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Finding the best backpacking water purifier is an important yet confusing, experience. A few too many protozoan cysts in your water on a backpacking trip and you’ll be doubled over in your tent wishing for home.

But do you need to filter or purify that water to make it safe to drink? Should you get something that removes viruses or protozoa like Giardia and Cryptosporidium? Or both? Does a UV purifier do what you need? How can you tell?

That’s where we come in. There are many gear decisions to make. One of our goals here at The Adventure Junkies is to simplify shopping for outdoor gear. In this article, we’ll cover things to keep in mind when choosing backpacking water purifiers. We’ll also show you how to find one that works best for you and keeps your water clean and you feeling great on your trip.

For more of our top backpacking gear recommendations, check out the Best Backpacking Water Filters

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Hiking Gift Guide

 

Quick Answer - The Best Backpacking Water Purifiers

  1. Steripen Classic 3
  2. MSR Guardian
  3. Grayl Ultralight Purifier
  4. Aquamira Drops
  5. Katadyn Micropur Tablets
  6. MSR SweetWater Water Purifier
  7. LifeStraw Family 1.0 Water Purifier
  8. MSR Aquatabs
  9. Potable Aqua Tablets

 

Comparison Table - Best Backpacking Water Purifier

PictureNameTypeWeightSpeedPriceRating
Steripen Classic 3UV Purifier4.8 oz0.67 liter/minute$$4.5
MSR GuardianPump25 oz2.5 liters/minute$$$4.8
Grayl Ultralight PurifierWater Bottle10.9 oz2 liters/minute$$4.7
Aquamira DropsChlorine Dioxide Drops3.2 oz20-35 minutes to treat$4.7
Katadyn Micropur TabletsChlorine Dioxide Tablets0.9 oz15-30 minutes to treat$4.6
MSR SweetWater Water PurifierPump16 oz1 liter/minute$$4.6
LifeStraw Family 1.0 Water PurifierGravity24 oz9-12 liters/hour$$4.6
MSR AquatabsTablets0.35 oz30 minutes to treat$4.7
Potable Aqua TabletsIodine Tablets2.27 oz30 minutes to treat$4.6
PictureNameTypeWeightSpeedPriceRating

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Reviews - The Best Water Purifiers for Backpacking

Steripen Classic 3

Specs
  • Speed: 0.67 liter/minute
  • Type: UV Purifier
  • Weight: 4.8 oz

BEST FOR: PLACES WITH CLEAR WATER, TRAVELING

PROS: Faster than chemicals, lighter than pumps, used with any kind of bottle

CONS: Pre-filter is separate, uses batteries, have to be careful with the glass bulb, doesn’t work well with turbid water

LIFESPAN: Up to 150 liters on 4 AA batteries, 8000 uses per bulb

MSR Guardian

Specs
  • Speed: 2.5 liters/minute
  • Type: Pump
  • Weight: 25 oz

BEST FOR: HIKERS WHO DON’T WANT TO WAIT FOR CHEMICALS OR ARE IN EXTREME CONDITIONS

PROS: Fast, durable, 10,000 liter cartridge, no waiting for chemicals, self-cleaning as you pump

CONS: Heavy, expensive, have to pump

LIFESPAN: 10,000 liters per replaceable cartridge

Grayl Ultralight Purifier

Specs
  • Speed: 2 liters/minute
  • Type: Water Bottle
  • Weight: 10.9 oz

BEST FOR: FILTERING AND PURIFYING EVERYTHING IN ONE BOTTLE

PROS: Filter and purifier in one, removes some heavy metals and chemicals, lightweight for filter/purifier

CONS: Don’t know when to change cartridge, water source needs to be deep enough for bottle, only holds ½ liter

LIFESPAN: 150 liters per cartridge

Aquamira Drops

Specs
  • Speed: 20-35 minutes to treat
  • Type: Chlorine Dioxide Drops
  • Weight: 3.2 oz

BEST FOR: A LIGHTWEIGHT OPTION TO TREAT ALL PROTOZOA AND VIRUSES OR BACKUP TREATMENT

PROS: Lightweight, inexpensive, reliable, effective against Cryptosporidium, adjustable amount for your container

CONS: Slow, can make bad water taste better, doesn’t filter silt, need to mix chemicals and wait

LIFESPAN: 1 package treats 113 liters

Katadyn Micropur Tablets

Specs
  • Speed: 15-30 minutes to treat
  • Type: Chlorine Dioxide Tablets
  • Weight: 0.9 oz

