When you’re out on the trails, staying hydrated is key to a successful trip. The right water filter can be the difference between having good drinking water and battling thirst. We are going to break down the best water filters for backpacking and what makes them our top picks.
There are a few different designs for backpacking water filters, and each has its own set of pros and cons. Your specific situation will help dictate which is best for you and will serve you well on your next trip. No matter what, any of the water filters are better than drinking dirty water and risking sickness.
Our Top Picks
Grayl UltraPress Water Filter
Best for Large Volume:
Membrane Solutions Gravity Water Filter
Best Tablet Purification:
Best for Multiple Filtration Levels:
Survivor Filter Pro Water Purification System
Our top pick for the best water filter for backpacking is the Ultrapress Water Filter. With a unique design that is a bottle and water filter in one, this is a clear winner for the best water filter for backpacking. The Ultrapress Water Filter works by filling the bottle with dirty water and pressing the insert into it, causing forced filtration into the inner chamber that you drink from.
The Ultrapress offers extremely fast filtration since it works as fast as you press it, making it a great choice for those on the move who don’t want to sit and wait for filtration. This is also a great solution because it doesn’t require additional equipment like other systems. If you are concerned about weight or space in your backpack, then an all-in-one system is the best backpacking water filter system for you.
The Ultrapress comes with a built-in air vent that ensures that during purification, the spout stays clear of cross-contamination. The air vent regulates the pressure and allows for easy filtration while expelling the air left in the bottle. This means all you have to think about is filling, pressing, and drinking – no other setup is required.
This filtration system eliminates 99% of contaminants, so you can be sure that it will clean almost any water source. The only real downside to this system is that it is for personal use and only really supports a bottle of water, so you won’t be able to filter enough for a backup supply or a group. It is also more expensive than some of our alternatives.
- Extremely well-built personal water bottle
- All-in-one water filtration and bottle
- Unique design makes for quick filtration
- Only good for one person
- Can only filter as much water as the bottle will hold
Best Budget Option
When looking at a list of the best water filters for backpacking, we have to consider a budget option. Additionally, no list of the best backpacking water filters would be complete without a mention of LifeStraw. This is a well-known product that is both extremely inexpensive and effective. The LifeStraw has been used for years around the world as a means of providing safe drinking water at low cost.
The LifeStraw is unique from all the other options on the list because it is direct from water to your mouth, rather than filtering water into a bottle or holding container. As the name alludes to, the LifeStraw works like a straw. You put it directly into the dirty water source and pull. The filtration system is inside the straw and cleans the water before it enters your mouth.
The LifeStraw’s low cost should not be taken as indicative of cheap quality. Not only will this backpacking water filter offer 99% purification, but it is known for having a lifespan of many years due to its simple design.
When it comes to a budget solution for the best backpacking water filter, you cannot beat a LifeStraw, but it is not without its issues. The biggest drawback by far is the fact that the LifeStraw cannot store any water at all, it is only useful when you are at a direct water source. This means that you need to drink your fill and plan your trip around water sources or ensure other access.
The other drawback is that you have to drink directly from the water source, which some people might not be open to as you cannot actually see that the water is clean. This might be an issue for individuals who are not as trusting in the purification process.
- Great inexpensive option well known in the camping community
- Allows for direct drinking
- Long life span
- 99% purification
- Not ideal for filling water to bring with you
- Design requires direct drinking
Best for Large Volume
If you are looking for the best water filter for backpacking with a group, the Membrane Gravity Water Filter is a good solution for you. This is a large-capacity water filter designed for a group or for individuals who need to carry a large amount of water with them. The Membrane Gravity Filter uses a unique process that relies on gravity.
To use the Membrane Gravity Filter, you fill the bag with water and hang it up. Attach the supplied hose and end filter to it and let gravity do the work from there. You can drink directly from the filter or use it to fill bottles. It has a very quick flow, so you don’t have to wait for a trickle.
The filter that comes with the Membrane Gravity system can also be used directly in water like a LifeStraw. Given the large capacity, it is great for filling multiple bottles at once or strapping the membrane to your pack and bringing it with you.
Even though the system is large in capacity, it folds up nicely and is lightweight, making it a great addition to your backpack. The only drawback to this system is that the lack of a pump makes it slower than other items on our list of the best water filters for backpacking.
- Great for large volumes and doesn’t cost much
- Uses passive gravity, so you can filter lots of water and fill many bottles
- Folds up
- Requires you to stay in one place for a while
- Lack of pump action means it can take time to filter
To make a list of the best backpacking water filters, you have to include water-cleaning tablets. These tabs are used by the military and mountain rescue teams alike. Aquatabs are among the best-known backpacking water filter tabs due to their low cost and reliability.
