Berkey is a world leader in water filter technology. With their line of gravity water filters such as the Big Berkey, the Imperial, or the Travel, they offer one of the simplest and most affordable ways to access world-class water filtration technology. Requiring no installation, minimal setup, zero electricity, and offering incredible portability for a water filter capable of serving the needs of an entire household, Berkey has proven itself to customers across the globe, ourselves included. In this Berkey water filter review, we’re going to take a look at what makes Berkey tick.
Berkey water filter systems are equipped with Black Berkey filters capable of making just about any water source safe to drink from. The Berkey gravity filters we’ll look at in this review such as the Travel and Imperial are equipped with filters capable of removing harmful microbes such as bacteria and protozoan cysts. Berkey filters are even capable of removing viruses and certain chemical contaminants. This gives you the peace of mind to know you have a lifeline to securing your water supply, even in an emergency situation.
Whether prepping for a potential emergency, or simply looking for a reliable countertop water filter for your home, Berkey water filter systems are worth investigating. To spare you some of the hassle, we’ve been testing and reviewing Berkey filters ourselves. Here’s what we’ve found.
Berkey Water Filter System Reviews – Portable Gravity Water Filters
Berkey systems are a type of water filter known as Gravity Filters. Instead of relying on the action of a manual or electric pump, gravity filters let work by allowing water to flow from an upper chamber into a lower chamber purely under the force of gravity. As the water passes from the upper chamber and into the lower, it goes through a series of filter elements which extract foul-tasting and potentially harmful contaminants from your water.
Because they require no electricity to operate, gravity filter systems are ideal for emergencies. At the same time, their zero-installation and easy-to-operate design also make them an excellent way to purify water for an entire household. Equipped with world-class filtration elements, Berkey filter systems are capable of purifying water from almost any source. Whether you are purifying contaminated run-off in an emergency, or just getting the fluoride and heavy metals out of your tap water, the Berkey can get the job done.
The Many Models of Berkey Gravity Filter Systems
The most important thing you need to know about Berkey gravity filters is that the filter elements inside each of the different models are all the same. That means no matter if you select the Big Berkey, or the Imperial, Travel, or any model, you’ll get the same quality of filtration. What will be different is the capacity and the flow-rate. This affects how quickly you can filter water with your Berkey system, how much water you can store, how often you’ll need to refill the upper chamber, and ultimately how many people you’ll be able to serve.
The smaller models of Berkey gravity filters are lighter, more compact, and cheaper overall. They have a smaller holding capacity for purified water, and utilize fewer filter elements than the larger models. The Berkey Travel, the smallest model, has a capacity of 1.5 gallons and can produce about 2.75 gallons of purified water each hour. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the largest model, the Berkey Crown, has a holding capacity of 6 gallons and can produce as much as 26 gallons per hour!
Where the Travel Berkey has just two filter elements, the Crown Berkey has up to eight filter elements. This lends to its increased flow-rate and quicker production, but doesn’t change the water quality as they still use the same filter elements as the smaller models. The most popular model, the Big Berkey, sits comfortably in the middle with a holding capacity of 2.75 gallons, a flow-rate of up to 7.5 gallons per hour, and four filter elements.
The Black Berkey Filter Element
At the heart of every Berkey is the filter element. The Black Berkey Filter is evaluated to exceed the NSF/ANSI Standard 53, the national standard of water filtration testing. Black Berkey filter elements are tested to remove upwards of 99.9% of viruses, bacteria, protozoan cysts, and other disease-causing microorganisms. It traps some of the most deadly and common pathogens like E. Coli, Giardia, and the bacteria which cause cholera.
It can also remove certain chemical contaminants, including heavy metals such as lead, mercury, volatile organic compounds like benzene, chlorine, and even traces of pharmaceuticals and pesticides. In addition to trapping all of these truly microscopic contaminants, the Berkey removes the more visible issues like silt, particulates, discoloration, odor, and can dramatically improve the taste.
All models of Berkey include two Black Berkey filters as their fundamental filtration system. For smaller Berkey’s such as the Travel which only include two filter elements, your only option is to go with a set of Black Berkey filters. For larger models which include four or more filter elements, you have the option of adding additional Black Berkey filter elements to increase the flow-rate, or opting for the PF2 Fluoride/Arsenic filters.
Adding additional Black Berkey elements is a great way to substantially increase the flow rate of your Berkey system. For example, the Big Berkey includes two Black Berkey filter elements out of the box, which can filter up to 3.5 gallons of water per hour. Installing an additional two Black Berkey filter elements will literally double the flow-rate, allowing the Big Berkey to filter up to 7 gallons of water per hour.
Berkey PF2 Fluoride/Arsenic Filters
In addition to the general-purpose Black Berkey filter element, Berkey gravity filters can also be supplemented with the Berkey PF2. Because Berkey PF2 filter elements are designed to supplement the Black Berkey filters, you’ll need a Berkey unit which can hold at least 4 filters, such as the Big Berkey or Imperial Berkey, allowing you to install a set of 2 Black Berkey elements and 2 PF2 filter elements.
