11 Best Portable Water Filters of 2022 (The Only List You Need)

The best portable water filter is the Sawyer MINI – but there are other systems better suited for different situations. We’ve reviewed them all here.

Hey, adventure seeker! Welcome to our best portable water filters guide.

If you’re keen to stay safe and avoid the dreaded wilderness-acquired stomach troubles on your next camping or hiking trip, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve tested and compared some of the best portable water filters on natural water sources in the backcountry.

If you really want to, go ahead and spend your money on a portable water filter that sounds good in theory, but ends up being so clunky and useless that you abandon it mid-way through your trip. But we’d strongly recommend choosing a filter that’s proven (through testing, customer feedback, and third-party data) to consistently and reliably remove the bad stuff from lakes, streams, and rivers.

#1 is our favorite, but #3 is a great option for families, and #7 is the best choice if you’re traveling abroad.

This guide is split into three sections:

  • A review section, providing essential information about the portable water filters on this list
  • A buyers’ guide, covering the ins and outs of portable water filtration
  • An FAQ, offering additional info about the stuff you need to know

🥇 Best Portable Water Filters

  1. Best Overall & Most Versatile: Sawyer Products MINI Water Filtration System
  2. Top Filtered Water Bottle: Grayl Ultrapress
  3. Most Water Purified: PortaWell
  4. Best Pump Style: Survivor Filter PRO
  5. Top Portable Gravity Filter Bag: Platypus Gravity Water Filter
  6. Great Holding Capacity: Epic Nano Water Filter Dispenser
  7. Top Choice for Travel Abroad: Sawyer Tap Filtration System
  8. Runner Up Gravity Bag: LifeStraw Flex Advanced Water Filter with Gravity Bag
  9. Runner Up Pump Style: Katadyn Vario Water Filter
  10. Alternative Pump Style: MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter Water Filter
  11. Runner Up Filtered Water Bottle: Epic Nalgene OG

📊 Comparison Chart of Portable Water Filters

ProductSawyer Products MINI
Sawyer products mini water filtration system
Grayl Ultrapress
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PortaWell
PortaWell
Survivor Filter PRO
Survivor Filter PRO
Platypus Gravity Water Filter
Platypus gravity water filte
Epic Nano Dispenser
Epic nano water filter dispenser
Sawyer Tap Filtration System
 Sawyer Tap Filtration System
LifeStraw Flex with Gravity Bag
LifeStraw flex advanced water filter with gravity bag
Katadyn Vario
Katadyn vario water filter
MSR MiniWorks EX
MSR miniworks ex microfilter water filter
Epic Nalgene OG
Epic nalgene og
Ranking1st2nd3rd4th5th6th7th8th9th10th11th
Ratings5/55/54/55/54.5/54.5/54.5/54/54/54/54/5
Price$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
TypeStrawBottlePump dual filtrationPumpGravityGravityTap FilterGravityPumpPumpBottle
Weight2 oz16.9 oz<10 lbs12.8 oz15.2 oz4.39 lbs7 oz15 oz1.3 lbs10.2 oz
Filter Capacity100,000 gal.40 gallons (~300 presses)1,000 gal.
10,000 gal.
Pre-Filter: 100,000 liters; Carbon Filter: 2,000 liters; Ultra Filter: 100,000 liters1,500 l150 gal.500 gal./day528 gal.500 gal.2,000 liters100 gal.
Pathogen RemovalBacteria & ProtozoaBacteria, Viruses & ProtozoaBacteria, Viruses, CystsBacteria & ProtozoaBacteria & ProtozoaBacteria, Viruses, Microbial CystsBacteria & ProtozoaBacteria & ProtozoaBacteria & ProtozoaBacteria & ProtozoaBacteria, Viruses, Cysts
Contaminants RemovedBiologicals & MicroplasticsBiologicals, Chemicals, Heavy Metals, Sediments200+99% of all BiologicalsBiologicals200+Biologicals & MicroplasticsBiologicalsBiologicalsBiologicals70+
Testing/ CertificationsUSEPA Guide StandardNSF/ANSI 42 & 53Ceramic Filter: NSF 42NSF/ANSINSF P231NSF 42, 53, 401, P473, and P231NSF 42, 53, 401, P231NSF P231NSF 42, 53, 401, P473, P231
ProcessElectroadhesion + Activated CarbonMechanical + Carbon + CeramicMechanical + Carbon + CeramicCarbon + UltrafiltrationHollow Fiber MembraneMechanical + Electroadhesion + Ion ExchangeHollow Fiber MembraneActivated Carbon + Ion Exchange + MicrofilterCeramic + Glass Fiber + Activated CarbonCeramic + CarbonMechanical + Electroadhesion + Ion Exchange
Annual Cost$70 – $80~$50~$70~$140~$40~$50~$40~$90
WarrantyLifetime10 years1 yearLifetimeLifetimeLifetimeLifetime3 years1 yearLifetime (limited)Lifetime

