Best Portable Water Filters 2020 | Top 8 - Outdoors Magic

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Best Portable Water Filters 2020 | Top 8

Whether you're travelling the globe or hiking a long-distance trail, these are the top portable water filters to carry in your pack

The choice of water filters and purifiers available today is pretty bewildering. That’s why we’ve made it easy for you, by rounding up the best portable water filters on the market. But why do you need a water filter at all?

Well, whether you’re travelling abroad or heading out on a multi-day backpacking trip, it’s vital to stay hydrated. The same applies if you’re planning a canoeing adventure, going hiking or even trail running. And if you’re unlikely to have access to clean drinking water, filtering or purifying your water makes a lot of sense. It certainly beats having to lug around litres of fresh water in bottles or hydration bladders. Using a filter is also a lot safer than drinking straight from water sources. After all, even if that gurgling mountain stream looks clean, it’s impossible to tell whether it is safe to drink simply by looking at it.

A wide range of treatment systems can be used to make water safe. These work in various different ways to get rid of some or all of the five types of contaminants that can affect water sources. The big five are:

  • Turbidity – muddy, thick or cloudy water, caused by sand, mud, silt or other particles floating in the water
  • Parasites – tapeworms and stuff, but also disease-causing protozoa such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia
  • Bacteria – microscopic organisms that can cause disease, including E coli
  • Viruses – tiny waterborne nasties that are usually the cause of ‘Delhi belly’, ‘Montezuma’s revenge’ and other similar conditions that can ruin any adventure. More serious diseases such as Hepatitis A and Polio can also be contracted from viruses in dirty water
  • Chemicals – streams and rivers can carry harmful pollutants, from agricultural pesticides to heavy metals associated with mining and industry.

Luckily, you probably won’t have to deal with all of these issues in the great outdoors, even if you’re travelling in a remote area. Different places carry different risks. A little research should help you figure out what kinds of contaminants you need to worry about. That will help you decide the right filter or water treatment system to carry with you.

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Best Portable Water Filters

In most cases, a portable water filter is a good option. The best filters usually have a few different elements in order to safely get rid of the most common bugs and nasties. Usually, this includes a coarse filter, as well as microfiltration. Some also have a carbon filter to remove chemicals.

They work in different ways too. Some filters use a pump mechanism, others work by squeezing or sucking water through tiny tubes. But they’re generally portable and relatively cheap as well as being quick and easy to use. That’s why they are now the go-to option for most adventurers. You’ll find our top picks below.

BEST BUY: Katadyn Befree Water Filter

Price: £32
Weight: 67g
More info: katadyn.com

The design of the Katadyn BeFree Water Filtration System is deceptively simple. It consists of a sports bottle-type top that screws onto a squeezy Hydrapack plastic pouch. Hidden in the top, however, is a hollow fibre filter and EZ-clean membrane with 0.1 micron-wide holes that block out nasty bacteria and protozoa but allow clean water to pass straight through.

OM editor Will Renwick took it with him on a five-day hike along the Snowdonia Slate Trail last summer and was highly impressed with its effectiveness. He particularly liked the good flow rate, which means there’s no need to suck the water through the filter. That means you can easily decant clean water into another cup or pot.

The capacity of the pouch is 600ml, while the BeFree will filter up to 1,000 litres of water. That’s not quite as long a lifetime as some other filters, but still offers pretty good value given the relatively low price. All in all, it’s a lightweight, affordable and effective portable water filter that works well and has a good flow-rate. That’s why it takes our best buy pick.

Read our full Katadyn Free review.

Lifestraw Flex Water Filter

Price:  £26
Weight: 90g
More info: lifestraw.com

With a very similar design to the Katadyn filter, the Lifestraw Flex is comparable in  lot of ways. So much so, in fact, that we put them together in a head-to-head test in early 2019. Though the Katadyn BeFree won out overall, the Lifestraw Flex still performed pretty well and is a solid product.

It’s a little heavier than the Katadyn BeFree, but is also a bit cheaper and should last longer too, because the lifetime of the filter is rated at 2,000 litres.  Our major negative on test was the relatively slow flow rate and the fact that to draw water through the filter requires you to suck pretty hard. If you can live with those shortcomings though, it might be worth a look.

Read our full review of the Lifestraw Flex Water Filter here

 

Lifesaver Liberty Portable Water Purifier

Price: £89.99
Weight: 425g
More info: iconlifesaver.com

If you’re heading to a region where water quality is a major concern, then the Lifesaver Liberty is one to consider. It is even more effective than most other portable filters on the market, including both the Katadyn and Lifestraw options we’ve looked at so far. In fact, the Liberty is capable of removing 99.99 per cent of viruses, bacteria and cysts from any water.

To use it, you simply unscrew the top, dip it into the source, close it up and then pump the top lever a few times. Then to drink, you just flick a little valve and the water flows out in a gentle spray – meaning there’s no sucking involved.

