9 Best Portable Water Filters (*Update 2024)

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It doesn’t matter if you‘re backpacking, hiking, camping, traveling, or you simply want to be prepared in case of emergency, a portable water filter is one of the most important, if not the most important, pieces of gear you need.

A reliable filter will provide you with safe drinking water no matter what, removing bacteria and protozoa which are commonly found in North American water sources. In case you travel internationally, you may also have to pay attention to viruses.

How to find the best portable water filter for your needs? Well, you came to the right place…

No Time to Read? Check Our List of the Best Portable Water Filters!

Filters Details
Sawyer MINI Portable Water Filtration System with Squeeze Pouch
Best Overall: Sawyer MINI Filter Straw

Price: $
Size: 4x3x8 in
Weight: 2 oz
Filter Life: 100,000 gal
Pathogen Removal: Bacteria, Protozoa (0.1 Micron)
Read Review: Click
Clearly Filtered Stainless Steel Filter Water Bottle
Best Portable Filter Bottle: Clearly Filtered

Get 10% Off! Use Code: WELCOME10

Price: $
Size: 3x3x11 in
Weight: 12.8 oz
Filter Life: 25 gal
Pathogen Removal:
Read Review: Click
Alexa’s Video Review: Click
LifeStraw Mission Portable Water Filter (Gravity)
Best Portable Gravity Filter Bag: LifeStraw Mission

Price: $$$
Size: 12x5x4 in
Weight: 0.81 lb
Filter Life: 4,755 gal
Pathogen Removal: Bacteria, Viruses, Protozoa (0.02 Micron)
Read Review: Click
Survivor Filter Pro Water Filter Pump
Best Portable Water Filter Pump: Survivor Filter Pro

Price: $$
Size: 3x2x7 in
Weight: 12.8 oz
Filter Life: 26,000 gal
Pathogen Removal: Bacteria, Viruses, Protozoa (0.01 Micron)
Read Review: Click
SteriPEN Ultra Handheld UV Water Purifier
Best for Sterilizing Water: SteriPEN Ultra

Price: $$$
Size: 7x1x1 in
Weight: 5 oz
Filter Life: 8,000 Activations
Pathogen Removal: Bacteria, Protozoa, Viruses
Read Review: Click

Best Portable Water Filter Reviews

Our Top Picks

  1. Sawyer MINI Filter Straw – Best Overall
  2. LifeStraw Personal Water Filter – Runner-Up Filter Straw
  3. Clearly Filtered Water Bottle – Best Portable Filter Bottle
  4. LifeStraw Mission & Family Portable Gravity Filter Bags – Best for Gravity Filtration
  5. Survivor Filter Pro Water Filter Pump – Best Portable Filter Pump
  6. MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter & Purifier System – Runner-Up Filter Pumps
  7. Sawyer Gravity Water Filter Bag – Runner-Up Filter Bag
  8. SteriPEN Ultra Handheld UV Water Purifier – Best for UV Sterilization
  9. Katadyn Hiker Pro Transparent Water Filter Pump

1. Best Overall: Sawyer MINI Filter Straw (Incl. Squeeze Pouch)

In our opinion, the best portable water filter in the filter straw category in 2024 is the Sawyer MINI. It’s ideal if you want a small, ultralight, and easy-to-use water filter for recreational outdoor activities that provides excellent filtration and won’t break the bank!

By the way, the set includes a reusable Sawyer squeeze pouch to fill with water for later use.

Sawyer MINI Portable Water Filtration System with Squeeze Pouch

Sawyer MINI Water Filter Straw (Incl. Squeeze Pouch) – Best Personal Water Filter

Price: $
Size: 4x3x8 in
Weight: 2 oz
Filter Capacity: 100,000 gal
Filters Viruses?

