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Best Backpacking Water Filter For 2020 - Buyer's Guide & Reviews | SportAndOutdoorHQ.com

Best Backpacking Water Filter For 2020 – Buyer’s Guide & Reviews


We all know hiking is fun if you have the necessities that will be required during that period. One of the most important commodities that are necessary is a proper water treatment system.We all spend hours selecting proper footwear, but choosing an efficient water purifier is equally important. This Guide on Best Backpacking Water Filter will surely help you find your perfect choice.

There are numerous factors that you should consider before purchasing a backpacking purifier like size, weight, time taken by the device to purify the water, lifespan of the system, filter medium and what are the particles or organisms the filter is capable of eliminating. Firstly, let us discuss if it is necessary at all to treat water. Research shows that water at higher altitudes is cleaner than what we expect.

Best Backpacking Water Filters

It is not necessary to treat every water source that we come across. However, it is impossible to conclude about the purity of water just by seeing it. At higher elevations, where there is little or no human traffic, cattle grazing or a pack of animals, you may don’t have to treat the water that you get there. However, on a heavily traveled path, it is highly recommended that you purify the water before drinking. Contaminated water may cause severe intestinal tract disorders and you may fall sick during your expedition.


Water Filter Weight Size
Sawyer Mini(Editor's Choice) 0.1 pounds 0.1 Check Price
MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter 10.5 oz 1.75 liters per minute Check Price
Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L 11 oz 6-Liter Check Price
Platypus GravityWorks 10.75 oz 4-Liter Check Price

A few things you should consider before buying a Backpacking Water Filter :-

The presence of pathogens in water makes it the most harmful. Protozoa has been proven to cause Giardia and Cryptosporidium, which are two of the most feared water-borne diseases. These single-celled parasitic organisms cause severe intestinal problems after 2-14 days of ingestion. Cryptosporidium’s hard protective outer layer protects it from different types of water purification. E.coli(a bacteria) typically known for causing dysentery, is extremely harmful if present in drinking water. One more example of a bacterium is Campylobacter, which causes Campylobacteriosis which has symptoms like fever, cramps, pain, dysentery and intestinal inflammation. Bacteria can be easily filtered out due to their size when compared to viruses or protozoa. Viruses like Hepatitis A and Rovirus are extremely small and are only filtered out if the filter has pore size smaller than .02 microns.

2 Most Important Things to Consider

  • Key differences between Purifiers and Filters

The main difference between them is the fact that in a purifier, water is passed through an actual filter which blocks any protozoa or bacteria but not capable of killing viruses. A purifier on the other hand eliminates all three but involves filtration with chemicals and UV light functions. Most filters don’t have pore sizes suitable for filtering out viruses. However, the Guardian and Sawyer Complete Treatment System possess extremely small pore size, which can filter out most viruses. If your filter uses chemicals for filtration, it may affect the taste of water. Some chemical treatments have been proven to remove Cryptosporidium after an extended period of time. UV purifiers are known for their effectiveness against viruses, bacteria and protozoa. What it does is that it scrambles the DNA of the pathogens, which prevents them from reproducing. The taste of water is also not activated. Do not expose the water to sunlight after UV filtration because they may reactivate. UV filters are widely used in commercial water purifier plants.

  • Physical Factors
  1. Weight: It is one of the most primary concerns of a hiker when choosing a water treatment system. Various systems are available weighing in the range of 2-25 ounces. The weight of the system can be of a concern depending on your activities during hiking. For long distances, opt for a small and light chemical purifier. If you are planning to set up a base camp, an effective purifier is recommended though it is heavier. Moderate weight filters are recommended for those who go on hiking more often. These do not contain any chemicals and do not put up too much weight.
  2. How much water you system can treat: If you go for hiking in a group, you must choose a system capable of purifying large quantities of water. However, if you’re alone, you should not be too much concerned about this. Pump filters excel in both situations. They can treat smaller and larger quantities of water at the same time. Gravity-fed filters are great for groups.
  3. Time taken for filtration: Different products have varying filtration times. So choose the water treatment system accordingly. For groups, opt for a filter which can treat large volumes of water in a certain period of time. Choose an immediate system for personal use.

Here are the top 7 picks for backpacking water filtration systems:

1.  Platypus GravityWorks

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It is one of the best products that are available in the market today for its fast filtration system. Initial impressions of the product were that it was bulky and time-consuming. However, it turned up to be just the opposite. It is one of the lightest and the fastest products which require almost no maintenance costs. The filter lasts for using the product for filtration of about 1500 liters of water.

It is suited for both an individual and a group of hikers for its versatility. It is a unique product, which also comes with a storage option of 2 or 4 liters thus providing ample water supply for a group of backpackers where there is scarcity of water.


