Best Backpacking Water Purifiers 2016
How you choose to purify water in the wilderness is personal choice and there are lots of effective strategies. Some hikers may drink water straight from the source, but we always recommend purifying your drinking water. Giardia and Cryptosporidium are rarely found in water sources, but it's always best to play it safe.
There are lots of effective, lightweight water purification devices on the market. Below you'll find our favorite choices for filters, UV purifiers, and chemical treatments. It's a good idea to know your choices and pick a method that will work best for you.
You can also save a little weight by ditching your Nalgene and using a Gatoraid bottle to carry your water. You'd be surprised how light and strong a simple recyclable plastic bottle can be. Sports drink bottles are light, inexpensive, tough, and easy to replace. Water bladders can also be a good choice, but be careful how you pack them in your bag to avoid springing leaks.
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Learn the foundations of lightweight water purification with this video:
Water Purification Tools
Water filters are a great way to quickly purify water on the trail that you'll be able drink straight away without any worries. Traditionally, water filters tended to be heavier and more costly than other water purification methods. Recently there have been some great advances in water filters that provide cheap, lightweight, effective tools for the trail. Water filters will generally require a little extra work, either pumping or squeezing, but they tend to be a fast, effective, and convenient way to get a clean drink.
The Sawyer Mini and the Sawyer Squeeze have been complete game changers in the water purification world. They weigh and cost a fraction of the amount of traditional water filters do and they are incredibly versatile. You can filter water by squeezing into a bottle, splicing the Mini into a water bladder line, or by using the straw to drink straight from a source. The only downside with these filters is that they'll be ruined if they freeze, so make sure to keep them warm in cold temps.
Sawer Squeeze Pack
The Sawyer Squeeze is just about as light and simple as water filters get (except for the Sawyer Mini). Fill the Sawyer bag with water from a stream, screw the filter onto the top of the bag, and squeeze the bag to filter out clean water. You can also drink straight from the filter or buy a hydration pack adapter kit to drink straight from your water bladder. The squeeze is slightly larger than the Mini and comes with a 1,000,000 gallon guarantee. They both function about the same, but the Mini is a little smaller and lighter. Like pump filters, both squeeze systems can be somewhat tedious for large groups, so you might want to get a few of them. Also, don't not let them freeze in cold temps or they won't work anymore.
GravityWorks Filter 2L
The Platypus 2L GravityWorks Filter is an ideal filtration setup for groups and is a very convenient option, especially around camp. No pumping or squeezing is required with this filter, which makes for a hassle-free purification process. The GravityWorks Filter also comes in a 4L option and a no-bag option, but we prefer the 2L model. Just like all water filters, make sure to backflush GravityWorks filter regularly for best performance.
If you prefer pump filters, the Katadyn Hiker is a safe bet. This pump filter works fast and is easy to use. It's been a trusty filtration method for many backpackers and many years. We also like how consistent it is and how little trail maintenance it requires. It does have a slightly larger pore size than some other filters, but it's still very effective.
The Katadyn Hiker Pro has a quick connect fitting for the input hose and a filter protector to extend the life of the filter, but it is largely the same model.
UV Light Water Purifiers
UV light water purifiers work by magic. Okay, that's not totally accurate, but it certainly feels that way. Ultraviolet light rays sterilize all the bugs in your water and will allow you to drink clean water safely within minutes. UV light purifiers are a lightweight and effective method.
The main downsides with UV purifiers are their tendency to malfunction and their battery life. Some UV filters will go on the fritz without any warning, so always bring a backup purification method. Also, batteries for UV filters can runout quickly and can be hard to find and expensive to replace.
The SteriPEN Adventure Opti is a solid lightweight alternative to filters for water purification. UV light is used to neutralize organisms and give you safe drinking water in minutes. One downside with this model is that it uses lithium photo 123 batteries that are expensive, can be used up quickly, and can be hard to replace. The new SteriPEN Ultra (5oz) uses a USB rechargeable battery, but that may pose it's own troubles on the trail as well.
Aquamira and Potable Aqua
Chlorine Dioxide is our chemical water treatment of choice because it's the most effective against both giardia and cryptosporidium. It also has a minimal taste.
Aquamira is available in pill and liquid form and Potable Aqua is available in pill form. The Aquamira liquid version will require slightly more work (mixing two liquids is required) but it will help to save money in the long run. The 2oz size of Aquamira will treat 30 gallons of water. Roughly the same price in pill form from either brand will only treat 6 - 8 gallons of water.
In addition, a 30 minute to 4-hour wait time is suggested for these chemical treatment to be 100% effective. It's common practice for most backpackers to wait about 30 minutes before drinking, especially if the water source is clean. That said, it's completely up to you to decide how long you feel comfortable waiting before drinking chemically treated water. That's a personal decision that will depend on your own judgment.
If you'd like to provide feedback on an item that we recommend or feel like we've missed an important piece of gear, we'd love to hear from you. Please use our contact form to let us know. Thanks!
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