Our Rating


  • This affordable portable water filter weighs just 2 ounces and fits in the palm of your hand.
  • If the Sawyer MINI is one thing it’s versatile:
    • It can be used as a filter straw to drink directly from any fresh water source.
    • It can be attached to the included 16-ounce squeeze pouch as a portable inline water filter. This makes drinking way more convenient. Plus, you can drink on the go. Simply fill up the reusable pouch and screw the filter on. You can suck on the straw or squeeze water into a bottle. The pouch rolls up when empty for minimal space requirements in your travel backpack.
    • It can be screwed onto standard plastic bottles with 28 mm threading.
  • Rated at 0.1 micron absolute filtration, the hollow fiber micro-tubes trap 99.99999% of harmful bacteria (e.g. salmonella, cholera, E coli, leptospirosis) and protozoa (such as giardia and cryptosporidium) as well as 100% microplastics.
    • Performance tested 3 times during manufacturing.
    • Bacteria removal rates as recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are met.
  • The filter cartridge is rated at 100,000 gallons filtration capacity.
    • Can only be reached if you clean it regularly. A cleaning plunger for backwashing is included. Cleaning is recommended after every outing and restores the flow rate almost completely.
  • Different colors to choose from.


  • Reportedly, a few people had issues with malfunctioning O-rings causing leaks and/or not creating a tight-enough seal to avoid contamination.
  • Others could not attach the Sawyer MINI to the squeeze pouch without leakage, or the pouch didn’t last very long.
  • We also read about problems when using the syringe for backwashing. The connection to the filter wasn’t firm enough and led to a lack of pressure and flow rate resulting in inadequate flushing.

Best for

The Sawyer MINI is best for people who want a small and lightweight, easy-to-use filter straw for outdoors that provides excellent filtration and is affordable!

2. Filter Straw Alternative: LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

As an alternative to the Sawyer MINI, we like to recommend the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter – one of the most popular and best-selling products on the market with outstanding customer feedback.

The LifeStraw was designed to drink directly from water sources like rivers and lakes, or to fill up a container and use the water filter straw on the go. It’s affordable, size and weight are great for backcountry hiking and backpacking trips, and filtration is very thorough. 4 stars!

Side note: The reason why we still prefer the Sawyer MINI is because of its backwashing feature which allows for a much higher filtration capacity.

LifeStraw Personal & Portable Water Filter

LifeStraw Personal Filter

Price: $
Size: 4x3x8 in
Weight: 2 oz
Filter Capacity: 1,000 gal
Filters Viruses?

Our Rating


  • Measuring 9 inches and weighing just 1.62 oz., the LifeStraw is an ideal companion for your next camping trip, hiking adventure, or backpacking journey. The compact unit fits in almost any pocket.
  • The straw filter contains hollow fiber microfiltration membranes with microscopic pores that won’t allow 99.999999% bacteria, 99.999% parasites, 99.999% microplastics and any dirt larger than .2 micron to pass through (does not include viruses).
    • Filtration process meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water standards for bacteria and protozoa reduction. The result is clean water that won’t cause waterborne diseases.
    • NSF P231 approved.
  • The flow rate is roughly 0.8 gallons of water per minute – which is plenty.
  • Material is durable and BPA-free.
  • As long as water flows you can continue using the LifeStraw. It doesn’t have a shelf life.


  • Vestergaard, the company behind LifeStraw, says the filter has a capacity of 1,000 gallons of water. However, some users said it’s more like 250 gallons.
  • A few people found it hard to get meaningful amounts of water through the filter.

Best for

The LifeStraw is our second best choice of water filter straws.

3. Best Portable Water Filter Bottle: Clearly Filtered

Filter water bottles are another type of portable water filter you might be interested in. In our opinion, by far the best are Clearly Filtered water bottles. They are NSF-tested to remove more than 200 contaminants. This, however, does not include bacteria, viruses, and cyst. In other words, you need access to microbiologically safe feed water.

Clearly Filtered Stainless Steel Filter Water Bottle

Clearly Filtered Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle

Price: $
Size: 3x3x11 in
Weight: 12.8 oz
Filter Capacity: 25 gal
Filters Viruses?

