There are plenty of places where spring water, or water from another source, is relatively safe to drink. But, there are also those where the contaminant levels are too high for it to be safely consumed and where bottled water is essential. While some springs and watering holes can be safe for animal consumption, it is much better to use a water filtration system just to be on the safe side.
This is especially true for people who face a higher risk of illness, such as children or the elderly. Furthermore, even if the water is deemed safe by the authorities, it’s important to consider how ongoing consumption of even low levels of contaminants can affect your health. In many cases, water that is safe to drink on occasion can be unsafe long-term, as contaminants build up in your system and cause health problems.
So, what should you do if you want to drink water, but you’re concerned about the source you have available? The answer is a good portable water filtration system for hiking and camping.
Not only does a water filter ensure safe drinking in the event of a crisis, but it also cuts down on waste and allows you to save money on each and every water bottle you would otherwise need.
Thankfully, there are many options available and every one of them is unique in its own way. How do you know which filtration system will work for you and is there really a best outdoors water filtration system out there?
How Reliable Is Spring Water?
One of the main reasons campers choose to invest in water filtration equipment is because the water they find in the field isn’t as clean as they’d like it to be, and they often have no way of knowing for certain. Local water testing and federal enforcement of that testing is supposed to be trustworthy; however, this isn’t always the case. While the water can be free from any bacteria and contaminant that would impact the animals around, you may not have the same immunity as they do.
Another reason people are concerned about the quality of their tap water is because, even if testing shows water to be safe, there’s no telling what contaminants might leech into the water as it makes its way from the source to where you are collecting it. Unless you can test the water on the spot, there is no way in knowing. And it is much easier to carry a filter than to pack the sort of tools you would need for that kind of testing.
Aside from bacterial infections, which are the most frequent, there are other impurities that can have an adverse affect on you and your fellow campers. The stream can be polluted by humans, or be exposed to enough animal remains for it to be contaminated. Finally, there could be a mineral source like copper or lead in the stream itself, making it unsafe for direct drinking.
As is always with camping, it is much better to be safe than sorry, and with modern filtration systems weighing only a couple of ounces, there is no reason not to pack one with you.
Shopping for a Water Filtration System
If you’ve decided that a water filtration device is a must-have addition to your survival kit, there are several things you need to consider before investing in a product.
First and foremost, it’s important to consider which type of water filtration system will work best in your situation.
The basic type of water filter is a tube that contains a micro-filter that will remove 99.99% of all waterborne bacteria. This type of filter is quite simple, and works because the bacteria is bigger than the water molecule and will get stuck in the filter.
Depending on the size and composition of the materials through which the water is passing it can be more or less effective, but with modern materials it will include all known bacteria.
Additionally, a modern micro-filtration system will remove any micro-plastics from the water. These plastics are very common in water sources near urban environments and are detrimental for both human and animal health.
As the name suggests, gravity filters use the mass of the earth to pull water through a membrane that will remove any bacteria, protozoa, or other impurities from the water.
Additionally, it is very easy to combine this type of filter with chemical treatments as you don't need pumps or any such additions.
Finally, a gravity filter is one of the safest options that you can carry with you when camping because it will adapt to the amount of impurities there are in the water. If the source is infested with bacteria the filtration will be slower, but just as effective as if there were only trace amounts of impurities.
Active Carbon Water Filters
Active carbon filters are the only type of filter recommended by the EPA for eliminating volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). This includes contaminants like pesticides and commercial chemicals that can slip through other, more basic, filters. They are also an effective tool for removing bacteria, heavy metals, and nitrates.
These are not as effective as full carbon blocks that you may have at home, but will remove almost all contaminants, sediment, and particulates that can be found in both running and standing water.
Combination Water Filters
Combination filters give you the best of multiple options. A multi-stage filter includes all of the filtration methods and is the best option in terms of ensuring your water is clean and tastes great, but these systems will cost more than the basic models.
It is sometimes better to just carry two types of filters and to run any water that you want to drink through both, if you are insecure about both bacterial infections and chemical impurity.
