The Best Portable Water Filters For Backpacking & Survival In 2022
You’re an outdoorsman, first and foremost. Everything about being outside excites you, from setting up a camping grill, rolling up the electric cooler, and relaxing in the great outdoors. But it’s not all about tents and cold brews in aluminum cans. Sometimes it gets a bit dodgier, and sometimes it counts for your survival. Your portable water filter is designed to give you clean, bacteria-free drinkable water out in the middle of nowhere. Having drinking water is a must for any adventure, but these portable filter systems are great for remote camping, backpacking, and any activity in the backcountry including hunting, fishing, skiing and more.
These systems are also used in emergency situations, to purify water from natural sources, such as streams and rivers, or if you’re experiencing a natural disaster, your sink! We’ve broken down everything you need to know about portable water filters, even getting into uncharted territory with their uses. From the top down, here are the best portable water filters and everything about them.
- Editor’s Pick: RapidPure 9L Gravity Filter System
- Best Straw Filter: LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
- Budget Friendly: Sawyer Products MINI Portable Water Filter System
- Best Pump Filter: Katadyn Vario Dual Tech MicroFilter
- Lifestraw Dupe: Etekcity Portable Water Filter Straw
- Best Water Bottle Filter: LifeStraw Go Portable Water Filter Bottle
- Small but Mighty: Sawyer Products PointOne Squeeze Filter System
- Perfect for your Emergency Preparedness Kit: Survivor Filter Pro
- Best for Groups: MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter System
- Great Backup System: Platypus GravityWorks 4.0 Liter Water Filter System
The Best Portable Water Filter
Topping our list today is the RapidPure 9L Gravity Filter System, one of the best water filters available and an excellent companion for hiking, camping or backpacking. Gravity filters are simple to use and usually allow you to do less work than pump filters. To use this filter, set it up, fill the bag and let gravity do the work. I used this in the Mt Hood National Forest on a backpacking trip and found it super easy to use and was quite impressed with the amount of water I could filter at a time. The 9L capacity meant that I could fill all my bottles and my partners’ bottles with ease.
Many filters remove heavy metals, bacteria and protozoa but few systems actually offer water purification which removes viruses too, but this system offers it all. Another feature I love is the replaceable filter cartridge. Each cartridge is good for 200 gallons of water, but replacement filters are easy to pick up and extend the life of this system.
Replaceable filter cartridge
Gravity system filters up to 9 liters at a time
99.99% protection against viruses, bacteria, parasites
- Model9L Gravity Filter System
- Weight24 Ounces
Lightweight and packable
Requires minimal effort
If the bag is punctured, the system will not work as well
If there is nowhere to hang the bag, you must hold it
The legend that started it all: the LifeStraw. This is as relevant and epic as the day it came out, but now, we’ve broken it down to its most basic elements so you can get a fair overview. Firstly, LifeStraw Personal Water Filter is very affordable and can be stored on your shelf indefinitely. There’s no expiration date, and it’s not just going to degrade on you while it’s waiting to be used. This is more lightweight than most portable filters but doesn’t have a huge filter capacity. I’ve used my Lifestraw personal water filter all over Texas, Utah and the PNW on hikes and backpacking adventures.
We love this product and its 1,000-liter filter capacity, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Using this will hurt your jaw after a while if you’re trying to get a big drink from a river or stream. We recommend bringing a pitcher to be able to scoop water from the river, filter what you need, and dump the rest back in. The membrane microfilter strips 99.999% of bacteria from the water. The Lifestraw is great to have in your pack, but it isn’t top-notch for filling water bottles like pump filters or gravity water filters. However, for a quick drink, this is the king of portable water filter systems.
Filters to 0.2 microns exceeding EPA filter standards
Perfect alternative to chemical water treatment techniques
1000 liters water filtering capacity
Destroys 99.99% of all waterborne bacteria and 99.9% of all pathogens
- Weight1.6 Ounces
Lightweight and convenient
Small, ideal for an emergency kit
If you don’t bring a container for grabbing water, it’s a little awkward to use
Requires a lot of suction to get water flowing; jaw aches after prolonged use
Next, we hop into something a bit more practical than single-use. Hand pump portable water filters take a little more personal investment, but you can filter gallons of water at a time and place them into reusable jugs. Sawyer Products did an excellent job at keeping this cost-friendly while also making it lightweight. It fits right in the palm of your hand and easily attaches to just about any plastic or wide-mouth water bottles you already own, so you can fill up smaller, more portable containers with this portable drinking water filter.
