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Home » Water Filtration Systems » 10 Best Portable Water Filters Reviewed

10 Best Portable Water Filters Reviewed

By: David Trinh
Last Updated:
portable water filter

Freshwater is one of the most valuable commodities in the great outdoors, and it’s critical to have a clean, reliable supply when it matters most.

We took the top portable water filters on the market and evaluated them on their main features like weight, filtration speed, and price, and then compared them head-to-head.

Whether you’re camping for a month, hiking over a weekend, or you’re simply planning ahead in the event of an emergency, our in-depth review and buyers guide will help you choose the best portable water filter for your needs.

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Best Portable Water Filters Compared

#1 Sawyer Mini Filter
  • Dimensions: 4 x 3 x 8
  • Water Volume: 16 oz pouch
  • Filter Type: 0.1 micron squeeze
#2 Platypus Gravity Works
  • Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.8 x 5.8
  • Water Volume: 8 L 2 reservoirs
  • Filter Type: 0.2 micron gravity fed hollow fiber
#3 Katadyn BeFree
  • Dimensions: 4.25 x 3 x 10
  • Water Volume: 10 L pouch
  • Filter Type: 0.1 micron bottle filter
#4 LifeStraw Filter
  • Dimensions: 9 x 1
  • Water Volume: 400 ml pouch
  • Filter Type: 0.2 micron membrane
#5 Etekcity Filter Straw
  • Dimensions: 6 x 1
  • Water Volume: 480 ml pouch
  • Filter Type: 0.1 micron membrane
#6 Berkey Travel Microfilter
  • Dimensions: 19 x 7.5
  • Water Volume: 1.5 gallons
  • Filter Type: carbon and fluoride
#7 Katadyn Vario Microfilter
  • Dimensions: 16 x 12 x 4
  • Water Volume: 2 qt per minute straw
  • Filter Type: carbon and sediment
#8 LifeStraw Gravity Filter
  • Dimensions: 11 x 9 x 4.5
  • Water Volume: 9-12 liters per hours
  • Filter Type: 0.02 micron
#9 MSR MiniWorks Filter
  • Dimensions: 5 x 5 x 12
  • Water Volume: 2.5 L per minute
  • Filter Type: purifier pump
#10 SteriPen Opti UV
  • Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 1
  • Water Volume: NA
  • Filter Type: UV

What to Consider Before Buying a Portable Water Filter


There are seven key specifications we believe have the biggest impact on how well portable water filters perform, and each one is detailed below.

Contaminants Removed

Your water filter is there to keep you safe from the contaminants of natural water, so you’ll want to look for products that work on a wide range of common contaminants. 

The ideal filter would remove microorganisms like bacteria, protozoa, and viruses while also reducing any metal or chemical contaminants that may be present.


Whether you’re a backpacker trying to shave every ounce possible or you’re a more casual camper, the weight of the filter is going to largely determine its portability. 

If it’s too awkward or heavy to bring with you comfortably then it doesn’t matter how well it works otherwise.

Ease of Use

Nobody wants to get out into the wilderness and end up wrestling with their water filter. Look for designs that are intuitive, don’t require excessive setup or priming, and have filter cartridges that are easy to replace as well.

Filtration Rate

Some portable filters work instantaneously, letting you use them as a straw so you don’t have to wait for the water to filter through the system. 

Other systems can take a painfully long time to filter even a small amount of water. You’ll want a filter that won’t leave you waiting, especially if multiple people are going to be using it at once.

Filtration Capacity

The filtration capacity in gallons or liters is a measure of a filter’s lifespan. While how many people use it and the frequency will affect how long it lasts, you can be sure that a filter with a 1,000-gallon capacity will last for longer than one with a 100-gallon capacity.


The National Sanitation Foundation and the Water Quality Association are two independent laboratories that test and certify water filters for specific industry standards

A product that is tested and certified for these standards is an added assurance for the customer that it’s going to perform as advertised.


Price will almost always be a consideration and we looked for the products that give you the most bang for your buck. Keep the cost of replacement filters in mind as well, because some models may end up costing you more down the line than others.

Portable Water Filter Reviews

Review Order

Portable water filter

Using the criteria above, we’ve come up with our list of the best portable water filters on the market.

1. Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System (Best Overall)

sawyer mini filter

Our top pick is this small, hardy system from Sawyer. It uses hollow fiber technology and orients the tubules in a U-shape to achieve stellar filtration. 

