Quick Guide To Choosing A Camping Water Filter

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When I returned to camping, I knew I needed to catch up with the latest in cleaning water in the wild. And here is what I learned are the best ways.

Camping water filters clean the water by trapping things that make you sick like bacteria. Water purification clean the water by killing the microbial dangers. However, most consumer-grade filters only remove bacteria and protozoa. They do not remove chemicals, heavy metals or viruses. Purification will not eliminate chemicals or heavy metals. But as long as your filter removes bacteria and protozoa, this should be sufficient for North America.

But there’s many different types of water filters and each has its pros and cons.

How Do Camping Water Filters Work

Water filters work by putting a physical barrier between the bad water supply and your clean water container. Most camping water filters such as the Sawyer work like your kitchen strainer. They have thin sheets of plastic with very small holes in them. The holes are smaller than viruses, bacteria or protozoa or dirt for that matter. Even if you start with pulling your water out of a mud pit when you push the water through the barrier on the other side will appear clearwater. However, the holes are still big enough for some viruses to get through. My instructor told me that in North America we shouldn’t have to worry about these super-tiny viruses. Filament-only filters also don’t protect you from heavy metals or other chemicals that might be in the water. You would need additional filter components such as activated charcoal to assist with this. Yet again, in North America, while backpacking in the woods you shouldn’t have to worry about the heavy metals or chemicals either. This would be a problem if you were needing to consistently fetch water from a storm drain in an urban environment.

Why Do We Need To Filter Water

Water is essential for life. In most survival situations, the highest priority is locating water. Even before finding shelter. This is because in most survival situations we won’t be there long. We might already be dehydrated. and desperately need a drink of water. We need to filter any found water. Because even the clearest mountain stream is full of things that can cause us harm. At the very least can give you a case of diarrhea out on the trail or worse. Here is the most sobering statistic I can show you about the dangers of dirty water in the world.

“Water-associated infectious diseases claim up to 3.2 million lives each year, approximately 6% of all deaths globally.” From Journal of Engineering Science and Technology.

What Do Camping Water Filters Remove

Check with the packaging of your specific filter, but most will remove almost 100% of viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and microplastics. according to the NOAA microplastics AR plastic smaller than 5 millimeters. they used to be very popular in cosmetics. but our band now. And as you expect you would not want to consume any microplastics. Most common water filters will remove most of the naturally occurring stuff that can make you sick, they will not remove any heavy metals or chemicals that might be in the water. There are water filters for campers that can remove these nasty bits as well but are intended more for use in disaster situations. Such as after an earthquake or tornado in an urban environment.

How To Clean A Camping Water Filter

Because your filter actually physically traps the junk that is in the water, eventually you must clean it out. check the instructions for your specific filter on how to do this. An example of how you do this with the Sawyer is to flush clean water from the bottom of the Sawyer back through the top. It will come with a syringe to assist with this.

Why Carry A Filter On A Hiking or Camping Trip

You should bring a filter and purification tablets with you on any hiking or camping trip. even if you are camping in a location with a reliable potable water source. standard car camping trip the filter and purification tablets are purely for backup in case of emergency. However, if you are hiking or backpacking you may not be able to carry as much water as you need. The filters in purification tablets guarantee you that you can convert almost any water source (remember you most likely can’t clean water full of chemical pollutants) that you find into drinkable water.

Why You Should Carry Both Filter And Purification Tablets

We want to carry both the filter and purification tablets as insurance. Filters are simple to use quick to deploy. They also rarely add any additional flavors to the water. Water purification tablets, on the other hand, while being simple to use. They do take time to work. When I took my training class we had to wait an hour for the tablets to clean the water. Water purification tablets also add a taste to the water. I found the taste to be similar to drinking pool water.

Why Can’t We Just Boil The Water

Boiling water is an effective way of purifying water. however, we want to make boiling water our last option for purifying water. It’s our Fail-Safe mechanism. The reason for this is that boiling water is not always practical nor simple. For example, I live in the prairie of North Texas. It is not always easy to find firewood while outside. And you might be in an area with a burn ban. Building a fire is not always easy. In particular, if you’re out of practice. Meanwhile a filter and what if your purification tablets will work even in the middle of the desert.

