The Best Water Filter for Camping — How to Choose

water pouring in clear drinking glass

Identifying the best water filter for camping can be difficult. Getting a fresh supply of water is an ever-present issue in the backcountry. You want to make sure your water filter helps, rather than hinders, your enjoyment. But you don’t want to overspend on a filter that’s too complex or get one that leaves you thirsty between water sources.

Best Water Filter Comparison Table

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You should also be able to pick one that can handle all of the dangers present in the water you’re drinking. In the US, viruses aren’t your primary concern, but there are still protozoa to account for. Meanwhile, a chemical cleaner that could kill any germ in your water will leave behind dirt and debris. The best water filter for camping is one that balances the right amount of water you need with clearing out anything that might cause you harm.

Our Best Water Filters for Camping

Based on the criteria we outlined, here are the best available water filters for camping.

Aquamira Water Treatment Drops

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Aquamira Water Treatment Drops purify up to 30 gallons of water with one purchase, and improve the taste of water at the same time. By using chlorine dioxide, Aquamira drops kill pathogens without creating potentially harmful side effects. Outdoor Gear Lab gave Aquamira drops its “Top Pick” for being both light and economical. It effectively eliminated all microorganisms in the water, although it took some time to take full effect. On Amazon, customers rated the Aquamira Water Treatment Drops 4.4 stars out of 5.

  • Price: $
  • Filter type: Chemical

Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets

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Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets are some of the most lightweight water treatment devices on the list. One tablet can purify two liters of water, including nearly every pathogen found in the United States — viruses included. Outdoor Gear Lab took issue with the two-liter volume, especially as many containers come in one or three-liter volumes. They also did not recommend it as a main water purification source, instead suggesting you bring them to accompany a filter system. Amazon customers rated Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets 4.5 stars out of 5.

  • Price: $
  • Filter type: Chemical

Katadyn BeFree

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The Katadyn BeFree holds the distinction of being Outside magazine’s best filter for backpacking. Its size and ease of use make it especially useful, and the filter comes in 0.6-liter, 1-liter, and 3-liter sizes. That means it can also be the best water filter for camping since the three-liter option allows you to purify plenty of water for a group or for a day. The BeFree is effective against microorganisms down to 0.1 microns, but Outside mentions that its water flow is where it stands out. The BeFree has an output of 2 quarts per minute, meaning you can fill the 1-quart size in just 30 seconds. Amazon customers gave the Katadyn BeFree 3.8 out of 5 stars.

  • Price: $$
  • Filter type: Microfilter

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

LifeStraw Personal Camping Emergency Preparedness

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The LifeStraw is possibly the simplest filter on this list. It is just a tube with a filter in it. You put one end in the water source and drink from the other, just like a straw. However, this simplicity loses it some points regarding versatility. While it can easily filter out any particulates and nearly every pathogen found in water in North America, you can’t pump any water for later. However, as a personal water filter or as a backup emergency device, it is highly valuable. It is significantly cheaper and lighter than other filters on the market as well. Amazon reviewers gave the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter 4.6 out of 5 stars.

  • Price: $$
  • Filter type: Microfilter

MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter

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The MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter is one of two gravity filters on this list and a close competitor to the Platypus GravityWorks. It comes in a two-liter and a four-liter size, making it ideal for both camping groups and backpackers. It filters quickly as well, at 1.75 liters per minute. So, no matter which size you pick, you can have drinkable water in no time. According to Outdoor Gear Lab, it’s almost impossible to choose between this and the GravityWorks. The only difference is that the MSR bag materials are slightly less durable than before. Customers on Amazon gave the MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter 5.0 out of 5 stars, although there were only 7 reviews.

  • Price: $$$
  • Filter type: Microfilter

MSR Guardian

MSR Guardian Purifier Pump

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The MSR Guardian is the most expensive on the list, but also a powerhouse among other filters. It is a pump-style filter that can treat even the smallest viruses using medical-grade fibers. The Guardian can filter over 10,000 liters per filter and cleans 2.5 liters every minute using the pump. It is also unique in that it cleans itself with every pump, making sure the filter stays clean of sediment for longer. Because of the high price point, it’s better to save the MSR Guardian for large groups and international trips. The filter can trap viruses that aren’t even present in North American backwaters. Amazon customers rated the MSR Guardian 4.3 stars out of 5.

