There are heap loads of travel water filters on the market. Some travel water filters are great, others often don’t filter out viruses or heavy metals. As we like to say, a good travel water filter can be hard to find. And looking for a good one can be damn confusing. However, there are a few things you need to know upfront to help you make this life changing decision (okay maybe a bit dramatic!).
In this advanced guide on travel water filters, we cover:
- Why you should get a travel water filter
- What nasties you need your travel water filter to remove to stop you getting horribly sick
- The different types of travel water filters
Why you should get a travel water filter
1. Plastic waste is ruining our oceans
Advice in the UK recommends drinking at least 2 litres of water a day, more when it’s hot or you are active. Existing is thirsty work. Let’s do some simple maths, if you are travelling for 1 whole year (like we were) that’s 3 litres a day for 365 days. This equals 2,190 litres of water over a year. Yikes! Plastic bottles suck, and I don’t want thousands of bottles to end up in the ocean thanks to me.
Plastic can take over 400 years to biodegrade. More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped in our oceans per year, with popular tourist destinations some of the worst offenders. Small bits of plastic (microplastics) have even been found in deep sea animals who dwell 6000 metres down below the surface. Single use plastics are destroying our oceans and even killing our precious sea life, and globally only 20 percent of plastic waste is recycled. We need to stop using single use plastics as a matter of urgency.
2. Reliability of bottled water
Another reason to get a travel water filter is water contamination. In some places, bottled water can be contaminated by things like poorly maintained septic tanks near tube wells used for bottling. Contaminated water can make you pretty sick.
3. Limited availability of drinking water
If you are anything like us, whilst away you will be trekking in the mountains, camping in jungles, staying on islands and more. Getting hold of clean bottled water isn’t always possible.
You don’t want to have to carry around a weeks worth of water for a camping trip. Instead, you want to be able to collect water from streams or even melting snow like a true adventurer.
4. Long-term use of chemical purifiers
You might not want to spend an extended amount of time drinking water that has been cleaned using purification tables. It tastes like poop and it might not be healthy to drink so much chlorine over the long-term. Also some chemical-based purifiers do not kill all pathogens such as Cryptosporidium.
5. Unreliability of UV purification
UV purification sounds cool and is kinda sci-fi. There are some good reviews about UV purifiers out there.
However, do some more digging and it seems that they can be quite temperamental. You also need access to electricity or batteries to charge them up.
You don’t want to be let down because there is no access to power or the electronics of the device decide to pack up, as things often do when you are travelling!
What to look for in a travel water filter or water purification method
Don’t just buy the first travel water filter you see. Do your research.
A high percentage of the world’s population do not have clean drinking water coming from their taps, which sucks. This water can contain a number of nasty things that will all need to be removed before it is safe to drink. You want to find a travel water filter (or alternative method) that will reliably remove:
- Parasites and Protozoa like Cryptosporidium and Giardia (1 micron or more in size)
- Bacteria like E-coli and Salmonella (0.2 microns and up)
- Viruses like Norovirus and Phi-X 174 (0.02 microns and up)
- Heavy metals (no not like Slipknot or Metallica) and chemicals
It’s never gunna be 100%
It is worth noting that portable water filters will never say they remove 100% of anything. Testing usually shows removal of 99.999%+ of bacteria and viruses and slightly lower when it comes to chemicals and heavy metals.
At the moment no portable filters will remove salt from seawater, toxins such as cyanotoxins or dissolved minerals such as calcium. You will need expensive home systems or commercial grade filters to do this.
Different types of travel water filter
There are quite a few different types of filter out there, all boasting different swanky features you never thought you would need. I’ll highlight the pros and cons of each type and say why we thought it would be suitable for travelling or not.
Type 1: Straw travel water filters
These are essentially a large straw that contains a filter. You put one end directly into the water source, the other in your mouth and suck. You should theoretically get clean water straight from the source without having to do anything else. Boom!
Straw filter pros:
- Quick and simple
- Minimal set-up or production effort
- Small and lightweight
- Cheap as chips
Straw filters cons:
- You usually can’t collect water for future use (drinking, washing veg etc.) or for others so can only wait to stumble onto a water source
- You will end up having to lie on the floor to get a drink. Probably on wet, muddy, cold ground and your friends will laugh at you
- As there is usually only one filter within the straw it does not filter out all pathogens or contaminants
Thoughts on straw water filters:
We didn’t fancy having to wait to find water every time we were thirsty or lying down on the ground looking like noobs when we did find it.