⭐ Reviews – Best Portable Water Filter 2022

Key Features:

  • Multi-use filter – The Sawyer MINI Water Filtration System is the true definition of multi-functional. It can be attached to a drinking pouch (included), a hydration pack, or a standard disposable water bottle. You can also use the filter as a straw to drink directly from a water source.
  • 0.1-micron pore size – This filter uses an absolute filtration media, which consists of hundreds of u-shaped tubes that remove tiny contaminants. For some perspective, the average size of a bacterial cell is 0.2 to 1 micron in width and 1 to 10 microns in length.
  • Removes 99.99999% of bacteria and 99.9999% of all protozoa – The Sawyer MINI virtually eliminates all bacteria and protozoans from water, including cholera, E.Coli, salmonella, giardia, and cryptosporidium. If you want to feel entirely safe drinking from any natural water source on your travels, you need this filter.
  • 100,000-gallon lifespan – You can use and reuse this portable water filter for years thanks to its 100,000-gallon lifespan. That’s one of the best lifespans we’ve ever seen for a filter of its kind – and Sawyer honors this with its 100,000-gallon guarantee.

Best For: People looking for the best, most versatile portable water filter that money can buy. We think the Sawyer MINI is best for everyone because it has a longer lifespan and more uses than any of its competitors. And with a cost of $21-$30 (depending on where you buy it from), this filter certainly delivers on value.

Pros:

  • This water filter lasts for a huge 100,000 gallons of water, or nearly 4, 000 liters, which means you’ll technically never need to replace the filter with a new one even if you use it for the rest of your life, providing you look after it well.
  • If you’re an avid hiker or camper, you’ll know that every ounce of space matters. The Sawyer MINI weighs just 2 ounces, so it won’t take up much room or weigh your rucksack down.
  • We love the versatility of this filter. Our favorite way to use the filter is with a bottle, but the straw feature is also handy if you just want a quick drink.

Cons:

  • As far as we can tell, the Sawyer MINI doesn’t come with a warranty, just a 100,000-gallon guarantee, which Sawyer promises to honor. The Sawyer Squeeze, another Sawyer filter, is backed by a lifetime warranty, so we don’t see why the MINI can’t also have this warranty.
  • There’s a bit of work involved in owning this filter. Sawyer recommends flushing the filter regularly to maintain a good flow of water through the system.

Read the Full Review: Sawyer MINI Water Filter Review See also: Lifestraw vs Sawyer MINI Comparison (2022)


Key Features:

  • Carbon and ion exchange filtration – The Grayl UltraPress contains an ion exchange media and an electroadsorptive activated carbon purifier cartridge. The ion exchange media binds microorganisms to the filter and the activated carbon absorbs contaminants. Combined, these processes remove viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and more.
  • Bottled filter design – This water bottle filter uses plunge filtration to force water through the filter media. Just fill the bottle with water and insert the filter into the bottle.
  • Long-lasting performance – The Grayl UltraPress has a long-lasting performance for a filter of its kind. It’s good for 300 uses (the turbidity of your water source may affect this).

Best For: Anyone looking for a super convenient, no-nonsense portable water filter with no fiddly parts or long wait times for filtered water. We recommend the Grayl Ultrapress for beginners and impatient hikers because it’s quick and simple to use.

Pros:

  • Filtering water in the Grayl Ultrapress takes less than 10 seconds and requires virtually no effort. Just fill and press. You’ll know to buy a new filter when the press time hits 25 seconds.
  • This Grayl filter has a super simple setup. There are no fiddly tubes or attachments – just a water bottle containing a filter.
  • Want to protect yourself against all the likely water pathogens? This filter is a great option. It removes 99.99% viruses (something that our top pick, the Sawyer MINI, can’t do), 99.9999% bacteria, 99.9% protozoa, plus heavy metals, particulates, and chemicals.