It comes with a 16oz drinking pouch and straw, so you can bring your small items and enjoy filtered water on the go. However, when it comes to backflushing, the syringe is quite fragile and has been known to break. If you’re heading out into the wilderness, this filter is difficult to disassemble and clean out there, so you’re better off planning appropriately to clean this at home once you get back. For all its trouble, you get to filter 100,000 gallons of water through its lifetime, removing 99.999% of waterborne illnesses and bacteria. Overall, one of the best portable water filters around. Be sure to check out our list of the best flasks for more great items like this.
Removes 99.99% of all bacteria and protozoa
Removes 100% of microplastics
Device can be re-used and has recyclable parts
Comes with a straw for easy drinking directly from the water source
Undergone a rigorous independent testing
- BrandSawyer Products
- Weight8 Ounces
Palm-sized, lightweight and easy to pack
Attaches easily to water bottle brands you already have
Cleaning this in the field is difficult
Backflushing syringe is flimsy
One of the biggest names (until LifeStraw came into play) was Katadyn, and while they’ve become less recognized, nothing about their quality has slipped, even for a minute. Thanks to the ceramic pre-filter, you can pump and pump water without cleaning this in between cycles (though it is recommended). This makes it very viable for emergency situations. This system uses a ceramic filter and carbon filtration combo to quickly remove harmful bacteria, heavy metals, and chemicals from contaminated water. The dual piston system makes this pump filter easy to use, and the replaceable filters and washable ceramic filter mean the cleaning and filtration process is easy as can be.
It has an impressive flow rate but is also prone to air-locking. You can pump up to a gallon every two minutes, making it a lot faster but more fragile in the internal components. Thanks to the O-ring, you’ll be able to see the filtered bacteria, so you know what to clean when the time comes. That cleaning time will be strenuous, so it’s advised to only clean it at home. Lightweight, folds up simple and small, works like a charm: what else could you want from the Katadyn Vario water filter?
High-performance glass fiber filter
Replaceable Katadyn carbon core and cleanable ceramic disc
Offers two modes of water delivery
Dual piston technology for maximum water output with minimal effort
Activated charcoal for extracting and removing odors
- Weight1.4 Pounds
Filters one gallon of water every two minutes
Ceramic pre-filter lets you use this again and again between cleanings
Folds up simple and small for easy packing
Pump is prone to air-locking, which requires intervening to correct
Takes more time to clean after a trip
The Etekcity Portable Water Filter Straw comes with a fold-up water pouch to bring additional water from the stream before you head up the trail or back to camp. All Etekcity straw filters have three filters inside. First, you have a filter screen to pre-filter and keep large particles out of the entire mini water filtration system. Then, the interior activated carbon filter removes heavy metals, chlorine, odors, and other chemicals from contaminated water to make it safe to drink. Lastly, a hollow fiber UF Inline membrane removes 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria, completing a thorough filtration process that removes all kinds of water contaminants.
The Etekcity water purifier features a filter capacity of 1,500 liters of water through its three-stage filtration system, but that’s going to take some time. It requires a lot of suction to use and can be exhausting if you’re parched and trying to get a halfway decent amount of water. That being said, you get what you pay for, and for this low price and added items, you’ll run into your fair share of problems. It’s still one of the best portable water filters in this price range though! Our handy guide to the top water filter pitchers features more great products like this.
