The 10 Best Camping Water Filters
10. LifeStraw Go
9. Survivor 3-Stage
8. Boston Fortis Explorer
7. Survival Hax Purifier
6. Katadyn Vario
5. LifeStraw Mission
4. Sawyer Products Micron
3. Survivor Pro
2. Katadyn Pocket
1. Platypus GravityWorks
Healthy Hydration In The Field: The Camping Water Filter
If you are heading out for an overnight camping trip -- or even a day hike lasting a few hours -- a reliable camping filter is a necessity. The alternatives include carrying multiple liters of water along with you, greatly adding to your overall gear weight, or else facing illness caused by waterborne parasites and bacteria or dehydration and all its many unpleasant symptoms (including death at the outside extreme). You can get a water filter that will provide you with safe drinking water for less than twenty dollars, or you can spend well over two hundred dollars on a system. That elevated price tag may surprise the amateur outdoorsman, but the experienced camper/hiker will nod knowingly: when it comes to clean, safe water sourced easily and in large volumes, it's hard to worry about price.
The standard camping water filter uses a hand pump to draw water up from the source, force it through an incredibly fine filter media (usually made of ceramic) that removes all contaminants down to the one or two micron level and then through an output tube that can be placed right in your water bottle, cooking pot, cup, or even your mouth. Pump filters do require a bit of effort, but they allow you to source water from even the smallest trickling streams and giant lakes alike, and they allow the user to continually generate fresh water, whether you want only a quick cupful or multiple gallons.
The bag to bag style of camping water filters is easy to use once set up. You simply fill the elevated pouch with water collected from a pond or stream and allow gravity to bring the water down and through a filter that removes more than 99.99% of all bacteria and protozoa. The pros of these gravity operated filters include minimal effort once the first bag is filled (no repetitive pumping required) and large storage capacity: when both reservoirs are filled, you can often carry as much as four liters of water when you include the two liters yet to be purified. The drawbacks include the fact that you need to be able to elevate the system, which will in some cases mean standing there holding water aloft. You also must be able to submerge the collection bag or else have access to falling water, so some very shallow or hard to reach water sources might be difficult to use.
A third category of water filters should be thought of more as a survival tool for emergencies or as a backup filter in case the primary filter is dirtied, damaged, or simply stops working. This straw style filter is placed directly into water that is drawn up and through the purification media by suction you generate with your mouth and lungs. These filters clean hundreds of gallons of water well before needing maintenance, but they can't be used to fill bottles, cooking pots, and so forth.
Why The Water Filter Is The Best Choice
Beyond using a water filter, there are only two ways to reliably purify water while in the field. These are to boil the water, or to use chemical purifying agents. Boiling water is a time-tested way to create clean water, or at least to create water that is safe to drink. Indeed boiling water can do nothing to remove the actual debris and microscopic bacteria and parasites within the H2O, it can simply render those latter two factors inert (or, in other words, dead).
To ensure that water has been boiled long enough for safety, bring it to a full rolling boil for at least one minute near sea level, and for at least three minutes at altitudes higher than 2,000 feet (the boiling point temperature of water being lower at greater altitudes). While boiling is effective, it does not remove particles as noted, and of course it necessitates the ability to create heat through a stove or fire. This can be an inconvenience at some times, and an impossibility at others.
The other method of purifying water is to use iodine tablets. Iodine kills off the bacteria and protozoa in water by actually bonding iodine ions to their pathogenic cells, preventing their ability to reproduce. Iodine treatment is effective, but it requires careful measuring of water volume to iodine tablets used, the process requires patience, and the purified water has a less than pleasant taste.
Watch Out For Wild Water
The sobering fact is that almost every natural source of water, from an apparently pristine mountain spring to a stream babbling through a meadow to a freshwater river or lake, can be harboring dangerous bacteria and parasites. Drinking untreated water -- even water that looks and tastes perfectly clear and clean -- can lead to health complications ranging from mild stomach discomfort to severe nausea and diarrhea to dangerous dehydration and lasting infection.
The most common culprit of gastrointestinal discomfort or illness caused by drinking water from natural sources is the microscopic protozoan parasite known as Giardia lambia, more commonly called simply Giardia. This unwelcome little guest takes up residence in the upper stretches of the small intestine and causes symptoms in as many as one third of those it infects.
Most people will experience cramping, irregular bowel movements, fever, and fatigue; some people may experience these symptoms at a level of severity necessitating professional medical intervention. Giardia is a prolific problem, present in water sources all around the world. In fact, as many as five to seven percent of the population of America may be harboring the parasite at any time; as many as thirty percent of those living in the developing world may be chronically infected.
Other less common but potentially more serious water borne illnesses include cholera, typhoid, malaria, to name only a few of the maladies potentially lurking within water. If you are using melted snow as your source of hydration, be especially vigilant looking out for so-called watermelon snow. Snow with a pinkish sheen is covered with a layer of Chlamydomonas nivalis, a type of algae that thrives in cold water and that has extreme laxative properties.
Fortunately, all of these pathogens will be caught by a good water filter.