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How To Choose Water Filters & Treatments

Always Have Clean Drinking Water In The Backcountry

Anyone who is adventuring into the backcountry needs water. Whether you’re embarking on a multi-day backpacking trip, long trail run, camping with a large group of friends, or anything in between, sometimes you don’t want to (or can’t) carry all of the water you need to stay hydrated. Enter water filters and treatments. By being able to treat and filter your water on the fly, you can stay in control of your hydration while lightening the load of your pack.

While the stream and ponds you may stumble upon might look clean, the water found in the backcountry can’t always be trusted. Other outdoor enthusiasts and livestock can easily contaminate water sources. Instead of running the risk of getting sick and spending the rest of your trip on the John, you have the option to filter and treat the water you find along the way. Water filters and treatments can make water safe to drink from sentiments, viruses, and other bacteria. Understanding the strengths and limitations of each system can help you choose the best option for you to stay hydrated in the backcountry—as long as there’s a water source. 

Water Filters & Purification For Weekend Camping

Weekend campers have the luxury of being able to bring along more gear—pretty much whatever you can fit into your car. However, if you’re with a large group of people, trying to cut down on waste, or you just don’t have enough room to bring all the water you’ll need, having a good water filter or purification plan can help make your weekend off the grid a good one. As long as you’re planning on camping near a water source, you have plenty of options for staying hydrated.

Gravity Filters

Gravity filters are easy to use, can filter between 4 and 10L of water at a time (making them great for large groups), and are easy to pack along on your camping or overnight backpacking trip. Gravity then pulls the water down the tube and through a replaceable cartridge that filters and purifies your water. While easy, this water filtration system does take time, and if you’re camping above treeline or in the desert, finding a good place to hang the bladder can be a  challenge. 

Pump Filters

Another effective way to filter water in the backcountry is with a filter pump, like the MSR Guardian Purifier System. Pumps can be a great option for any outdoor pursuit, as long as you have the space in your pack to bring them along. Simply drop the intake hose into your water source, then pump away. The water will flow through a filter that removes bacteria, particles, and other contaminants so you can drink with confidence. Though easy to use, pumps can be a bit of a drag after a strenuous hike when the last thing you want to do is add another camp chore before chilling. If you’ve got a group though on a weekend camping trip, the whole crew can take turns pumping your clean water.

Water Filters & Purification For Hiking & Backpacking

Hikers and backpackers have precious limited space for snacks, water, and gear for the trail. The water filters and purification systems mentioned above definitely work on the trail, but if you need to save space in your pack or are looking for something a bit more convenient, these options make staying hydrated on the trail much easier.

Bottle Purifiers

Bottle purifiers like the Katadyn BeFree Water Filtration System that pack down small and are easy to throw in your pack are a great option for long days on the trail. Once you come upon your water source, simply fill the bottle, replace the cap, and take a drink of pure, filtered backcountry water.  These bottle purifiers can replace your space-eating water bottles while ensuring you can always have safe water to drink, as long as you come across enough water sources on your trip.

Hydration Reservoir Filters

If you’re taking on a fast and light hike, and know you won’t have time to stop and pump water, filters like the MSR Thru-Link Inline Filter that deliver on-the-go hydration are the ultimate in convenience. This filter attaches to your hydration bladder in your pack, and filters your water on demand as you drink through the hose as you normally would. Your hydration bladders are typically larger than your water bottles, so if the bottle purifier just doesn’t seem like it can provide you with enough water for your day, these filters are a good way to go.

UV Light Purifiers

To use an ultraviolet (UV) light purifier, you need to bring along a water bottle, and something like the SteriPEN SteriPEN Ultra. UV light purifiers are small and easily portable, making them ideal bring-alongs on backpacking trips, international trips, day hikes, and almost anything in between where you can carry a vessel in which to purify your water. These guys do need to be recharged every once in a while, so you’ll need to have the forethought to make sure its batteries are good to go before you hit the trail.

Chemical Tablet Treatments

Tablets are a somewhat old-school way to filter your water on backpacking trips. This tried and time-tested method works like urban treatment plants do to ensure you’re not ingesting unwanted bacteria or viruses. They have the lowest cost entry, making them a great solution if you’re just getting started with backpacking or any other type of backcountry exploration. You can purchase them in large quantities so you can bring them along on all of your adventures without much forethought. The only downside: tablets don’t remove sentiments. If you’ve got murky water, it’s probably best to have an alternative way to filter it.

Compact Water Filters & Purification

Trail runners, mountain bikers, ultra-light backpackers, fly fishermen, and anyone else who isn’t bringing a large pack into the backcountry—there’re compact water filters and purification solutions for you too. These compact systems, like the MSR Trailshot Microfilter, easily fit in your pack and allow you to drink directly out of streams, lakes, and rivers that you come across, without the need of a water vessel. While these are great for saving space and keeping you hydrated on the go, compact filters are only useful when you’re directly at a water source. If you know there’s only one lake, say, at the beginning of your journey, you may want to rethink your water filter plan.

With so many choices of which water filters and treatments to choose on the market, you can easily find one that suits you and your adventure’s needs. Hydration is not only key to a successful and more enjoyable time, but it’s also important for your health and safety. By having a water filter and treatment system along with you wherever you go, you can eliminate the risk of water-borne diseases and illnesses while getting to drink delicious, wild water and enjoying the best of the backcountry.

Rachel Jorgensen is a freelance writer based in Michigan but doesn’t stay put for long. She’s lived in three countries, four states, and is always after the next adventure. When settled, you’ll find her climbing, skiing, or trail running with Scuba, her Thai rescue dog. Follow along @rjorgie