Portable Water Filter Guide

If you are planning a trip into the great outdoors, investing in a portable water filter for travel could be ideal. But which one should you use?

Clean water is a basic essential. Experts suggest that we should be drinking at least two liters a day, and more in hot climates or when doing physical activity.

However, getting enough water whilst you are out in the wild can be a challenge, especially when even water that looks clear can contain a whole host of pollutants and chemicals that could get you sick.

Moreover, to take clean water with you from home can add some serious weight to your pack.

Before making your purchase and heading out for your adventure, check out our in-depth reviews summary and guide, so you can make sure that you are making the right choice for your hydration needs.

Portable Water Filter Reviews Summary Table

NameSawyer Mini
Sawyer Mini Water Filter Review ACW
Katadyn Pocket
Katadyn Pocket Water Filter Review ACW
Lifestraw Go
Lifestraw water bottle
Etekcity Water Filter review
Review & GuideRead reviewRead reviewRead reviewRead Etekcity water filter Review
Main FeaturesFilter lifespan is up to 100,000 gallons.It has a hand mechanism to pump and filter the water.You can fill up the bottle and drink the water anytime you go.- It is a three (3) stage filter system.
Pollutants RemovedBacteria, parasites, dissolved particles (limited) and some other micro-organisms.Small particles, micro-organisms, bacteria and parasites.

Does not remove heavy metals.
Most VOCs, chlorine, sediments (at some degree), bacteria, some inorganic compounds and micro-organisms.Mainly bacteria, some heavy metals, chlorine and some organic compounds.
Flow rate- 0.3 lpm.1.0 lpm.1.2 lpm.- 1.0 lpm.
Size/design- Super compact.
- H: 8'; L: 4'.
- Overall weight: 56 g.
- Small.
- W: 2'; L: 9'.
- Overall weight: 538 g (19 oz).
- Medium small.
- W: 3.14'; L: 9.25'.
- Overall weight: 222 g (0.49 oz).
- Small.
- W: 5'; L: 7'.
- Overall weight: 59 g.
Filters made ofOne (1) stage 0.1 hollowed fibers.One stage silver ceramic infused filter.Two (2) stage activated carbon and hollowed filter.- Cotton pads (pre-filter), activated carbon and hollow 0.01 micron fiber UF membrane.
Filters LifeLast years considering the ability to clean-up the filter.Years based on the filtered volume.The minimum is 25 gallons, which is for the activated carbon filter.400 gallons.
Water sourceMost clear surface water sources.Any surface water body and municipal sources.Not muddy water sources.Municipal and surface water bodies.
WarrantyLifetime warranty.20 years.1 year.2 year.
CertifiedEPA regulation compliant.Not found.US EPA compliant and NFS/ANSI standard 42.Complies with FDA Food by 21 CFR 180.22.

With a breakdown of the most popular types and an overview of the multiple factors to consider.

Portable Water Filter Classification

The type of portable water filter that you choose will depend on your environment, how many people are in the group, and location, with the most popular types including:

Straw Configuration

Straw Offering water on-demand service, a straw filter is definitely one of the simplest and more compact options.

Shaped like a traditional straw, this type features tightly woven fiber membranes inside, removing waterborne bacteria and nasty organisms such as giardia commonly found on untreated surfaced water.

A straw water filter can be quite limited, as with this filter method you will not be able to fill a bottle to take with you. Although, if you are likely to be come into contact with multiple water sources during your trek, then the lightweight nature of a straw filter can be very convenient.

Pump Mechanism

PumpTo get clean water, you will need to pump it through yourself as water is pulled from the water source through the filter. This can be a bit of a chore, so this may not be the right choice for a larger group.

The more the filter is used, the more difficult the pumping action becomes as the pores get clogged.

Furthermore, pump type outdoor water filters are often slightly larger than other types, but should still be small enough to fit in your pack, and there are different sizes available.

Bottle Design

Bottle filterFiltering the water as you drink it, the filter is built into the water bottle to provide a quick and easy system.

Often more affordable than larger setups, and more convenient than a straw option, these are a great choice for backpackers who are likely to see several water sources throughout their trek.

The filter is often removable, so you can easily use the bottle like a normal drinking vessel when filtering is not necessary. However, it should be noted that the abilities of this type of filter to get rid of all the bacteria can be limited, particularly when compared with pump or gravity options.

Gravity fed portable water filter

Utilizing one of the basic laws of the universe, gravity does the hard work in this set-up. However, finding the right spot to hang the filter can be a challenge and this is also not really ideal for shallow water sources.

Gravity fed outdoor water filter

The ability to filter large capacities makes a gravity fed outdoor water filter one of the best options when camping with a group.

UV Filtration

Purifying the water rather than filtering it, a UV filter utilizes ultraviolet lights (similar to the ones featured in reverse osmosis water filtration systems) to remove harmful bacteria and viruses from the water source.