It’s also one of the more versatile products on this list, and almost never has to be replaced. 

It’s easy to use, ultralight, and won’t break the bank. We think this is a solid filtration system for outdoor activities and other portable uses.

Main Features & Benefits

Contaminants removed: This filter removes 99.99999% of bacteria and 99.9999% of protozoa while removing 100% of microplastics and filtering particles down to 0.1 microns.

Weight: At only 2oz, you can bring this filter just about anywhere. It fits in the palm of your hand and can easily be stored anywhere from a pack to an emergency kit.

Ease of use: Using this filter is as easy as drinking through the straw it comes with. It also comes with its own storage bladder, and you can connect it to the tubing of a hydration pack or screw it onto a water bottle as well.

Filtration speed: You’ll have clean water almost instantaneously, and backwashing the filter will keep the water flowing at up to 98.5% of its maximum rate as the filter ages.

Filtration capacity: This filter has a 100,000 gallon capacity – which should last its lifetime. That means no replacements and no maintenance beyond regular backwashing.

Certifications: While not certified, this filter has been independently tested to EPA standards for microbial contaminants.

Price: This is one of the least expensive filters on the list and it delivers some of the best quality.


  • Works on microplastics, bacteria, protozoa, and particles down to 0.1 microns
  • 2 oz weight
  • Versatile – can be used in multiple different forms
  • Near-instantaneous filtration
  • 100,000 gallon capacity
  • Backwashing can keep the filter at almost peak performance
  • Tested to EPA microbial standards
  • Very inexpensive
  • Comes with a straw, a 16 oz bladder, and a cleaning plunger
  • Multiple colors available
  • 4.7 out of 5 star rating with 20,325 reviews


  • Doesn’t filter viruses or chemicals
  • Harder to use with groups
  • No warranty specified

Who It’s Best For

The versatility of the Sawyer Mini filter means it’s perfect for just about anyone. The lightweight design makes it ideal for backpackers, while the water bottle attachment and bladder add even more utility. If you want a filter that will last you a lifetime for a great price, then this is the one you want. 

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2. Platypus GravityWorks Filter

Platypus Gravity Filter

Claiming second is this portable water purifier from Platypus which uses hollow fiber gravity filtration technology to make your water safe from the most common microbes.

The Platypus claims to meet NSF guidelines for bacteria and protozoa removal but they don’t specify an NSF certification.

This water purifier can filter around 1.75 liters of contaminated water per minute, it has BPA-free materials, and it’s designed to last for over 1500 liters of water.

It has an intuitive and lightweight design, and it comes with a lifetime warranty against manufacturer defects. 

Main Features & Benefits

Contaminants removed: This filter is effective against particulate contaminants down to 0.2 microns in size as well as 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.9% of protozoa.

Weight: At 11.5 oz and folding down smaller than a one liter bottle, it’s relatively low-profile for the storage capacity.

Ease of use: This system is very easy to use. It has two hanging bags that each have a four liter capacity, and the filter is built between them. To use it, you simply fill up the top bag, hang it higher than the storage bag, and let gravity do the work.

Filtration speed: This model has an extremely fast filtration rate of 1.75 liters per minute with no pumping or sucking required.

Filtration capacity: The capacity in liters is 1,500, which would last for over a year with daily use.

Certifications: This product has been independently tested to EPA and NSF standards even though it has not been certified.

Price: This filter is at the high end of the price range, but it’s worth it for the excellent performance.


  • Removes particulates as well as over 99.9% of bacteria and protozoa
  • Super fast filtration rate
  • 11.5 oz weight
  • Meets EPA and NSF microbial standards
  • The filter has a backflush option to improve its lifespan
  • Comes equipped with a hose shut-off clamp to regulate the filtration speed
  • USA-made
  • Water bottle adapter available for purchase with it
  • 4.8 out of 5 star rating with 1,039 reviews
  • Lifetime warranty


  • Does not work on viruses or chemical contaminants
  • Short filter lifespan compared to some
  • Pricier than other models
  • Multiple customers complaints that their filter was missing the first filter cartridge

Who It’s Best For

This system is ideal for those who need to store filtered water for later use with its four liter holding capacity. It would also work well for those who plan to camp in a larger group.

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3. Katadyn BeFree Filter

Katadyn BeFree

If you would prefer a filter that’s already built into a water bottle, then this model is our top pick. 