FDA-compliant foldable water bag capable of holding 480 ml of water
Filters 99. 99% of waterborne rubbish
70 cm extension tube for easy connection
Tested by the German TUEV SueD Examination Institute
Meets all EPA Water quality standards and is FDA compliant
- Weight4 Ounces
Competitive pricing with the LifeStraw; you reap the benefits
Includes a viable fold-up water pouch
Compact and lightweight, easy to bring anywhere
Requires a lot of suction to get water out
Carrying case is essentially useless
The LifeStraw Go Portable Water Filter Bottle comes with a filter capacity of 4,000 liters of water, making it ideal for camping as well as home use. Since this is a unique membrane filter, it will have a bit of a taste to it, even after you’ve used it a few times. Still, according to most reviewers, water tastes great. This water bottle is a great portable water purifier for those who want clean drinking water at home, work, or outdoors. Filter bottles are easy to use and some of the easiest water purification methods to introduce into your day-to-day life.
As always, this water bottle is BPA-free and rated to remove 99.999% of bacteria from your water. The center membrane bottle filters are a bit heavy, so don’t be surprised if it adds a bit of weight to your pack. The attached lanyard is simple to hook onto your pack and wasn’t some afterthought add-on. The legendary and revolutionary LifeStraw personal water filter got that much better. If you’re going to hit the trail this summer, we just found your next wingman.
BPA-free plastic bottle
2-stage water filtration
Removes 99.999% of waterborne bacteria and protozoan parasites
- Weight1.2 Pounds
Removes most contaminates
Cost-effective water filter bottle
The convenient lanyard allows you to hook this from your backpack with ease
Due to the position of the filter, tipping it can cause leaking
Due to the membrane filter, water may taste off to some though it is still safe to drink
Want to filter small amounts of drinking water, but also have a filtration system to use for cooking on your camping stove? Sawyer’s got the answer. The main issue folks have with LifeStraw and other straw water filters is the inability to filter water for cooking (unless you filter and spit into the pot, which nobody wants to do). Sawyer’s simple system is applicable when drinking water sources from other countries or hiking/camping anywhere in the world. Fill the pouch and squeeze through the filter – that’s it.
It only takes about twenty seconds to fill up a standard bottle of water, so you’re not stuck crouching at the stream all day. On top of that, it rolls up very small and weighs next to nothing in your pack. Our main issues are with the short lifespan of the pouches, so thankfully, this can be snapped onto a water bottle without the pouch. Apart from that, when cleaning, keep an eye on the gasket, as they have a short life expectancy. If you maintain this and keep it going strong, you’ll have this system for the rest of your life.
Removes 99.99 of all bacteria and protozoa
Can be used with the pouch or water bottles
Comes with a 64oz portable pouch
Lifetime warranty straight from the manufacturer
- BrandSawyer Products
- Weight0.16 Ounces
Versatile, can also be used for cooking
Takes about twenty seconds to fill up a bottle of water
Only weighs three ounces; folds up nicely in backpack as well
Gaskets have a short life; it’s recommended to grab a spare
Included pouches have a short lifespan
Survivor Filter Pro gets a little more involved, and we like it that way. This three-stage filtration system is backed by a lifetime warranty straight from the manufacturer and has been rated as one of the best emergency water filter systems. You’re rated to filter up to 100,000 liters of water in this system’s lifetime, but that process does take some time. On average, under the right conditions, you can filter 17oz of water per minute, but if your hoses are slightly bent or you don’t have someone to assist you, that flow rate is cut in half.
It comes with a 0.01% micron rating, which is the culprit for the lengthy pump time but ensures you’re getting everything out of the water. Despite how it looks, this system is actually far easier to clean than we thought, but it’s recommended to do that indoors if you’re able so you don’t lose parts. In this market, the price tag on this model is a bit steeper than most, but it gets the job done and gives you peace of mind when you’re out in the middle of nowhere.
Filters up to 100,000 liters
Triple filtration system
Removes 99.999% of bacteria and waterborne illnesses
Triple filtration system to 0.01 microns
Independent USA-lab tested
- BrandSurvivor Filter
- Weight1.1 Pounds
Filters really, really well, plus improves water flavor
Lifetime warranty backed by the manufacturer; this is built to last
Don’t be fooled by the intricacy; this is way easier to clean than it looks
Lengthy process to pump your water
You have to monitor hose bending to keep flow sustainable while in use
The MiniWorks EX Microfilter System is designed for high volume, high capacity water cleaning. You can clean one liter of water per minute, making this ideal for group hiking and camping trips. Fill up and head out; you’re ready to go. It’s also lightweight at one pound, giving you plenty of saved storage space in your pack. It does the standard job of removing 99.999% bacteria from water, but this filter has a few downsides.
