Camping Water Filter Comparisons Review

Water filter systems have certainly come a long way, even in the past decade alone. While it’s true that there is no single camping water filter system that is the best for every person, there are a variety of solutions out there. There are essentially four main forms of camping water purification:

  1. boiling the water: According to the Wilderness Medical Society, water temperatures above 160 F (70 C) will kill all pathogens within 30 minutes. Water temperatures above 185 F (85 C) will do the job within just a few minutes.
  2. use of chemical water purifiers – There are two types of chemical treatments, those that contain iodine and others using chlorine.
  3. filtration – backpacking or camping water filter systems that force water through a filter, removing harmful organisms.
  4. ultraviolet water purification – For example, the SteriPEN. A high-powered form of UV light called UV-C
    Ultraviolet water purification

    Ultraviolet water purification

    or “germicidal UV” is implemented to disinfect water.

Today we’re going to focus solely on backpacking or camping water filters, and we’ll take a look and compare some of the most popular water filter systems available. We’ll discover some of the pros and cons of each model and find out what system works best for a variety of camping and hiking scenarios. But first, let’s find out why these water filters are even necessary in the first place!


So Why Do You Need A Camping Water Filter Anyway?

A clean source of water is arguably the most important item you should have when camping, backpacking or hiking. We can go lengths of time without any food, but we will only survive a few days without water. Untreated water can make us very sick. If a ready supply of clean water isn’t available where you’ll be camping and you are responsible for bringing your own supply, it’s wise to also think about bringing along a camping water filter system with you. You never know how quickly you might run out of your water supply, or whether you might end up in an emergency situation lost or stranded somewhere.

Drinking backcountry water allows any microscopic organism lurking in that water to hitch a free ride through your digestive system and into your body. Consequences of drinking water that hasn’t been treated or filtered first can be pretty severe, resulting in sickness or even death depending on the circumstance. Therefore it’s extremely important to have a camping water filter handy in any situation you might be having to rely on backcountry water to drink, to lessen the chances of taking home any of these nasty souvenirs.


  1. Protozoa: The single celled organisms Giardia and Cryptosporidium are the most commonly feared of water-borne illnesses. Some of these parasitic organisms such as the Cryptosporidium have such a hard protective outer layer that it makes them resilient against many different types of water treatment. These pathogens can cause extreme intestinal illness, with the onset of symptoms ranging anywhere from two days to two weeks from the time of ingesting them. These hardy organisms can live in cold water for weeks or months at a time.
  2. Bacteria: The dreaded E. coli is a well known and feared bacteria that can lurk in water sources. Being that they are much larger than viruses and are easily caught in the camping water filter, they are easy to filter out when using a proper water filtering system. The same goes for it’s buddy, Campylobacteriosis. Both of these bacteria can cause terrible inflammation, abdominal cramping, fever and dysentery. Not the kind of vacation memories you want to make!
  3. Viruses: Viruses such as Hepatitis A and rotavirus unfortunately also lurk in unfiltered water sources, and cannot be strained using a camping water filter due to their smaller size. On the upside, these viruses tend not to pose a serious threat if you’re sticking to United States and Canadian camping and hiking grounds. When traveling internationally they become a much greater concern.

How do camping water filters work?

Camping water filter systems are ideal methods of water purification. The ‘treatment time’ is essentially the time it takes for water to filter through, which is a lot less time than the use of chemical water purifiers. There is no measuring involved, and it’s pretty easy for anyone to understand how to do.

A backpacker’s water filter system operates by straining harmful protozoa such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia, as well as bacteria like E. coli and salmonella. It is important to note that viruses are small enough to pass through, which typically isn’t a problem if you are camping in the United States or Canada.

Camping water filters pass water from your source through a filter, straining the living bacteria and protozoa and preventing them from passing through to the final product which will be the water that you drink. This design does not kill the bacteria and protozoa, but merely filters them out of the water. The effectiveness of the camping water filter is determined by pore-size efficiency – the size of pores in the filter that the water passes through.

The type of camping water filters that work best for camping and hiking in areas where you’ll be needing to filter backcountry water into drinkable H2O should have a pore size of 0.2 to 0.3 microns. That’s tiny! That means that for anything larger than 0.2 to 0.3 microns, the camping water filter will be their last stop.

No matter what type of water filter you choose, they basically all function the way. An intake hose draws water from the source (a lake or stream, for example) into the filter. If the filter is inside of the water bottle, the water bottle is to be filled up first and the filter placed inside. If the system has a standalone filter, water can be scooped into a pail or the intake hose can be placed directly into the water source.