  • Price: $$$
  • Filter type: Ultrafilter

MSR Miniworks EX

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The MSR Miniworks EX is a pump-powered filter that can clean around 2,000 liters per cartridge. MSR markets it as a lightweight filter made for backcountry travel and heavy use. Its carbon and ceramic element cleans “worst-case” water of microorganisms and pesticides. The MSR filters one liter per minute and cleans easily. Outdoor Gear Lab found that the Miniworks EX was heavier than others, but could filter more than twice as much water as similarly-priced pumps. That makes it a much better fit for camping than for long-distance hikes. On Amazon, customers rated the MSR Miniworks EX 4.0 out of 5 stars.

  • Price: $$
  • Filter type: Microfilter

MSR Trailshot

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MSR’s Trailshot is a smaller and more lightweight cousin to the Miniworks EX. The Trailshot allows you to purify one liter every minute and drink directly from a water source if necessary. Outside magazine advertised it as “the only water filter you need” as a result of its small size and ease of use. The Outside reviewer said even the newest camper could use the Trailshot in minutes without needing instructions. The Trailshot stashes easily into small pockets and filters out any particulate and pathogen found in the American backcountry. While its size makes it ideal for long hikes, its ease of use and speed also make it a good option for any beginner camper. Reviewers on Amazon gave the MSR Trailshot 4.4 stars out of 5.

  • Price: $$
  • Filter type: Microfilter

Platypus GravityWorks 4.0 Liter

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Platypus’s GravityWorks 4.0 Liter is a pump-free filtration system that works well for large groups and large quantities of water. It can filter up to 1.75 liters every minute just through the force of gravity. It could be the best water filter for camping because it saves you time to set up. Each filter can clean up to 1,500 liters as well. The Platypus GravityWorks is Outdoor Gear Lab’s highest rated water filter with a 90 out of 100 points and the Editors’ Choice award. They found it useful for any number of people, and it was far from too bulky for even a solo hiker to manage. Customers who reviewed this filter on Amazon rated it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

  • Price: $$
  • Filter type: Microfilter

Sawyer Squeeze

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The Sawyer Squeeze is one of the best options for the backcountry, according to Outdoor Gear Lab. The Sawyer Squeeze works by filling the included pouch with water from the source, then squeezing it through a filter. It weighs just three ounces and can be rinsed and sterilized for nearly endless use. It can even be installed inline onto a hydration pack such as the Camelbak, meaning you only need to fill up your pack and drink. That lets the Squeeze work as you need it, saving you time on the trail. Reviewers on Amazon rated the Sawyer Squeeze 4.5 stars out of 5.

  • Price: $$
  • Filter type: Microfilter

Choosing the Best Water Filter for Camping

When you’re out on the trail, you’re not going to have a water fountain or even anything resembling a well for fresh water. It’s important to have the best water filter for camping to keep your water clean. It’s hard to know if a water source is clean, even if it looks like it might be. Water can carry some pathogens, such as giardia, E. coli, and salmonella. Depending on where you’re hiking, you could also be at risk for viruses like hepatitis A and norovirus.

Of course, not drinking water isn’t an option. Every day, you need 2.2 to 3 liters of water, and more if you’re hiking. Hydration is crucial even after light exertion, and if you’re trying to put in a full day of hiking, you’ll need plenty of water to replenish. Dehydration will start to take you out of the game pretty quickly. You’ll notice things like cramps, headaches, and nausea. And since it’s better to drink slowly rather than quickly, you’ll want to be able to bring your water with you. That’s why you should have a purification or filtration source with you when you’re out in the wilderness.

Different types of water filters

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There are a lot of different types of water filter you can take with you. They each work differently. You should know how each one works so you can pick which one is the best water filter for camping wherever you plan on going. There are five types of water filters, although there’s disagreement about how to classify them. Outdoor Gear Lab organizes theirs based on mechanics (how you use it), while Outside focuses on the cleaning process. The five types according to Outside are chemical, ultraviolet, adsorptive, microfilter, and ultrafilter.

