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.
Quick Answer - The Best Backpacking Water Purifiers
- Steripen Classic 3
- MSR Guardian
- Grayl Ultralight Purifier
- Aquamira Drops
- Katadyn Micropur Tablets
- MSR SweetWater Water Purifier
- LifeStraw Family 1.0 Water Purifier
- MSR Aquatabs
- Potable Aqua Tablets
Comparison Table - Best Backpacking Water Purifier
|Steripen Classic 3||UV Purifier||4.8 oz||0.67 liter/minute||$$||4.5|
|MSR Guardian||Pump||25 oz||2.5 liters/minute||$$$||4.8|
|Grayl Ultralight Purifier||Water Bottle||10.9 oz||2 liters/minute||$$||4.7|
|Aquamira Drops||Chlorine Dioxide Drops||3.2 oz||20-35 minutes to treat||$||4.7|
|Katadyn Micropur Tablets||Chlorine Dioxide Tablets||0.9 oz||15-30 minutes to treat||$||4.6|
|MSR SweetWater Water Purifier||Pump||16 oz||1 liter/minute||$$||4.6|
|LifeStraw Family 1.0 Water Purifier||Gravity||24 oz||9-12 liters/hour||$$||4.6|
|MSR Aquatabs||Tablets||0.35 oz||30 minutes to treat||$||4.7|
|Potable Aqua Tablets||Iodine Tablets||2.27 oz||30 minutes to treat||$||4.6|
Reviews - The Best Water Purifiers for Backpacking
Steripen Classic 3
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
Grayl Ultralight Purifier
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
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
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
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
BEST FOR: SETTING UP BASE CAMP
PROS: No chemicals, long lifespan, easy to use, good for groups
CONS: Slow, heavy
LIFESPAN: 18,000 liters
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.