There are some straws that can attach to standard bottles meaning you can collect water for future use and drink it when required. This isn’t helpful if you don’t have a standard bottle top, but a good workaround if you have very limited space.
Overall we thought that if a straw wasn’t going to filter out as much as other filters then there wasn’t much point wasting money on one.
Type 2: Bottle travel water filters
These either filter the water when you put it in the bottle or when you sip it through a valve.
Bottle filter pros:
- Can collect water for future use and can top it up from dirty water stored in other bottles
- Pretty damn lightweight
- Easy to use with minimum set-up
- Comes with a useful water bottle
Bottle filter cons:
- Apart from one product, the filters have quite limited use (around 100-150 litres) which is no good for long term travel and will require carrying lots of replacements around. Screw that
- They are relatively expensive once you’ve factored in the cost of replacing the filters
- Apart from a couple of expensive options we couldn’t find bottles that filtered out as much nasties as alternative filter types
Thoughts on bottle water filters:
For a long trip like ours, having to buy so many expensive replacement filters and carry them around was a deal-breaker.
The only bottle option that filtered out all the nasty things was expensive and we thought we would probably need one each and it also needed replacement filters every 150 litres.
Type 3: Squeeze travel water filters
This is basically a bag, filled with dirty water, with some sort of filter attached. When you squeeze the bag or suck through the filter you get clean water. Squish squish.
Squeeze filter pros:
- Lightweight and can pack away quite small
- Relatively cheap
- Easy to use with minimum set-up
- Clean water available on demand. You can carry extra dirty water around and refill the squeeze bag from these dirty bottles. Or you can squeeze out clean water into spare bottles so you can carry as much clean water as you want
Squeeze filter cons:
- Usually only has one filter which tends not to get rid of the smallest nasties such as viruses
- If it works by sucking through a straw then you can’t carry extra clean water for other uses
- Can be hard to completely fill the bag especially in shallow water
Thoughts on squeeze water filters:
I was quite tempted to go for one of these filters as it is light and packs down small – important for multi-day trekking. But unfortunately as it didn’t filter out viruses, I decided naaaaa I’m not going to go for a squeeze filter.
Type 4: Pump travel water filters
With this type of filter you are physically pumping the water from source, usually through several filter stages, into a bottle or hydration pack for future drinking and other use.
Pump filter pros:
- As they can use 2 or 3 filter stages, decent pump filters tend to get out more of the bad stuff
- Easier to collect from a range of water sources compared to other options
- Pump filters can produce a lot more clean water than some of the other types of filter before needing replacing
- You can produce as much water as you want to carry, for any use
Pump filter cons:
- Requires more set-up time, cleaning and maintenance, which can be a tad boring
- There are more parts to go wrong
- Some options are quite bulky and heavy
- Some options are relatively expensive compared to alternative filter types
- Manual pump filters can be lot of effort with a slow filtration rate to pump through the water (which can be boring and hurt your arms)
Thoughts on pump water filters:
We went for a pump filter, and it’s worked well for us for the last 8 months.
Type 5: Gravity travel water filters
This works by filling up one bag with dirty water, hanging it on something or someone, with a line to an empty bag. Gravity does the hard work, pushing it through a filter system to give you clean water in the previously empty bag.
Gravity filter pros:
- Once it is set-up you can carry on with whatever else you need to do, or even leave it to filter overnight. No need to waste time and energy pumping
- There are options to take out all the nasties
- They can produce a lot of clean water before replacing the filters
- You can produce as much water as you want, filling multiple bottles and hydration packs
Gravity filter cons:
- Can take a while to filter, although quicker than pumping
- You need to find somewhere to hang the bags, which won’t always be possible
- It can be hard to completely fill the dirty water bag especially in shallow water
- These filters can be preetty expensive
- Whilst lightweight, there are lots of parts to clean and maintain and it may be bulky depending on the containers
Thoughts on gravity water filters:
I liked the idea of gravity filters. However decided against getting one due to price and how we might not be able to find somewhere to hang one up during our travels.
Combination travel water filters
There are some products that sit across the different categories and can be used to get the benefits each category has to offer. The prime example is a straw that can be hooked up to a squeeze filter, a gravity filter and even a bottle filter. These are quite versatile. However it means you will likely have to buy multiple products or a pack to get all of these filter types, adding cost.
Best water filters for travel
What is the best travel water filter? It seems a little crazy, but most water filters for backpacking will not take out viruses or heavy metals. Here are some travel water filters we don’t rate very highly. There are only a handful of options left after these are eliminated.
We’ve compiled our top 5 travel water filters that actually work and did all the research so you don’t have to.
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