Our Rating

Get 10% Off! Use Code: WELCOME10

Alexa’s Video Review

Being an integral member of our team, Alexa has tested 2 Clearly Filtered Water Bottles for us. Which means Alexa has ordered, primed, and used both bottles in her day-to-day life for several weeks to gain some first-hand experience. She shares her findings and personal verdict in the video below:

Clearly Filtered Water Bottle Image 1Clearly Filtered Water Bottle Image 2Clearly Filtered Water Bottle Image 3Clearly Filtered Water Bottle Image 4

In my opinion, the best part about this water bottle is that it does remove the most contaminants out of any water bottle on the market. (…) So I give it a 5-star for what the product is; I’m only giving it a 4-star for my personal use of it.

Alexa Gibbons – BOS Video Content Creator



  • Bottles and filters are built in USA.
  • We recommend these 2 bottle types for outdoor use:
    • Insulated stainless steel – Most durable, keeps 20 ounces of water cool for up to 24 hours.
    • Medical grade, BPA-free Tritan plastic – Can hold up to 24 ounces.
  • Both bottles use the same proprietary Affinity filtration technology, a mixture of activated carbon and adsorption filter media, to remove around 220 contaminants from tap water, including, lead and other heavy metals, and pesticides.
  • All materials are free from BPA, BPS, and phthalate to preserve filtered water quality.
  • 25-gallon filter capacity lasts for 130-160 fill-ups or 6 months.
  • You get a full money-back guarantee for the first 30 days after purchase.
  • Each water filter bottle is backed by a lifetime warranty.


  • Every time you replace the filter cartridge you need to apply strong suction to get a good flow rate.
  • If the silicone ring inside the bottle doesn’t sit right it might leak.

Best for

The Clearly Filtered is best for people who like portable filter bottles providing effective contaminant removal.

→ Read Our Full Clearly Filtered Water Bottle Review Here

4. Best for Gravity Filtration: LifeStraw Mission & Family Filter Bags

Are you looking for a portable water filtration system that’s gravity-fed? Definitely check out the LifeStraw Mission and the LifeStraw Family. Generally speaking, all LifeStraw gravity bag water filters are suited for providing clean water to several people – think group camping.

But the Mission and the Family model are special as they are among the few portable water filters in our guide that actually remove viruses, which is especially important when you are traveling internationally. The ability to remove viruses is also why the LifeStraw Family is used by millions of families in rural Africa and other parts of the world. That said, we still prefer the LifeStraw Mission.

Side note: We wouldn’t recommend LifeStraw’s Flex model. It’s supposed to be an all-rounder, but there are better portable filters for outdoor use and better tap water filter systems for indoor use on the market.

LifeStraw Mission Portable Water Filter (Gravity)

LifeStraw Mission Gravity Filter Bag

Price: $$$
Size: 12x5x4 in
Weight: 0.81 lb
Filter Capacity: 4,755 gal
Filters Viruses?

Our Rating


  • Not too heavy to carry in a backpack.
  • Both Mission and Family use the same ultrafiltration membrane technology to eliminate 99.999999% of waterborne bacteria and 99.999% of parasites, viruses, and microplastics. Turbidity down to 0.02 microns will be reduced, as well.
    • These portable filters turn contaminated water into safe drinking water.
    • NSF, WHO, and U.S. EPA standards are met.
  • 4,755 gallons filtration capacity lasts for a couple of years, says LifeStraw.
  • Extra outlet allows you to flush out dirt.
    • Red bulb can be used for membrane cleaning.
  • You not only get plenty of water, you also get it fast, at around 3.2 gallons per hour.
    • Great for family use, for household filtration in an emergency scenario, and for outdoor expeditions.
  • The LifeStraw Family uses a bucket to hold a little less than half a gallon of dirty water. It’s sturdy but requires more space. It also features a pre-filter to remove coarse dirt particles to prevent membrane clogging.
  • The Mission uses a gravity filter bag – choose between 1.3 and 3.2 gallons – which has the benefit that it can be rolled up.
  • Food-grade quality materials only.


  • Filtered water with an unappealing chemical or plastic taste and smell is the biggest issue with the LifeStraw Family.
  • Both filters tend to leak at the red bulb.
  • Filtration may be slower than you expect.

Best for

The LifeStraw Mission/Family is best for people who like gravity filter bags.