Cons:

  • This filter lasts the longest if you use clear water. But we don’t get to pick and choose between water sources in the wilderness. You might end up clogging the filter and needing an early replacement if your only available water sources are turbid.
  • Tthe Grayl UltraPress isn’t a cheap purchase. The filter costs nearly $100, and while we think it’s a fantastic value for money, it’s still likely too expensive for some people.

Read the Full Review: Grayl UltraPress Review


Key Features:

  • Electric pump filtration – The PortaWell uses an electric pump to force water through a 1-micron sediment filter, a carbon block filter, and a 0.5-micron absolute ceramic filter at a speedy rate. There’s space to use two filters at a time in this system, so you can mix and match based on your contaminant removal needs.
  • Diversified contaminant removal – This battery-powered filter removes up to 100% cysts, 99.99% pathogenic bacteria, chemicals, and heavy metals.
  • 1-minute filter time – In a test by the manufacturer, the PortaWell took just 1 minute to filter 1 gallon of water – about 2.5 times the speed of a hand-pump filter.

Best For: Families and groups of people looking for a portable water filter to use at their camping or hiking base. We think the PortaWell is better than most other options for large groups because its electric pump supplies a speedy filtered water flow rate of 40-60 GPH.

Pros:

  • We love that you can mix and match the filters to suit your filtration needs. We found that the absolute ceramic filter and the sediment filter are the best combination for treating surface water that likely contains pathogens and sediment. If you want to also remove pesticides, herbicides, and VOCs from your water, run it through the ceramic filter and the sediment filter first, then swap one of the filters for the carbon block filter and repeat the process.
  • The PortaWell is entirely electricity-operated. No hand-pumping required! Simply sit back and let the filter do all the work.
  • The 1,000-gallon carbon filter lifespan is decent, and the 10,000-gallon ceramic filter lifespan is even better. You can renew the ceramic filter’s flow rate by washing it under running water up to 30 times.

Cons:

  • Setting up and using this filter takes more effort than the bottle, straw, and gravity filters on this list. There are tubes, filters, batteries, buckets, and cables to organize before you can start filtering water. If you want to use all three filters to remove the most contaminants, you’ll need to run water through the unit twice.
  • The system needs electricity to operate, which is tricky if you plan to use it in the wilderness. The manufacturer sells an add-on solar panel and battery so that it can be used in remote areas. It’s a shame that this isn’t included in the price.

Read the full review: PortaWell Review


Key Features:

  • Hand pump operation – The Survivor Filter PRO uses hand pumping to send water through an “ultra filter” pre-filter, a carbon filter, and an internal “ultra filter”. Like the PortaWell, the filter only has room for two stages in the housing itself – but the pre-filter can be attached to the rest of the unit via a flexible tube.
  • Removes pathogens, heavy metals, and more – This filter removes 99.999% protozoa (including giardia, cryptosporidium, and parasites), 99.999% of a single type of tested virus (Phi X-174), bacteria, and staph, 93% lead, and 99.5% mercury. The filter also removes chemicals and pollutants from water.
  • Up to 25,000-gallon filter lfespan – The ultra pre-filter and internal ultra filter both last up to 100,000 liters, or around 25,000 gallons, while the carbon filter lasts for 2,000 liters, or around 440 gallons. These are really impressive lifespans for a pump-style filter.

Best For: People who want the benefits of a pump-style filter and are happy to put in the work to filter their water. The Survivor Filter PRO is much smaller than the PortaWell (it looks a lot like a soap dispenser) so it’s suitable for taking with you on the go.

Pros:

  • The key benefit of this filter is its basic, lightweight design. Pump filters naturally require a bit of extra work from the user, but there are few parts to get confused with in this system – just an inlet and outlet hose, the pump unit and filters, a cup, a syringe for backwashing, and a carrying case. Setting it up takes a matter of minutes, making it convenient for quick uses on mid-hike hydration breaks.
  • The level of filtration in this Survivor filter is excellent. No other filter on this list can filter down to 0.01 microns – even our top pick Sawyer filter only filters to 0.1 microns. The smaller the filter pores, the more contaminants (incluidng tiny viruses) can be removed.
  • Not sure you can trust a portable filter to do what it says it’ll do? The Survivor Filter PRO has a WQA Gold Seal and is backed by a 100% satisfaction guarantee and lifetime warranty for peace of mind.