But if you want to learn how to boil water while camping then check out our article.

Filter Options

Name Size Weight Average Cost
Sawyer Mini 4 x 3 x 8 inches 3.52 ounces $24
Lifestraw 8.7 x 1 x 1 inches 2.08 ounces $20
Katadyn Hiker Microfilter Water Filter 9 x 8 x 3 inches 1.2 pounds $50
MSR Guardian 5.2 x 5 x 12.2 inches 2.19 pounds $350


Sawyer Mini

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It comes with a bag to capture water. But the bag is a pain to use. Water pressure pushes on the bag making it hard to fill up. And it’s not much water. You can improvise a scoop by cutting off the bottom of a used plastic water bottle. A third-party bag like Platypus allows you to carry much more water and easier to fill up. The device is the filter. So once it’s used up, have to throw away. And you need to flush it out. However, the Sawyer fits standard water bottles. Many hikers use a Smart Water bottle with their Sawyer because they’re the largest bottled water bottle.



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Lifestraw Has the most brand recognition of any portable water filter. And it does work very well. However, it has some significant limitations. These limitations are why you will probably want another option for your camping or hiking adventures. But it’s great to keep a LifeStraw on hand as an emergency option. the biggest limitation of a LifeStraw is that as a personal use item. If you are out camping or hiking with a group The each person would need their own life straw. There’s no practical way to use it for a group. Or to capture a lot of water. It also must be able to put the straw in the water source for you to suck the water out. This is also not always practical while out camping or hiking.

Katadyn Hiker Microfilter Water Filter

Katadyn Hiker Microfilter Water Filter

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The Katadyn is a great option to make clean water for a group. It is also easy to capture the water, to begin with. This is because the filter comes with a long plastic hose that you can put in the water. And then as you pump it it will suck the water up the hose and push it through the filter and down a second hose into your container. Another benefit of the Katadyn filter is that you can replace the filter. Does she don’t have to throw it away once a filter has reached its maximum capacity. The biggest downside to the Katadyn filter is that it is bulkier and slightly heavier than the Sawyer.

MSR Guardian

MSR Guardian

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The MSR Guardian is military grade. Specifically, they call out on their packaging “Meets NSF protocol P248 testing standard of the U.S. military”. And, as a result, this comes with a hefty price tag. But if you are going to go camping with a large group or to assist in a disaster recovery situation then you should definitely check out the MSR Guardian.

Price Vs Weight Vs Use

When determining what filter to buy you need to consider the price versus the weight versus how you want to use it. For example if you are backpacking in North America, the most popular option is the Sawyer. It’s affordable. If it’s any water bottle. and is easy to use. However for a group setting where you want to have a lot of water quickly but without breaking the bank then the Katadyn is a great option.

Keep The Water Filter From Freezing

It’s important to remember that your water filters have a physical barrier inside of them. And that after each use you should do your best job I’m out. However, there will always be at least a few droplets of water still left in the filter. This is why you never want your water filter to freeze. If it freezes then the water filter will most likely be compromised. If you’re camping and expect freezing temperatures then keep the filter in your sleeping bag with you. This should keep it from freezing and rendering it unusable.

Home Use

It’s easy to keep water for a couple of days on hand. In particular, once you separate the needs for hygiene with thirst. For example, we always keep bottles of ice tea in the fridge for me. And my wife stocks up on her favorite diet soda. We can drink our tea and soda with our meals.

And save the bottled water for cooking and cleaning. But what if you’re without water for several days after a hurricane? the town water main breaks and they put a boil order in place? having a camping water filter on hand allows you to have access to a lot more water that’s already in your house.

For example, you could drain your hot water heater. This could have up to 70 gallons of extra water. While technically that water is already been treated, you might just want an extra piece of mind by pushing it through your camping filter before drinking it. I also keep a 5-gallon food-grade bucket on hand. This allows me to use it as a rain barrel for emergency use. While rain itself should be safe to drink, after having it stored for a while you still might just want to purify it just to be on the safe side

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