It uses an Ez-Clean hollow fiber membrane to filter water as you drink it, and the bottle itself is collapsible for easy storage. 

This filter removes bacteria, cysts, and sediment with a pore size of 0.1 microns. It has a 1000 L capacity and is made of 100% BPA free materials so you can be sure the plastics are not contirbuting to contamination.

Main Features & Benefits

Contaminants removed: This filter removes 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.9% of protozoa in addition to particles down to 0.1 microns.

Weight: At 2.3 oz with a collapsible bottle, this filter is designed to be on the go.

Ease of use: It doesn’t get any easier than filling up your water bottle and then drinking from it. There’s no backflushing or tools needed to clean the membrane either, you just shake or swish the filter with water.

Filtration speed: The 2 liters per minute filtration rate should be plenty to keep up with you as you drink from the bottle.

Filtration capacity: This filter will last for 1,000 liters before needing to be replaced.

Certifications: This product has not been certified, but Katadyn says their filer performs above EPA standards.

Price: This filter is middle of the road price-wise.


  • Removes high levels of bacteria and protozoa in addition to particles as small as 0.1 microns
  • 2.3 oz weight
  • Collapsible bottle and simple design
  • 2 liters per minute filtration speed
  • Reasonably priced
  • 1 liter storage capacity
  • No backflushing needed
  • Stay clean nozzle to protect the mouthpiece
  • Compatible with bottle caps
  • 2 year warranty
  • 4.7 out of 5 star rating with 1,313 reviews


  • Shorter filter lifespan than some
  • Doesn’t work on viruses or chemicals
  • Some reviews question its durability

Who It’s Best For

If you want the flexibility of a bladder with the utility of a water bottle, then this is a great system. It’s both lightweight and doesn’t require backflushing, and you won’t have to worry about storing a bulky bottle.

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4. LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

Lifestraw filter

Possibly the most iconic portable water filter on the market, the LifeStraw was a pioneering technology developed to provide clean water to people in some of the poorest countries in the world.

It uses hollow fiber membrane microfiltration and is ideal for single-person usage.

Main Features & Benefits

Contaminants removed: This filter removes 99.999999% of bacteria, 99.999% of protozoa, and 99.999% of microplastics and sediment as well as particles down to 0.2 microns.

Weight: This model weighs just 1.62 oz, making it ideal for travel.

Ease of use: While the concept is simple – you stick the inlet of the LifeStraw into the water source and then drink from the straw end – this can be awkward in practice. Without a storage container, you may have to lay on the ground next to your water source to suck it into the straw.

Filtration speed: The speed of filtration has not been published but multiple reviews state that it can be hard to suck water through.

Filtration capacity: The filter has a lifespan of 4,000 liters before needing to be replaced. At the end of its life, you will be unable to draw water through the LifeStraw and it’s recommended that you “backwash” it by blowing air back through after use.

Certifications: While not certified, this product has been independently tested and passed both EPA and NSF standards.

Price: This is a very inexpensive filter, which is fantastic for how well it works.


  • Very effective at filtering parasites and bacteria as well as microplastics and particles down to 0.2 microns
  • Super lightweight
  • Long filter lifespan
  • Independently tested to EPA and NSF standards
  • Great price
  • With every purchase, Vestergaard will provide one year of clean water to a child in a 3rd world country
  • 3 year warranty
  • Comes with a lanyard
  • 4.8 out of 5 star rating with 67,953 reviews


  • No ability to store water
  • Can be hard work to draw water through the filter
  • Can be awkward to position in the source
  • Hard to use in a group

Who It’s Best For

If you want a solo filter that is highly effective and will last a fairly long time, this is definitely a product to consider. You also get the warm-fuzzies that come from supporting the Vestergaard charity.

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5. Etekcity Water Filter Straw

Etekcity Water Filter Straw

Etekcity (quite obviously) used the LifeStraw as their muse when they designed their own filter straw, and the result is also worthy of consideration.

Like the other filters it uses hollow fiber ultrafiltration, but it also combines that with carbon filtration and ion-exchange resin.

Main Features & Benefits

Contaminants removed: This filter works on 99.9999% of bacteria, protozoa, organic contaminants, heavy metal ions, and chlorine as well as particles down to 0.01 microns.

Weight: The 2.08 oz design is certainly light enough to be easily transported.