Capable of getting rid of difficult-to-remove Fluoride, arsenic, and other heavy metal ions, the PF2 Filter is ideal for home users filtering their tap water from local sources. If you plan to use your Berkey system to filter from a non-treated source such as a well, lake, or stream, you can simply rely on the Black Berkey filter elements to get the job done. For those looking to remove fluoride from their water, typically added by municipal water sources, the PF2 filters help ensure the purity of your tap water.
In-Depth Filter Details
For complete information on the Berkey Black filter elements, including laboratory testing details, contaminants eliminated, and other comprehensive details, visit the Berkey Black webpage.
To find complete details on the Berkey PF2 Fluoride/Arsenic filter elements, visit the Berkey PF2 webpage.
For Emergencies or Everyday Use – The Berkey Taste Test
We first came across Berkey filters when looking for a quality countertop gravity filter solution that could improve the taste of our tap water. Living in an apartment where we preferred not to make any sort of modification to the plumbing, the zero-installation of a countertop gravity filter system was ideal. The tap water tasted awful and we can’t stand bottled water, so the obvious solution was something like a Berkey. We started off with a simple Big Berkey, and what do you know? It worked remarkably well. As well as any other filter solution we had tried to tame the taste of the tap – and we’ve tried just about all of them, from filter pitchers to filter bottles.
But what I noticed along the way of buying my first Berkey was that most people seemed to look at them as an emergency device, something a prepper would own, part of your disaster preparedness kit. And sure, we can see that. In fact, we highly recommend a Berkey, or some kind of water filter, as part of your emergency kit. But there are many, many more uses for the Berkey than just stuffing it away for times of trouble.
The smaller Berkey models, like the aptly-named Travel, are ideal for accompanying you on outings. It could become part of an RV’s kitchenette, or something you take the the campground for special occasions. For the homesteader type, or those who simply live in more rural areas, something like the Big Berkey could filter water for your entire household, letting you tap into untreated water sources like streams, wells, or lakes without worrying about your health. Even if you’re just like us and want a simple solution for making your very urban apartment’s tap water taste better, the Berkey can do the trick.
Choosing the Right Size Berkey Filter System
Because Berkey filter systems rely on the same filter elements, the main consideration when choosing the right Berkey is the size and flow-rate. Our first encounter with a Berkey filter was the Big Berkey, which stands 19.25 inches tall and has a diameter of 8.5 inches. The slightly-smaller Travel Berkey measures 18 inches tall and has a 7.5 inch diameter.
The Travel Berkey uses two filter elements and can hold 1.5 gallons of filtered water and is capable of filtering up to 2.75 gallons of water per-hour under optimal conditions. The Big Berkey can be configured with 2 or 4 filter elements, making it capable of filtering up to 7 gallons of water per hour when equipped with 4 filter elements, or 3.5 gallons per hour with 2 filter elements. Holds 2.25 gallons of filtered water.
For most users, we would suggest considering these two systems. We began with the Big Berkey, which takes up a decent amount of space on the counter. Eventually, we moved it to its own little stand near the refrigerator to make access to cabinets easier. For the daily water needs of two people cooking and drinking, the Big Berkey provided more than enough drinking water and we never found ourselves wanting for the flow to hurry up. Eventually, for the sake of testing for our Best Gravity Water Filters of 2017 Guide, we tried out the Imperial Berkey, which we happened to name the #1 best gravity water filter of 2017. However, as impressive as its flow-rate and capacity is, we moved into a much smaller place.
After moving, we downsized to the Berkey Travel without really noticing the difference much. It still provides plenty of water, but has a smaller footprint, and is much easier to pack up and take on an outing.
Something Bigger: the Imperial Berkey
While we have found that the smallest variety of Berkey is plenty for our day-to-day needs, if you want the filtration power of Berkey on a larger scale, the impressively beefy Imperial Berkey is worth investigating. The largest gravity filter from Berkey which we have evaluated, the Imperial is designed to provide for the water needs of 25-75 people, making it the ideal choice for community events, church groups, schools, office buildings, and anywhere there is a thirst for delicious filtered water. It is second only in size to the massive Berkey Crown, which we have not yet had the opportunity to test for ourselves.
The Imperial Berkey can accommodate up to 6 filter elements, capable of producing up to 16.5 gallons of filtered water per hour in ideal conditions and can hold up to 4.5 gallons of purified water. Standing 27 inches tall with a base diameter of 10 inches, the Imperial certainly has a large footprint, but offers a filtration capacity superior to much more expensive competitors.
Simple To Use and Maintain
Berkey’s main appeal is the high-quality and affordable filtration elements, which have been lauded as some of the best on the commercial market. While it was initially the good word-of-mouth about filtration quality that attracted us to Berkey, upon actually using, maintaining, and living side-by-side our Big Berkey and Travel Berkey over the years, I have become equally impressed with the quality design of the system itself.