For one, it builds up pressure relatively easily, which can slow the water flow, making it aggravating to continuously open and decompress. After pumping about two or three liters, your filter will be full. It means that it’s working, but it also means that you’ll have to clean this semi-frequently. While that part may seem grim, you get MSR’s lifetime manufacturer-direct warranty and a rating of 2,000 liters of filtered water per cartridge used. This is great for backpacking and MSR focuses on high-quality gear for backpackers, alpinists and mountaineers, meaning this microfilter water filter had to be put through the wringer in some of the harshest alpine environments before ever making it to your pack.
Removes 99.999% of bacteria and protozoa
Replaceable carbon and ceramic filter
Manufacturer’s lifetime warranty included
Cartridge life of 2,000 liters before needing to be replaced
- Weight1.01 Pounds
Pumps one liter of water per minute, ideal for group trip fill-ups
Only weighs one pound, and fits very snugly in your hiking backpack
Sturdy, well-designed water filter will last you a lifetime
Builds up pressure in the chamber, slowing water flow; monitor this when using
Filters need to be cleaned frequently (may impede on current hike)
The Platypus GravityWorks 4.0 Liter Water Filter System is easily among the best portable water filter options on the market. Before we jump into the details, it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t the quickest water filter system or easiest setup. It’s designed for those situations where you’ve set up camp for the night, and you’ve got some time to get prepared. However, on the plus side, it provides you with four liters of clean water, and folds down into a tiny little bag, saving you precious space in your pack.
The product works by using gravity to feed the water through the system. You don’t have to tire yourself out pumping the water through; just hang the four-liter dirty water reservoir higher than the cleaner reservoir and let physics do the rest. The hollow-fiber water filter system removes 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.9% of protozoa (Giardia, E.coli, etc). In short, this gravity filtration system is the product you need if you’re going on multi-day hikes or long camping trips.
Removes 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.9% of protozoa
Hollow-fiber water filter
Meets all EPA/NSF guidelines
Works in 2.5 minutes
Delivers four liters of clean water
Comes with a carrying case
- Weight15.2 Ounces
Delivers plenty of clean water for the day
No pumping required, super-easy to use
Would be better with a spare filter
Cleaning the clean bag takes some time
Why Trust Us
Our team knows gear inside and out. We've spent years testing and researching a huge variety of products. We love the nitty-gritty details, sharing our stoke and supplying our readers with all the critical information they need to make the right purchases.
Who This Is For
This guide is perfect for anyone looking to add the best portable water filter to their arsenal for their next trip, or simply to add to their hurricane kit. If you don't find the perfect portable filter on our list, we hope our buyer's guide can point you in the right direction and provide valuable care information.
How We Picked
Selecting the best water filters started with looking at our personal favorites and bestsellers. We spent many hours researching, reading reviews and sorting through the world of filtration systems to ensure we had something for the backpacker, the hiker, the germaphobe, the doomsday preparer, and everyone in between.
How We Tested
To test the best portable water filters, we first started with our water at home. It's best to know how your filtration system works before heading out, so this practice allowed us to try out our filter system at home and get a feel for how it works. After that, we took our filters out to the Mt Hood National Forest for a short backpacking trip to give them a try outdoors.
Features To Look For In Portable Water Filters
Size - Water volume and physical size dictate how easy a filtration system will be to use. Something bulky and complicated will be a pain to take out on a trip or may not fit well into your hiking or backpacking pack.
Weight - These filters don’t exactly come lightweight, you know. Every ounce counts when you’re stuffing your hiking backpack, and while this is a crucial component of your camping or hiking trip, it’s also important that it doesn’t add in killing your back. If you're backpacking, weight is an even bigger concern and finding a lightweight system is a must.
Ease of use - It’s water; you want to filter, drink, and be done. Unnecessarily difficult screw caps and filters that must rest a certain way are a pain to deal with. Take a look at how complex the system looks to reassemble after use, and after cleaning. You may be using your portable filter in snow, wind or rain and any element of difficulty will be ramped up with adverse conditions.
