Going someplace where you’re skeptical of the water? Or perhaps you’re taking a long hike and don’t want the added weight of bottled water in your pack. You may wish to consider investing in one of the best portable water filter products. Not all water filters and purifiers are the same. The type of filter or purifier is going to depend on your circumstances, but at the end of the day, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have clean, drinkable water at your fingertips wherever you are.
We’ve put together a list of our favorite portable filters and purifiers, and we’ve answered a few questions you may have about how to choose. Let’s take a look.
Best Portable Water Filter Reviews
Our first portable water filter is a straw style designed to make it safe to drink directly from a water source. It works without a bottle and has consistently ranked as one of the best filters since its creation in 2005. It’s good for about 264 gallons of water.
It doesn’t use batteries or chemical purifiers. Instead, you draw water up through a hollow filtration tube the way you’d drink from a straw. It’s not a purifier, so it won’t get viruses or chemical contaminants. It’s best for hiking in the US and Canada.
-small footprint in your gear
-works just like a straw so you can drink directly from the source
-doesn’t filter viruses or chemical contaminants
Katadyn’s microfilter is a pump style filter that allows you to fill up a pack directly from a water source. It can clean around 13,000 gallons of water from bacteria and protozoa larger than .2 microns.
The Katadyn Pocket Microfilter has a one quart per minute pump capacity (depending on the condition of the water) and uses a ceramic element that’s durable under lots of different conditions. It weighs only 20 ounces and is less than ten inches long.
-small but durable pump
-taste isn’t great (but there’s a charcoal adaptor for that)
Sawyer’s mini filtration system is just that, mini. It weighs only two ounces but cleans out bacteria and protozoa down to 0.1 microns. It comes with a drinking pouch and a standard straw that you can use to drink directly from the source.
The dual-purpose pouch/direct source straw is convenient and doesn’t take up much space in your gear. The filter is rated for a lifespan of up to 100,000 gallons. You can also attach it to a pack water source, making it one of the more versatile filters on our list.
-tiny footprint won’t take up much space
-can be slow (backwash in the field to prevent clogs)
This pro-style filter is a pump style filter that handles bacteria, protozoa, and viruses down to 0.01 microns. It also removes many heavy metals. It produces about 17 ounces of clean water per minute, and a single cartridge is rated for about 100,000 gallons of water.
In an ideal circumstance, you’ll get 17 ounces, but if there are any larger particles in your water, it could take longer. The effort is worth having super clean water, but be aware that if you need water fast, this one isn’t it.
-filters particles down to .01 microns
-filters heavy metals
-slow under normal circumstances
MSR’s filter uses a replaceable carbon filter, so it cleans out bacteria, protozoa, and improves taste. If you have trouble with the taste of some filters, the carbon-based filter here may help you. It’s a mini version of some of the pump filters, so it fits more easily in your pack for ultralight trips.
It pumps about one liter per minute, and you can use it with most wide mouth bottles and hydration packs. It’s rated for just under 530 gallons before you have to replace the filter, and the entire system is manual, so there are fewer parts to break.
It’s lightweight and comes with a carry bag.
-carbon filter improves taste
-pumps relatively quick
The Platypus is a pumpless water filtration system that’s a little larger for your pack but produces filtered water while you’re doing something else. You’ll need to be able to stop and hang the bags, so it’s best for camping trips rather than hiking.
Fill one bag with dirty water and hang it higher than clean water. It produces four liters of water in less than three minutes. The cartridge is rated for about 1500 gallons. If you don’t have a deep or moving water source, it can be challenging to collect the water in the first place, but it does hold a lot of water once you’re done.
-no pumping required
-stores up to four liters of water at once
-can be difficult to collect water
SteriPen is a water purification system rather than filtration (confused? check out the buyer’s guide below). It won’t filter out sediment from your water, but it will neutralize harmful bacteria, protozoa, and viruses in just 90 seconds per liter of water.
It works through UV light. The light disrupts the DNA or RNA of the microorganisms and prevents them from replicating and making you sick. It comes with two watch style batteries, so you’ll need to make sure you have backups.
It doubles as a flashlight and is easy to master. Just swirl the pen in the water until the light turns green. Fast and effective. It’s rated to clean about 2100 gallons of water. Be sure to clean only one liter at a time and never solids (such as ice).
-no filter equipment needed
-purify any water source quickly (including drink glasses)
If you’re wary of drinking hotel water, Sawyer’s filter and bottle combination might be the answer. It features a filter that handles particles down to .01 microns. It’s easy to fill and holds 10 ounces of unfiltered water that you draw up through the straw component.
It might take up too much space for serious back roads trekkers, but if you make a habit of carrying a water bottle with you in your day to day life, this is an excellent way to ensure clean water without buying it.