Ease of use: Recognizing the pain points of the LifeStraw, the Etekcity functions almost exactly the same with two modifications. First, they included an extension hose that makes it easier to tap into natural water sources so you don’t have to hit the deck to get a drink. Second, they included a fillable storage bladder.

Filtration speed: The filtration speed isn’t published, and there’s mixed reviews on how easy it is to suck the water through.

Filtration capacity: The capacity of this filter is 1,500 liters, which is a lot less than the LifeStraw.

Certifications: Even though it isn’t certified, this filter has been independently tested and found to pass both FDA and EPA standards.

Price: It’s still on the low end of the range, but a little more expensive than the LifeStraw.


  • One of the only filters to remove organic contaminants as well as microbial impurities
  • Lightweight design
  • Extension hose makes it easier to use than other straws
  • Independently tested to FDA and EPA standards
  • Inexpensive
  • Comes with a storage bladder, pre-filter, and backwash device
  • 4.6 out of 5 star rating with 1,166 reviews
  • 1 year warranty


  • Short lifespan
  • Can be hard work to drink from
  • More expensive up front and over time than the LifeStraw

Who It’s Best For

This is a great alternative to the LifeStraw because it filters out organic contaminants and it’s more convenient to use. It is more expensive and requires more maintenance, however, so if you don’t necessarily need the organic contaminant filter you’ll save money with the LifeStraw. 

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6. Travel Berkey Gravity Filter


You’re not going to take this beast backpacking, but it works excellent for a more stationary setup like a basecamp. 

The Black Berkey filters use activated carbon, microfiltration, and ion exchange resin to achieve some of the most thorough water filtration on the market.

If you have a base when on the go then this Berkey gravity filter is one of the best to consider.

Main Features & Benefits

Contaminants removed: This system removes 232 contaminants in all classes including more than 99.9% of bacteria and protozoa.

Weight: Despite the name, portability isn’t its strongest feature when it comes to hiking and backpacking. When empty this filter weighs 6 pounds.

Ease of use: Even though it’s slightly bulky, using it once it’s set up is as easy as filling the top reservoir with water and waiting for gravity to pull it down into the storage chamber.

Filtration speed: The filtration rate is much lower than the other models on our list at 2.75 gallons per hour. Having said that, it can store up to 1.5 gallons of purified water.

Filtration capacity: The Black Berkey filters in this model have a 3,000 gallon capacity each for 6,000 gallons total.

Certifications: This product has not been certified but passes independent testing for NSF standards 42, 53, and P473.

Price: This is by far the most expensive filter on the list, but it’s also the most involved.


  • 232 contaminants removed
  • Very long filter lifespan
  • Easy to use
  • Independently tested for multiple NSF standards
  • Stainless steel housing
  • Optional stand available
  • Optional fluoride filters available
  • Lifetime warranty
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars with 1,098 reviews


  • Not made for backpackers or long hiking trips
  • Slow filtration rate
  • Very expensive
  • Some customers report the filters failing the red dye test

Who It’s Best For

Like we said, you won’t be bringing this filter up the mountain with you but it does work very well for a stationary camp site. It can provide clean water for multiple people, and you can rest assured the water is about as pure as it gets.

7. Katadyn Vario Microfilter

Katadyn Vario Microfilter

Another Katadyn model, this filter uses pleated glass-fiber microfiltration as well as carbon and ceramic and it works on a wider variety of contaminants than many of the others. 

It has dual-piston pumping technology to aid with output, and multiple other features built-in as well.

Main Features & Benefits

Contaminants removed: This filter works on 99.999% of bacteria, sediments, algae, and 99.9% of protozoa as well as organic chemicals like pesticides and particles down to 0.2 microns.

Weight: This isn’t your ideal backpacking filter at 15 ounces but it’s certainly more portable than some other water filters.

Ease of Use: It’s relatively easy to use – you simply insert the inlet hose into the water source and then use the pump to bring the water up and through the filter.

Filtration speed: The speed with both filters in place is 0.25 gallons per minute, and the faster setting with only one filter is 0.5 gallons per minute. This is similar to the Katadyn BeFree bottle filtration rate.

Filtration capacity: The capacity is 500 gallons, which is about 1,875 liters.

Certifications: This product has been independently tested and found to pass EPA standards but has not been certified.

Price: While it’s in the high end of the price range, this model comes with more features than many other filters.


