Backpacking Water Filter / Water Purifier Reviews & Comparisons

The following "Top 10" reviews should help you compare models and options so you can choose the best backpacking water filter or purifier for your needs and uses.

General Ecology First Need Deluxe Water Purifier

One of the most effective water purifiers on the market, the First Need Deluxe removes protozoan cysts, bacteria and viruses, using General Ecology's patented "structured matrix sealed canister". Importantly, it does so without the use of chemicals. That means no iodine or chlorine is needed so there's no bad taste in the water. (Note: it doesn't claim to remove all viruses; just down to the 0.2 level so as to meet EPA drinking water standards for purifiers).

If you are mechanically inclined and like to take your filter apart to scrape out clogged contaminants, you will be disappointed. The unit is sealed and when it clogs or starts pumping slower, you simply replace the cartridge. Replacement filters are readily available and should yours get clogged up on the trail, it will still pump but at a much slower rate.

The First Need Deluxe is ruggedly constructed and one of its benefits is that it connects directly to Nalgene bottles. It also has a protective sanitary cover. A double action pump produces a relatively fast flow with around 35-40 strokes per quart. The First Need has been around for many years and has won Backpacker Magazine's Best Gear Award. The design looks more standard than high tech but if you read the reviews you find that a lot of diehard backpackers have used it for years without complaint.

Weight: 15 oz. Average price: $103

MSR Miniworks EX Water Filter

The Miniworks EX is the best selling backpacking water filter on the market. It is lightweight and simple to use. The ceramic unit takes out bacteria, protozoa and other chemical contaminants, blocking down to 0.3 microns. It has a carbon-block core filter so it improves the taste of your water--even takes out the taste of iodine. Miniworks EX has what the company calls an "AirSpring Accumulator," which means that it works by lever action instead of the usual bicycle-pump-type method. It purifies approximately one liter per minute.

If this water filter should clog up, it is made to be taken apart, cleaned, and put back together again without the need of tools. That might be one of the reasons the U.S. Army issued this filter to its troops in the field. It is made to be durable and hold up for many years even under adverse conditions. The Miniworks EX can also be attached to Nalgene-type water containers. There is even a gauge that tells you when to replace the ceramic element.

Weight: 16 oz. Average price: $85

MSR Sweetwater Microfilter

MSR bought Sweetwater so this filter now falls under their brand name. The Sweetwater filter is lightweight at only 11 oz. so it shouldn't bother even lightweight backpacking fanatics. And, because it folds flat, it won't take up too much space in your pack. The filter gets rid of bacteria and those protozoan parasites that cause gastro-intestinal problems--giardia and cryptosporidium. It does not kill viruses but that shouldn't be a problem if you are hiking in North America.

Backpackers like the fact that it pumps water on both the up and down strokes, so you use less muscle and get a fast flow at 1.25 liters a minute. If it clogs up you can restore the flow by brushing the filter, making it practical for long treks.

The Sweetwater Microfilter is made of polycarbonate--plastic--so it might not be as durable as other filters, especially if you use it a lot in cold weather. If you read the reviews from backpackers you will find people who have used it for many years with no problems on the trail at all.

Weight: 11 oz. Average Cost: $70

Katadyn Hiker

This is another backpacking water filter that does its job well eliminating protozoa and bacteria so you don't get ill on the trail. It doesn't look as spiffy as some of the newer brands but it is a real workhorse when it comes to filtering water. A lot of backpackers have used it for many years and never had any kind of problem. It filters down to .03, meeting all of the EPA requirements and it has a carbon core eliminating any off-tastes.

The Katadyn Hiker is the only filter that comes with a one-year anti-clog guarantee. It comes with two attachments--one for Nalgene water bottles and one for bladders. Reviewers report that it easily handles both individuals and groups, even on extended trips.

Weight: 11 oz. Average Cost: $60

Katadyn Hiker Pro Water Filter

The Pro is a higher performance version of the Katadyn Hiker. It adds a quick release feed hose and Quick Fill Hydration Pack Adaptors. It is highly rated by backpackers for dependability and endurance.

Weight: 11 oz. Average Cost: $75

Katadyn Mini Water Filter

The Katadyn Mini is meant for solo hikers. It is ultra light, weighing in at only 8 ounces, and it fits easily in a fanny pack or coat pocket. It has a "silver impregnated" ceramic core which is very durable and it removes bacteria and protozoa well. It also provides extremely good tasting water. The biggest advantage of the Mini is that it can pump 2000 gallons before it needs filter replacement. Most others on the market have a capacity of 200 gallons.

The Katadyn Mini filter is a great alternative for ultralight backpackers and a great value when you consider the price per gallon and all those replacement filters you won't have to buy. According to backpackers who have used it, the biggest disadvantage is its slow pumping flow, estimated to be around 3 minutes per liter. While some people say backpackers shouldn't be in a hurry, most do complain about how long it takes to pump a gallon of water. It's a great water filter for those who hike alone, and you know the filter will last through most backpacking trips

Weight: 8 oz. Average cost: $90

Katadyn Pocket Filter

The Pocket filter is in Katadyn's "Endurance Series,"--designed to last an incredibly long time, even under stressful conditions and heavy usage. It filters down to 0.2 microns, and like most of Katadyn's other backpacking water filters, removes bacteria and protozoan cysts but not viruses.

The Pocket is great for those people who favor long-lasting over weight. It comes with a 20-year warranty but it weighs in at a hefty 20 ounces with a metal body and ceramic filter. It is also on the more expensive end when compared to other filters but this is offset by the fact that it lasts so long. Think about how many replacement cartridges you won't have buy.

It also gets among the highest ratings for dependability--a lot of backpackers are more than willing to add a few ounces to their packs when they know that their water filter is never going to let them down on trail. It also pumps a little slower than some at 1 quart per minute.

