When it comes to drinking water in the backcountry, you can never be too careful. There are some nasty bugs and viruses that inhabit mountain streams and lakes. Contracting one of these bugs can lead to some very discomforting experiences—to say the least. That’s why, as one of hiking’s Ten Essentials, you should always carry (and use) a water filtration device on your trail adventures. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry. We recently checked out a few of newest lightweight water filter products—and one fan fave—for purifying water in the backcountry. Here’s a look at our favorites.

Katadyn BeFree Flaskkatadyn-befree

When it comes to integrated filter bottles, the BeFree Flask was the lightest and most compact in our lineup. This award-winning (Backpacker, Runner’s World) filter bottle is constructed of a collapsible membrane that can easily fit in any bottle pocket. When you need to refill, simply scoop from a water source, screw on the filter/drinking cap and drink up. The cap on the drinking nozzle fits on nice and tight to keep it from leaking while you’re on the move—especially beneficial when the bottle is less than full and gets floppy. The attached filter element is a breeze to clean, as is the bottle itself with its oversized opening. It’s capacity is on the lower end at just 20 ounces, meaning you’ll probably drink thru a full bottle rather quickly. To cover longer, waterless distances, you can use the BeFree as a squeeze filter to top off additional or larger containers to help you cover more ground. $40

Grayl Purifier Bottlegrayl-purifier

Imagine a coffee press for your drinking water. That’s exactly how the Purifier Bottle works. Just scoop water to the fill line and press the filter insert down inside. The water is forced through the filter element to remove 99.999% of viruses, bacteria and protozoa, as well as many chemicals, metals and other impurities. It even removes some of the funky flavors from less-than-ideal water sources. The bottle itself is constructed of durable, BPA-free polypropylene that can easily withstand a few bumps and drops, and the slender design fits nicely into narrower bottle pockets. Plus, the super-tight O-rings on the filter element and the widemouth cap both keep the bottle from leaking while on the move. The Grayl only holds 16 ounces of clean water, so supplemental containers will be required for covering longer, waterless distances. When you need to tank up, it’s as easy as scoop, filter, pour. $60

Platypus Meta Bottleplatypus-meta

The largest integrated filter bottle in our lineup, the Meta Bottle, comes in at 1 liter. It doesn’t get any easier than this: scoop, close, drink. The large bottle is constructed of a pliable BPA- and phthalate-free material which is practically impervious to bumps and drops. The upper drinking cap with filter element is a harder material that provides additional durability. The filter itself cleans water of all manner of nasties, and is easy to remove for cleaning and storage. With its higher capacity, you can go greater distances between water sources. If you need to tank up for long, dry hauls, simply scoop and squeeze your water into additional containers. The 1-liter size rating for this bottle is a little deceptive, as the actual bottle—sans filter element—can hold a full 1 liter when filled from the top drinking spout, but the lower container used to scoop up water only holds a max of 24 ounces. $50

Sawyer Squeeze Filtersawyer-squeeze

Probably the most popular—and versatile—water filter option with PCT thru-hikers, the Sawyer Squeeze is a bottle-filter system with the filter element on the outside. The immediate benefit of this is being able to utilize the pouch’s full carrying capacity without an internal filter element taking up valuable container space. Available in Mini (pictured) and Regular sizes, the Sawyer system works similar to bottle systems where you just scoop up water into the pouch, screw on the filter/nozzle attachment and drink up. Its lightweight, collapsible mylar pouches come in three sizes—16-ounce, 1-liter and 2-liter—which makes this an ideal choice for tanking up and covering extra-long distances. Designed to be as useful as possible with a variety of adaptations, you can even attach the filter/nozzle to commercial water bottles, or use an extra adaptor to attach the filter to a hydration system hose. $25–$50

MSR Trail Shot Filtermsr-trailshot

Unlike the bottle systems, the Trail Shot is a compact hand-pump filter that’s a breeze to use with any size and kind of water container. Simply drop the hose end into a water source and squeeze-pump (as you would a stress-ball) the water through the filter into your container. The small intake valve is especially good at tapping those tiny, trickling water sources that can be more challenging to fill a bottle at. With ordinary squeeze-pumping, you can fill a 1-liter bottle in under a minute. And without a dedicated container, you can easily fill and carry whatever you need to cover the distances. You can even drop the hose into the water and pump directly into your mouth, water-fountain style. Weighing in at just 5 ounces, this is a much lighter pump-filter option than many of the larger, more traditional filter pumps. $50

Water Filter Tips

  • Water filters protect against bacteria and protozoa, and all you need for hiking the PCT.
  • Water purifiers are also effective against viruses, and recommended when traveling abroad.
  • Rinse your new water filter thoroughly to remove any residue inside the element.
  • Clean your water filter by swishing it in water, or pumping water through before use.
  • Maintain the life of your water filter by completely drying the element after each hike.
  • Prolong the life of your filter by storing it according to the manufacturer’s directions.

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