Filter capacity - Filters come in different sizes. They’ll hold varying amounts of water and filtrate that volume all at once, working it through the carbon or charcoal system to reach your mouth. The filter capacity will also influence the viability of our next item: flow rate.
Flow rate - This is affected by the current lifespan of the filter (see the guide below) and is rather important to quench your thirst quickly and effectively.
Durability - This can also derive from the materials used. Nine out of ten people are buying these for the outdoor world, so will they hold up to the elements and rugged mystique of nature? While you probably won’t be swinging this around and dropping it, you want as much accident protection as possible. The outdoors is merciless, and your gear needs to be able to stand up to various weather and environmental conditions.
Portable Water Filter FAQ
Q: What is a portable water filter?
A: Portable water filters are either active carbon or charcoal-based systems (in some cases, there are unique other systems in place) that remove harmful bacteria and viruses from water. Their primary use is for cleaning water found in nature, allowing you to drink it and cook with it when you’re out in the wilderness.
Alternatively, these portable water filtration systems are also used to help purify water that we already drink out of our faucets. In the United States, there is a lot of leniency regarding what’s allowed in our water supply. Bringing a portable water filter allows you to enjoy clean water and remove unnecessary additives from water processing plants and facilities. We’re also big fans of bringing these into the gym to cut down on single-use plastic.
Portable filters are also a great addition to your emergency preparedness kit. If water lines are damaged in a hurricane, tornado or other natural disaster, you'll have the ability to turn dirty water into clean drinking water.
Q: How to care for portable water filter during freezing weather?
A: What happens when the water trapped inside of your filter freezes? If you’re going somewhere where the temperatures drop at night, or it’s generally snowy, then you have a hard time ahead of you keeping this issue from arising. On average, these don’t need to meet much lower than the 32F temperature range to freeze. filtration systems are very susceptible to the cold.
To keep as much freezing as possible at bay, use it a lot more sparingly than you were before, and you’ll be keeping it close to you at all times. If your backpack rests against you (if it’s an internal frame, not external), you’ll want to keep this right up against your back to keep it warm with your body heat. At night, sleep with it in your sleeping bag to keep it from freezing. Your body heat will keep it at the proper temperature.
Q: How do you tell if a portable water filter needs to be replaced?
A: One way to immediately tell is if your flow rate has dropped significantly. This indicates that the filter is getting clogged because it’s housing loads of bacteria that prevent water from getting through as easily.
Apart from that, you will have to use some judgment calls. If you can monitor how many gallons it’s rated for and keep track of your cleaning and use, you’ll be able to determine when it’s time to get a new one. To sit on the side of caution, we’ll personally toss out the filter when it’s within 10% of its expected end of life.
Q: What do portable water filters remove from water?
A: Oh boy, get ready for a really, really gross science lesson. We all just bench on the idea that it removes bacteria, but what does it actually remove? You’re stripping all this junk out of the water you drink:
- Chemical Filter Residue (Found in most water supplies)
- Fluoride (Some filters)
Pretty scary stuff, huh? There’s a lot more to it, but without sending you into a full-blown germaphobe frenzy, we thought it best to stop here. We’ve got one more list of serious reasons why you should filter your dirty water, and then after that, we’ll get back to the fun parts about owning a portable water filter. By removing all the items listed above, you’re also eliminating the possibility of encountering these diseases, viruses, and bacteria:
- Traveler’s Diarrhea
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis E
- Typhoid Fever
It’s beyond worth it to filter your water. You can’t see or smell, and in most cases, you can’t even taste differences in the water that would give these away. They piggyback on bacteria and make it into your water, and while your body can sometimes fight this off, it’s not guaranteed. The only thing that you can guarantee, or come close to, is that a filter will remove this from your water, and save your immune system the gambling man’s odds of fighting it off. Plus, being sick truly isn't any fun, and it's best to avoid it and take the time to use a portable water purifier.
Q: Should you wash your portable water filter?
A: Absolutely. Every time you use this on an outdoor excursion, you should be cleaning out your portable water filter. If you’re grabbing one of these to use for the gym so you can cut down on bottled water, then you’re already working with filtered water from your faucet, so you’re providing a second level of cleaning. If this is the case, you can usually use your bottle about five times a week before needing to clean it.