BEST FOR: LIGHTWEIGHT OPTION EFFECTIVE AGAINST CRYPTOSPORIDIUM, BACKUP TREATMENT

PROS: Lightweight, individually wrapped, only 15 minutes if not waiting for Cryptosporidium

CONS: Slow for Cryptosporidium, slight taste, doesn’t filter silt

LIFESPAN: 1 liter per tablet, packs of 20 or 30

MSR SweetWater Water Purifier

Specs
  • Speed: 1 liter/minute
  • Type: Pump
  • Weight: 16 oz

BEST FOR: GOOD VALUE FOR SILTY WATER

PROS: Can just carry filter, handle is easy to pump, good price for pump, easy to tell when to replace cartridge

CONS: Have to filter then add solution, heavier than tablets, handle feels delicate

LIFESPAN: 750 liters per filter cartridge, virus solution bottle treats 300 liters

 

LifeStraw Family 1.0 Water Purifier

Specs
  • Speed: 9-12 liters/hour
  • Type: Gravity
  • Weight: 24 oz

BEST FOR: SETTING UP BASE CAMP

PROS: No chemicals, long lifespan, easy to use, good for groups

CONS: Slow, heavy

LIFESPAN: 18,000 liters

MSR Aquatabs

Specs
  • Speed: 30 minutes to treat
  • Type: Tablets
  • Weight: 0.35 oz

BEST FOR: A LIGHTWEIGHT OPTION FOR VIRUSES

PROS: Lightweight, inexpensive, easy to use, long expiration date

CONS: Not effective against Cryptosporidium, adds some taste

LIFESPAN: 2 liters per tablet, 30 tablets in pack

Potable Aqua Tablets

Specs
  • Speed: 30 minutes to treat
  • Type: Iodine Tablets
  • Weight: 2.27 oz

BEST FOR: LIGHTWEIGHT OPTION JUST FOR GIARDIA AND VIRUSES

PROS: Small, light, inexpensive

CONS: Doesn’t treat Cryptosporidium, can’t use for extended periods of time, chemical taste

LIFESPAN: 2 tablets per liter, 50 tablets per bottle

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Hiking Gear Course

 

 

HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST BACKPACKING WATER PURIFIERS

PRE-FILTER OR NOT?

Choosing a water system for the backcountry depends on where you’ll be traveling and the kind of water sources that will be available on your journey. If the water has a lot of particulates like silt or leaves in it then you’ll need a filter or pre-filter. Some purifiers are also filters. Some purifiers require 2 steps, pre-filter the silt, sand and leaves, then purify. A water purifier differs from a water filter and you may decide you’d rather go with a water filter. If that’s the case, check out our guide on picking out the Best Backpacking Water Filter for you. 

 

GIARDIA, CRYPTOSPORIDIUM & VIRUS REMOVAL

Protozoa and bacteria are common in the backcountry around North America. They cause issues like Beaver Fever that’ll have you running to the bathroom constantly. You’ll want to eliminate viruses when traveling abroad. Most filters don’t cover viruses. Some chemicals don’t kill all the protozoa. UV (ultraviolet light bulb) purifiers do both.

 

BATTERY REPLACEMENT

It can be hard to tell when it’s time for new replacement filter cartridges or batteries. Some filters and UV filters show you clearly when it’s time to replace them. Half way through a backcountry trip is not a good place to find out your purifier isn’t working anymore.

 

RECHARGEABLE OR REPLACEABLE BATTERY?

The UV filters require batteries or recharging a battery pack. This can be tough to do in the backcountry. A spare set of batteries or a way to recharge is always a good idea.

 

CONTAINER

Some purifiers come attached to a particular bottle like the Grayl Ultralight or CamelBak All Clear. On the other hand, a SteriPEN Classic or MSR Guardian can use any container.

 

CHEMICALS

The lightest options for purification are chemicals, either drops or tablets. Some people don’t like the flavors they give the water or the idea of ingesting chemicals too often. Other options like UV purifiers are a bit heavier and still purify your water.

 

BACKUPS

Will you have a backup water treatment for your trip? Some people just chance it or boil all the water if their purifier fails. While the chemicals might not be your first choice, they can be a small and lightweight backup.

 

SALTWATER

None of these filters are able to filter salty or brackish water. So you’ll need to find a salt-free water source to start with.

READ MORE

For more of our top backpacking gear recommendations, check out these popular articles:

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