  • Ease of use and Effectiveness

It is made up of a hollow filter fiber, which is effective against bacteria and protozoa. However it is not useful for protection against viruses. Neither any electronics nor any electronics are involved which nullifies any chances of malfunction. In areas where temperatures may drop significantly, try to keep the device warm because the filter may freeze. Maintaining the device is not that difficult and the filter does not need to be changed very often. It is very convenient to use when compared to even some of the pump systems.

  • Use to following steps to get purified water in minutes-
  1. Fill the bag, which is marked as ‘dirty’.
  2. Zip it and attach the tubes to the filter following the arrows.
  3. Place the washed bag at a lower height than the untidy bag.
  4. The device would work automatically providing you with clean and purified water.

However, it is a bit difficult to shut the zip after you fill the bag with a snowmelt stream. You may require some serious strength to shut it to avoid any leakage. The total system has a capacity of storing up to 8 liters if water at a time and the filtration process takes about 2 minutes for the 2 liter system and 3 minutes for the 4 liter system. Portability is not an issue with this product and you may take it wherever you want.


  1. It is one of the fastest systems.
  2. Very easy to use.
  3. Little maintenance is required.
  4. Can store up to 8 liters of water.


  1. Separate storage for clean and dirty hoses is not available.
  2. It is quite expensive.
  3. It is difficult to fill up the device from small sources or non-flowing water sources.

2. MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter

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Platypus GravityWorks faces tough competition from the MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter. This device is also capable of filtering large volumes of water in a short time. Both the devices have their own pros and cons, which we will discuss now. The AutoFlow is an ounce lighter than its competitor but not as much as user friendly.

AutoFlow has a single container in which water is stored. It requires one-step less for filtration but has lower storage capacity. However, its storage bag is much more durable and lightweight. It is believed that both the devices have the exact same filter so maintenance cost will exactly be the same (about 1500 liters are purified before it gets exhausted).


  • Ease of use and Effectiveness

Simply fill up the system from a flowing water source and seal its end. Hang it in a tree branch and attach the hose. Water should come out of the other end, which you should put inside a bottle or container. This is not included and you have to carry an additional bottle or a pot for the clean water to accumulate. It has an adjustable screw, which fits smoothly into the mouths of most bottles. It is definitely easier to fill up the MSR when compared to the Platypus bag. You may face some trouble while filling it if the water source is very shallow and stagnant. The bag comes with a buckle, which allows you to hang the system easily from a tree branch. It is very convenient to use and gets the job done when you go hiking in a group. The MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter took exactly the same time for filtration as the Platypus.


  1. Filtration process is quite fast.
  2. It is easy to use.
  3. It requires little maintenance.
  4. Can treat up to 8 liters of water at a time.


  1. Separate storage bags for clean and dirty water are not provided.
  2. It is quite expensive.
  3. It is difficult to fill up the bag from shallow and stagnant water sources.

3. Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L

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This device is comparatively new in the market and experts are really impressed the way it performed. Gravity filters are quite popular amongst backpackers and this product with its fastest filtration times has really changed the game.

The Gravity camp is also the lightest product and is a strong competitor to the MSR and the Platypus.


  • Ease of Use and Effectiveness

The Gravity Camp is fitted with a glass fiber/carbon filtration cartridge while the others have a hollow fiber. The pore size is of 0.2 microns which filters any protozoa and bacteria. One of the reasons of its fast filtration times is that the cartridge is fitted inside the water bag. Similar to other gravity filters, it has a lifespan of 1500 liters and after which the cartridge needs to be replaced. It even has a protector film around the filter, which protects it from any kind of damage extending its life span. It seems little fragile when compared to the MSR or the Platypus and hence care should be taken while packaging. You need to screw the filter into the bag before filling it up. Hang it at a certain height and plug the hose at the outlet for pure water supply.

  • Speed and Capacity

It is the fastest water filtration product available in the market today and can purify about 1 liter of water in just 10 seconds. As mentioned earlier, it has a lifespan of 1500 liters. It is ideal for a group of hikers as it can provide 6 liters of pure water at a time. If you want more, you can always opt for the 10L version. It is also the lightest gravity filter available in the market weighing just 11.5 ounces. Taking this unit for hiking will not be a problem at all. It would work great in a base camp and is highly recommended for 2 or more people. If you are a solo hiker, you should probably look for something else.


  1. It is the fastest gravity filter currently available.
  2. It is extremely light.
  3. Comes at a much cheaper price compared to the MSR and the Platypus.