5. Best Portable Water Filter Pump: Survivor Filter Pro

Our favorite portable water filter pump is the Survivor Filter Pro, for 3 reasons:

  1. It can be used with any fresh water source.
  2. It’s extremely small for a filter pump.
  3. The filtration surpasses EPA’s standards for portable water filters.

What could possibly go wrong?

Survivor Filter Pro Water Filter Pump

Survivor Filter Pro Pump

Price: $$
Size: 3.2x2x6.5 in
Weight: 12.8 oz
Filter Capacity: 26,000 gal
Filters Viruses?

Our Rating


  • Simply pump water directly out of any fresh water source into a storage container.
  • Filtration process reduces 99.999% of protozoa (cryptosporidium, giardia and parasites), bacteria, and tested viruses. In addition, 93% lead and 99.5% mercury are removed.
    • Testing was performed according to NSF/ANSI Standards.
  • 3 filter stages are being used:
    • 0.1-miron hollow-fiber membrane rejects contaminants for up to 100,000 liters (about 26,000 gallons). Such a long filter life can be achieved because there is a syringe for backwashing included in the package.
    • Activated carbon filter reduces organic contaminants and heavy metals for up to 2,000 liters. It also improves water taste.
    • A 0.01-micron ultrafiltration membrane takes care of potential viruses for up to 100,000 liters.
  • 17 ounces per minute water flow rate is enough for group use.
  • All materials are BPA-free.
  • Survivor Filter offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
  • Every product comes with a lifetime warranty.


  • Occasional complaints include clogged filters making pumping impossible (backwashing didn’t help), low quality materials and build, and pumps that simply stopped working.

Best for

The Survivor Filter Pro is best for people who like portable water filter pumps for removing cysts, bacteria, and viruses.

6. Runner-Up Pumps: MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter & MiniWorks EX Purifier System

Next on our list, 2 MSR water filter pumps: The MiniWorks EX Microfilter and the MSR MiniWorks EX Purifier System. In a nutshell, the main difference between the two pump filters is that the EX Purifier System includes 50 Aquatabs chlorine dioxide tablets (iodine-free) to inactivate viruses, the EX Microfilter doesn’t.

MSR MiniWorks® EX Microfilter Portable Water Filter Pump

MiniWorks EX Microfilter

Price: $$
Size: 10x4x7 in
Weight: 1 lb
Filter Capacity: 500 gal
Filters Viruses?

Our Rating


  • Made in USA!
  • Pre-filter prevents immediate clogging of the main filter element.
  • Both water filter pumps remove particulates down to .2 micron in size, bacteria, protozoan cysts, and bad taste and odor.
    • The EX purifying system meets U.S. EPA requirements for microbiological water purifiers and NSF protocol P231.
    • The EX Microfilter only meets the testing standard for the NSF Protocol. Why that is we don’t know. As far as we can tell, the pumps use the same ceramic/activated carbon filter element.
  • With regular cleaning, one filter cartridge lasts about 500 gallons (2,000 liters) which is plenty of water.
  • The water flow rate is one quart per minute, enough for solo use or a small group.
  • Compatible with Nalgene, Camelback, and other water containers.
  • Storage bag included.
  • Manufacturer warranty: Lifetime.


  • 1 lb feels a little heavy for such small hand pump filters. Similar competitor models are significantly lighter.
  • MSR MiniWorks are known to plug quickly which slows down water flow. Fortunately, they are field maintainable. All you need to do is scrub the ceramic filter with the supplied pad until it’s clean. This will give you another few ounces or liters of water before the flow slows down again and you have to repeat the process.

Best for

MSR MiniWorks systems are our second best choice of water filter pumps.

7. Runner-Up Gravity Water Filter Bag: Sawyer 1-Gallon

Sawyer advertises its 1-gallon gravity water filter as a “lightweight, robust solution for filtering large quantities of water (…) ideal for backpacking, hiking, backcountry camping, and emergency preparedness”. We are not 100 percent sure about the robust, but we couldn’t agree more with the rest. A top pick. 4.5 stars!

