If you spend a lot of time in the great outdoors, you’re probably familiar with just how burdensome carrying your entire supply of drinking water in and out can be. Depending on how light you want to pack, how long your journey is, and how large your party is, packing enough water can range from difficult to next to impossible. While you never want to venture off without plenty of water (at least a few water bottles full,) if you’ll be hiking or camping near somewhere with even a pretty questionable water source, including a small portable filter could save you loads of effort and space the next time you pack your gear.
The modern water filter is truly a miraculous device. The tiny little filters on this list are small enough to be tucked into a bag without you ever noticing their presence. Yet these little marvels are capable of turning a stagnant puddle into water clean enough to drink. Some of the heftier options we’ve included aren’t quite as small but include hand pumps for massive convenience and easy access to filtered water. The right filter could provide you with clean drinking water for years of constant use and accompany you everywhere you went in your pocket.
Below we’ll compare and review our top five picks for the best water filters for camping or hiking. We’ve published complete reviews of all of these filters, so be sure to hit the review links below to get the full story!
The Best Portable Camping and Hiking Filters: Quick Comparison
The Survivor Filter bears the distinction of having the best filtration capability of any portable water filter on this list. With a three stage filtration system, the Survivor Filter makes use of a cotton pre-filter, the Survivor Internal Ultra Filter with a truly incredibly tiny pore size of just 0.05 microns, and an activated carbon for the final filtration stage, the Survivor Filter is truly unrivaled as the most impressive filter straw on the market.
This triple whammy filtration process eliminates viruses, bacteria, protozoa, cysts, many types of chemical contaminants, and all kinds of other nasty stuff from your water. Just about no matter the source, the Survivor Filter is ready to make it drinkable. Muddy puddles, murky ponds, running streams or stagnant pools – almost every patch of water you come across can be made potable with the Survivor Filter.
Able to be used either as a straw, or hooked up to a hydration bladder or water bottle with threads on the bottom, the Survivor Filter offers versatile options for usage. This broadens its functionality, allowing it to be used as a simple straw for drinking water, or to filter water for later storage or use for washing or other uses.
The Survivor Filter requires some maintenance. The carbon filter needs fairly regular replacement after every 1,000 liters (about 265 gallons) of use. These carbon filters are attached to the mouth piece and are fairly affordable at about $15. The internal filter can be removed and cleaned to preserve its usage up to 100,000 liters (over 26,000 gallons,) and costs around $10 to replace. While the filter lifetime of the Survivor Filter isn’t quite as impressive as the Sawyer Mini (our #2 pick below,) it more than makes up for it with its extensive filtration capability.
Our second pick is the Sawyer Mini Personal Portable Water Filter. Remarkably cheap at around $20, this filter is well-built, extremely versatile, and boasts one of the longest filter lifetimes of any portable filter we’ve come across (with a little bit of maintenance.) Offering up to 100,000 gallons of water filtration lifetime and an incredibly small pore size of 0.1 microns, it is hard to compete with the Sawyer Mini.
Its design also allows for an exceptional versatility in using the Mini. You can attach hydration bladders, water bottles, or even hydration backpacks to the Mini via its 28mm thread and squeeze dirty water from them through the filter for later use. Or you can simply use the Mini as a straw, placing it into contaminated water and sucking through clean, potable water.
Capable of eliminating >99.99% of bacteria, cysts, protozoa, and particulates, the Sawyer is a highly effective filter capable of rendering water potable and safe to drink from just about any source you’ll encounter while hiking or camping. Short of waters heavily polluted by industrial or synthetic chemicals, the Sawyer Mini is capable of standing up to the tests of the wilderness as it is remarkably effective at removing potentially harmful microorganisms from your drinking water.
We really like the Sawyer Mini. It is a great bargain and an awesome piece of technology.
The LifeStraw is a product which almost needs no introduction. World famous as both a survivalist device and something every camper, hiker, or boy scout could get some use of, the LifeStraw is a simple no-frills personal filtration straw. You simply place the LifeStraw into contaminated water and suck through the straw to pass water through the 0.2 micron filter, removing >99.99% of nasty microorganisms like bacteria, cysts, and protozoa.