  1. Assembling the device may be a bit difficult because you need to put the filter inside the bag before filling.
  2. It is a bit fragile.
  3. The outlet hose may not be compatible with every vessel.



4. Sawyer Mini

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It is a small, light and inexpensive product best for personal use. It weighs around 1.4 ounces and you need to pay only few bucks for a filter, which is capable of filtering 100,000 gallons of water. It is the lightest filter available, which is very versatile.

It can either be used as a straw-type filter or be fixed on a bottle. It has a pore size of 0.1 micron, which eliminates all kind of bacteria, protozoa and Cryptosporidium, but not viruses. It does not have any batteries or moving parts, which nullifies any chances of malfunctioning.

The Sawyer Mini is a very reliable product and is recommended for its value for money.


  • Ease of Use and Effectiveness

If you use the product heavily for a few days, the filter may get jammed and you need to flush it with the provided syringe. The whole process takes about 2 minutes and it is advisable that you take the syringe if you plan for long trips. Try keeping the unit in a warm place, because if it gets frozen, the filter may get damaged. You can drink directly from a water source if you want using the Sawyer Mini. An extra attachment comes along with a filter but there are chances of misplacing it. It can also be screwed to the neck of a water bottle by squeezing it and most of them are compatible with the filter. A 16-oz bottle has been included with the product. It is not recommended for treating large volumes of water like the Platypus or MSR. You may get tired of squeezing the bottle if you are hiking in a group and you have a single unit. You can directly drink from the source making it an instantaneous filtration product. Unless the filter gets clogged, you can easily drink water from all sources. One of the major advantages of the product is its weight. It is so light that you would not fell the weight at all making it one of the best products for hiking.


  1. It is small and lightweight.
  2. Can be utilized to drink water directly from the source.
  3. It comes at an affordable price.


  1. Cannot be used for the treatment of large volumes of water.
  2. Filter may get clogged after heavy usage.

5. MSR Guardian Filter

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It is their latest product and is probably the best filter for eliminating protozoa, bacteria and even viruses. If you do not trust the water sources on international trips, consider carrying this product.

Well it does come expensive but it certainly gets the job done. The Guardian MSR efficiently separates all kinds of particulate and harmful substances making it drinkable.


  • Ease of Use and Effectiveness

It is the most easy to use pump filter and has proven to filter out all kinds of pathogens. The most significant feature of this product is that it can eliminate even viruses, which most other filters cannot claim to do so. It is the only pump filter to have a 0.1-micron filter size. It has a lifespan of about 10,000 liters, which is commendable. The pump system of this unit requires absolutely no maintenance. It comes with an auto clean technology, which flushes the filter with every stroke. The back flushed water is eliminated through an additional outlet which is located just beside the intake. You don’t have to worry if you leave the filter in frozen temperatures overnight. It has been tested that the filter works just fine if it is left in such low temperatures. It is made up of very durable materials and the product survived drop tests from 6 feet. The pumping mechanism is very smooth and you don’t have to assemble the product every time you use it. Just take the unit out of its cover, place the intake hose in the water source and start pumping. Compared to other hand filters, the MSR Guardian Filter purifies water at a rate of 1 liter in 42 seconds, which is excellent. It weighs around 22 ounces, which is quite heavy if you consider other filters that are available. It is highly recommended for international expeditions where the water source is not reliable. If the price and the weight is not a big factor for you, consider buying this product for its excellent water purification capabilities.


  1. It is extremely durable.
  2. Filters out viruses which most of the other filters are incapable of doing.
  3. It is one of the fastest pump filters.
  4. The life span of the filter is better compared to other filters of this category.


  1. It is quite heavy and recommended mostly for international expeditions.
  2. Quite expensive than its competitors.

6. Sawyer Complete Water Treatment System

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After the Mini, Sawyer introduced their version of their gravity filter. However, it misses out some of the key features making it feel more like a prototype. It is one of the few gravity filters capable of filtering protozoa, bacteria and viruses having a pore size of 0.2 micron. Only the expensive pump filters offer efficient purification when it comes to eliminating viruses. It surprisingly comes with virtually a lifetime warranty as it is rated to filter 1 million gallons of water before the filter runs out.

A few areas where this product loses out is that it’s inferior hose quality and strangely built screw cap. Once you know all the functions of the parts, you’ll be able to know its working procedure.

Lack of a mouthpiece or bite valve has not been included which makes us question whether the product is ready for the market.