Sawyer 1-Gallon Gravity Water Filter Bag

Sawyer 1-Gallon Gravity Water Filter Bag

Price: $$
Size: 6x3x14 in
Weight: 9 oz
Filter Capacity: 100,000 gal
Filters Viruses?

Our Rating


  • Filling the bladder with freshwater, hanging it into a tree, and waiting for the magic to happen; using Sawyer’s 1-gallon gravity water filter is as simple as that.
    • You can also attach the bladder to your backpack or hold it up with your hand. What matters is the height distance between water bladder and water filter. It determines water flow rate (the record for filtering 1 gallon of water is less than 5 minutes).
  • You can drink directly from the filter system, connect a standard plastic water bottle, or fill a second water bladder (optional upgrade).
  • Uses the same filter element as the Sawyer MINI reviewed above: 0.1-micron filtration removes 99.99999% bacteria, protozoa, and microplastics for 100,000 gallons of water.
    • Performance-tested and EPA approved.
    • Requires regular backwashing with included plunger.
  • The Sawyer gravity comes with an additional cleaning coupling which allows backwashing using a standard plastic water bottle with 28 mm threading.
  • Filter kit is weight-saving, easy to assemble, and easy to pack for highest portability.
  • Package contains everything from tubing to caps and adapters.


  • Due to poor design filling the bladder can be a real pain especially in slow moving or standing water.
  • The handle is off balance so it’s not ideal for hanging.

Best for

The Sawyer gravity filter bag is best for people who want EPA-approved bacteria reduction but don’t require virus removal.

8. Best for UV Sterilization: SteriPEN Ultra Handheld UV Water Purifier

Acquired by Katadyn in mid 2017, the brand SteriPEN offers the world’s leading ultraviolet handheld water purifying devices. The SteriPEN Ultra is the most advanced model. It’s a handheld water purification system perfect for on-the-go adventures; and it’s one of the best. It provides microbiologically-safe water no matter where you are. 4 stars!

SteriPEN Ultra Handheld UV Water Purifier

SteriPEN Ultra Handheld UV Water Purifier

Price: $$$
Size: 7x1x1 in
Weight: 5 oz
Filter Capacity: 8,000 Activations
Filters Viruses?

Our Rating


  • The SteriPEN Ultra UV water purifier is lightweight and small and thus ideal for camping, hiking, and backpacking.
  • Combined with a mobile solar panel you can use the device indefinitely even if you don’t have access to electricity, which can be life-saving in any emergency situation.
    • Uses internal rechargeable lithium-ion battery, can be charged via USB.
  • Easy to use: Simply remove lid cover, push the button, and submerge the UV lamp in water and stir for 48 to 90 seconds. The water is ready when you see the smile light up on the LED screen.
    • You can treat .26 gallons (one liter) or .13 gallons (half a liter) at once.
  • The sterilizing pen effectively eliminates 99.9% of bacteria, protozoa (including giardia), and viruses by changing their DNA so they can’t reproduce.
    • Makes any water containing microorganisms safe to drink as long as the water is clear. Cloudy or sediment-laden water could lower the effectiveness.
    • Tested and certified by the WQA against U.S. EPA standards.
  • Lamp lasts a full 8,000 activations on average at 13 gallons of water per charge.
  • The package includes a neoprene pouch and USB cable.
  • Everything is covered by a limited warranty for three years.


  • For a handful of people the SteriPEN died after a short time or did not recharge.
  • The product is more expensive than you might think.

Best for

The SteriPEN is best for handheld UV water purification within 1 to 1½ minutes.

9. Katadyn Hiker Pro Transparent Water Filter Pump

And finally in the last of our portable water purifier reviews, the Katadyn’s Hiker Pro Transparent water filter pump which is ideal for solo adventurers. Just know that it cannot keep up with the Survivor Filter Pro and both MSR MiniWorks filter pumps reviewed above in terms of filter capacity.

Katadyn Hiker Pro Transparent Water Filter Pump

Katadyn Hiker Pro Pump Filter

Price: $$
Size: 3x2x6 in
Weight: 8 oz
Filter Capacity: 200-300 gal
Filters Viruses?

