These are the 7 you need for camping

Water is the most important consideration in any adventure. Unless you want to lug around gallons and gallons of H2O, or have the water-holding abilities of a camel, you’ll need a plan to get clean, bacteria-free water during of your adventure.

Some hikes are blessed with springs and streams so clear you can drink quality filtered water straight from the source; others have little more than murky puddles. Camping in the Argentine desert, I drank weak, silty, disgusting tea-colored water. It was good to drink, but it tasted like mud. I had purified the water, but I hadn’t filtered it, and it’s not an experience I want to repeat. So how do you know if your water needs to be purified or filtered, and which purifier or filter to choose? Let me pass on my wisdom to you.

Water filters vs water purifiers.

Let’s first see why we filter and/or purify water. There are five main reasons: to get rid of viruses, bacteria, parasites, chemical pollutants and turbidity (essentially, the grime and sludge that makes your water taste and look unappetizing, just like mine in the desert). Drinking contaminated water will make you very sick and can even have fatal consequences.

Water filters are great against everything except viruses. In countries with less advanced sewage systems, a filter is often not enough and you will need to purify your water. Purifiers, however, do nothing about turbidity. The most important thing is to research your destination before you go to see if a filter or purifier is the most practical.

I need a water filter. What are the different types?

This is where it gets fun because there are so many different types to choose from. Bottle filters are becoming increasingly popular with fast packers, cyclists and ultralight backpackers because they are lightweight, compact and attach directly to the neck of your bottle so you can drink on the go. It’s a fantastic option for solo adventures when you’ll encounter water sources regularly. They aren’t as good when the water is thin on the ground, as they will only filter what you can store in your compatible bottle.

Straw filters are similar to bottle filters, but rather than being designed to fit onto a bottle, they allow you to drink straight from the source (much like a lion at a watering hole). They are ultra-light and compact, but should only be used when you can guarantee nearly constant water sources, as they are not equipped with any storage facilities. They are fantastic for freshwater stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) and kayaking adventures.

Pump filters work by pumping water from a source into a bottle. They work very well with shallower sources (almost dry rivers, puddles and pools) and have the added benefit that you can pump out as much water as you want and fill all your containers, so they are fantastic for group expeditions. Pump filters are however much heavier than the first two and require manual effort, which can be tedious after a physical day.

Then there are gravity filters, a faster and less laborious alternative to pump filters. They quickly filter large amounts of water simply by filling the bag from a reservoir/lake/stream etc. and hanging it upside down to let gravity do the rest. The downside is that they’re often heavy and expensive, and you’ll need somewhere to hang them. If you are in the Patagonian back country with 100 km/h winds and not a tree in sight, this might not be for you.

I’m going somewhere where I need a purifier. Which should I get?

UV water purifiers are a cool gadget, there’s no doubt about it. They are compact and require no effort. UV light purifiers on the lid of a bottle sterilize bacteria and viruses and let you drink clean water immediately with no waiting time. However, they do not filter out grime. They’re also often expensive, battery-operated, and prone to breaking, leaving you in a bit of a pickle.

Good old chemical purification tablets are a simple and user-friendly option if you travel to virus-prone areas. Just put one tablet in a liter of water and wait 30 minutes for it to do its magic. Thirty minutes is like a lifetime when you’re thirsty; the tablets do nothing for turbidity and your water often tastes like it ingested a swimming pool.

If all else fails, you can boil water to sterilize it (one minute unless you’re over 3,000 feet where you’ll need to boil it for three minutes). It’s great for water for cooking, but undeniably a problem if it’s your only method of getting drinking water. Nobody wants to have to take their stove out halfway and boil some drinking water, only to try to quench their thirst with a scalding liquid. Plus, your fuel will run out much faster.

Once you’ve determined whether you need a water filter, water purifier, or both, here are some of the best choices.

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the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filtration System was designed to stand the test of time and comes with a lifetime warranty. It’s hard to find a more compact and lightweight option (only 2 ounces, it fits in a pocket). It removes almost all sediment and bacteria, and 100% of microplastics. If you’re traveling somewhere with extreme temperatures, be aware that this water filter can be damaged by freezing conditions, and there’s no way of knowing.

At 3.3 ounces it’s another ultra-lightweight option, and the filtering speed is impressive (3l per minute), so there won’t be any dragging drinking with the Platypus QuickDraw Microfilter. It comes with a compatible 1L tank and a hollow fiber filter cartridge which is very easy to clean, just shake it clean or perform a quick, tool-free rinse.

At just under 7 ounces, the Katadyn BeFree Gravity Water Filtration System weighs next to nothing when divided among a small group (recommended for groups of two to five people). It filters 2L of water per minute without any effort, because it is a gravity filtration system, you just have to hang the bag. The EZ-Clean membrane is, as the name suggests, easy to use, just hose it down with water. The carry strap is a great design feature for transporting water to and from the source.

It was by far the most expensive piece of equipment analyzed, but the MSR Guardian Purifier both filters and purifies water. It’s incredibly durable and can survive a drop (within reason, MSR tests it by dropping it from 6 feet, we don’t suggest you drop it from the top of a skyscraper). At around half a kilo, this is heavier gear designed for expeditions and harsh environments rather than fast-paced adventures.

Aquatabs have a shelf life of three years and since they are so small they should be part of any traveler’s first aid kit. One tablet purifies between one and two liters of water in 30 minutes and is extremely effective against viruses and bacteria. Remember that water purification does nothing for turbidity and, as with most water purification tablets, your water will taste a little chlorinated.

the CrazyCap 2 uses UVC purification technology to quickly purify water on the go, with no effort on the part of the user. Rather than being battery powered like many UV purification systems, this one uses a charger. However, it won’t remove chemicals, metals or turbidity, and the amount of water you can purify at one time is limited by the size of the bottle. It keeps liquids cold for up to 24 hours or hot for up to 12 hours, and is a fantastic option for everyday exploring or sightseeing in destinations with poor water quality.

LifeStraw has become synonymous with providing good quality water filters. Their bottles come with filters that are dishwasher safe and proven to last for months at a time. The LifeStraw Go includes a replaceable carbon filter that typically lasts up to three months, or 26 gallons of water, and a membrane microfilter that lasts up to 1,000 gallons. As the filter straw is compatible with the bottle, it only filters 1 liter of water at a time. Especially ideal for solo adventurers.

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