  • Works on microbes, organic chemicals, and particles down to 0.2 microns.
  • Two different speed settings
  • Independently tested
  • Has a ceramic pre-filter and carbon core
  • You can disengage the ceramic pre-filter if desired and remove it for cleaning
  • Comes with an extension hose for harder-to-reach water sources
  • The pump lets you get water without having to suck it through the filter
  • Adapter base can attach directly to water bottles
  • 2 year warranty
  • 4.6 out of 5 star rating with 992 reviews


  • Expensive
  • Shorter lifespan
  • Slower filtration rate than some
  • Heavy and bulky

Who It’s Best For

If you want a filter that has more bells and whistles and you don’t mind paying a little extra for them, then this is definitely one of the fanciest filters on the list. Due to its heavy design, however, it’s also best for those who will be doing lighter camping. 

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8. LifeStraw Family Portable Gravity Purifier

LifeStraw gravity filter

This filter uses the same membrane ultrafilter technology as the original LifeStraw, but they’ve converted it into a filter that can support an entire family. 

Main Features & Benefits

Contaminants removed: This filter removes 99.999% of viruses, 99.999999% of bacteria, 99.999% of protozoa, and 99.999% of microplastics and other particulates.

Weight: As you would expect, this product is heavier than its counterpart at 1.17 pounds.

Ease of use: Unlike the regular LifeStraw, this product uses gravity filtration instead of suction. You fill up the reservoir, hang it, and then purified water comes out the other end of the filter.

Filtration speed: The filtration rate is 9-12 liters per hour, or 0.2 liters per minute. This is definitely slower than many other models, but it’s also meant to function more like the Travel Berkey.

Filtration capacity: This filter will purify 18,000 liters of water before needing to be replaced.

Certifications: Even though it’s not certified, this model has surpassed EPA standards when tested independently.

Price: This product is in the mid-range for price compared to the other models on the list.


  • Removes microorganisms including viruses, microplastics, and other particulate contaminants
  • Very long filter lifespan
  • Independently tested
  • Reasonably priced
  • Comes with a 4-foot hose
  • Purchases also go toward the Vestergaard charity
  • 1 year warranty
  • 4.8 out of 5 star rating with 1,422 reviews


  • Heavier than other models and not designed for use on the go
  • Slower filtration rate
  • The four-foot hose is not able to be easily shortened

Who It’s Best For

If you need to provide enough purified water for multiple people but you want something that’s lower profile than the Travel Berkey, then this is a good alternative. 

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9. MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter

MSR Microfilter

This filter uses ceramic and carbon filtration in addition to Aquatabs when viral contamination is a concern.

It also incorporates pump action like the Katadyn Vario to pull water through the system.

Main Features & Benefits

Contaminants removed: This filter removes 99.9% of viruses, 99.9999% of bacteria, 99.9% of protozoa, and particulates down to 0.2 microns.

Weight: At 1 pound, this model is light enough to be portable but likely too heavy for avid backpackers.

Ease of use: This pump is harder to use than some of the other filters on the list and the filter is known to clog relatively quickly. The housing is fairly easy to clean, however.

Filtration speed: This filter works at 1 liter per minute and takes 85 pumps to filter each liter.

Filtration capacity: The capacity of each cartridge is 2,000 liters.

Certifications: This product has not been certified but has been independently tested for NSF standard P231.

Price: You can find less expensive filters with similar efficacy, and this filter is toward the high end of the price range.


  • Works on bacteria, protozoa, and particulates larger than 0.2 microns
  • Comes with tablets that are effective against viruses
  • 1 liter per minute filtration rate
  • 2,000 liter capacity
  • Tested to NSF certification P231
  • Comes with a storage bag
  • Compatible with multiple different storage bladder types
  • Limited lifetime warranty
  • 4.6 out of 5 star rating with 979 reviews


  • Hard work to pump
  • The filter is prone to clogging
  • More expensive than some others
  • Too heavy for backpacking

Who It’s Best For

If you want a filter that’s effective against viruses and pumps water instead of relying on suction or gravity, then this is a good alternative to consider. It’s also great for filling up backpack reservoirs and other storage bladders.

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10. SteriPen Adventurer Opti UV


This filter comes in as an honorable mention because it’s arguably the best portable UV purifier on the market.

Having said that, unless you’re looking specifically for a UV filter, the others on our list are generally more reliable.