Whilst this quick and easy treatment can get rid of a significant amount of microorganisms and pathogens, a pre-filter may also be required to remove sediment and debris.

However, this can be a time-consuming process, and a UV filter is not likely to be able to treat large quantities of water.

Considerations When Choosing a Portable Water Filter?

The Bottle

One of the key points to consider is the type of bottle or vessel that comes with the portable water filter, with key points including:

  • Material: Usually either plastic or glass, the material of your bottle will depend on several factors. Plastic is the most common, as it is lightweight and not easily breakable, but glass is preferred by many due to its hygiene characteristics (less chance of bio-films building-up).
  • Design: If you are using a pump or gravity type portable water filter, you may wish to check the compatibility with your water bottle. It is also important to consider how easy the filtration system is to set up, and whether the design will allow you to pump from shallow water sources.
  • Size: If you are looking to filter water for a group of campers, you are more likely to need a larger capacity than if you are trekking alone. However, if you are just going to need water for yourself, taking a large set up would only add unnecessary weight and take up valuable pack size.

The Portable Water Filter

The filter refers to the internal element of your system, which features microscopic pores that have been designed to catch debris, protozoa and bacteria. Some filters also contain active carbon which can improve the smell and the taste as well as absorbing chemicals.

Other points to consider regarding the filter include:

  • Pollutants removed: Check out the micron size and material, and what common contaminants the filter of your choosing is able to remove.

Filters containing KDF-85 and fine membranes can be very effective removing micro-organisms.

  • Flow Rate: If you are just filtering water for yourself, a low flow rate will not make much of a difference. However, when it comes to filtering large capacities to produce potable water for a group, you will need a higher flow rate or it can take a significant amount of time.

If your flow rate slows down over time, this is usually a good indication that your filter needs to be replaced.

  • Characteristics: outdoors filters can be made from a range of materials, including fiber, glass, and plastic amongs others. Glass is a typical choice, but you may prefer a tough plastic if there is a potential risk of damage.
  • Life Span: Some of the outdoor water filters discussed have removable filtration components, and it is recommended that you change the filter regularly for the best results. Others, such as the straw filter, are not replaceable, but this is reflected in the price.

Check what the manufacturer indications are regarding the lifespan of the filters. 

Filter or Purifier?

The vast majority of portable water filters are able to remove bacteria, to around 0.1 – 0.3 microns, but only purifiers, such as the UV option, can destroy 99.9% of all viruses.

Depending on your country, most day hikers and backpackers will only require a water filter but if you are traveling abroad, a purifier may be essential. Do some research before your trip and check to see if the area is known as a high risk for non-common contaminants.

Do I need a pre-filter?

Some consider a pre-filter to be a valuable necessity, as it works to remove sediment and debris from the water first.

Whether you need a pre-filter or not will depend on the area that you are likely to be in, but using one can also extend the life span of your portable water filter.

Alternately, if you are shopping for a filter with a removable filtration component, regularly using a pre-filter will mean that you will not need to change it as regularly. However, some of the top brand systems already have this feature built into the device.

Anything else to Consider?


Ease of use and simple maintenance is also important. Check to see whether you will need to clean your set-up in the field and whether you are able to backwash for ease of cleaning.

To ensure longevity, always start with the cleanest water that you can find, regularly disinfect your portable water filter, and ensure that you read the manufacturer’s care instructions thoroughly.

Value for Money

Whilst usually price equals quality, with water filters it is possible to get excellent functioning setups at a low price. It all depends on the environment that you plan to be in, and how many people will be in the group, in comparison with the overall cost.

To get the best possible deal, research your choice online, check out users reviews and most importantly, ensure you understand the capabilities of the outdoor water filter and what you are looking for to remove from the water.

Brand Reputation

The top water systems are made by some of the world’s most well-known outdoor companies, and shopping with brand reputation in mind can provide you with that extra peace of mind.

Whilst a cheaper unknown brand may be just as effective, it may just not be worth the risk. Do your research and always look at reviews online to see what experiences other users have had.

Weight and Portability

If you are keeping your pack light, the weight and portability of your new water filter can be very important. Whether you are trekking through the great outdoors or planning a camping trip with your kids, if you are carrying your kit for a long distance, it is important to choose a lightweight filter that will not take up too much space.


Choosing a new water filter with a warranty or one that is from a brand with impeccable customer service can help you select with confidence. The vast majority of top brands offer at least 12 months warranty, which will protect you from errors caused due to manufacturing issues.

Portable Water Filter Bottom Line

Filtering water from the source to ensure that it’s safe for you to drink, an outdoor water filter is a handy thing to have when you are camping, backpacking or overnight hiking.

Even clean looking water can house harmful bacteria, and a filter is a great way to ensure that you are able to stay hydrated, wherever you are.

Choosing the right portable water filter for travel does not need to be difficult, just consider the environment you are going to be in the most, the number of people, and the types of water sources that you are likely to come into contact with.