Finding A Camping Water Purifier For Hiking And Backpacking

A camping water purifier or filter for hiking or backpacking is essential on any trip where you need to draw water from outdoor sources. Unless a water source is located high in the mountains far from human or animal activity, chances are good that it contains pathogens that can make you sick.

There are three types of microorganisms to be concerned about:

1. Protozoa (single cell parasites) such as Giardia and Chryptosporidium
2. Bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella
3. Viruses like Hepatitis A, rotavirus, and norovirus

Ingesting these little nasties can result in diarrhea, vomiting, severe cramps, and/or a fever that may last for days or even weeks. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to make sure that the water you drink is pure.

Bacteria and protozoa are the most common of these bugs, and the largest in size. Viruses are not as prevalent, except near human habitation and agricultural runoff, and in developing countries.

A camping water filter works by a mechanical process to remove harmful bacteria and protozoa. The water is forced through a cartridge with thousands of pores that are too small for the organisms to pass through. It also has the benefit of removing dirt and other particles.

A basic filter will not remove chemicals or viruses. A filter with an activated carbon element will reduce or remove chemicals, and a filter with a very small pore size or iodine resin will also remove viruses.

A purifier kills microorganisms directly, either by heat or using chemicals that are safe for you to drink afterwards. The purifier will not remove toxic chemicals, which is why it is important to be aware of your location and surroundings when hiking or camping so as not to drink anything which has been contaminated by toxins.

Camping Water Filters

The Katadyn Vario Water Filter is a highly-rated pump filter.

The Katadyn Vario Water Filter is a highly-rated pump filter.

There are 3 types of water filters for camping, hiking, and backpacking:

Pump Filter

Water is manually pumped through the filter and into your container. These are very popular with hikers. You can filter as much water as you need, provided your arm doesn’t wear out first.

Gravity Filter

Dirty water from one container drips through a filter into another container. These are very easy to use and can filter large quantities at a time, but it takes longer.

Bottle Filter

The easiest to use. Simply fill your bottle and drink from the straw. Water is filtered as you drink. Disadvantage: you can’t filter large quantities at one time, and you can’t drink it very quickly.

Camping Water Purification

There are 3 methods of water purification for camping, hiking, and backpacking:


Bringing water to a full boil is sufficient to kill bacteria, protozoa and viruses.

It is also a good method to use with very silty water, as the sediment will settle to the bottom while it’s boiling. The downside is that boiling uses up fuel and takes a long time, both to bring the water to boiling and to allow it to cool.

Chemical Treatment

Iodine tablets are a light and very easy to use purifier, but they leave an unpleasant taste in the water (unless you buy them with taste neutralizer tablets). Also, iodine is not effective against Cryptosporidium.

Chlorine dioxide tablets weigh almost nothing, leave no aftertaste and kill all microorganisms, although they require up to a 4 hour wait time.

The Steripen camping purifier neutralizes pathogens with ultraviolet light. It’s very light, quick and easy to use: just dip it in the water and turn it on. In 90 seconds the water is safe to drink.

The downside is that the Steripen is less effective in cloudy water, and it uses batteries (bring spares).

Using Your Camping Water Purifier or Filter

Follow the directions for use carefully. Improper use may decrease the effectiveness of your camping water purifier and shorten its life.

Clean and store properly. Filters with removable cartridges should be cleaned periodically to maintain maximum flow rate. Most filters should be allowed to dry before being stored.

Carry a backup method. Purification tablets or a bottle filter are good insurance in case your main camping water purifier breaks or gets lost.

Choose the cleanest water source you can. Avoid very silty or muddy water or ponds with algae growth if at all possible.

If you want to avoid illness, proper hygiene is even more important than camping water purification. Always wash your hands with soap or use sanitizing wipes or gel before preparing meals and after using the bathroom.

Also, help prevent microorganisms from growing in the backcountry by always washing at least 200 feet away from any water source. (Soap residue in the water encourages bacteria growth.)

I hope this information helps you choose the best hiking or camping water purifier or filter for your needs. With a good camping purification method, you’ll be able to enjoy clean, bug-free water wherever you go.

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