Main Features & Benefits

Contaminants Removed: This purifier kills 99.9% of bacteria, virus, and protozoa. However, because it uses UV light it doesn’t remove these or any other contaminants from water, it just makes sure you’re not at risk for water-borne illnesses.

Weight: The 3.8 oz weight is a plus for those who would like to take this on longer camping trips.

Ease of use: The purifier itself is easy enough to use, but it does take special batteries. You take off the cap and insert the UV light into your water container, and then wait 1-2 minutes per liter.

Filtration speed: While it only takes 1-2 minutes per liter, you’re not supposed to sterilize more than 1 liter at a time. This can be an obstacle if you need a lot of water for multiple people.

Filtration capacity: The lamp itself will work for up to 8,000 liters, but the batteries generally only last for 50 liters at a shot.

Certifications: This product has been WQA certified.

Price: This purifier is at the high end of the price range.


  • Very effective at removing microbial threats
  • Lightweight and easily portable
  • Fast sterilization time
  • WQA certification
  • Comes with a carrying case and a belt loop
  • 3 year warranty
  • Equipped with an optical sensor that doubles as a flashlight
  • 4.6 out of 5 star rating with 133 reviews


  • Unusual batteries required with relatively short lifespans
  • Only treats 1 liter at a time
  • Many reports of failures in the field
  • Expensive

Who It’s Best For

This purifier is best for those who are worried primarily about microbial contamination in their water. The UV light will make your water safe to drink, but you’ll have to make sure you’re not getting it from sources with a lot of sediment, particulates, or other contaminants.

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Portable Water Filters Feature Comparison Table

ProductContaminants RemovedWeightFiltration SpeedFiltration CapacityPrice
Sawyer MINIMicrobes, particulates11.5 oz1.75 L/min1,500 L$
Platypus GravityWorksMicrobes, microplastics, particulates2 ozNot Published378,541 L$$$
Katadyn BeFreeMicrobes, particulates2.3 oz2 L/min1,000 L$$
LifeStrawMicrobes, microplastics, particulates1.62 ozNot Published4,000 L$
Etekcity Filter StrawMicrobes, organic contaminants, heavy metals, particulates2.08 ozNot Published1,500 L$
Travel Berkey232 contaminants in all classes6 lb0.05 L/min22,712 L$$$$
Katadyn VarioMicrobes, organic chemicals, particulates15 oz0.5 L/min1,875 L$$$
LifeStraw FamilyMicrobes, microplastics, particulates18.8 oz0.2 L/min18,000 L$$$
MSR Mini WorksMicrobes, particulates16 oz1 L/min2,000 L$$
SteriPen Opti UVMicrobes3.8 oz1 L/min8,000 L$$$

Portable Water Filter Buyer’s Guide


Now that you’ve seen our top picks for portable water filters, we’ll break down what you need to know to make the best decision for your needs. 

How Do Portable Filters Filter Water?

The best portable water purifiers use a triple filtration system called hollow fibers where the water collected (i.e. from a lake) must pass through a series of filters which progressively decrease in size. 

Hollow fiber filters have smaller and smaller holes for the fluid to pass through, bacteria, contaminants, and sediment particles are caught within the filters while the water molecules pass through.

There are purifiers that can use UV to sterilize water, and some filters will incorporate other filtration methods as well. 

Activated carbon, ceramic, and ion exchange resin are the other filtration methods you’re likely to come across.

Most of the portable water filters are also gravity filters, which means they use gravity to propel water through the multiple layer filtration system.

What Do Portable Gravity Water Filters Remove From Water?

Depending on where you are in the world and where the water you want to drink is coming from, possible contaminants range from bacteria such as E. coli and Legionella, viruses such as Hepatitis A, and any number of parasites including Cryptosporidium and Giardia.

Aside from the bugs and viruses in the water which could make you sick, many water sources are also polluted with heavy metals, sediments, and microplastics – none of which are going to boost your health.

The exact contaminants a filter removes will depend on the type of filter it employs, but any portable water filter designed for outdoor use should at least purify water and make it safe from microorganisms.

What Are Portable Water Filters Used For?

If you need water and you’re closer to nature than you are to a faucet, you probably need a portable water filter. 

Hugely popular with outdoor lovers, portable filters have been used for everything from hiking and camping to survival expeditions and disaster relief. They have even been shipped to some of the poorest countries in the world to provide clean water in areas without reliable wells.

