Whether you're out for a single day or many, a personal water filtration system is a must for any hiker or backpacker. As there are many different types on the market, the best for your needs may not be the same as your friend's. As you shop for a backpacking water filter, take into account not only the volume of water you want to purify, but the means by which it will be purified and any labor involved in the process. We'll review the major criteria involved in your purchase: size, water volume, type of filter and cost.
Water Filter Size
Backpacking water filters range in size from the size of a large felt tip market to a small camp stove or hydration bag. This will definitely be a concern if you're backpacking for multiple days and want to keep pack weight down. Keep in mind that smaller filters generally handle a lower volume of water than their larger pump-style or gravity counterparts. Sometimes the trade-off in weight or size is worthwhile if you need to filter water for two of more people on your trip. A handy tip for sharing pack weight on longer trips with multiple people is to have a different person carry the water filter each day.
Water Filter Type
The most popular types of backpacking water filters are infrared sterilization tools, bottle-based filters, pumps and gravity filters. Infrared sterilization tools are light pens that give off infrared light and kill water-born bacteria in the process. You hold the pen in the water for different lengths of time based on volume of water. They are compact and easy to use, yet do run the risk of battery failure. Carrying extra batteries is a must. Minimal effort is required but sterilizing large quantities of water is tedious and best limited to a standard size Nalgene bottle at a time. The most popular active carbon filters are bottle-based and filter water as you drink. These are also lightweight and easy to use.
Like the sterilization pen systems, the bottle-based systems are best for each person in a group filtering their own water. Cartridges must be periodically replaced. Check with the manufacturer specifications on recommended frequency. If you use a bottle-based system, you'll still likely want a larger pump-style system for meal preparation.
Pump-style water filter systems work wither in conjunction with a chemical-based purifier or larger carbon or ceramic filter. While some physical labor is involved with the pumping, larger volumes of water can be treated with efficiency. The pump pulls the water through the purification filter, removing parasites and bacteria, and then fills an external water vessel like a water bottle, bag or cooking pot with the clean water. Cartridges must be periodically replaced, filter parts cleaned and solutions (if chlorine-based) replaced to ensure proper purification. These filters are larger than bottle-based systems but can serve an entire group's needs for a trip from personal water supply to cooking and cleaning with less effort than a sterilization pen or bottle-based personal system.
Gravity filters are perhaps the most lightweight and simple of all the backpacking water filters. They work by filling a bag from a water source and then hanging the bag. Gravity does it job by pulling the water down through a filter and into an external container. Filter cartridges must be periodically replaced, but gravity filters are lightweight and easy to pack, making them an ideal choice for longer trips where free-flowing water is abundant.
Backpacking water filters begin around $40 and can run upwards of $100. In addition to the actual filtration system cost, don't forget to factor in the long-term costs of ownership including replacement purification solution, filters and accessories.
Article Written By Erika Napoletano
Erika Napoletano is a full-time professional writer and social media consultant based in Denver, Colorado. Her skills include experience as a formerly licensed securities professional and extensive real estate work including over 18 months in hard money lending. Recently featured in the Denver Business Journal for her social media expertise, Erika is a prominent figure in the Denver and Colorado social media communities.