While the LifeStraw is definitely a great product which has proven a capable filter through the test of time, we feel had to make it our #3 pick behind the Sawyer Mini. Although the two filters are more similar than they are different, the LifeStraw ends up a little lacking in a head-to-head comparison. First and foremost, the LifeStraw has a larger pore size of 0.2 microns compared to the Sawyer Mini’s 0.1 micron pores. This might seem like a small difference, but actually makes the Sawyer Mini pack considerably more filtration prowess than the LifeStraw.
Aside from pore size, the LifeStraw’s filter is a maintenance-free design, which means that while you don’t have to ever clean it like the Sawyer Mini, its lifetime is much less, at about 265 gallons compared to the Sawyer Mini’s behemoth 100,000 gallon lifetime. And where the Mini is capable of being used in multiple ways to provide flow through the filter, the only way to get water through the LifeStraw’s filter is by providing suction from the mouth.
But regardless of its comparisons to the Mini, the LifeStraw is still a great product. It is certainly a worthy filter for any camper or hikers bag.
Unlike the comparably minimalist and budget options above, the Katadyn Vario is much more of a gadget. Equipped with a handheld pump, the Vario passes water from its intake hose and through its filtration system with a squeeze of the handle and help from its cleverly engineered two-piston design. Pumping water through the filter is a breeze and the Vario packs a pretty impressive flow rate so it doesn’t even keep you waiting. You can even adjust between the two available flow-rates: Fast and Faster, depending on how extensive you want the filtration to be.
The filtration itself is achieved in stages. First, the intake hose is equipped with an intake filter to remove larger particles. Then water reaches the ceramic filtration disc, removing sediment and particulates and preventing them from clogging up the primary 0.2 micron glass fiber filter. The glass fiber filter removes >99.99% of bacteria, protozoa, cysts, and any tiny particulates. Finally water is passed through an activated carbon filter and through the output hose. If the Vario is put in Faster mode, the initial ceramic filter disc is bypassed and water is sent straight to the glass fiber filter. This is great if your water isn’t too dirty, but if you are filtering from a murky source you definitely don’t want to foul up the filters and should stick with Fast (Longer Life) mode.
Overall the Vario is an awesome piece of gear. While a little on the heavy side, and a bit pricey at over $70, its undeniably a well-engineered and really a fantastic device. It even includes a threading at the bottom to easily send the water output into a water bottle so you don’t miss a drop of the clean, filtered water coming through the Vario. Perhaps more of a camping filter than a hiking filter.
While much more expensive than anything else on this list, the Katadyn Pocket Filter is more or less the crème de la crème of portable camping water filters. Swiss-made with high quality parts and brilliant engineering, backed by a comprehensive 20-year warranty, and endowed with a very impressive 13,000 gallon filter lifetime, there is a lot to love about the Katadyn Pocket Filter.
The Katadyn Pocket Filter is equipped with a pump, which provides you with clean water almost effortlessly. Just drop the intake hose in and give it a few pumps and voila, sparklingly clean and fresh water is produced from even the nastiest of sources. The main workhorse of filtration in the Katadyn Pocket Filter is its ceramic filter element embedded with anti-microbial silver particles. With a 0.2 micron pore size, its small enough to block most bacteria, protozoa, and cysts. The infused anti-microbial silver particles finish up the job of sterilizing any remaining pathogens. If you decide you want more filtration power, Katadyn offers an optional carbon filter attachment.
There is no doubt the Katadyn Pocket Filter is not a purchase made lightly. It is an expensive piece of gear, precision engineered and designed to high standards. It requires maintenance with cleaning the ceramic filter element and lubricating the moving parts (a cleaning and lubrication kit is included with purchase.) But if you are serious about hiking and camping and want something which is truly a cut above the bargain filter solutions we introduced early in this article, looking into the Katadyn Pocket Filter, or its little brother the Katadyn Vario we looked at above, is a winning option.
What’s Your Favorite Portable Camping Filter? Let Us Know!
That’s it for this top five list. Hopefully this comparison and our more comprehensive reviews will be of assistance in helping you find the ideal portable filter for your needs.
Did we miss your favorite filter? Or do you have some interesting camping water filter wisdom to share? Scroll down to our comments section and drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you!
Didn’t find what you’re looking for here? Read our Filtered Water Bottles Buyers Guide for some more ideas, or have a look at Best Countertop Water Filter Reviews 2017 if you need something a bit larger and more heavy duty than the types of filters covered here.
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A simple guide to the best portable water filters for camping or hiking
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.