The Best Travel Water Filter and Purifiers
If you’re planning a tour where you won’t see a tap for days, a water filter is a critical piece of equipment. Here The Best Travel Water Filter and Purifiers
We’ve all been there “Can you drink the water?” And well nothing breaks your touring plans like a few days hugging a toilet or even worse a trip to the local hospital.
So if you’re planning a bike tour where you won’t see a tap for days or hitting Asia, Africa or Latin America a water filter is a critical piece of equipment.
The water filter industry has developed massively in the last few years and there are now a bewildering array of considerations to make and styles to choose from. So we’ve done the work to make sense of it all for you.
As a cyclist you can find yourself purifying everything from your Tanzanian hotel bathroom water to a muddy Indian Canal.
The filter itself does most of the work and gets most but unfortunately not all microscopic life out of your water. The basic situation is there are big micro bugs like Amoeba and Bacteria that are relatively easy to filter out but viruses are just so small that it’s a technological challenge to filter them out and your filter won’t catch them.
The good news is that 99% of the bad stuff in water are amoeba and bacteria so usually that’s enough. If you do want to stop viruses then you need a purifier. Purifiers come in many forms, chemical, UV light and super-fine filters being the most common all of which have their pros and cons.
All the microscopic stuff you’re cleaning out of your water is slowly blocking the microscopic pores in your filter, and that means filtration gets slower and harder. Some filters try to send it back out the way it came with a back-flush. These can be either built in or come as a syringe, and extra item to carry.
Our first water filter was a pump. You pump water through a filter and get as much water as you want when you want it. They’re usually a bit bulkier and a bit more effort, but give you maximum control. Pumps also, well, suck.
We don’t mean all that hard work pumping, or actually maybe we do, but they also suck up the water from anywhere, direct from the stream, that bucket or your spare coke bottle. This frees you from the need to have just the right bag.
MSR Guardian Purifier Water Filter
- Filters 1 litre in about 40 seconds
- Weighs about 0.5 kg
The MSR Guardian is the ultimate Pump but it doesn’t come cheap. It’s sturdy, self cleaning and most importantly it purifies. If you want to weep at the cash register once then reliably have clean water for month after month, year after year, no matter what, this is worth considering.
MSR MiniWorks EX Purifier System
So you want a pump but you don’t want to pay $350 for the Guardian. The miniworks does the basic job of cleaning water under most circumstances but it’s not going to purify.
Instead to earn its `”purifier” label it comes with chlorine tables which of course mean your’re going to need to keep buying them. It’s perfect when you mostly don’t need to purify then adopt a two part solution of tablet or UV for the rare circumstances you do.
Katadyn Hiker Pro
- Filters 1 litre in about 50 seconds
- Weighs about 0 4 kg
Katadyn is MSR’s rival and the hiker pro is a decent budget option. It has a reputation of being great for filtering clear water but lacking a back flush system but can clog up on murky water. It’s doesn’t purify.
Squeeze is the new pump, basically instead of pumping you fill an input bag and squeeze the bag and out comes clean water, simple. The down side is high pressure in plastic bags is a disaster waiting to happen.
- Filters 1 lt in about 40 seconds
- Weighs about 0.6 kg including back-flush syringe.
The Sawyer squeeze is the classic squeeze device. It does what it does well, and reliably on long trips but it doesn’t purify but its rated down to 0.1 micron which good for a non-purifying device.
The device itself has a reputation as being solid and reliable, the biggest problem is the input plastic bags, the things you physically squeeze and they’re what’s likely to break then your device is useless.
At least they’re light, bring spares. It comes with a special syringe to back-flush the device, and on longer tours your should carry it.
Gravity filters take away all the hard pumping and squeezing and instead with gravity filters water flows from a top bag through the filter into a bottom bag.
They’re great for setting up at your campsite and just leaving them do their own thing but because they take more time they’re less good for that quick stop by a stream to refill your water bottles.
Sawyer 1 Gallon Gravity System
- Filters 1 litre in about 2 minutes
- Weighs about 0.12 kg
If you want a gravity system that will fill your bottles at your campsite that can double as a squeeze system for a quick “give me my water now” refill on the road then this is your ideal product.
Sawyer finally realised that other companies were providing adaptors to turn this squeeze filters into gravity filters and so they produced their own. You get 1 Gallon (3.78 L) water bladder to hang from a tree or your handlebars, with the hose at the bottom that connects to a variation of the standard Sawyer Squeeze Mini with an output hose to whatever you’re trying to fill.
Like any gravity system you’re dependent on a gravity style bladder with an exit hose at the bottom and they can break the road, you probably should bring spares but they’re light.
They claim to filter to 0.1 micron which is on the line for viruses but they don’t promise virus removal. You might want to carry tables or a UV pen if you’re expecting some seriously bad water.
- Filters 1 litre in about 40 seconds
- Weighs about 0.3 kg
The Platypus GravitWorks lacks the flexibility of the Sawyer system but if all you want is a gravity system, then it’s a better gravity system than a Squeeze that also does gravity – it’s faster and more durable. Even if you buy the Sawyer system, buy the Platypus bags.
UV light kills bacteria and viruses. Eventually. So the idea is to stick a UV light in your water and wait about an hour and everything should be dead.
Pros is they purify without chemicals, Cons is the time, no guarantee of making it to the deepest darkest corners of your water bladder and it adds another device to your already crowded device charging list.
SteriPEN Adventurer Opti
- Filters 1 lt in about 90 seconds
- Weighs about 0.2 kg
A UV product like SteriPen should kill all bugs in your water but it’s not going to clean dirty water. It’s great for bottles and smaller bladders but it may not purify everything in the biggest water bladers and it takes time.
A full charge (4-6 hours) should last for about 30 – 50 L of water. One bulb is supposed to last about 8000 L. So if you need to purify and don’t want to put chemicals in your drinking water and you think you’ll have reliable electricity then it’s a good option.
It can also be part of a strategy where you filter with something else most of the time and you want an occasional full purify option for the worst water.
Bottles are popular with cyclists but not necessarily the first choice for touring. But if you really want a bottle or want something multi use for travelling, hiking and cycling then there are some interesting options.
They’re quick, you drink straight from the bottle using the energy of sucking or squeezing. But they’re only for drinking and are one per person.
- Filters 1 lt in about 30 seconds
- Weighs about 0.5 kg
The Grayl Geopress has some serious pros and cons. First it purifies. In fact it has the highest quality purification of any item on the list, and also successfully removes heavy metals from truly bad water.
That makes it an option if you really care about your water quality, particular ly when you trust your night water source but just want to purify road water or when you want a two device filter and purify strategy.
The cons are it’s a bit on the heavy side and the cartridges are rated to about 350 uses of the 750 ml bottle or maybe 200 litres, and they cost about $30 each. Long term that adds up plus Grayl is a new startup so there’s no guarantee on future cartridge replacements.
- Pretty much instant
- Weights about 50 grams
The BeFree is a reliable lightweight bottle, that filters but doesn’t purify. The filter is essentially a super bottle top that screws into a bottle and then squeeze and drink.
And it’s standard enough that when, not if, the original bottle breaks your can just switch to another regular bottle. It should last about 1000 litres.