Our Rating


  • This lightweight and portable water filter pump combines a micron glass-fiber membrane with granular activated carbon filter media to remove bad taste, chemicals like chlorine, and most importantly bacteria, giardia, and cryptosporidium down to 0.2 microns.
    • Suitable for cloudy water, says Katadyn.
  • Quick-connect fittings allow for easy installation and removal of hoses.
  • When assembled, simply place input hose in water and start pumping.
    • Up to a quarter gallon of water within one minute.
  • Float keeps pre-filter off the bottom and away from sediment to prevent clogging.
  • You can filter directly into most water reservoirs and bottles using the output hose, i.e. Camelbak hydration bladders.
  • Cleanable protector extends life of filter cartridge to 200-300 gallons.
  • Includes carry bag.


  • If water source is sediment-laden filter may clog quickly making it impossible to pump water without damaging the unit.
  • Several people complained about broken pump handles.

Best for

Katadyn’s Hiker Pro is a filter pump best for suited for portability and weight reduction.

Portable Water Purifiers Comparison List

How do the best portable water purifiers compare to each other?

(Mobile Hint: Swipe to Scroll)

Model Price Size Weight Filtering Capacity Removes Viruses Additional Info
Sawyer MINI Water Filter $ 4x3x8″ 2 oz 100,000 gal No
LifeStraw $ 4x3x8″ 2 oz 1,000 gal No
Clearly Filtered Water Filter Bottle $ 3x3x11″ 12.8 oz 25 gal No
LifeStraw Mission $$$ 12x5x4″ 0.81 lb 4,755 gal Yes
LifeStraw Family $$$ 11x9x4.5″ 1.15 lb 4,755 gal Yes
Survivor Filter Pro Backpacking Water Filter $$ 3.2x2x6.5″ 12.8 oz 26,000 gal Yes
MiniWorks EX Microfilter $$ 10x4x7″ 1 lb 500 gal No
MiniWorks EX Purifier System $$$ 9.5x4x7″ 1.5 lbs 500 gal Yes
Sawyer Gravity Water Filtration System $$ 6x3x14″ 9 oz 100,000 gal No
SteriPEN Ultra $$$ 7x1x1″ 5 oz 8,000 Activations Yes
Katadyn Hiker Pro $$ 3x2x6″ 8 oz 200-300 gal No

Buying Guide: How We Picked the Best Portable Filter Systems + What You Need to Consider

Whether you are looking for a water filter for backpacking, hiking, emergency preparedness & survival, or camping, the following are things worth considering before you go out and buy a portable water filter. These are also the very same criteria we focused on when picking our top products for this guide.

tent near lake

Water Quality

Treating water in the wilderness is all about eliminating bacteria and protozoa. Viruses are usually not an issue in North America, unless if you are in a highly frequented area. Where virus protection should definitely be considered is international travel – think tropical climates and developing countries – and when a natural disaster occurs.

Why not take care of all the waterborne pathogens and not worry anymore? Because some viruses are extremely small and impossible to catch for most portable water filter systems.

Of all the products reviewed above, only the LifeStraw Mission, the LifeStraw Family, and the Survivor Filter Pro can trap viruses. Of course, the SteriPEN also neutralizes them using UV light to alter their DNA.

Anyway, as far as bacteria and protozoa removal goes, submicron (ultrafiltration) membranes and ceramic filters have proven to be effective.

Personally, we don’t see the point of using activated carbon filter media. Neither does the activated carbon filter much, nor does it last very long.

Product Weight & Portability

You want an on-the-go water filter that packs small and travels light. Straws and sterilizing pens have the clear advantage here! Squeeze filters come next. Portable gravity water filter systems should not be a problem as long as they are collapsible. They same applies for pumps, although they can weigh up to 1 pound.

Filtration Speed

Filter speed becomes important when you’re travelling with a group. However, fast filtration is also a nice-to-have when you’re on your own. It allows you to leave the track for a short drink and be on your way in no time.

Gravity filters are usually the fastest, followed by water filter pumps. There is not much of a difference between filter bottles and straw filters; the purification mechanism is the same.

