during international traveling—you never have to worry about filling up from the tap again.

Each replaceable filter pod is rated to filter up to 340 liters. An uninsulated plastic bottle model is also available for half the price.

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7 Best Straw

Lifestraw Peak SeriesLifeStraw

$35 |

The LifeStraw has been a favorite among trail runners and preppers since 2005, providing an ultralight solution to sip safely from the source without pumping, squeezing or filling. As a primary water filtration method for campers, bellying up to the shoreline every time you want to take a drink is not particularly efficient.

The LifeStraw Go (not pictured) is the much-improved straw-in-a-bottle version, increasing the portability of your water. This two-in-one unit is ideal for day trips to refill and hydrate without the hassle of bringing a second filtration system along. According to Google, the most asked question about LifeStraw is, “Can you drink urine through a LifeStraw?” The correct answer is that it’s possible, yes, but why?

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a selection of water filters and purifiers perfect for backcountry camping
Thousands have lived without love, not one without water. —​​W.H. Auden | Feature Photo: Patrycja Hyrsz

Cover of Paddling Magazine issue 68This article was first published in the Fall 2022 issue of Paddling Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

Thousands have lived without love, not one without water. —​​W.H. Auden | Feature Photo: Patrycja Hyrsz