Waterborne illnesses come from bacteria, viruses, cysts, and more, including typhoid fever, hepatitis A and E, dysentery, and more. You should never take the risk of drinking water that hasn’t been filtered in some way, especially with the way our planet is currently with its state of decay and pollution. While it may seem tempting to drink straight from that beautiful alpine stream, becoming ill is a frustrating way to spend your trip.
Q: How and how often do you clean your portable water filter?
A: Given the materials used and the critical necessity for clean, potable water, we’re only going to recommend one cleaning method. It’ll break down and kill every spec of bacteria and protozoa in your portable water filter, so long as you follow the protocol properly.
For this example, we’ll assume your portable water filter has a 32oz capacity. Fill it up with 32oz of hot water, then drop two tablespoons of unscented bleach right into the water. The heat will help water rise out of any stubborn bacteria resting in the carbon filters (or alternative) filtration system.
Now comes the time to drop a truth bomb about your filter. If it said, “Good for 1,000 gallons of water,” it’s not kidding, but you’re going to be cleaning and rinsing these after every use, so that isn’t going to be 1,000 gallons of drinkable water.
After letting this sit for about five minutes, you’re going to shake gently and let the water run through the filter as best you can. To get all the bleach out, you’re going to be using at least three full rinses, so out of one of your gallons of usage, you’re filtering one quart of drinkable water, and three quarts of rinsing water to keep the filter clean. It may seem like a bum deal, but try to picture 250 gallons of water and the associated cost. Now, look at your filter, and it doesn’t seem so bad.
After you’re done rinsing, it’s important to let this air dry. Air dry methods aren’t just recommended to be an annoyance; it provides a superior level of cleanliness before use and eliminates the possibility of water or bacteria breeding filth in dark crevices.
Q: What is potable water?
A: It’s what you’re aiming for with your portable water filter. Potable water is defined as being safe to consume without incurring any negative effects to your health. Potable water doesn’t necessarily have to taste good. It just has to be healthy enough for you to drink.
If you’ve ever fired up a camping stove to boil water, making it safe to drink, then you made it into a potable source. Alternatively, it’s important to understand that water doesn’t have a specific taste when it’s potable; it can taste a bit cloudy or like you’re drinking it from a not-so-clean glass. This is why it’s ultra-important for you to monitor your filter, and ensure it’s functioning properly before you hit the hiking trail.
Q: Can portable water filters purify snow?
A: Snow and rainfall each carry traces of pollutants that are not water-soluble, meaning they’re going to transfer and lock in when that water turns to snow and when that snowfall hits in key camping and hiking areas.
If you circle back and check the list of chemicals and pollutants above, you’ll have a better understanding of what does and what does not get filtered out. Certain things just stain nature, but in most cases, if the snow appears white and pure, you can throw it into your portable water filter, and exchange some of your body heat to melt the snow and turn it into drinkable, sustainable water.
Q: Can a portable water filter render urine drinkable in emergency situations?
A: Well, I suppose it’s on everybody’s mind, right? Technically, yes, you can purify your own urine (to an extent). We produce urine to evacuate bacteria and unnecessary components from our body, whether toxins or waste from the beverages we consume or the moisture packed into the foods we eat. Your body doesn’t absorb it all, so part of it ends up in your bladder.
Urine depletes because even if you drink its most purified form, your body will use whatever electrolytes and pure hydration it can extract. Then, you’ll be left with even more concentrated levels of bacteria and bodily waste. If you end up drinking your own urine, you can purify it in your portable water filter, but you won’t produce even 1/10 the same amount of fluid during your next urination, meaning it truly is a last-ditch effort.
Gear Hungry, its writers, editors, staff, and webmasters are not responsible for anything you may do with your portable water filter. This guide is not written by trained professionals in the art of survival or nutritionists with relevant degrees. These are the opinions of people who have personally tested these products, declaring their first-hand accounts and experiences. This article should be read for entertainment and buyer’s knowledge only, and any additional information you require on drinkable water, filters, their properties and other entities residing around the subject, should be researched on your own accord.