Ease of Use

Portable filters using a straw are certainly the easiest to use. You submerge one end of the filter and suck purified water through the other.

Using a UV sterilizing pen is pretty much self-explanatory, too: You submerge the UV lamp and stir until the device shuts off.

Filter pumps and gravity bag filters require some preparation before they’re ready. Both types need to be assembled, and for portable gravity filters you need a place to hang them. You also require a container to collect the filtered water.

Durability, Filter Capacity & Maintenance (Cost)

We prefer filtration systems that can take a hit without breaking. Furthermore, quality materials and not too many moving parts are always good.

Maintenance has to be simple enough to be carried out while you’re on your mission without requiring a dozen tools. A prime example is the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter which you can clean by simply blowing out the remaining water after each drink.

What you also need to consider are expenses for replacement filters. Cartridges with a long lifespan make all the difference here.

More on Portable Water Filters

What Is a Portable Water Filter?

A portable water filter can be any device used for filtering water that’s lightweight and small enough to be carried around. Most popular are straw filters like the Sawyer MINI. Other types include portable squeeze filters, filter pumps, and gravity bag water filters.

What’s the purpose of a portable water filtration system? Mainly to give you access to drinking water free from bacteria and protozoa (and sometimes viruses) while you’re not at home, which includes camping weekends, hiking trips, and backpacking journeys. These microns are known to cause diseases which can become very severe and possibly life threatening.

Portable water treatment devices that only remove bacteria and protozoa are often defined as water filters. Devices that also affect viruses are classified as water purifiers.

glass with water on tree stump

What Are the Different Types of Portable Water Filters and How Do They Work?

Filter Straws

A straw water filter is a small pipe with filter media, usually hollow fiber membranes, inside. You hold one end into the water source and suck with your mouth on the other.

The handling couldn’t be more straightforward. You filter the water on demand which is why this type is popular among hikers, runners, and other individuals who don’t like to carry water while they’re on the go.

One of the disadvantages of water filter straws is that it can be really hard to suck a satisfying amount of water through, which only gets worse over time as they start to clog. Also, you need to get really close to the water which could mean lying on your belly – unless you fill a container with raw, contaminated water.

Speaking of, using a filter straw you cannot store any clean water for later use. So you either need to carry around water or you can only drink when you’re directly at the source.

Squeeze Water Filter Systems

Squeeze filters are like water filter straws that can be attached to soda bottles, squeezable pouches, or other kinds of hydration packs. Instead of sucking, you simply squeeze the water container forcing a flow through the filter element. Squeezing is not only way more convenient, you also get much more water and faster.

Above that, most squeeze water filters can also be used as a filter straw if need be.

Pump Filtration Systems

Pump filtration systems draw feed water through an intake hose, into the filter element, and out the system into a bottle or another clean water container. What powers the process? Well, pumping, as in pumping by hand.

Pros: Treatment is fast and you can produce unlimited clean water which is another great advantage when you are in a group or quickly want to filter a quart while you’re on the trail.

Cons: Pumping can be tedious, especially when clogging becomes an issue.

Portable Gravity Water Filter Systems

Gravity filters use – you’ve guessed it – gravity to purify water pushing it through one or more filter stages. Portable gravity kits usually consist of a collapsible bag that holds the dirty water and a hose with an inline filter attached to it.

For the process to work you need to hang the bag somewhere high, the higher the better. This creates a high amount of pressure for fast filtration speed with no physical effort required from your end. Most importantly, the capacity is enough to supply a large backpacking group or family camping.

2 factors that can make using gravity water filters difficult are:

  1. Shallow water – Filling the filter bags in shallow water isn’t child’s play.
  2. Elevated place – Finding a tree or another suitable place to hang the reservoir might require some creativity.

UV Sterilizing Pens

Ultraviolet light radiation is an effective method to disinfect water. Using one of the handy sterilizing pens, you get microbiologically safe water quickly. Easy to use? Absolutely! Simply submerge the UV light bulb and swirl for about 1 or 2 minutes.