Cons:

  • As a hand pump filter, the Survivor Filter PRO takes more effort to use than any of the other filters on this list. You have to actively pump the filter to send water through the system.
  • You’ll need to carry all the bits with you, including the tubing and backwashing syringe.

Key Features:

  • Hollow fiber filter design – The Platypus Gravity Water Filter is made from hundreds of hollow fibers, which are packed together and trap the likes of giardia and cryptosporidium in their pores.
  • Pump-free gravity filter – This hanging gravity water filter has two bags: a clean water bag and a dirty water bag. Just hang the dirty water bag higher than the clean water bag, and the water will flow through the flexible tubing, through the filter, and into the clean water bag.
  • Long lifespan – With the right care and routine maintenance, this gravity water filter is designed to last for 1,500 liters of water, or just over 300 gallons. You can backwash the filter whenever needed to improve its flow rate and extend its lifespan.

Best For: This system delivers 0.4 gallons of filtered water per minute, so it’s best suited for people who want a lightweight, pump-free filtration solution and don’t mind waiting several minutes for a full batch of water to be filtered.

Pros:

  • Hanging gravity filters can sometimes be flimsy, and we’ve used a few that end up being trashed after their first outing – but the Platypus Gravity Water Filter has a solid, durable design and held up well in our testing. We like that the filter comes with a universal bottle adapter, so you can bypass the bag and filter water directly into a water bottle of your choice.
  • For its price, you get many years of use out of the Platypus. The filter lasts for a respectable 5 years. The limited warranty is reassuring, too.
  • Using the Platypus Gravity Water Filter is a piece of cake. It’s easy to connect the two filter bags, and there’s no pumping or technical setup involved. Just hang the dirty water bag, then relax.

Cons:

  • Don’t expect this hanging gravity filter to give you clean water in an instant. You’ll need to be patient with a filter of this kind.
  • We’ve read reports from customers who say that the filter clogs easily and needs regular flushing. The more turbid your water source, the quicker the filter will clog.

Key Features:

  • Gravity filter dispenser – The Epic Nano uses gravity filtration to filter out contaminants at a steady rate. Water from the upper chamber flows through the filter into the bottom chamber, and the contaminants are trapped in the sub-micron filter media.
  • Impressive contaminant removal – This unit can remove 99.99% of more contaminants than any other filter on this list, including Virus MS2 Phage (99.95%), lead (99.4%), E.Coli (99.9999%), giardia (99.909%), and cryptosporidium (99.999%).
  • 150-gallon lifespan – The filter has a 3-4 month lifespan, or up to 150 gallons, depending on how heavily you use it. 

Best For: Families or groups looking for a no-fuss gravity filter that can be filled and used for camping or emergencies. The Epic Nano is lightweight and portable (but not small enough to be carried in a rucksack) and has a decent holding capacity of up to 1.5 gallons of water.

Pros:

  • The Epic Nano is one of the best value for money portable filters that we’ve tried, costing less than $100 upfront and with a filter replacement cost of around $50.
  • We’re blown away by this filter’s ability to remove 200+ contaminats. It’s reassuring that the filter is tested to NSF Standards (although, of course, an official NSF certification would be better).
  • A few other noteable features are the filter countdown timer, which takes the guesswork out of filter changes, the BPA-free design, and the lifetime warranty. The Epic Nano is a sturdily-built, long-lasting filter that you can trust to treat microbiologically unsafe water.

Cons:

  • The Epic Nano dispenser is a bulky system (product dimensions: 12 x 9 x 8 inches) so it’s not as easily portable as some of the filters on this list.
  • You’ll need to replace the filters more frequently in this system compared to other portable gravity filters.

Key Features:

  • Tap-attach filter – First and foremost, the Sawyer SP134 is a faucet filter. Attach it to the end of a 11/16 to 3/4-inch faucet, a garden hose, or a faucet aerator, and turn on the faucet to send water through the filter.
  • Targets common pathogens – This 0.1-micron absolute inline filter protects you from the most likely pathogens in poor-quality domestic water, including 99.99999% of bacteria (E.Coli, salmonella, and cholera); 99.9999% of all protozoa (cryptosporidium and giardia); and 100% of microplastics.
  • 500 gallon per day filtration – The Sawyer SP134 produces more gallons of water than even the biggest family will need per day. Experts recommend we drink around half a gallon of water daily.

Best For: Anyone planning to travel to a developing country who wants to treat potentially contaminated domestic water for drinking or cooking.

