Best Portable Water Filters
Fresh water is one of the most valuable commodities in the Great Outdoors, and it is critical to have a clean, reliable supply if you’re going to stay at the top of your game when it matters most.
A reliable portable water filtration system is a must-have for any Hiker, Camper or Outdoorsman (or woman!) who is brave enough to take on the wilderness… for a week or an afternoon.
Portable water filtration systems are becoming more and more popular – they are affordable, effective and they can really help you out in a jam.
Whether you’re going into the mountains camping for a month, hiking in the woods for a weekend or simply looking for the best water filter for emergency preparedness, our in-depth review guide looks at the pros and cons of the best survival water filters on the market so that you can clear the muddy waters and make the right decision on the best portable water filter for you.
Water filter pitchers are the most popular way to remove contaminants from water, due to their low cost, low maintenance needs, and simplicity of use. They are also ideal if you rent, rather than own, your house as well as if you otherwise have no option to install a system to the water main. Plus, filter pitchers come in a range of types, meaning it’s easy to find one that meets your needs and suits your budget.
Table of Contents
- 1 Top 10 Portable Water Filters
- 2 Portable Water Filter Reviews
- 3 Portable Water Filter Buyer’s Guide
- 4 What is a Portable Water Filter?
- 5 Types of Portable Water Filters
- 6 What to look for when choosing a Portable Water Filter
- 7 How to tell if your portable water filter needs replacement
- 8 How often do you clean a portable water filter?
- 9 What’s the best type for backpacking and camping?
- 10 Conclusion
Top 10 Portable Water Filters
#1 Sawyer Mini Filter
#2 SurviMate Filter Bottle
#3 LifeStraw Filter
#4 Etekcity Filter Straw
#5 Berkey Travel Microfilter
#6 Katadyn Vario Microfilter
#7 LifeStraw Gravity Filter
#8 MoKo Filter
#9 MSR MiniWorks Filter
#10 SteriPen Opti UV
Portable Water Filter Reviews
1. Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System
For the Second year running, the Sawyer Mini Water Filtration system came out on top as the best backpacking water filter in our test.
It filters 99.9999% of bacteria and parasites, is super lightweight, will filter up to 100,000 gallons of water on a single filter and you can pick one up and see change out of $30… what more could you want to keep you hydrated on hikes off the beaten track?!
The only down side we have been able to find is that this filter doesn’t do anything to remove heavy metals or pesticides, so we recommend for use in more remote areas where less is less chance of finding pollution in the water supplies.
Sawyer has done a great job of packing benefits into such an affordable product, and we look forward to seeing what the other brands on the market come up with to knock the Sawyer Mini Filtration System off the top spot!
- Very long filter life
- Extremely effective at removing bacteria and parasites
- Doesn’t filter heavy metals or pesticides
- Not suitable for use by groups
2. SurviMate 4-stage filter bottle
With a 4-stage filtration system and a 22 oz reservoir, this SurviMate filter bottle could be the best hiking water filter – you can simply fill up and go!
The SurviMate filters the water as you draw it from the bottle, so there’s no waiting around for the process to complete. As you would expect from any straw-type filter, this portable water filter can be hard work but for its simplicity and convenience we think this will be a very popular filter for hikers and backpackers.
The filter is rated to process 400 gallons before needing replacement, and the bottle also doubles as a standard water bottle – just remove the filter straw!
- Versatile bottle
- Can be used on-the-go
- No waiting for the filtration process
- Must be cleaned well to prevent contamination from previous uses
- Can be hard work to drink from – expect jaw-ache over longer periods of use
3. Lifestraw Personal Water Filter
Probably 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.
Vestegaard’s ongoing charity work in developing countries is a great reason to support this product, before we get into the features.
Lightweight easily portable and simple to use – the Lifestraw was designed to be as convenient and easy as possible.
The Lifestraw filters 99.9% of bacteria and parasites, as well as microplastics from the drinking water and can filter up to 265 gallons of water. There are no moving parts to break or batteries required and it weights only 2 oz – you won’t even realise it’s in your bag!
This portable water filter is universal in its uses – from hiking and camping to crisis response and disaster relief, the Lifestraw is a versatile filter and if you want a portable water filter for any scenario, the Lifestraw is a great choice.
- Very effective at filtering parasites and bacteria
- Easy to use
- No option to take water away from the source
- Can be hard work to draw water through the filter
4. Etekcity Water Filter Straw
Etekcity have taken the same principle as used by Lifestraw and made it their own… or at least tried to.
While it dies everything you would expect from a portable water filter, this device feels like a copy and we struggled to find any areas where it was superior to its inspiration.
Affordable, effective and with the added benefit of coming with a 16oz bladder to carry extra water away from the source with you, the Etekcity isn’t a bad filter especially for the fairly low price, but it doesn’t stand out amongst its competitors.
