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Backpacking Water Filtration: Exploring Different Types of Filters and Their Pros and Cons

Water Filters

When embarking on a backpacking adventure, one essential consideration is access to clean and safe drinking water. While nature offers an abundance of water sources, such as rivers, streams, and lakes, it's important to remember that these water bodies may harbor harmful contaminants. To ensure your hydration needs are met without compromising your health, a reliable water filtration system is crucial. In this blog post, we'll delve into the different types of water filters suitable for backpacking and explore their pros and cons.

Pump Filters

MSR Filter

Pump filters are one of the most popular and traditional options for backpackers. These filters consist of a hand pump attached to a filtration cartridge. As water is pumped through the filter, impurities are physically removed, providing clean water for consumption. (Lifesaver, MSR, Katadyn)


  • Effective at removing a wide range of contaminants, including bacteria, protozoa, and some viruses.

  • Can handle large volumes of water, making them suitable for groups or extended trips.

  • Some models come with additional features like a pre-filter to prolong the life of the main filter.


  • Relatively heavy and bulky, adding to the weight of your backpack.

  • Pumping can be time-consuming and tiring, particularly for large quantities of water.

  • The filter cartridge may need periodic cleaning and maintenance to prevent clogging and ensure optimal performance.

  • Expensive

Gravity Filters


Gravity filters offer a convenient and user-friendly water filtration option for backpackers. These systems typically consist of a reservoir bag, a filter element, and a hose. By filling the reservoir bag and hanging it higher than the destination container, gravity does the work of forcing water through the filter. (Katadyn, Lifestraw, Sawyer, Platypus)


  • No pumping or manual effort is required, allowing for easy multitasking while the filtration takes place.

  • Lightweight and compact, making them suitable for backpackers aiming to minimize gear weight.

  • Can filter large volumes of water quickly, making them ideal for group camping.


  • Some models may have slower filtration rates compared to other options.

  • Initial setup may take a little longer due to the need for proper hanging and positioning of the system.

  • Not all gravity filters are effective against viruses, so check the specifications before purchasing.

Squeeze Filters


Squeeze filters provide a compact and lightweight water filtration option, perfect for individual backpackers seeking simplicity and portability. These filters typically consist of a filter cartridge that can be attached to water bottles or collapsible pouches. By squeezing the container, water is forced through the filter and into a clean vessel. (Sawyer, Platypus, Lifestraw, Hydrapak)


  • Lightweight, compact, and easy to carry, making them ideal for ultralight backpacking.

  • Quick and efficient filtration process, allowing for fast access to clean water.

  • Versatile and adaptable, as they can be used with various container types.


  • May have a smaller capacity compared to other filter types, requiring more frequent refills.

  • The filter may need occasional backflushing to maintain optimal flow rate.

  • Some squeeze filters may have a lower lifespan than other options, requiring more frequent filter replacements.

Straw Filters


Straw filters are compact, lightweight, and highly portable, providing an efficient water filtration method directly from the water source. These filters typically have a built-in straw or mouthpiece that allows you to drink directly from the contaminated water body. (Lifestraw, Sawyer)


  • Extremely lightweight and compact, making them perfect for minimalistic backpacking.

  • Quick and easy to use, with no setup required.

  • Can serve as a backup filtration method or emergency tool in addition to other filter systems.


  • Limited capacity, as they are primarily designed for personal use rather than group camping.

  • May not be as effective against certain types of contaminants like viruses or chemicals.

When it comes to backpacking water filtration, selecting the right type of filter is essential for ensuring safe and clean drinking water in the great outdoors. Pump filters offer comprehensive filtration capabilities but can be bulky and require manual effort. Gravity filters provide convenience and ease of use, although they may have slower filtration rates. Squeeze filters offer compactness and portability, but their capacity and lifespan may be limited. Straw filters excel in their lightweight design and simplicity but may have limitations in terms of capacity and the range of contaminants they can remove. Each filter type has its own set of pros and cons, and the choice ultimately depends on your individual preferences, the nature of your backpacking trip, and the level of filtration required. Prioritize your health and hydration needs by selecting a reliable water filter that best suits your backpacking adventures.

IMPORTANT NOTE: In winter, be sure to store your Water Filter in a warm location. If the membrane in the filter should freeze it is no longer an effective or safe filter to use. If you are backpacking, you can store your filter in your sleeping bag on the trail and even keep it with you at night in your sleeping bag when you sleep to keep it from freezing.

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