Pros:

  • This filter is expertly designed for easy use on your travels. It’s lightweight and compact enough to slot into hand luggage, and comes with everything needed for a quick setup (including a filter, backwash adapter, various adaptors for faucets, a tap gauge, and an extension hose for shallow sinks).
  • The Sawyer SP134’s contaminant removal is impressive, and it’s good to see that its performance is backed by independent testing from various US-based laboratories. We love that each Sawyer filter is tested three times during manufacturing before being packaged for selling. The likelihood of ending up with a faulty product is low.
  • We’re impressed with the various use points of this compact water filter. You can attach the filter to hotel faucets, taps in campsites or festival fields, or your own faucet if you’re issued a boil water notice.

Cons:

  • While the Sawyer SP134 is ideal for tap water, it won’t come in handy for filtering natural water sources st5raight from a lake or a river. You need the force of water pressure from a hose or faucet to send water through the filter.
  • This filter is a one-size-fits-most, but not a one-size-fits-all. Some customers complained that the filter didn’t fit their faucet or that water leaked out between the faucet and the filter.

Read the Full Review: Sawyer Tap Filtration System


Key Features:

  • Hanging gravity bag filter – The LifeStraw Flex is one of the four hanging gravity filters offered by LifeStraw. The filter system uses a hanging bag connected to a membrane microfilter and an ion exchange & activated carbon filter to filter water at a steady rate as it flows through the flexible tubing.
  • Thoroughly removes contaminants – The system has been tested to remove 99.999999% of bacteria, 99.999% of parasites (including cryptosporidium and giardia), and 99.999% of sand, silt, microplastics, and cloudiness.
  • 500+ gallon lifespan – The filter has an impressive lifespan of 528 gallons, or just over 2,000 liters of water, so it should last at least a year before it needs replacing.

Best For: Anyone looking for an affordable alternative to the Platypus Gravity Water Filter with a slightly longer lifespan and a lower annual spend. The LifeStraw Flex is offered by a trusted, reliable brand, so you can be certain that you’re still getting a fantastic-quality product, despite spending less.

Pros:

  • LifeStraw is one of the biggest names in the emergency preparedness water treatment industry, and it’s reassuring to see that the Flex is backed by NSF and EPA Standards – particularly NSF P231, for the removal of parasites and bacteria.
  • The system weighs just under 7 ounces, making it light and compact enough to carry with you in a backpack of any size.

Cons:

  • The Flex has a flow rate of around 0.125 gal/min – that’s noticeably slower than the Platypus’ flow rate of 0.4 GPM. You’ll need to wait even longer to enjoy purified water from this filter.
  • The filter and connecting bag are a little tricky to put together at first.

Key Features:

  • Hand-pump design –The Katadyn Vario is a hand-pump filter combining a ceramic prefilter with a glassfiber membrane and carbon core, designed for use by 1-4 people.
  • Broad contaminant removal – This filter eliminates a broad range of contaminants in water, including bacteria, protozoa, algae, cysts, spores, sediment, chlorine, taste, and odor. We’d love to see more specific data (such as percentages) for the filtered contaminant removal.
  • Good capacity – The system has a max. 2, 000-liter capacity, depending on your water quality, which is a fairly high volume compared to other pumps on the market

Best For: Anyone looking for a hand pump filter that lets you choose between a slightly slower flow rate (for the purpose of extending the filter life) or a fast flow rate for instant access to filtered water.

Pros:

  • We love that you can choose how quickly you pump water in this filter. The “longer life” mode sends water through a ceramic pre-filter at 1 liter per minute, while the “fast filter” mode bypasses the ceramic filter to deliver water at double the speed. We recommend always using the ceramic pre-filter to extend the lifespan of the glassfiber membrane, reducing the need for filter changes.
  • We’ve tested some pump-style filters that give you an upper body workout every time you want a drink, but the Katadyn Vario is refreshingly easy to use. That’s thanks to the dual-piston mechanism, which allows the filter to produce a continuous water flow without unnecessary effort.
  • If you want to pump water and carry it with you on the go, you’ll appreciate the integrated bottle thread, which makes it easy to connect the filter to your water bottle.

Cons:

  • The 2-year warranty doesn’t match up to the lifetime warranty of our top pick pump filter.
  • While having the pre-filter is a handy way to extend the glassfiber filter’s lifespan, you’ll need to clean the filter frequently to maintain a good flow rate.