Water purification tablets are easy to use – just drop them in the water, stir or shake, and let them do the rest. Unlike filtration systems, there is no passing water from one end to another. The chemicals in the tabs just kill the impurities in the water.
The tabs can clear large amounts of water, up to a 5-gallon bucket’s worth at once. This means that the tabs can clean more water than any filter on our list of the best backpacking water filters. It’s worth noting, however, that this is only as good as the vessel you have to hold water.
Aquatabs are very inexpensive, which makes them a great choice from a cost perspective, but they require a bottle or other vessel to hold the water you are cleaning. The biggest drawbacks to water purification tablets are the fact that they require an additional bottle or water vessel and that they do not filter out the impurities but rather kill them, meaning they have a large chemical presence.
- Easy passive water purification
- Doesn’t require additional filtration equipment
- Can be dropped in any bottle or bucket, mixed, and water will be purified
- Takes time to purify
- Not as reliable as active purification
Best For Multi-Level Purification
If you are looking for a top-of-the-line filtration system, the Survival Filter Pro system is right for you. This is our best multi-level water filter for backpacking. The Survival Filter Pro has three stages of filtration, guaranteeing the best water quality possible.
This backpacking water filter has a hand pump that pulls water from the source and has an internal filter for the first level. It is worth noting that you can use just this first filter to pump directly into a bottle. If you want further purification, you can attach a secondary filter to the outflow tube. For the best water quality possible in your backpacking water filter, you can use the pre-filter to clean the water coming in as well.
Because it has a hand pump, this system can be very quick to filter water, even with all the stages attached. The system even comes with a cup, so it truly has everything you need to ensure extremely clean water. If you are someone who finds themselves in the harshest conditions and the dirtiest water, the Survival Filter Pro is the right system for you.
This system is small, even with all its stages and parts, so it is easy to carry along with you. Like other systems on our list of the best backpacking water filters, one drawback is it does not come with a water bottle. Otherwise, the biggest drawbacks are the higher price and the complex nature of having a multi-stage system.
- Very thorough filtration with three levels
- Pump activated allows for quicker filtration
- Comes with everything you need and a carrying case
- More complicated to set up than any other option on the list
- One of the most expensive options
Backpacking Water Filter Buyer’s Guide
The primary differences you will find when shopping for the best backpacking water filter is the type of filtration system and the volume filtered.
Different Types of Filters
There are a number of different types of filters, each with their own pros and cons. Choosing the right type of filter is going to come down to your exact situation. If you are going to have access to multiple water sources throughout your backpacking trip, you may not need the storage offered by a membrane gravity system. Alternatively, if you are with a larger group or are unsure of water access, you may want to use the membrane system to carry a large amount at once.
A bottle press filter is going to be a great solution for those traveling solo and unworried about multi-day water supplies. The press bottle system is two pieces of equipment in one, making it ideal for lightweight and low storage needs. The press filter also is a fast solution which makes it great for those who do not want to wait for tabs or pump water out by hand.
The straw filter is a tried and true solution that comes at a very low cost but does not allow for water storage and requires direct from water drinking. On the other end of the spectrum are water tabs, which you drop into the water, mix, and let them do the work from there. The problem with tabs is that they don’t filter anything out, they just kill it using chemicals that many people may not be comfortable with.
Lastly, we have the multi-stage pump filter. The most in-depth filter type requires the most setup but can move water through many layers of cleaning quickly. This is great for those who are going to be around very dirty water or need a multi-stage system while off the trail.
The other consideration when buying the best backpacking water filter system is volume. The press bottle filter is going to be a solution for one and only allows as much water as the bottle holds, versus the membrane system, which provides excess.
A straw system will only give you water while you are directly at the source, while a multi-stage system and tabs allow you to fill any vessel you have. Consider where you are backpacking and look at a map of your trail to determine your access to water in order to decide on the right volume.
Backpacking Water Filter Systems
There are many options for backpacking water filter systems on the market, but our list has picked the best for a multitude of situations.
When choosing the right system for you, make sure you know where you are going to be hiking, as access to different water sources on your trail is key to picking the right system. No matter which you choose, you are going to be able to get clean water from springs and keep hydrated on the move!
For more information on water filtration while backpacking, check out this post on Boiling vs Filtering Water!
- About the Author
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Aaron Leeper is an avid camper, hiker, and outdoorsmen. Having spent over two decades honing the skills, Aaron has done it all from bushwhacking to guided climbs and everything in-between. With a bachelors from Skidmore College, Aaron has long focused on writing as a passion and loves to write about his favorite outdoor hobbies