The dead-simple design of the system makes it a breeze to assemble, clean, install filters, or dispense water. Berkey provides excellent instruction on how to properly use and maintain the system, but it is almost unnecessary on account of how self-explanatory the system is. Each Berkey is made from high-quality stainless steel and includes well-manufactured parts that has proven durable through years of daily use in our kitchen.
Priming Your Berkey Filters
One recommended step with any new Berkey filter elements is priming. Priming the filter elements is not strictly necessary, but allows your Berkey system to be used virtually out-of-the-box. Berkey Black Filter Elements can be hooked up to a faucet, hose, or Berkey’s manual hand-priming pump for rapid priming. You can even use a Berkey Sport Water Bottle to get the job done. If for some reason you don’t have access to any of these, Berkey filter elements can be submerged in water for a few hours to prime.
If you prefer, you can skip priming altogether and just install your new filter elements. Installing filter elements is as easy as unscrewing the old ones and screwing in the new ones. Filter elements that are not primed will begin with a very slow flow-rate until the filter element is properly saturated and naturally “primed.” If you choose not to prime your filter elements, you should expect your Berkey filter system to take several hours before getting up to anywhere near its advertised flow-rate.
Red-Dye Filtration Test
As part of setting up your Berkey gravity water filter, the manufacture recommends completing the Red Dye test after the system has been setup and the filter elements have been primed. Simply add some red food coloring into the Berkey’s upper chamber and watch for red coloring in the purified water that comes into the lower chamber or out of the spigot.
If your Berkey Black filters are properly installed and working, no red color should appear at all. This visible test confirms that your Berkey filters are doing their job, and capturing all kinds of things you can’t see!
Check out this short video which demonstrates the Red Dye test.
Filter Element Lifetime, Maintenance, and Replacements
Black Berkey filter elements have an impressive filter lifetime of up to 6,000 gallons. To optimize filter lifetime, Berkey recommends periodically removing the filter elements and wiping them down, as well as flushing them with water. If you notice the flow-rate in your Berkey decreasing, it likely means its time for the filter elements to be cleaned or, eventually, replaced. Properly maintained, the 6,000 gallon lifetime can provide a Big Berkey with over 1,300 refills of its 4.5-gallon capacity storage.
For those using the Berkey PF2 Fluoride/Arsenic Filters in addition to the Black Berkey elements, you’ll need to replace the filters a bit more frequently. The PF2 filters are rated for up to 1,000 gallons and unlike the Black Berkey elements, they cannot be cleaned or maintained, instead requiring more regular replacement.
You can easily keep your Berkey gravity filter in working order with a bit of care and a few things you probably already have around the house. But if you don’t mind spending a few bucks to protect your investment, Berkey offers a maintenance kit designed you give you everything you need to take care of your stainless steel Berkey filter system by yourself.
It includes Scotch Brite scrubbing pads for easy and effective cleaning of the Black Berkey filter elements, a set of replacement parts including washers and spigot, a priming button, and even a bottle of red food coloring to complete the Red-Dye Filtration Test we talked about above.
Berkey Support and Knowledge At Your Disposal
Throughout the course of ordering, owning, testing, and reviewing several Berkey countertop gravity water filters over the years, we’ve had plenty of chances to touch base with the folks behind Berkey support. We can truly say that the Berkey staff are exceptional in their willingness and ability to help solve issues and even offer tons of helpful advice about how to get the most from your Berkey.
We’ve always been treated respectfully and felt as though Berkey took our investment just as serious as we did. While we have had few problems with their products or services, they have always been extremely helpful when we’ve needed to reach out.
Whether you are a long-time Berkey owner or are just considering a purchase, have a look at the extremely comprehensive Berkey Answers section of their webpage, which includes in-depth information on everything about the products and the best way to use and maintain them.
Other Types of Berkey Filters
The Berkey Sport Filter Water Bottle takes Berkey’s high quality filtration elements and has miniaturized them to fit into a highly portable 22 ounce water bottle. Equipped with a heavy-duty filter engineered to purify water from even the most questionable sources, the Berkey Sport bottle has done admirably in our tests, comparable in taste and build quality to some of our selections of 2018’s best filtered water bottles.
Where to Buy Berkey
For the best prices, support, and overall customer experience, we recommend purchasing directly through the Berkey website. They offer direct deals which give the best prices by eliminating the middle man, and their website frequently offers limited time discounts unavailable elsewhere, as well as great rates on shipping and quality customer support.
Berkey Water filter systems are also available through Amazon
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We take a comprehensive look at a variety of Berkey Gravity Water Filter systems.
Jacob Hatch is the author and founder of Hydration Anywhere. He has been actively writing about drinking water since 2013. These days Jacob spends most of his time investigating water related news, studying environmental issues, reading health studies, and reviewing products like water bottles and water filters.