Chemical and UV filters

Chemical water purifiers are the most versatile, and the easiest to run out of. Since they purify and don’t filter your water, it can take a lot of the chemicals to clean dirty water. However, they kill the viruses that many filters cannot catch. Ultraviolet purifiers work by zapping pathogens with UV light. Again, this includes the viruses that filters let slip through. They do have a significant room for user error, however. They agitate the water, and it can be difficult to make sure UV rays hit all of the water. Neither of these methods clear out particulates. In fact, UV purifiers have seen some considerable scrutiny for this fact. So, using an additional filtration system or a pre-filter is usually the best option.

Other filters

Adsorptive filters work by attracting particulates and pathogens to an attractive filter. That attracts particles and microbes of all sizes, meaning it even collects viruses. These filters can fill quickly, allowing pathogens through, so be sure to switch your filter regularly. Microfilter and ultrafilters are very similar in function and results. By forcing water through a membrane, you can filter out all but the smallest particulates and pathogens. The only difference is that microfilters let viruses through while ultrafilters trap nearly everything.

Which works best?

As with most camping gear, each different type of water purifier or filter has its strengths and weaknesses. There’s no one type of filter that is the best water filter for camping every time. Chemical and UV purifiers can reliably kill all pathogens but need time to do it. They also don’t clear out any dirt or other particulates, and so may need to be paired with a filtration system for best practices. Filters can fill up quickly and lose their efficacy. For microfilters and ultrafilters, especially those that use a pump system, a full filter can be almost impossible to pump water through. It’s easy to tell when they’re full, but you should have a spare with you. They’re also heavier than chemical purifiers, for example. Thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail preferred the light weight and long life of purifier drops.

How We Reviewed

Our contenders for the best water filter for camping were from a variety of best-of lists. These came from Outside magazine, Section Hiker, and Clever Hiker. We selected our best water filters based on price, ease of use, how well it worked, and what type of filter it was. The filters aren’t ranked based on quality but are presented here in alphabetical order.

We also took customer reviews into consideration because one of the best ways to determine the value of a purchase is to see how people feel after owning it.

Overall price range

The best water filter for camping is one that gives you the most purified water for your money. Depending on the type of filter, the cost can range widely. For a chemical purifier like Aquatabs, the cost can be as low. For a high-end filter like the MSR Guardian, you could expect to pay much more. Of course, for the lowest price, you will be able to purify less water for your purchase, while the highest-priced MSR Guardian lasts for thousands of liters. Filters and purifiers on the low end of the price scale usually leave something out, whether particulates or viruses, while the higher end filters will collect everything.

Picking the Best Water Filter for Camping

Based objectively on effectiveness and lifespan, the best water filter for camping is the MSR Guardian. It has an enormous rate of filtration and cleans out even the smallest viruses. It also lasts for 10,000 liters which, for everything it does, is much higher than other smaller filters. However, with its weight and its price tag, the Guardian is not a guaranteed pick. If you’re setting up a base camp in a foreign country, the Guardian should be your pick. But for a week-long hike or even a months-long hike, you’re better off getting something cheaper and lighter that only filters out what you need it to.

For that, it depends on how many people you’re camping with. The Sawyer Squeeze has such a long lifespan that it’s hard to go wrong. If you’re an ultralight hiker with an eye for efficiency, or you just want to keep your costs down, the Squeeze is a classic. But if you want to take your time, or see yourself hiking with more people, it’s hard to say no to the experts at Outdoor Gear Lab. The Platypus GravityWorks 4.0 Liter powers through high volumes of water in a short amount of time. It will keep you and your friends hydrated without losing you too much time at a water source.

Boiling It Down

If neither of those appeals to you or you need a simple filter that works straight from the source, try the MSR Trailshot. You can drink straight from the source, meaning you don’t have to wait to quench your thirst. Also, the Trailshot is easily used to fill a bottle. It’s hard to pick just one best water filter for camping, but it’s hard to go wrong with even the simplest options on this list.


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