  • Ease of Use and Efficiency

Just like any other gravity filter, you just need to fill up the water bag from a water source and hang it in a tree branch. The dispensing cap is not very efficient and water gets spilled all over the place. Purified drinking water is produced at a rate of 1 liter per minute, which is pretty quick. However, there are faster alternatives available in the market. On the negative side, the complete system weighs around 17 ounces, which is significantly heavy for a gravity filter. The Platypus GravityWorks weighs 5 ounces less than this unit. However, the water bag is very durable which is always good. If a few tweaks can be done to this product, it can be very promising. For example, Sawyer needs to replace the bite valve immediately. The filter does have a very long life, but its price is on the higher side. It is a pretty fast and efficient product but needs to be improved in many aspects. Use of better quality components and decreasing some weight is all that it needs.


  1. It is one of the very few gravity filters capable of eliminating viruses from the drinking water it provides.
  2. It comes with two water storage containers which is always a plus if you’re in a group and require large volumes of water.
  3. It can turn into a hydration bladder.


  1. A mouthpiece is not included.
  2. It is quite heavy.
  3. The dispensing cap has fitting problems.

7. MSR SweetWater Microfilter

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It is a pump filter, which is pretty easy to use. It has a leveraged pumping handle, which is pretty smooth. The filter is known to eliminate protozoa and bacteria but not viruses. Weighing at around 13.5 ounces, the MSR SweetWater Microfilter is a very reliable product at this price point.

You can purify little or large volumes of water as per your requirement. If you need to suck out water from very shallow or smaller sources, you must definitely try this product. Put the intake hose into the water source and the output hose in a container in which you want to collect water. Start pumping and the filtration process starts immediately.


  • Ease of Use and Effectiveness

As discussed earlier, it only eliminates bacteria and protozoa but not capable of removing viruses. This product can be used for a large group of people or a single person. The filter works well for about 750 liters before it needs a replacement.   This is a bit low compared to what the competitors offer at this price. You need to assemble to product before using it and the components seem a little delicate. The pumping handle is detachable meant for better packing. However, it is easy to pump water with this device. It filters a liter of water in about one and half minutes which is pretty decent. Weight of the unit is also average at 13.5 ounces including all its components. Meant for general hiking, the MSR SweetWater Microfilter is a very reliable product. It competes well with other pump style products and gets the job done. One of the major concerns is that the pumping handle is a bit fragile and has been reported by many that it has been broken. Otherwise, it is very easy to use if you go out alone or in a group. There are certainly better alternatives available if you do not feel that this product is right for you.


  1. The pumping handle is smooth and easy to pump.
  2. It is detachable which helps in better packaging of the product.
  3. Smaller filter pore means that it separates most of the impurities.


  1. It is slightly on the heavier side.
  2. Water pumping is speed is not the best.
  3. Filter life is quite average.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) Regarding Backpacking Water Treatment Systems

1. Which filtration process should you choose?

• The process of UV filtration takes water purification to a whole new level. It is effective in destroying 99.99% of all the microorganisms present in the water being environment-friendly at the same time. It has no harmful byproducts and works 24/7 both during day and night. You only need to replace the ‘lamp and sleeve’ of the purifier every year which makes it cost effective. Since water gets purified in the system while it flows, you do not need a storage container, hence a quick and efficient process. It requires very low energy and no chemicals are added during the filtration process. Moreover, you don’t have to dispose off any harmful parts. Lastly, it does not affect the taste of water unlike chemical disinfection methods and is approved by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration).

2. What are the differences between a normal filter and a backpacking water filter?

• The key difference between a backpacking water filter and a normal one is because of its portability. You simply cannot carry your home water purifier to hiking. Portable water filters are light and can be easily carried around. Usually your home purifier has a dedicated source for the water intake which is not the case of portable systems. There are a wide range of products available in the market which uses different methods for the treatment of water. UV filters have been proven to be the best in this department. Portable filters can be broadly classified into the 5 following types-

1. Gravity Filters: Uses gravity to push water flow through a filter. Pumping is not required.

2. Pump Filters: These are the most common ones, which require pumping to pass water through a filter.

3. Filter Straws: Using these, you can directly drink water through a straw that has filtration properties.

4. UV Filters: These are the most advanced and efficient filters which purifies water by exposing water to an UV source. They require some kind of power source.

5. Chemical drops: They are basically drops or tablets which contain some chemicals meant for water purification. Taste of water may be affected.

3. Why should you use a dedicated water filter for backpacking?

• In order to stay healthy, you must drink purified water. Drinking contaminated and impure water may cause severe epidemic diseases. More than 2000 known contaminants are present in water, which is harmful to human beings. Some of them than can even cause cancer and hence proper filtration is highly recommended. During hiking, you may face scarcity of drinking water, which can be very dangerous. So it is important that you have a dedicated water filter for your use. You must choose your water treatment system according to your needs. Choose a water source and use your water treatment system before taking a sip.


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