It’s just that you can’t treat large quantities of water, and the water needs to be relatively clear. You want to use clean water anyway, since the process does not remove sediments etc.

Portable Water Distillers

Water distillation has its pros and cons. It provides the cleanest water possible and can be fed from any water source. But the process takes a long time and you need a proper heat source. This is something you can only do in your base camp.

Water Bottle Filters

Water bottle filters are similar to straw filters. In fact, a straw filter is used to suck water out of the bottle. Nothing new here.

Purification Tablets & Drops

Lastly, we have purification tablets and drops. We decided not to include them here. Rather, we’d like to create a dedicated reviews guide for them. The way they work is that you simply add either a tablet or a couple of drops into a container filled with contaminated water. This will kill any microbes making the water potable.

Why Do You Need a Portable Water Purifier for Backpacking, Hiking, and Camping?

A portable water filter is the most important piece of gear for camping, hiking, backpacking, and travelling in areas where you don’t have access to microbiologically-safe drinking water. Plus, they can be a life saver in emergency situations.

That’s because a proper filter will remove bacteria and protozoa which are commonly found in North American water sources. And when travelling internationally, you might also be dealing with viruses in water.

Notes on Pathogens

What’s so bad about ingesting a few protozoa, bacteria, and possibly viruses? That’s best explained using a couple of examples:

  • Cryptosporidium is a protozoan parasite that can cause a respiratory and gastrointestinal illness called cryptosporidiosis. Most of the time, cryptosporidiosis is a relatively mild and short-term infection, meaning the protozoa remains in the lower intestine for no more than 5 weeks. With immunocompromised individuals, however, it can become very severe and even life-threatening.
  • coli or Escherichia coli is a coliform bacterium that can cause serious food poisoning. And while most bacteria strains don’t cause disease, virulent strains can lead to urinary tract infections, severe abdominal cramps, fever, and vomiting among other symptoms. In severe cases, an infection with E. coli can even result in premature destruction of red blood cells, kidney failure, and strokes.
  • Diseases caused by waterborne viruses include hepatitis A, hepatitis E, and polio amongst others. Enough said.

bacteria in water

Water Filters vs. Water Purifiers

Water purification is the process of removing any undesirable substances such as chemicals, heavy metals, and salts from water. Of course, this also includes bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. The goal is to produce water fit for specific purposes. In our case, that’s producing potable water.

Thereby, the method for purifying water can be filtration, distillation, chlorination, radiation with UV light, and much more. In other words, water filters are just one type of water purifiers. Every water filter is also a water purification system, whereas not all water purifiers are water filters – that’s one way to look at it.

However, during our research we repeatedly stumbled upon a different definition and way to distinguish between water filters and water purifiers: Several sources differentiate water filters from water purifiers as only removing bacteria and protozoa from water, while purifiers also remove viruses.

Personally, we prefer the first definition, but we also made sure to only use the term water purifier in this buying guide for water treatment devices that do indeed remove viruses in order to not cause any confusion.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • How do you make a portable water filter?
    Actually, we wouldn’t advise anyone to make his or her own portable water filter. That’s because any leak could easily lead to contamination which has to be avoided at all cost when dealing with waterborne pathogens.
  • What backpacking water filters are better than LifeStraw?
    In our opinion, the Sawyer MINI Portable Water Filtration System is better than LifeStraw. It not only has a smaller micron rating, it also lasts up to a hundred times longer due to its backwashing feature.
  • Does the Sawyer squeeze filter viruses?
    No, the Sawyer squeeze does not filter viruses.
  • How common are viruses in water?
    Viruses are not very common in water bodies in remote areas of North America. The same holds true for public water systems. However, viruses are often an issue in developing countries, especially in hot climates.

Questions? Ask away!

About the Author Gene Fitzgerald

Gene Fitzgerald is one of the founders of BOS and currently head of content creation. She has 8+ years of experience as a water treatment specialist under her belt making her our senior scientist. Outside of BOS, Gene loves reading books on philosophy & social issues, making music, and hiking.
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Information provided on BOS is for educational purposes only. The products and services we review may not be right for your individual circumstances.
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