There’s also an added 5ft hose accessory. This can be dropped into a source to siphon and filter as much water as is required, enabling you to filter big quantities in one go. That’s a great advantage when you’re hiking or travelling with a group.

On test, OM Editor Will Renwick found it “easy to fill, easy to filter and easy to drink from”, though he also pointed out that it’s not the smallest or lightest bit of kit out there. He profiled the Lifesaver Liberty in Episode 4 of Will’s World. For added peace of mind, however, the added size and weight might be a sacrifice worth making.

Read our full Lifesaver Liberty Portable Water Purifier review

 

Sawyer Mini Water Filter

The cheapest and lightest option in this round-up, the Sawyer Mini is a tried-and-tested water filter used by travellers and adventurers across the globe. It provides 0.1 micron absolute filtration, meaning it will remove turbidity as well as bacteria and protozoa, but not viruses.

As a personal filter system it works well, though the flow rate is not as high as some other filters, and you have to flush it regularly to prevent clogging. These limitations can be frustrating if you need to filter a lot of water quickly, e.g. for a group camp.

Still, the Sawyer’s versatility and low cost meant that it recently made it into our list of best value budget outdoor gear. We still maintain that it is possibly the most useful bit of wild camping kit you can buy for twenty quid and some change. It will last for up to 100,000 gallons too, making it exceptional value for money.

 

MSR Trailshot Microfilter

Price: £40
Weight: 142g
More info: msrgear.com

The MSR Trailshot is a small, simple filter that is ideally suited for fast and light adventures or trail running. It is best used to treat water on the go, though at a push it can also be used to fill your water bottle. When first released it was one of the lightest options on the market. Since then, smaller and lighter filters have emerged, though the Trailshot is still one of the most durable, robust and best personal water filters out there.

The flow rate is pretty good, and backflushing to keep the filter clean is very easy. It’s simple to use too. You just dangle the hose in the chosen water source, give the hand-held plastic pocket a squeeze, and voila – one big gulp of clean drinking water.  The design reaches its limitations if you want to filter larger quantities of water quickly though.

Read our full MSR Trailshot review

Lifestraw Go Water Purifier

Price: £38
Weight: 168g
More info: lifestraw.com

The LifeStraw Go combines Lifestraw’s patented two-stage straw filter system with a standard 650ml plastic water bottle. The 0.1-micron filtration is able to remove 99.999 per cent of bacteria and protozoa from water sources, though not viruses. That should still guarantee safe drinking water in most outdoor scenarios though.

The Lifestraw Go is very easy to use. You just fill up the bottle, screw the lid shut and suck water out through the filter. It’s a different method to the squeeze filters from Katadyn and Sawyer or Lifesaver’s plunger-type mechanism. Though effective, it does mean the Go is only suitable for personal use, since you can’t decant or siphon water into other bottles or cooking pans, for instance.

Read our  full Lifestraw Go Water Purifier review

 

MSR Autoflow XL Gravity Filter

Price: £85
Weight: 340g
More info: msrgear.com

As you can probably guess from its whopping 10-litre capacity, the AutoFlow XL filter from MSR isn’t strictly a personal water filter. This one is primarily intended for group and basecamp use. You simply fill it from a stream or river and hang the bag from, say, a branch or fence post. The gravity-fed filter will then do its thing at the rate of 1.75 litres per minute.

OM Editor Will Renwick was certainly impressed. “In terms of durability and reliability, I haven’t had any problems; it seems tough and the rolltop is certainly watertight”, he said. “I also like the fact you can quickly disconnect the hose when you need to venture with the bag to find water. This thing works, and works well.”

Though it’s almost certainly overkill for personal use, the Autoflow XL is a great system for anyone planning a backpacking trip with a group.

Read our full MSR Autoflow XL Gravity Filter review

Lifestraw Universal Water Filter

Price: £39.97
Weight: 102g
More info: www.lifestraw.com

Released in early 2019, the Lifestraw Universal is an evolution of Lifestraw’s filtration system, rather than a new innovation. In fact, the technology contained within the Lifestraw Universal set is identical to the Lifestraw Go bottle featured above. The only difference is that this set comes with various adapters to enable you to fit the Lifestraw bottle cap and filter to your favourite drinks bottle. That includes insulated vacuum flasks as well as large capacity bottles, adding to the product’s versatility. Or as OM Editor Will Renwick puts it, “This new set just makes their product more of a chameleon, as you’re not just limited to filtering from one specific bottle”.

It’s a new take on a tried-and-tested product, and the added flexibility might make it worth considering over the Lifestraw Go. It’s worth noting, however, that it shares the same drawbacks as the Go, so is best used solely as a personal drinking water system.

Read the full Lifestraw Universal Water Filter review

 

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