-the 10-ounce water bottle is suitable for every day carrying.
-the straw component is easy to use
-too heavy for ultralight backpacking
This filter is an ultra light, ultra portable emergency filter that’s rated for nearly 400 gallons of water. It uses a triple filtration system to handle organisms down to 0.01 microns. The Etekcity Portable Water Filter comes with a foldable pouch to collect water and a syringe to make cleaning the filter easier.
It filters water much smaller than other ultraportable filters out there, but it comes at a very slow price. It takes quite a bit of effort to fill even the small included pouch. We recommend this one for things like bug-out bags and emergency preparedness car kits.
-can fit just about anywhere
-filters up to 0.01 microns
-takes a lot of effort
The Grayl purifier is a water bottle style purifier, but there’s no sucking, squeezing, or pumping. Instead, you fill the bottle and press, and the bottle filters your water automatically. It handles particles down to 0.01 microns and is the only bottle on the list capable of handling viruses and heavy metals.
It takes only about 15 seconds to purify your water. It’s a bit bulky for a pack, but if you can’t get enough of your water bottles, this one is an excellent choice to carry around with you. It also handles particulates, sediment, and helps clear out even the taste of the water.
-handles viruses and heavy metal contaminants.
-one press activation
-gets more difficult to press down as you progress through the life of the filter
Best Portable Water Filter Buyer’s Guide
You need to know what you’re getting when you choose a water system, so let’s go over a few key terms.
Filter Versus Purifier
We often use the terms interchangeably, but the truth can be a critical difference. A water filter handles particulates and organisms that are bacterial sized or protozoa sized. Filters are suitable for trekking in the United States and Canada where viruses aren’t likely to be a threat.
If you’re traveling abroad, you might want to invest in a purifier. A purifier handles viruses and heavy metal contamination, which is much smaller than bacteria and protozoa. Not knowing the difference can make you very sick if you’re someplace where viruses might be contaminating your water.
Types of Filters/Purifiers
There are a few different choices for the mechanism of purification and filtration. Each one has advantages and disadvantages depending on your situation.
Straw style filters are used directly with the water source. You suck water in through the straw, and that action draws water through the layers of the filter directly to your mouth. Some attach to bottles that can be filled up and others are used directly at the water source.
These are great to keep on you for everyday activities where you’ll be carrying a water bottle already, or day hiking near a known water source. They aren’t going to be very convenient for filtering large amounts of water for a family or group of people.
Squeeze Filters use pressure from the water bag to force water through the filter and into the drinking straw. They’re lighter and typically cost less than a pump or gravity style filter. The downside is you’re limited by how much the reservoir will hold, and it’s tough to squeeze out every drop of water.
These are also good for day trips near a known water source, or for filling up at the tap in questionable places. You’re going to have to replace the filter pretty often, but the whole set up is typically cheaper than other types of filters, too.
Pumps produce more water than straws and are suitable for filling up containers and packs. They draw water through the filter using a pumping action. For some, you need more than one person to keep the nozzle in position.
They’re best if you plan to be gone for a few days and want to filter water into a larger container. Some can be slow moving and take a lot of effort to produce a small amount of water. They also require regular backwashing to clear the filter of sediment that may be interfering with the water flow.
Gravity style bags are best for campsites where you want to store more massive amounts of water, but you don’t have time to pump. They work by filling one bag with water and allowing it to filter into another bag placed lower than the original. These are great if you plan to stay in one place and want a steady supply of water.
If you’re often on the move, these don’t work well because you’ll always have to stop and refill the bag, wait for it to filter, drain the clean water bag, and take everything back down. If you’re camping with your family and want your water to filter while you chase your kids around, these are a better choice.
Ultraviolet Filters and Purifiers
Ultraviolet light disrupts the DNA of bacteria and protozoa and the RNA of viruses. It prevents them from multiplying, so if you consume them, they wash back out of your system without taking advantage of the ideal conditions to multiply.
These aren’t going to filter out sediment and cloudy water, so you’ll have to prefilter the water to remove those for best results. They also require batteries, and you’ll need to keep a steady supply.
If you’re going to be somewhere drinking water out of a glass, these are great for quick purification. They also double as a flashlight. You aren’t going to be able to purify large quantities of water, so make sure you have a backup system if you’re in the field.
Prefiltering and Boiling
Sediment is going to shorten the lifespan of any filter. It’s important to seek out clear water or semi-clear water to prevent sediment from clogging up your filters. If you can’t find clear water, you can pre-filter the water to remove large particulates before using your micron filter.
Boiling water afterward can help remove any viruses left in the water if you’re only using a water filtration system. Boil water for at least one minute in low altitudes and at least three minutes in high altitudes. This method works regardless of murky water conditions, but it should be a complementary or a last resort method.