As the water passes through the intake hose, the potentially harmful water is pressed through the filter, either manually for a free standing filter, or through suction with a water bottle filter. The harmful bacteria and protozoa become trapped in the filter while clean water passes through to the filter outlet.


Comparing Water Filter Systems

Now that we understand why camping water filters can be necessary and how they work, let’s take a look at some of the top rated water filter systems on the market and compare reviews.

#5. Sawyer Squeeze

Sawyer Squeeze

Sawyer Squeeze

Price: $35 – $50
5.1 oz filter plus 3 bags (Filter) 2 x 5 / (squeeze bags) 16 fl. oz.: 9 x 5 / 32 fl. oz.: 11 x 6 / 64 fl. oz.: 12 x 8 inches
Ideal Use:
  Backpacking and hiking, a camping backup system
  Compact and lightweight, the Sawyer Squeeze comes with three collapsible water bottles. It has no moving parts, and is fast and easy to use. This system is long lasting and relatively inexpensive.
Cons:  The Sawyer Squeeze can be awkward to drink from. Its design can make it somewhat difficult to collect water from smaller sources of water that aren’t flowing, and it’s not easy to use for a group of hikers or campers, but good for an emergency camping backup filter.

#4. MSR Sweetwater Microfilter
$80 – $90
Dimensions: 2 in wide x7.5in long
Ideal Use: Hiking, backpacking, and camping
Pros: This camping water filter system has a handle that is easy to pump. The filter system’s handle collapses, making it easier to pack. It has a decent filter pore size.
Cons: This water filter system is basically average in weight, pump speed, price, and filter life, making it neither the best filter nor the worst.

#3. Sawyer Mini
$20 – $25
Dimensions: 5.5 inches long, 4 inches diameter
Ideal Use: Backpacking and hiking, a camping backup system
Pros: This water filter is very comparably small and lightweight. It’s size and weight makes it easy to take along on hikes. It’s easy to drink from and can be easily used several ways. This model is inexpensive.
Cons: Due to its size, this water filter system does not filter large quantities of water efficiently, and is best used as a personal system for campers who might need it in an emergency.

#2. MSR Autoflow Gravity Filter
Price: $120
Dimensions: 4 inches x 6 inches
Ideal Use: Backpacking, hiking, camping, treating water for a group of people
Pros: The MSR Autoflow Gravity Filter can easily treat and store 4 litres of water at a time. This camping water filter is made from durable material, boasts a fast treatment time, and is still lightweight and easy to pack.
Cons: This water filter system does not come with a second bag, therefore campers must filter clean water to a separate container. The price is higher, which may not be ideal for someone who simply needs a water filter for emergency use only.

#1. Platypus GravityWorks

Platypus GravityWorks

Platypus GravityWorks

Price: $115 – $120
Dimensions: 3 inches x 9.5 inches
Ideal Use: Backpacking, car camping, group camping, backcountry trips with a base camp
Pros: The Platypus GravityWorks filter boasts the fastest treatment time. This model is easy to use and lightweight. It also requires very little maintenance and can treat and store up to 8 litres of water making it ideal for groups of campers.
Cons: There exists no separate storage for clean and dirty hoses. This camping water filter system runs a little more on the expensive side. It can be hard to collect water from small sources of water, or water that isn’t flowing.


Things to Remember:

  • A pore size of 0.2 – 0.3 is tiny enough to remove protozoa and bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella. Viruses, however, are generally smaller than 0.1 micron and will easily pass through a camping water filter. While these viruses tend not to be an issue in United States and Canadian backcountry water, you should be sure to research possible viruses in any other region you plan to travel to, and make sure your immunizations are up to date.
  • The filter cartridge in your camping water filter system has a specification called capacity or cartridge life, meaning that the water filter will be effective for “x” number of litres, at which point the filter element will need to be replaced. Small, lightweight water filters from suppliers like Katadyn and MSR have a capacity of 750 – 1000 liters.
  • When collecting water, try to stay away from known regions of high animal and human activity if possible – fields where cattle graze, for example.
  • Try to filter water from the cleanest water source you can find. Dirty water and water with large suspended particles will quickly clog your filtration system’s filter.
  • You can pre-filter your collected water either through a prefilter on the pump or even by straining it through a bandanna. This will help filter out larger particles, making the job easier on your filter.
  • If dirty water is your only water source, allowing it to stand overnight will let particles settle to the bottom before filtering.
Browse our Camping List and Tips category for more camping related ideas and information of your interest to guarantee yourself a smooth camping experience!