Key Features:

  • Hand-pump filter – TheMSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter uses a ceramic and charcoal carbon block filter that filters contaminants down to 0.2 microns in size. The filter requires hand-pumping to send water through the media. Just suspend the hose in water and pump the system to send clean water into the attached bag or a water bottle.
  • Removes bacteria and protozoa – This pump filter meets NSF protocol P231 for 99.9999% bacteria removal and 99.9% protozoa removal throughout its lifespan, even in “worst-case” water. Alongside pathogens, the filter reduces some chemicals, pesticides, tastes and odors with the carbon core.
  • Field-maintainable – You can repeatedly clean and renew this filter throughout its lifespan while you’re out and about. No tools required.

Best For: Anyone looking to invest in a reliable, fast-flowing pump filter that’s backed by the most reassuring warranty there is.

Pros:

  • You get about one quart of filtered drinking water per minute from this filter, so it’s a good option for solo travelers and small groups. Pump filtration provides a good supply of water regardless the quality of the water source.
  • This pump filter is compatible with some of the most popular water bottle brands, including the Nalgene and the Camelback. If you want to minimize space in your rucksack, use the included storage bag.
  • The lifetime warranty is exactly what you want to see when you’re making a substantial upfront investment on a filter.

Cons:

  • The MSR MiniWorks weighs almost half a kilogram, which seems pretty heavy for a pump filter.
  • We noticed that the filter quickly becomes clogged. You can unblock the filter by scrubbing it with the included cleaning pad, but the flow rate slows down again pretty quickly.

Key Features:

  • Straw bottle filter – The Epic Nalgene OG Woodsman is a filter bottle with a straw that uses a built-in filter. When you suck water out of the straw, it first passes through a mechanical and ion exchange filter, which traps contaminants in its pores.
  • Removes 70+ contaminants – This filter bottle removes bacteria (including 99.99% E.Coli), protozoa (including 99.99% giardia), viruses, heavy metals, chlorine, agricultural pollutants, pharmaceuticals, and more.
  • 300 gallon lifespan – The Epic Nalgene filter lasts up to 300 gallons.

Best For: Anyone looking to spend less money on a capable water filter bottle that they can use in all scenarios. Whether you’re looking to remove contaminants from public or natural water sources, the Epic Nalgene OG Woodsman has got you covered.

Pros:

  • There’s no fuss involved in owning and using this Epic filter. Like all bottles, the filter has few parts and doesn’t need to be assembled before every use. The bottle has a wide-neck design, making it easy to clean between uses.
  • Straw filtration gives you access to clean water instantly. Just fill the bottle, screw the lid in place, and drink as you want.
  • Epic leads the pack with a lifetime warranty for this filter, so you’re protected against manufacturing flaws.

Cons:

  • With its large 1-liter capacity, the bottle is quite big and bulky, so it’s not the best choice if you have limited rucksack space.
  • The straw filtration requires more effort than the Grayl Ultrapress’s plunge filtration. The only way to access water is to suck forcefully on the straw. Due to the bottle’s design, the last quarter of unfiltered water ends up stuck in the bottom.

Read the Full Review: Epic Nalgene OG Review


🎭 The Competition

We’ve reviewed some products in the past that no longer make the list this year – check them out here:

🧾 Portable Water Filter Buyer’s Guide: How we Selected and Shortlisted the Best Portable Water Filters on This List

When you’re deciding on the best portable water filter for you, there are a few important features to consider. We used these features as our criteria when choosing the filters in this guide.

Flow Rate

The flow rate of a portable water filter varies widely depending on the type of filter you buy.

You’ll get the best flow rate from hand pump or electric pump filters, or bottle or straw filters, which use a force stronger than gravity to send water through the filter. Hanging bag filters have a slower, steadier flow rate because they rely on gravity filtration.

Consider whether you prefer to have instant access to clean drinking water or whether you’re happy to wait several minutes for the water to be filtered.

Most portable filters can be backwashed to address flow rate issues caused by clogging.

backwashing the sawyer tap filter system

Filter Capacity & Lifespan

Backwashable portable filters have a decent capacity of around 3-5 years or longer.

Some filters are more impressive than others (for instance, the Sawyer Products MINI filter has a lifespan of 100,000 gallons, or 200 years – so it might just outlive you!).

Consider how long you’ll realistically want to use the filter for, and whether its filter capacity is worth its cost.