How Do You Make Your Choice?
The first thing you’ll want to consider when deciding which filter suits your needs best is to determine the biggest problems you face. Contaminants vary from location to location and from source to source. Reading up on the water quality in the region can help you determine the most pressing problems with your water, which can then guide your choice in filters. Staying informed should be the base for your survival food and water planning.
It’s also a good idea to consider ongoing maintenance and durability compared to how many people are going to drink the filtered water. Just because an option is cheap upfront can cost you quite a bit once you are out in the wild. If you need a new filter after every trip than it may be more reasonable to use a better filter and to be certain that it will not fail you when you need it the most.
Keep in mind, however, that all filters require some kind of maintenance or upkeep. Before every trip, inspect the filters, the valves, and the pumps that may be included in the kit as to make sure that everything passes muster.
Our Choices for the Top 5 Water Filtration Systems For Camping & Hiking
Below is our list of the best water filters available on the market this year.
This small and light tube can be a real lifesaver when it comes to a desperate situation, as it is used just like a normal straw. Once you find a body of water, you just need to stick the bottom of the straw into it and drink like you would from a regular plastic straw.
Aside from removing 99.999% (as stated by the company) of waterborne bacteria and parasites, it will also remove any micro-plastics that can be present in the environment.
With proper maintenance this straw can last you up to six years of camping, you just need to remember to blow back through the tube once you are done drinking, as to remove most of the impurities from the filter.
While the downside of this filter is that it can be used by only a single person, the product itself is very cheap and lightweight, meaning that every camper can carry their own device.
For those who prefer to do their camping from a camper, this is a perfect product. It is easy to use as it attaches to the RV hose system, and the pressure from the hose is what makes the filter work.
Because it is transported by the RV, the filter is slightly larger and more robust. This provides faster and better filtration, removing all of the bacteria and protozoa from your water source. Additionally, the added activated carbon makes the water taste better and more refreshing.
Finally, this is a mixed filter, meaning that it is not only against microbial impurities but will also remove chlorine, contaminants, sediment, particulates, as well as any odor the standing water might have.
For any hiker out there that wants to have a safe water supply regardless if they are using a stream, a pond, or a well, this is the product to have.
The Sawyer portable system has a 0.1 micron filter that will remove all of the bacteria and micro-organisms from the water. Also, the small fiber membrane means that micro-plastics will not be an issue.
Finally, the best thing about this mini water filtration system is the you can use it any way you want. It is fast enough and has a strong enough filter that it will last for a long time, even for the whole family. And, if you are alone, you can use it like a straw and drink from the source directly. One of the sides fits to the mouth of a regular plastic water bottle, meaning that you can both replenish yourself and your supply quickly every time you find a water source.
With a good product such as the LifeStraw, it was only a question of time when the company would produce a whole water bottle with the same technology. This bottle has the insides of the original LifeStraw attached to the bottle, giving you clean and fresh water even when on the go.
This product is perfect for those who like their camping with a bicycle underneath them, as the bottle fits perfectly in the designated holder. The top is secured and there is no chance of anything becoming contaminated. It also has a handy latch that you can attach to either your bar or your bike.
Finally, this filter has both the microfiber membrane and a carbon capsule, protecting you from chemicals as well as bacteria and protozoa. While not applicable in all camping situations, there is no better option for cyclists than the LifeStraw Go.
This is the best long-term filtration solution if you know that you will be out there in the wild for a couple of days. The filter is made to work with gravity, forcing the water through a small hose giving you clean and safe results. The filter in the end doesn't need to be pumped or activated in any other way, the only important thing is that the bladder is above the device.
When the bladder is empty, the whole product is very easy to carry. As the capacity is 1 gallon, the full product will be somewhat heavy, which is why the best idea is to hang the whole thing by the hand holder.
As is usual with Sawyer products, the filter is top-notch and gives quite a steady stream of clean drinking water. The microfiber membrane is 0.1 microns (~0.00004 inches) hollow, preventing any microorganisms from slipping by.