Weight: 20 ounces Average cost: $240

MSR Hyperflow Microfilter

Winner of Backpacker's 2008 Editor's Choice Award, MSR's Hyperflow Microfilter is so new there's not much on-the-trail experience to report yet. It was just introduced in January, 2008. That said, the first reviews of this filter have been glowing.

The Hyperflow Microfilter is extremely light at 7.8 ounces. That, combined with its compact size ,makes it popular among ultralight backpackers. It pumps faster than any other microfilter at three liters per minute and the pumping action is easy, described as "effortless" by those who have used some of the other pumps on the market. MSR's newest design uses "hollow fiber technology."

The Hyperflow is a filter and not a purifier, removing protozoa and bacteria down to 0.2 microns to stop giardia and cryptosporidium. The filter can be taken apart easily for cleaning without tools. The pre-filter floats almost above the water surface to keep out contaminants that might be located further down nearer the bottom. A Quick-Connect cap attaches to wide-mouthed bottles and other MSR hydration products, and with an adapter it can be made to fit most common hydration bladders.

The disadvantages of the MSR Hyperflow Microfilter are that it is delicate and should not be dropped. It is made of plastic and MSR advises not to use it in conditions below freezing so don't take it on winter trips. The cartridge is supposed to last up to 1000 liters pumped, but MSR recommends taking the pump apart and cleaning it once a day, which is more work than some people can deal with.

Weight: 7.8 oz. Averages cost: $100

Katadyn Exstream XR Purifier Water Bottle

This water bottle purifier from Katadyn is great for people who just want to dip a bottle in the water and go. There's literally nothing else to do. And, because it is water-bottle size you can carry it outside on most packs. It gets rid of protozoa, bacteria and viruses through a three-stage process that is accomplished by just squeezing the bottle. It gets rid of viruses with an iodinated resin filter. Because iodine is used, priming the bottle with a few fills before drinking is recommended to get the best tasting water.

The Exstream XR is so safe that you can take it on foreign trips without worrying the water will give you some horrible disease. It is also great for cyclists and runners. because you can take water easily from any passing stream.

The bottle purifier weighs 8 ounces and has a one- liter capacity. You should get 125 bottle fills out of one cartridge.

Weight: 8 oz. Average price: $50

Hydro-Photon SteriPEN Adventurer Water Purifier

Many backpackers believe that there is no backpacking water purifier better than the SteriPEN Adventurer. Even smaller and lighter than the original SteriPEN--it weighs an unbelievable 3.6 ounces (without batteries). All you have to do is stick it in the water, push the button and give the water a quick stir. The SteriPEN's output is 32 ounces per 90 seconds.

The Adventurer kills viruses in addition to protozoa and bacteria. And it does it in a unique way--by using ultraviolet rays. The rays go right to the source, destroying the virus' DNA so it can't reproduce. There are no pumps to pump, no iodine to leave a taste in your mouth, and it will never clog up. It even turns itself off when the water treatment is complete. It can be used up to 5000 times.

One drawback is that the SteriPEN does not work well with muddy or cloudy water; but steps can be taken to clear up the water such as pre-filtering through a handkerchief, letting it settle, etc. Another drawback is that the UV light cannot treat droplets of water above the water surface such as on the lip or threads of your bottle; but this may be considered a minor problem and again, steps can be taken to avoid it. SteriPEN does come with a Nalgene attachment to assist in that area.

The SteriPEN Adventurer comes with two non-rechargeable lithium CR123 batteries but for some extra money you can get it with rechargeable batteries and a solar/electric charging case. Just for comparison, the original SteriPEN requires 4 AA batteries which adds another 3-plus ounces to the weight.

Weight: 3.6 oz. Average Cost: $100 w/Solar Recharger: $140

Drops and Tablets--Pure Water without the Filter

Some hikers just don't want to bother with a water filter or purifier no matter how light or easy they are to use. For those people safe water is still possible by boiling or by taking along drops or tablets. For a long time iodine was what most people used, but while it did kill viruses and the protozoa that causes giardia, it did nothing to eliminate cryptosporidium. With the introduction of chlorine dioxide droplets or tablets to the market, now just about every little organism that causes sickness can be killed. The drawback is that required treatment time for cryptosporidium is 4 hours!

Backpackers have three choices when it comes to "chlorine dioxide," the ingredient used to purify water. These are Aquamira, Micropur MP1, and Pristine.


Aquamira drops and tablets use chlorine dioxide to purify water. These products meet the EPA requirements for Microbiological Water Purifiers. They do not contain iodine or chlorine and work in all types of water, whether it is clear or dirty, warm or cold. According to the company, "The unique formula works by releasing nascent oxygen, a highly active form of oxygen, which is a strong oxidant and a powerful germicidal agent."

Chlorine Dioxide droplets and tablets are also a cheaper alternative to backpacking water purifiers. A small bottle of droplets--enough to treat 30 gallons of water--costs around $15. Each tablet treats one liter of water. The cost of 12-tablet packages is around $8.

Katadyn Micropur MP1 Tablets

Heralded as the only EPA-registered Purification tablets on the market these tablets kill viruses, bacteria, cryptosporidium, and giardia in water. They also use chlorine dioxide. Each tablet purifies 1 liter of water. The average cost of 30 tablets is $14.

Pristine Drop Water Purifier

Pristine is the Canadian version of chlorine dioxide in droplet form. It kills viruses, bacteria, cryptosporidium, and giardia. Comes in a personal package that treats 30 liters of water for $29.95.

All pages on this topic:
Water Filters | Backpacking Water Filters vs. Water Purifiers | Backpacking Filters/Purifiers Reviews (Top 10) | Bad Backcountry Water: Giardia, Crypto, Bacteria, Viruses
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