Weight

Different portable water filters have different weights. Straw, squeeze, and gravity water filters are the lightest options, as they’re usually made from lightweight plastic and have hollow fiber filters that don’t weigh much at all.

Pump systems, water dispensers, bottle filters, and UV water systems are bulkier and heavier options, but they’re typically better for delivering big batches of water to large families or groups.

Looking for the lightest type or portable filter? Straw water filters, which you can only use to drink directly from water sources, are your best choice.

Physical Size

Size is just as important as weight if you’re trying to keep your backpack as free of clutter as possible.

Bottle filters, dispensers, and filters with a hand pump naturally take up more space because they’re made from more components.

The smallest portable filters are straw filters, which can be easily stashed in an inner pocket of your rucksack or in a pocket in your clothes.

epic nalgene outdoor filtered bottle in backpack

Ease of Use

We rated a portable water filter’s ease of use pump filters based on the time and energy spent on setup and clean water production.

Here’s a breakdown of the most common portable filters and their ease of use:

  • Pump filters have multiple parts and take the most physical effort
  • Straw filters and bottle filters are easy to use and have few parts (but many require manual sucking effort)
  • Hanging gravity filters have numerous parts and are easy (but time-consuming) to use

The easier a filter is to put together and use, the more you can focus on enjoying your trip, and the less you need to focus on hydration.

🔠 Types of Portable Water Filters

Backpacking water filters come in different designs and offer a range of methods of filtration. The most common types of portable water filters are listed below.

filtering water from lake with pump filter
Source: nps.gov

Straw Filters

Straw filters are compact, lightweight portable water filter systems. They don’t come with any bulky bags, tubes or bottles – you simply stick one end of the straw into a water source and suck on the other end. Water passes through the filter and straight into your mouth.

Some straw filters can be attached to a bottle or a bag, allowing you to store filtered water on the go.

Gravity Fed Filters

Gravity water filters use two bags connected by a pipe and a water filter. You fill the “dirty” bag with dirty water, then hang the bag higher than the “clean” bag. Water will travel through the pipe and the filter, and into the “clean” bag.

Some gravity filters let you filter water into a bottle rather than another bag. When you’re not using the filter bag, you can simply fold it up and stash it away until you need it again.

Pump Filters

A pump filter system usually contains two or three filters, including a pre-filter, and delivers clean drinking water by electric or hand-pumping.

To use a pump filter, submerge the end of the “dirty” water hose into your water source and pump the water through the system by pushing and pulling the handle. Water will leave the filter through the clean water hose and fill a jug or bottle of your choice.

Filtered Water Bottles

Filtered water bottles use straw filters or plunge filters to filter your drinking water in a matter of seconds.

To use a water filter bottle system with a straw, suck the straw to send water through the filter and into your mouth. To use a plunge bottle filter, press the lid into the bottle to send water through the filter.

UV Purifiers

UV water purifiers are handheld devices that are used to disinfect water with ultraviolet radiation.

Most UV water purifiers use UV light to penetrate the harmful contaminants in water and alter their DNA, inactivating them. Most portable UV filter systems are found in water bottle form.

❔ Portable Water Filter Frequently Asked Questions

What is “potable water”?

Potable water is water that’s safe for humans to drink. Potable water doesn’t always taste good! You’ll probably find that when you use a portable water purifier to make your natural water source potable, the water will still have a fairly unpleasant taste.

How effective are portable water filters?

The best portable water filters are effective enough to reliably remove all pathogens from natural water sources, keeping you safe on your travels. Look for filters with third-party testing, NSF certifications, or a WQA Gold Seal if you want proof that the filter works as advertised.

Can water filters remove viruses?

Some of the best portable water filters, like the Survivor Filter PRO and the Grayl Ultrapress, can remove some viruses from water. Viruses are tiny – even smaller than bacteria and protozoa – so they’re particularly difficult to remove and require a filter with tiny pores.

What is the best personal water purifier?

Based on our testing, the best personal water purifier is the Sawyer MINI because it’s effective, reliable, and durable, trapping contaminants as small as 0.1 microns and lasting up to 100,000 gallons.

Are portable water filters worth it?

Portable water filters are worth it if you spend a lot of time hiking or camping in the backcountry and you don’t want to boil your water every time you want a drink. Most portable water filters cost less than $100, with an average lifespan of 3-5 years – so they’re great value for money.