What are the best water filters for backpacking solo? There are many tools available on the market, some completely new models and some existing for a number of years already. So how to choose? In answering these questions, my main criteria are:
Regarding the weight, no need to say much, this is self-evident. You know how it is when your backpack is ready and when you put it for the first time on your back, and your knees start shaking under the weight. All the filters presented here are ultra lightweight, with the weight below 150 grams (5.3 oz).
Reliability is about trust. Is this a tool and the brand you can trust or not? This is about safety and health, perhaps even about life. If you are a beginner, you do not know much about these tools, and there are so many of them on the market. So how to choose? Here are a few tips:
- Check the specifications carefully.
- Read about the brand.
- Do they provide proofs about independent testing of their tools? See below the LifeStraw filter as a great example, they do provide data about such testing.
- See what other people say about the tool.
- Read between lines. Do they promise too much without any evidence? If so, be careful.
Sometimes they may give information about independent testing, but it may not be reliable. See here about my experience with such a tool; I had serious stomach issues after drinking filtered water which was supposed to be safe.
Obviously, the term backpacking may imply different things, but my focus here is only on wilderness backpacking. So, if you need a tool for travel to some countries with problematic water, please see my another text. When you are on a long trail it is best not to depend on batteries unless you have to, and you should also have a tool that is easy to deploy, and to maintain in the field.
What do I mean by deploy? Well, imagine you are crossing over a stream, your filter is at hand, you drink directly or you store the water, and you move on. Compare this with gravity tools that are available on the market, they are good and reliable, but those need time and you have to hang them somewhere to filter the water, etc. They are great in the camp but not on the go.
Safe to use, what does this mean?
Many of the tools on the market are with such a design that you have to come very close to the water in order to drink. You have seen pictures of people kneeling by a river and drinking.
This looks great in pictures, but your hands and knees become contaminated/dirty in the process. Bear in mind, by definition, you are dealing with water which is not safe, so your hands and the tool itself should remain as clean as possible, at all the times. It is important that you do not touch the water.
So here is my list, with the filters ranked by weight:
You will notice that the first four tools in the table are all straw-type. This is what makes them so lightweight.
The possibility to collect clean water and to carry it with you is as important as the weight, so only these two features are added in the table. There are 3 different groups here:
♦ The LifeStraw is a bestselling tool and this has been so for a decade or so, but unfortunately, you do not have such an option with this great tool. You can only drink where you have water. Of course, you can carry the water with you in some separate containers, but this is not a clean water, and therefore not safe. You cannot squeeze it and use for cooking.
♦ The tools with * are those that have containers, but those are for contaminated water. So you can carry and drink from them by using the filter, and you can also squeeze the clean water and have if for cooking. Or you can have two, and then you squeeze clean water into the clean container.
♦ The same principle is with ** but you have to order inexpensive collapsible canteen from the same brand separately.
***This is the most practical tool. You can drink directly from the source or you can collect clean water into a clean bottle and carry with you.
What you should expect from a filter
All filters have the size of their pores expressed in microns. So it is good to know these numbers about micro-organisms expected in the water:
♦ Bacteria like Escherichia coli are in the range 0.25 – 1 micron diameter. The smallest bacteria are practically always above 0.2 microns.
All the filters given here have pores that are smaller, therefore you are safe from these organisms. See them here ranked by the size of pores:
What you cannot expect from a filter
No filters of this type can remove
- heavy metals,
- radioactive substances.
So if you ever see statements in specifications that a filter removes those, you know they are not sincere and better keep the distance.
Therefore, always avoid water sources such as mining tailing ponds or those near agricultural operations.
Though some filters have activated carbon, and this may partly reduce pesticides but you are not safe, and it also removes odor.
How about viruses
Note that viruses are typically in the size range 0.02 to 0.4 microns. The smallest virus known so far is the Porcine circovirus type 1, with a diameter of only 0.017 microns. So some of the tools in the table above can remove even viruses. In this case, you can speak about water purifiers.
But most of the viruses need living organisms to survive and to reproduce, so they are not expected to be in most waters you can have on the trail or in general. However, the Hepatitis A virus can survive for months in fresh and salt water, just to know.
Thank you for reading. Please let me know what you think, there is a comment box below. If you need something for groups (two people or more), or just something different, please visit my page with filters and purifiers. There are many great tools listed there.