Most people worry about starving to death in the wilderness. As a backcountry hiker, I worry more about running out of water. You can survive without food for 30-40 days if you have enough clean water to drink. But without clean water, you can only live for around three days. In a survival situation, finding clean water is your first priority.
Here is a list of the Best Survival Water Filters
Survival Water Filter
You seriously would not believe the nasty stuff that shows up in tap water. Now think about what you could encounter in completely untreated water in the wilderness. Thankfully filter technology is more efficient and portable than ever before.
What to Look for in a Survival Water Filter
First of all, water filtration and purification are two different things. Methods of purification include boiling, distillation, and chemical treatment. Filtration on the other hand uses microfiltration to remove harmful contaminants.
In the wilderness, there are three main classes of organisms which typically contaminate water:
- Protozoan cysts
Filters can handle two of the three—bacteria and protozoa; you will need to either boil your water, treat it chemically, or purchase a filter which also includes purification technology to deal with the viruses. Be wary of filters which claim they can remove viruses! Pick a product you can trust. Also note that filters and purifiers are sometimes (incorrectly) marketed interchangeably. Please note the following reviews are for filters.
Features to Look For in a Survival Filter Include:
- Lightweight, compact, portable design
- A build that is easy to clean and maintain
- Filters with adequately tiny pore sizes to filter out even the smallest contaminants
- Speed of output (larger filters tend to produce more clean water faster, so this is typically a trade-off area)
- Removes 99% of bacteria and protozoa
- Meets or surpasses water filtration standards set by the EPA
Best Survival Water Filters
I decided to test out 7 of the top-rated water filters on Amazon.com to find out which would be best for hiking and camping as well as general survival use.
1. Survival Hax Water Filter: Hiking Filter with Travel Strap
The Survival Hax water filter is a highly rated, popular product on Amazon.com. As of the time of this review, more than 160 customers have given it an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars. It is a portable bottle ideal for camping or hiking, and includes an extra feature in the form of a 6-inch Paracord travel strap. You can buy it in the $30-$50 price range.
- Removes 99.9% of waterborne bacteria and protozoa
- The purifier straw can filter water at .1 microns
- Includes a Paracord travel strap which can be extended into more than 7 feet of rope
On the whole, I found this filter very easy to use (though not that easy to drink from), and in terms of portability, it’s great. There is a carbon filter you have to periodically replace (every couple of months), and it can get clogged, but this was not too major an issue. I did love the addition of the Paracord rope. It came in handy fixing an issue with my tent.
2. Acquapura: Budget Camping Filter
This water filter currently has more than 240 reviews on Amazon.com and an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s a budget filter; you can buy it for $20-$35. I found it for sale at the lower end of that price range.
- Ultra lightweight (just 2.12 ounces) and very compact
- Removes 99.9999% of bacteria and protozoa
- The design of the mouthpiece protects you from dust
I loved this one. The Acquapura is a pretty brilliant little device. Even if your backpack is stuffed full, you will have no problem cramming it in there. Since it weighs next to nothing, it is comfortable to carry and use. It is designed so that you can literally just put one end in dirty water (inside a bottle, or even just stick it directly into a lake) and suck on the other end and … voilá, you get clean water.
I have no real complaints here. Neither does anyone else—as of right now, there are no 1- or 2-star reviews, and almost all of them are 5 stars. You can’t beat the price!
3. Sawyer Products Mini Water Filtration System: Most Popular Lightweight Budget Filter
This is the most popular product I checked out. It has more than 2,630 customer reviews as of the time of this writing, with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. It is another budget option, and should run you between $20-$30. I actually got this one for less than I paid for the Acquapura.
- Ultra lightweight and compact: weighs just 2 ounces
- Comes with a handy drinking pouch you can put the unfiltered water in
- Removes 99.9999% of protozoa and bacteria
I can see why this one is more popular; it is honestly even better than the Acquapura. What I like more about the Sawyer system is that it comes with the squeeze pouch. You can use the straw directly in the water source (i.e. lake or river) or a water bottle, but the squeeze pouch makes it easier to drink. Just as the name indicates, you can squeeze on it to push the water up into your mouth, which stops you from having to suck on the straw. I have Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD), in other words, a lopsided jaw. Sucking on a straw can misalign my jaw and make my pain worse. The squeeze pouch spares me this grief.
Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System Video Review
4. Life Defender: Lightweight Budget Filter
This lightweight camping filter sells for $20-$35, and has been given 5 out of 5 stars by more than 60 customers. That makes it the most highly-rated filter on this list at the time of this writing.
- Removes 99.9% of bacteria and protozoa
- Ultra lightweight, compact design fits easily in any backpack
- Comes in two colors: blue or camo
- Drink directly through the straw
The Life Defender is incredibly easy to use. Water flow is good, and after you drink, you just blow to prevent clogging in the filter. The filter could be a bit sturdier, but I have no other complaints.
5. LifeStraw Family 1.0 Water Purifier: Family Filter
This is a family water filter which currently has more than 390 customer reviews on Amazon.com and an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. It is more expensive than the little backpack models I reviews above; you can buy it for $55-$90.
- Removes 99.9999$ of bacteria and 99.99% of protozoa
- Removes 99.999% of viruses (apparently)
- Can filter up to 4,750 gallons (that is enough clean drinking water to supply five people for three years)
- Portable and lightweight
This product is not all that easy to set up and use for the first time, but once I got the hang of it, I liked it. You could bring it camping, but I wouldn’t—the products I tested above are better for that. Apparently the LifeStraw can get rid of viruses too. I don’t see any purification technology listed, so I am not sure about this claim. But it did a great job as far as I could tell with the water I ran through it. So I have no doubt it is effective for bacteria and protozoa.
I won’t be taking this hiking or camping, but it is perfect for my family retreat.
LifeStraw Family 1.0 Water Purifier Video Review
6. Katadyn Vario Water Filter: Long-Life Filter
This is one of the most expensive filters I tested, and will run you between $80-$90. It is a popular purchase on Amazon.com, with more than 380 customers giving it an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars.
- This filter is built for fast operation: it can produce up to two quarts per minute
- A ceramic pre-filter is included to extend the life of the filter
- The carbon core is replaceable (and does great filtering out nasty flavors)
Compared to most of the products I tested here, this one is quite bulky and cumbersome. It took up a lot of room in my pack, and I found it unwieldy to use when I stopped to get some water from a stream and was trying to balance it on the slippery rocks. All of that said, it did work very well, admittedly. Still, I am not a big fan of the overall design. If I was worried that I would need a long-lasting solution in an extended emergency, though, this would be it.
Katadyn Vario Water Filter Video Review
7. Big Berkey BK4X2-CF: High Volume Filter
This is the most expensive filter that I tried, selling in the $220-$260 range. Despite the expense, it has more than 60 customer reviews, with a 4.5 out of 5 star average rating. Like the LifeStraw Family Filter, it was designed for your retreat, home, or long-term campsite.
- Constructed out of stainless steel, which makes it easy to maintain
- Reasonably portable
- Removes bacteria, protozoa, and chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, and VOCs
- Filter up to 15 gallons per day
I found this system easier to use than the LifeStraw, though it isn’t as portable and lightweight. I like that it can remove certain chemicals from water, and in terms of volume I was very pleased with what it was able to handle. The stainless steel is a big plus. I saw some customers complaining their water still didn’t taste good, but I didn’t notice this issue at all with mine.
Big Berkey BK4X2-CF Water Filter Video Review
Overall Best Choice: Sawyer Products Mini Water Filtration System
I had a great time testing out all these water filters, and all of them are excellent products. You could pick one blindfolded and get a powerful, long-lasting filter for clean water. My overall favorite though was definitely the Sawyer Products Mini Water Filtration System. For camping and hiking, you cannot beat its lightweight, compact design, and the squeeze bag is an awesome addition. For your home or retreat, I’d recommend the Big Berkey for ease of use or the LifeStraw Family 1.0 Water Purifier for a budget option.