How to Choose a Water Filter or Purifier


With various ways to treat and purify drinking water on the go, you should never let water get you ill in the wild. Always filter or find a way to make it clean before gulping down.

While it is important to always stow water in your hiking backpack before setting out, sometimes it is just not possible to pack enough for the whole trip especially if you will be gone for several days. That is why you need to invest in a backpacking water filter because for the better part of your trip, you will be relying on water from lakes, streams, springs, or snow run-offs, which may not be completely safe to drink.

This guide gives information on how to select the right water filter and purifier for your next backpacking trip. But first, let’s find out the difference between the two.

The Difference Between A Water Filter And Water Purifier

For you to know how to choose a backpacking and hiking water filter and purifier, you will need to first understand the difference between the two and how each works.

A water filter physically strains out bacteria, protozoan cysts, sediment, and debris from the water. It works by blocking these pathogens while at the same time letting water through. All filters include a cartridge that has microscopic pores where bacteria, protozoa, and debris get trapped.

And just because you can’t simply see these little blobs with your naked eyes doesn’t mean they aren’t there or the water is safe to drink. They are always present, bobbing around waiting to harm your belly. But with a good filtration system, you can block them and have clean water to drink. However, over time, these gum up the pores requiring you to clean or replace your filter.

A water purifier on the other hand combats viruses that are too small for a filter to catch by using chemicals or UV light. If you will be backpacking in an area that has high human activity or where viruses are a threat and want to be a little cautious, then make sure to pack up one of these.

So, undoubtedly, even though these two systems slightly differ in functionality, they are an important part of your backpacking, hiking, or camping gear. But again, deciding on which one to carry on your trip will all depend on the sanitation practices of the area you will be visiting.

Types Of Backpacking Water Filters And Purifiers

There are many types of water treatment systems in the market today and your choice will highly depend on where you plan to go, the number of people in your crew, and the load you intend to carry, among other factors. Some hikers and backpackers will prefer bringing more than one filter or purifier just to be on the safe side. Here are the basics of the most commonly used filtration and purification methods:

1. Boiling

Okay, we are going to start with the most boring techniques of all. Before all these fancy filters and purifiers, there was the option of boiling water, and all you would need was a backpacking stove and a pot or kettle from your backpacking cookware. Every backpacker has always been able to do this and always will.

You see, the beauty of all this is that first, you need not remember any formula, and second, you don’t need to buy expensive filters. In fact, if you are on a budget all you need is a pot and an open fire.

The only disadvantage of this method is that it is time-consuming. It will take almost two minutes to boil your water and a whole 10-minute cooling period. Also, you will need fuel, which can be heavy to carry and can run out. Well, you can decide to start an open fire but again wood is not always readily available and even if you are lucky, you still have to observe several campfire safety rules.

2. Chemical Treatment

This is also considered old school although it hasn’t been in the water purifying world as long as boiling. In this method, you will be putting drops or tablets into your water and shaking the water bottle around. You will then wait until all the microorganisms are dead. Yup! We hate to say you will be drinking dead pathogens, but surprise!

The most commonly used chemical treatment for hikers and backpackers is iodine. It is lightweight, cost-effective, and easy to use.

However, your water will taste terrible – well, not undrinkable, but you know that iodine-like taste? You will also need to wait for close to 30 minutes before taking a sip of that water. Seriously, isn’t that even longer than boiling? We thought so too.

3. Pump Filters

Now let’s dig into more powerful products. Pump filters are the first thing we all think of when someone mentions outdoor water treatment. They are common and will be found in almost all outdoor retail stores. These devices work by pumping water through filters with pore sizes too tiny for protozoa and bacteria to go through.

A pump has three main components; a hand-held pump, filter, and tubes. You put the tube into your water source, then press the pump up and down and water will pass through the filter into the tube that connects to your water bottle.

Pump filters are fast and can pump up to one liter per minute upward. They are excellent for individual users and groups. The only downside? You will be required to push the pump up and down, over and over, which can be really tiring.

4. Squeeze Filters

These are fairly new to the game but overwhelmingly popular. They are small in size, compact, and easy to use.

Squeeze filters consist of a filter unit, a bag, and your receptacle. Just put the dirty water into the bag and squeeze it so that the water passes through the filter to your carrier.

But just like any filtering system, squeeze filters get clogged and even more often than ordinary filters due to their smaller size. This means you will need to keep backflushing, which can be annoying on the trail. Also, this is not the ideal water treatment for groupies, unless everyone will have their own.

5. Gravity Filters


Another backpacking water filter that is still gaining popularity among outdoor enthusiasts. As the name suggests, gravity will do all the work for you.

A gravity filter consists of two large bladders, a filter unit, multiple horses, backflushing tools, and a carrying case. You put the dirty water into one bladder and suspend it from a tall rock or tree, then connect the hose coming from the dirty water to the filter and finally join the hose that will go to the clean bladder to the filter. Now sit back and wait as gravity moves your water to purity. Awesome, right?

Gravity filters are fast and can be used by several backpackers in one go. But gravity itself has a cost and this being considered a high-end filter, you surely will dig those pockets deeper.

1. Straw Filters

If we were to choose for you, we wouldn’t advocate for these types of filters unless you are backpacking or camping with kids.

Straw filters are quite similar to their squeeze counterparts, only that instead of the straw being attached to the filter, the filter is actually the straw. You bend down, stick the straw into the dirty water, and suck (which sucks, literally). Plus you can’t store more water than you can suck right there, which is why these could be the best trail toys for kids.  The only advantage of these filters is that they are lightweight and can fit anywhere, even in the pockets of your hiking pants!

2. Filtered Water Bottles

This is probably the newest and most popular filtration and purification method around. The filter is inside the bottle and every time you drink your water it is filtered instantly.

A filtered water bottle is easy to use. All you got to do is fill it up on the trail and you will have clean water whenever you need it. On the downside, you can only filter water as you drink and even though you may decide to carry a backup bottle with dirty water to be transferred, the whole process may not be very time efficient.

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Even the most sparkling water could be contaminated with harmful bacteria, pathogens, and invisible dirt that could get you sick. So do yourself a favor and add a water purifying system to your backpacking checklist so you can filter and decontaminate the water you collect along the trail.

Hopefully, you will put into consideration the tips we have laid out here to choose a backpacking water filter you like. Trust us, you don’t want giardia on your best day out, and more so when you are miles and miles away from civilization. So pump, squeeze, mix in tablets and drops and shake the heck out of that water to kill the viruses, and if everything else fails, boil it up!

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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!