- Comes with pouch to carry water away with you for filtration later
- Feels like a copy of the Lifestraw model
- Can be hard work to drink from
5. Travel Berkey Water Filter
The Travel Berkey Water filter isn’t a portable filter to throw in your bag and head off up the trail.
Made of stainless steel for durability and hygiene and with a mighty 1.5 gallon capacity we think this portable water filter is best used at a “base camp”. It could even be set up in an apartment to provide filtered water for 1-3 people!
WIth a strong filtration rate of 2 gallons an hour the Travel Berky reduces heavy metals, bacteria and parasites as well as fluoride by 99.9%. A filter should last up to 3,000 gallons of water filtered and the device comes with 2 filters in the box to get you started.
We loved the simple clean design and the high performance of this portable water filter.
We know that it won’t be right for everyone, but if you’re heading into the wilderness in a group or for any long period, or you’re looking for a portable water filter to setup at home, the Travel Berky could be everything you need and more.
- 2 filters included
- 3,000 gallons filter life
- Robust and hygienic stainless steel construction.
- Good rate of filtration
- Not ideal for use on the go – requires setup and deployment
- Expense compared to other portable water filters.
6. Katayn Vario Microfilter
Usually selling at close to $100, the Katadyn Vario microfilter probably won’t be the first portable water filter which you buy, and will appeal most to experienced trekkers who know exactly what they want from their gear.
This pump filter removes 99.999% of bacteria, sediments, algae and protozoan cysts and will filter up to 2 quarts a minute, and comes complete with a 36 inch hose for convenience.
The Vario has a ceramic pre-filter which can be removed for cleaning, prolonging the life of the filter cartridge however this can be deactivated to double the flow rate letting you make the best decision according to the situation.
The filter cartridge is tested to last up to 450 gallons, and although it isn’t certified the unit also reduces chemicals and heavy metals in the water.
The range of features all come together to make a great overall product, which would have ranked higher if not for its price. We still think this is a great choice for the experienced OUtdoorsman.
- Adjustable filtration allows you to improve lifespan or filtration rate
- Removes bacteria, parasites, chemicals and heavy metals
- 2 year warranty
- Other filters in our test had much longer filter life
7. LifeStraw Family 1.o Portable Gravity Purifier
This family filter unit from Lifestraw used gravity to draw water from the source through the same filtration process as used in the pioneering Lifestraw devices.
Although it needs to be set up and left to work, the Family 1.0 is a simple to use, effective portable water filter which is designed to overcome some of the complaints which users reported about the original Lifestraw.
No longer relying on suction alone to draw the water through the filter, the reservoir includes with the Family 1.0 allows you to fill the device and leave it while the water filters through. It also removes the need to access the water source directly in order to drink processed water and although external water storage is required to transport both the water from source as well as the filtered water once the process is complete, as the name suggests the Family 1.0 is aimed to serve groups rather than the individual.
Simple and reliable are factors we have come to expect from Lifestraw and the Family 1.0 does not disappoint.
- Easy to use
- Well-known and trusted brand
- Will filter enough water to serve a small group
- Does not require ongoing operation to filter once set up
- Ideal for emergency preparedness
- Need to be set up in position, so not suitable for use on the move
- Require external water storage to transport water from source, and to collect filtered water.
8. MoKo Portable Water Filter
This good looking, BPA free filter from MoKo achieves the highest sterilization ranking from the World Health Organisation and has an excellent flow rate whilst staying super lightweight.
Easy to use and eliminating 99.9% of bacteria in the water with 3-stage filtration technology, this filter also reduces heavy metals and sediments making it a versatile choice for use in many environments.
The filter cartridge is rated to process up to 660 gallons of water and the water back flushes, ensuring improved taste and filtering for longer.
We’d have liked a longer hose with the MoKo unit and although lightweight is great when backpacking, this device just felt a little too flimsy to rate higher (especially when the stakes are so high in the wilderness) but only a longer field test would prove this to us. In need of a few tweaks, we think this filter could be very popular for campers and hikers with some more development and we look forward to seeing it again in next year’s test.
- Highly rated filtration system
- Long filter cartridge lifespan
- Requires external water storage
- Doesn’t feel robust
9. MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter
Simple, durable and reliable, this portable pump filter from MSR is effective at removing bacteria and parasites from the water.
The filter is slow to pump through and it is not as easy to use as several others in our test, but it is very easy to strip down and clean and could be a favourite with those trekkers who are willing to take the time to maintain their gear.
The filter clogs quite quickly when used to process very dirty water and needs thorough cleaning after each use to ensure the life of the filter cartridge.
- Well made
- Purification tablets required
- Hard work to pump
- Requires maintenance between trips to ensure performance.
10. SteriPen Adventurer Opti UV
The only UV-type filter in our test, the Steripen Adventurer was a disappointment. Slow to work and only treating the water in small batches, we wouldn’t want to be stuck in the woods with only this system to rely on for clean drinking water.
Expensive to purchase and with many reports of the filter arriving damaged or breaking very early into trips, we recommend you spend your money on a more reliable filter.
