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Backpacking Water Filter Review

For many, the allure of backpack hunting is the simplicity of going through a day with nothing more than one can carry on their back. Over time, as a backpack hunter, you learn what comforts you need as an individual to make these outings enjoyable. I know from the past 20 years of backpack hunting that there are things I can leave at home, and my kit has in turn gotten lighter and lighter. Although each of us can make personal gear choices, one thing all of us need daily is clean drinking water and usually a lot of it. Even “gear guys” can still have fun with water filters though because there are many styles and brands to choose from. The main systems we are going to cover are the standard hand-pump style, gravity-fed systems, UV filters, and tablets or drops.

Before we dive into different filters, I want to divulge a little information about what systems I use on my hunts. Personally, there is nothing I hate doing on backpack hunts more than pumping water. It has always been a necessary evil that I really don’t enjoy. I know it may sound silly, but I am just being honest. Due to this fact, about five years ago I switched to a gravity-style water filter and I love this setup. When I get to camp, I simply scoop the bag in my water source and let it gravity-feed into a separate water bag that I carry. I then refill the filter bag, pinch the hose, and I have more water ready when I need it. 

This process takes a matter of minutes and it's all done while I go about my business getting my camp set, and I don’t have to pump water. Even though I love this setup, it’s not always my go-to on hunts. If I know there will be a good water source, I always go this route, but if I’m not sure there will be a good water source like a good flowing creek, I will pack my water pump. I know I can get water from even a small seep with my pump and if all I have is my gravity setup it may be very difficult to get water.

Hand Pumps

Katadyn Hiker Pro Transparent ($85)

The simple, reliable functionality of the Katadyn Hiker pumps has made them a staple with many backpackers for years now. The Hiker Pro Transparent ($85) is the newest offering in this line. This model measures 6.5x2.4” and weighs 11 ounces. With approximately 48 strokes, the Hiker Pro will filter a liter of clean water per minute. This model removes particles, protozoa, and bacteria down to 0.2 microns in size, including giardia, salmonella, cryptosporidia, etc. 

There is a pre-filter in the hose that removes larger contaminants before reaching the main filter, which helps increase the lifespan. Beyond that, its activated-carbon core absorbs chemicals and pesticides and improves the taste of your drinking water. The transparent housing lets you see the filter in action and lets you more easily see when the filter is dirty and either needs to be cleaned or replaced. Each filter has a maintenance kit, bottle adapter, and carry sack included.

MSR HyperFlow Microfilter ($100)

Another company that’s popular and reliable in the water filter game is MSR. With top notch products like the HyperFlow Microfilter, it’s no surprise so many hunters put their faith in MSI gear. This filter measures 7x3.5” and weighs a mere 7.4 ounces. This pump can process more than three liters of clean water in a minute with one liter only requiring 20 strokes. Even in the worst-case scenario, the Hyperflow removes 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.9% of protozoa. Like the Katadyn, this system has a pre-filter that removes all larger particles to lengthen filter life.

One neat thing about this filter is its ability to connect directly to a wide variety of bottles and bags from different companies. Another great feature is the ability to disassemble and assemble the filter without the use of tools. This makes field maintenance a snap and always makes it easy to keep the filter clean and functional.

Gravity-Fed

MSR Trail Base Water Filter Kit ($140-150)

The Trail Base comes with a dirty water bag and a clean water bag. For use, you attach the two bags together and fill the dirty bag from your water source. Then, you simply allow gravity to filter the water into the clean bag. Like the Hyperflow pump, this system filters out 99.99999% of bacteria and 99.99% of protozoa. This system filters water at a rate of one liter per minute, but as I mentioned in my intro, you won’t care because there is no pumping required. You just go about your business and let gravity do the work.

This system is a little heavier, with an overall weight of 16.3 ounces. The Trail Base is capable of filtering 1,500 liters of water before needing to replace the filter cartridge. Additionally, the pocket-sized filter used on this system can be used on the trail to drink directly from a water source when you don’t want to set up the whole system on the fly.

Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L ($90)

With the Ultra Flow filter element, the Gravity Camp will make two liters of filtered water per minute. The bag itself holds six liters of water and by using the hose clamp, you can have all the water you need waiting in the bag to be filtered at a moment's notice. This filter gets rid of bacteria, cysts, and sediment and the cleanable filter protector helps with filter life so you can in some cases run up to 1,500 liters of water before it needs to be changed. This system is fairly light and packable with an overall weight of 10 ounces and measurements of 10x2x6”. There is a quick-connect hose so you can remove the hose while dipping the bag to keep the hose from being contaminated. Another cool feature is the shower adapter, purchased separately, that allows you to get a shower in the backcountry.

“For the past several years, the Katadyn Gravity 6L has been my go-to filter on most of my hunts. I love being able to fill it up and let gravity do the work without me having to physically pump water. With minimal maintenance I have had zero issues with this particular setup and love how easily it provides me with more water than I need for all of my drinking and cooking needs.” - Zach Bowhay

Other Options

IF you are day hunting or even backpacking, need to get safe drinking water on your trips, and don’t want to carry a full water filtration setup, there are other options. One such option is the Steripen Ultra UV water purifier ($110). This setup is battery-charged and uses UV light to kill 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. All you need to do is press the button, put the lamp in your water, stir for 48 seconds, and you have safe water. One drawback is there may still be visible particles in your water, but it will be safe to drink. I have hunted with people who use this system and although I was apprehensive at first, I would be comfortable using this system where I knew my water source wouldn’t have a bunch of floaters in it.

Another option is the Lifestraw ($20). This little bugger weighs only two ounces and allows you to drink straight from any water source with a filter that will clean 1,000 gallons. That is enough clean water for an individual to live on for five years. For those who are always on the go, the S1 ($60) by Sawyer might be of interest. To use this system, you screw the filter off the top, fill the bottle with water, then squeeze the water through the filter for drinking. I prefer to pack something like this as my everyday drinking water bottle even on hunts where I have a camp filter, just so I can quickly scoop and drink water anytime I cross a spring or stream.

With water filters, there are plenty of options, and choosing the right system is usually best with trial and error. I realize it could get spendy having to purchase multiple products to try out. It is hard to go wrong with any of the above-mentioned products, and there are multiple viable options from these companies and others. Identify your personal needs and comforts, and with some research, you can easily narrow down your choices. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to hit me up at zach@westernhunter.net.

Author

Zach Bowhay

A widely published western big game writer and successful western big game hunter, Zach has taken multiple species in nearly every Rocky Mountain state. Zach is an expert elk caller and is highly regarded in the Western Hunting community for both his calling and abilities to successfully hunt elk on public land. He is an accomplished deer hunter as well, and enjoys hunting with both a rifle and archery equipment. He is exceptionally knowledgeable about gear and enjoys sharing his expertise to help others succeed.

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