Many people leave portable water purifiers in their cars in case they ever get stranded, include them in emergency kits, and even use them as an alternative to other filters for reducing their bottled water consumption.

Lastly, straw water filters and pump water filters are the best backpacking water filters for those out on the trail or traveling to remote areas who are in need of water purification. 

Types of Portable Water Filters

Portable water filters come in multiple different forms, but most will fall under one of the following categories.

Straw Filters

With no water to store, straw-filters are usually the lightest and most compact portable water filters available. This makes them a firm favorite with hikers and campers looking for a low-tech, easy option to filter drinking water on the go.

The name gives away the way you’re going to use these devices – simply dip one end of your straw filter into the water you want to clean and suck… the suction generated draws the dirty water through the filter inside the straw, and you get clean drinking water on the other end.

Straw filters can be hard work due to the resistance from the filter inside and they can only be used where there is safe access to the water’s edge. However, for a cheap and easy method of purifying water for a day in the woods, a straw filter will make sure you don’t go thirsty.

Pump Filters

Pump filters aren’t as small as other portable water filters that are available, although they’re compact enough and light enough to take for short hikes or camping without being too much of a burden.

Using a lead line from the stream or lake supplying your water, a hand pump is used to draw water through the filter and into the reservoir.

The filters in these units can often be cleaned and can lend themselves to a longer lifespan than some other types of filter. Having said that, they are often not as effective at removing some contaminants – like viruses.

Water Filter Bottle

Filtered water bottles work on the same principle as straw filters in that before it reaches your mouth, water must pass through a filter that removes contaminants, bacteria, and other elements which you’d rather keep out. The bottle is filled with dirty water from the source, and the water is filtered as you drink. These are great for trips where you want to be able to take some rations with you if you find water.

Gravity Filters

Brilliantly simple in their design, gravity filters are one of the best camping water filters. They’re well-suited to situations where a semi-permanent camp will be set up and the device can be hung up and left to work, or the water needs to serve a group rather than an individual.

A reservoir is filled with dirty water, which – depending on the brand – then flows down through a series of filters. Contaminants are removed at each stage of the process. Once the water has passed through all of the filters, the clean water fills a second reservoir that is attached to a dispenser.

These filters aren’t the most practical for day trips, but where they can be set up and left they take the hassle out of water filtration in the wilderness. Similarly, they can be deployed to provide portable water filtration systems for disaster-relief situations and fitted as semi-permanent water treatment systems in poorer areas of the world where water cleanliness is lacking.

UV Filters

UV filters are the most “high-tech” of the filter types we have reviewed, requiring batteries to work. Their advancement is often their downfall – and many adventurers prefer alternative types of portable water filters rather than rely on batteries in a survival situation.

Extremely effective at killing bacteria and parasites in the water supply, portable UV water filters operate using the same technology and principles as domestic UV filtration systems, only miniaturised for use on the go.

In remote wildlife settings where the main water concern is sickness from bugs in the water, these units are excellent.

However, this method of filtration does not actually remove contaminants from water, and very dirty water hampers the effectiveness of the filtration process. This means that the water may still be unsafe, even after treatment, if it’s too murky.

What to Look for When Choosing a Portable Water Filter

These are the things that will have the largest impact on your satisfaction with a particular water filter. Many of these criteria are also what we used to judge the products on in our review.


It sounds obvious on paper, but if you don’t check the weight of your portable water filter you could regret the decision when you’re carrying more weight than you need through the wilderness.

Of course, this is most relevant for those who plan to take their water filters with them on the go. If you’re planning to leave your filter at your base camp and take small hikes out and back, then weight becomes less of an issue.

Filtration speed

Put simply: How fast does your filter work? If you’re using a bottle-type filter this isn’t so important, but when using gravity and pump-type filters the filtration speed will dictate how long you’re waiting for clean water. This could be crucial if you have to cover ground quickly or get bedded down in bad weather… you don’t want to be waiting for a drink!


For pump and gravity-types, this will decide how long your filter will last before it needs to be replaced. For bottle-type or bladder-type water filters, this will govern how much water you can carry as well as how long the filter will last. Filters with larger capacities will be able to work for longer without needing to be replaced, which will save you both hassle and money.

Ease of Use

This should be obvious but very often you can’t know this until you’re hands-on with a filter… which is why we’re here to help!