Very effective at destroying bacteria… when it’s working.
- Unusual batteries required
- Only treats a quarter gallon at a time
- Feels fragile
- Many reports of failures in the field
Portable Water Filter Buyer’s Guide
What is a Portable Water Filter?
A portable water filter is, as the name suggests, a water purification device specifically designed to be mobile – for use on the go.
They come in different forms (more on that later), but their purpose is always the same – to improve the quality of the water you’re drinking.
How do they filter water?
The best portable water purifiers use a multistage filtration process where the water collected (ie from a lake) must pass through a series of filters which decrease in size at each stage. As each filter has smaller and smaller holes for the fluid to pass through, bacteria, contaminant and sediment particles are caught within the filters while the smaller water molecules can pass through into the reservoir which you will drink from.
There are filters which can use UV to purify water, and different filters use different ways of applying this process to clean the water for drinking but this is the simplest and most reliable method of filtration and hence the most widely used.
What do Portable Water Filters remove from the 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, either breeding without the water source or deposited there by other animals who may have come into contact with the water.
Let’s face it – in the wilderness water is a valuable resource for humans AND animals, and the chances are if you’ve found a place to drink the last critter who drank won’t be too far away either.
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 – while you’re on the trail or once you’ve gotten home.
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 lovers of the Outdoors, these nifty devices have been used for everything from hiking, camping, survival expeditions, disaster relief and have even been shipped to some of the poorest countries in the world to give local people a means of drinking clean water in areas where there are only hand-dug wells for miles around.
Many people leave portable water purifiers in their cars in case they ever get stranded, and in the case of the bottle-type filters we know many folks who simply use a filter-bottle for their day-to-day hydration, knowing that their portable water filter is improving the taste and quality of their tap water.
Types of Portable Water Filters
With no water to store, straw-filters are usually the lightest and most compact portable water filters available and this makes them a firm favourite 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 “hey-presto”! Clean water.
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 but 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 aren’t as small as other portable water filters that are available, although they’re compact enough and light enough to take into the Outdoors hiking 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 life than some other types of filter however they are often not as effective at removing some contaminants, in particular viruses.
Bottle filters work on the same principle as straw filters in that before it reaches your mouth, water must pass through a filter which 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. Great for trips where you want to be able to take some rations with you if you find water, the biggest complaint about these types of filters seems to be from people who forgot themselves and drank the unfiltered water from the bottle rather than through the filter.
Brilliantly simple in their design, Gravity filters are one of the best camping water filters, well suited to a situation where a semi-permanent camp will be set up, the water is to serve a group rather than an individual and the device can be set up and left to work.
A reservoir is filled with dirt water, which depending on the brand then flows down through a series of filters, with contaminants being removed at each stage of the process.
Once it has passed through all of the filters, the clean water fills a second reservoir, from where it can be distributed amongst group members.
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 and similarly can be deployed in 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 are the most “high-tech” of the filter types we have reviewed, requiring batteries to work. Many adventurers prefer alternative types of portable water filters, rather than rely on batteries in a survival situation.
Extremely effective at eliminating bacteria and parasites from 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 the method of filtration does not remove heavy metals or chlorine from the water and very dirty water hampers the effectiveness of the filtration process meaning the water may still be unsafe, even after treatment.
What to look for when choosing a Portable Water Filter
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!
Less important for emergency preparedness, the weight of a portable water filter should be checked to make sure that when combined with your other gear you’re not carrying around more than you need to.
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 hanging around for… 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 bottle type water filters this will govern how much water you can carry.
For pump and gravity types, it will decide how long you have to spend by the water and how long you will spend processing the water.
The best hiking water filters often allow you to keep going for longer without needing to keep stopping to process drinking water.
Ease of Use
This should be obvious but very often you can’t know this until you’re hands on with a filter… 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.
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 and you 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 need… you don’t want a tiny filter bouncing around in a half-empty bag any more than you want to have to leave your First Aid kit behind to make room for a family-size water filtration kit!
How to tell if your portable water filter needs replacement
If you’ve been using the same portable water filter for a while, the 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 is slower to process all of the water and 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 would always clean 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 and if filled, cleaning and changing the water at least weekly.
What’s the best type 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 water filter which suits a gravity type – one which you can leave to work and take the filtered water on when you pack up the next day. You don’t have to work at using a Lifestraw when a different type of filter will process your water while you’re setting up camp!
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.
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 market and give some thought to how you are actually going to use the filter in the field.
Hopefully our review guide has given you a headstart in making your decision – check out the Amazon links above for more detailed information and current pricing for each model.
Portable water filters are a critical piece of equipment for anyone who spends time away from civilization, or who wants to be prepared in case of an emergency… water is the most important factor in keeping people alive, and for less than $50 you can buy a device which could keep you alive in a crisis.
Honestly we don’t know why everyone doesn’t own one of these fantastic devices – as our guide has proved, there really is a filter for everyone.