The most beautiful camping experiences are often in the most remote places — and that means you may not have access to a supply of safe drinking water. This is where the best camping water filters come in. They allow you to create potable water without having to boil it first or add iodine tablets, which can alter the taste.
How To Pick Out A Water Filter
When shopping for filters, the first thing to know is that there's a difference between regular water filters and water purifiers. A water filter gets rid of bacteria and protozoa but not viruses. A full-on purifier, on the other hand, treats all three. In North America, viruses don't pose a major threat when camping; however, if you're traveling in developing countries, a water purifier is the best bet. Keep in mind that neither will desalinate the water, so if you're camping at the beach, you'll still need to bring your own water. In the list below, I've included a mix of both filters and purifiers.
Once you've decided between a filter and a purifier, think about the design you want. Traditional filters and purifiers use pumps, but there are also types you can push down, hang from trees, or simply fill and go. Some even operate like a straw that you can put directly into a lake or river. Just keep their capacity in mind. If you're only filling for yourself and you're close to a water source, 15 to 32 ounces (roughly the size of a standard water bottle) is sufficient. If you have multiple people or your camp is far from the water source, on the other hand, you'll need a system with a larger reservoir (typically, a gravity filter would be best).
How To Clean Camping Water Filters
Most water filters have cartridges or filter components that need replacing. Check the life of the filter (usually rated in liters or gallons) to determine how frequently it needs to be changed. There are also several ways you can extend the life of your filter. Each brand has different guidelines, so it's important to read the manufacturer's instructions carefully. In addition to their care guidelines, Backpacker magazine suggests these best practices:
- Look for clean, mud-free water when using your filter. This reduces the strain on the cartridge and helps extend its life.
- After gathering the most mud-free water you can find, let it sit overnight so whatever solids remain can settle to the bottom. This keeps the biggest chunks out.
- After each trip, rinse the filter with diluted chlorine (roughly one capful of bleach per one quart of water). Check the manufacturer instructions to confirm it's OK for your particular model.
- Periodically use a toothbrush to gently clean the filter (check the manufacturer guidelines for this one, too).
Additionally, some filters can be backwashed by pumping clean water back the other direction. Check your user guide for device-specific guidelines.
Based on all of this, I've made a list below of the best water filters for camping in each category. Take a look to find the one that fits your adventures best.
1. The Best Pump Filter
Capacity: 14 ounces
Cartridge life: 2,000 liters; (carbon disc: 500 liters) (Replacements available)
What's great about it: This traditional pump water filter for camping completely purifies the water too, removing more than 99% of bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. It has an inline pump with a 5-foot hose that attaches to a port at the bottom of the bottle. On top of that, there's a failsafe mechanism that prevents it from operating when the filter needs replacing, so you'll never risk contaminated water. It's easy to operate, according to fans, and comes in black, blue, orange, silver, and rose gold color options.
2. The Best Push-Down Filter
Capacity: 24 ounces
Cartridge life: 250 liters (Replacements available)
What's great about it: Instead of a traditional pump, you operate this clever water filter by simply pushing down on the top like a French press. Within eight seconds, your water is completely filtered and purified, removing more than 99% of bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. You can drink the newly purified water straight from the bottle with its ventilated, fast-flowing spout. The bottle itself is constructed with durable materials (polypropylene, food-grade silicone, and ABS plastic), and it has ergonomic grip pads for comfort.
3. The Best Integrated Filter
Capacity: 25 ounces
Cartridge life: 740 liters (Replacements available)
What's great about it: The awesome thing about this integrated water filter is that you don't have to do any pumping or pressing — just fill up the bottle and go. The built-in filter purifies that water, removing more than 99% of all bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. Additionally, it has a flip lid over the spout that keeps the mouth clean and prevents it from getting contaminated. "Many of the others I have tried have great systems for cleaning the water, but do not cover the part that goes into your mouth," one reviewer pointed out. "So, the water is clean, but your lips touch parts that end up getting dirty." Not the case with this clever device.
4. The Best Gravity Filter
Capacity: 70 ounces
Cartridge life: 1,500 liters (Replacements available)
What's great about it: If you want to be able to filter larger quantities of water with almost no effort, this gravity water filter is one of the best water filtration systems for camping out there. Its easy design leverages gravity to do all of the work for you. Simply fill it with water, hang it from a tree or other post, and connect it to your water bottle. It will remove over 99% of all bacteria and protozoa (though not viruses). The universal bottle cap adapter fits with Nalgenes, Klean Kanteens, CamelBaks, and others, as well as Platypus bottles. Just note that it doesn't come with a water bottle included.
5. The Best Ultra-Light System
Capacity: 32 ounces
Cartridge life: 378,500 liters
What's great about it: Whether you're into backpacking or you just want the lightest, most compact system out there, this ultra-light backpacking water filter is the way to go. It only weighs 2 ounces, and it's small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. The durable water-holding pouch rolls up, so it doesn't hog up space in your pack, and it comes with a drinking straw, spare gasket, and cleaning plunger. In addition to camping, it's a great addition to any emergency preparedness kit. This one doesn't have a replacement filter, but since its cartridge life is almost 200 times longer than the others, this is a moot point. The drawback is that this one doesn't filter viruses.
6. The Best Straw Filter
Capacity: Not applicable
Filter life: 1,000 liters
What's great about it: I personally have two of these straw-style water filters — one in my camping box and one in my car — and though I've never had to use either of them, I'm always glad they're there. The 2-ounce straw is pretty much the smallest, most lightweight all-in-one out there. It weighs the same as the Sawyer system, but it doesn't have to be attached anything, so the overall system is more compact. The drawback, of course, is that it can't collect anything. But it does let you conveniently suck directly out of a lake, stream, river, or other water source, filtering as you drink. Just keep in mind that it doesn't protect from viruses.
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