This is the difference between whipping out your LifeStraw and kneeling next to the water to have a drink, versus rigging up a gravity filter in a tree, finding a container, transporting water from the source to the filter and then waiting while the clean water collects.

It often isn’t the most important factor in your decision on which portable water filter to buy, but it will certainly influence how happy you are with your filter after 12 months.


There are few things more infuriating than having something break when you’re depending on it. When you’re out on the trail, equipment failures really can be the difference between life and death. Your portable water filter needs to survive and be effective when you need it most, so make sure you look at what other customers have to say about the durability of different products.


It doesn’t matter how awesome a piece of gear is if you can’t afford it. Our review guide has looked at portable water filters for a range of budgets to make sure that you can find a filter to suit your needs, and your wallet.


Whether you’re putting your portable filter in your backpack for a hike or the trunk of your car for emergencies, the size is going to matter.

Backpacking water filter reviews are often the best place to see the importance of size considerations. You’ll need to balance the size of your portable water filter with the size of your pack, the amount of water you are likely to need from it, and the other gear you’re going to carry.

How to Tell if Your Portable Water Filter Needs Replacement

If you’ve been using the same portable water filter for a while, then chances are you have a good idea of how it should feel to use and how long it should take to work.

A change to what you are expecting is usually the first sign that your filter may need replacement. With a gravity filter, it might be that it’s slower to process all of the water while a bottle filter might start to give you drinking water with a slight off-taste. Discoloured water is also another good sign that your filter needs cleaning.

The manufacturer will always issue guidance on how long you can expect a filter cartridge to last. If you’ve cleaned your filter following the instructions provided and it is still not performing, chances are you need a new one.

How Often Do You Clean a Portable Water Filter?

We always recommend cleaning a portable water filter after every use, especially when it has been used outdoors. For filters kept for emergency use, we’d recommend cleaning them once a month if stored dry. If filled, clean and change out the water at least weekly.

What’s the Best Portable Filter for Backpacking and Camping?

Backpacking and camping have different requirements for a portable water filter. When camping, you have the option of setting up a gravity filter – one which you can leave to work and take the filtered water with you when you pack up the next day – or you can also use a pump filter if a source is nearby.

With backpacking, ease of use and speed of filtration are important – the last thing you need is to be forced into stopping or long periods so that you can set up and treat water for drinking. Bottle and straw types are the most convenient for use on the go.

Portable Water Filter Systems FAQs

What Makes a River, Lake, or Stream Water Source Unsafe?

In reality, most natural water sources are not safe to drink out of. This is because most rivers, lakes, and streams contain plenty of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. These microorganisms get into water sources from runoff, human pollution, and waste treatment plants.

What Does “Potable Water” Mean?

Potable simply means water that is safe for humans to drink. When you have raw unfiltered water from a lake it would be considered not potable but when you boil or filter it that would be considered potable.

Are There Any Standards for Portable Water Filter Systems?

No, there are no legal standards for portable water filter manufacturing and selling. When doing your research look for portable water filters where the company explains in detail how they work, what type of filtration they use, and if they have any NSF certifications to backup their claims.

What is the Safest Way to Purify Water?

The safest way to purify water is with reverse osmosis, uv filtration, ultrafiltration, or an activated carbon filter. Some systems use a combination of these filters. The best filters have been certified to remove both microbiological contaminants and chemical contaminants.

Does the Lifestraw Personal Water filter viruses?

Yes, the Lifestraw claims to remove 99.99% of all viruses, bacteria, and protozoa.


Portable water filters are a critical piece of equipment for anyone who spends time away from civilization, or those who want to be prepared in case of an emergency. With so many portable water filters on the market, you are guaranteed to find one which suits your needs if you take the time to research the products and give some thought to how you are actually going to use the filter in the field.

Using multiple specifications to judge the top products by, we believe the Sawyer Mini is the best portable water filter on the market because of its effectiveness, portability, and versatility.

No matter what you’re planning to use it for, there’s a portable water filter out there that will work for you. We hope our review and buyers guide has given you a headstart in making your decision.

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David Trinh
David is an expert in all things plumbing, heating, cooling, and water treatment. He got his start in the plumbing business working on fixing all types of home improvement issues including water leaks, broken toilets, appliance installation, and more. Over time, he learned a ton about installing and choosing the correct water treatment products for homeowners.

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