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Top-Rated Water Purification Systems for the Backcountry Hunter

When it comes to backcountry health, few things trump the importance of clean water.

Top-Rated Water Purification Systems for the Backcountry Hunter

Water-pump filtration systems are easy to operate and can filter large amounts of water for personal or camp storage. (Photo courtesy of Scott Rinkenberger) 

From the pages of Backcountry Hunter

When Hugh Glass, depicted by Leonardo DiCaprio in the blockbuster hit The Revenant, dipped his metal canteen into a sputtering creek, he had no pills and no purifier. Just ice-cold mountain water to slake his thirst and cool his bear-claw-ripped throat. The guy sitting across from me in the theater elbowed his buddy and said, “See, we don’t need all that fancy purification crap.”

As tasty as Glass made that water look, the truth is, the backcountry wanderer doesn’t want to follow suit. Sure, you could get lucky—I did for years. Then, one week after a backcountry elk hunt: whammy! I wouldn’t wish a bad case of giardia on my worst enemy, and it took a good bit of time and some magnum-sized antibiotics to rid me of the sickness. And it’s not just giardia. Pour the wrong unfiltered water down your gullet, and you could end up with Guinea worms, schistosomiasis, legionella, or another hard-to-pronounce sickness that could cripple the rest of your hunting season or, worse, put you six feet under.

Today, with the water-purification options available to hunters, there’s really no excuse. Yes, the movies make it look awesome, but I won’t drink water from the most unsullied alpine stream unless I run it through my purifier. In recent years, manufacturers have stepped up their purification game and provided backcountry goers with pump-style filters, bottle/squeeze filters, and those designed to work with gravity. Let’s dive in and find an option or two that will keep you on the hunt and off the porcelain throne.

Understanding Water Purification Systems
Water purifiers can be simple and quick. The Grayl GeoPress can filter water in under eight seconds. (Backcountry Hunter photo)


Most pump-style filtration units are small, lightweight, and fit easily into most any pack pocket. Filtering water with a pump system is as simple as connecting a hose to the unit and placing the opposite end of the hose into the water source. Of course, each pump will come with detailed instructions about cleaning, care, and the like, but these units don’t require a Harvard degree to operate and are my go-to when hunting the backwoods. In addition to working well while trekking across rugged landscapes, many pump units are capable of filtering water rapidly, making them a solid choice for those looking to filter and store water at a base camp.

MSR Guardian Purifier

Understanding Water Purification Systems
$350 |

The Cadillac of pump-filtration systems, this 4.4-inch, 1.1-pound purifier pumps 2.5 liters of water per minute. Adding icing to the cake is the fact that the pump self-cleans on every stroke, meaning backflushing or filter scrubbing will never be required. Fitted with a hollow-fiber cartridge that treats up to 10,000 liters of water, this unit meets NSF protocol P248, which is the testing standard used by the U.S. military.

Katadyn Hiker Pro Transparent

Understanding Water Purification Systems
$85 |

Katadyn’s lightest pump-action filter to date, the Hiker Pro Transparent promises 1 liter per minute, and a quick-connect fitting makes shooting bacteria-free water into your reservoir or bottle super simple. Designed for solo use, this system tips the scale at 8 ounces and features Anti-Clog Technology and a cleanable filter protector that allows for easy on-the-go maintenance. Another notable feature is the large filter surface that boosts output and reduces felt resistance.

Filtration Bottle and Squeeze Bags

An option for those looking to save hunting time and have immediate access to water that’s ready to drink are bottles and squeeze bags. An all-in-one system, most bottle units allow the user to simply fill and start sipping. Squeeze-bag systems typically sport a durable, pliable bag that requires hand pressure to push water through a filtration system and into your mouth. Both are extremely effective and offer cost options that won’t break the bank.

Sawyer Micro Squeeze

Understanding Water Purification Systems
$29 |

A reusable unit, Sawyer’s Micro Squeeze Water Filtration System heeds the ultra-compact call. Weighing just 2 ounces and fitting in the palm of your hand, the Micro Squeeze removes 99.99 percent of bacteria and protozoa and 100 percent of microplastics. This versatile filter allows you to attach the drinking pouch to the unit, drink directly from a water source with the included straw, connect the unit to your hydration pack, or screw it onto a standard disposable bottle. The Sawyer Micro Squeeze is rated up to 100,000 gallons.

Grayl GeoPress Purifier

Understanding Water Purification Systems
$90 |

Eight seconds is all the GeoPress needs to filter 24 ounces of sketchy water and make it safe for consumption. Ideal for the backcountry hunter on the go, this easy-to-use bottle boasts a weight of just 15.9 ounces and stands 10.4 inches tall. Built to withstand serious on-the-hunt abuse, the cartridge has a lifespan of 350 cycles (65 gallons) and has been independently tested by a certified laboratory to meet or exceed NSF protocols 42 and 53 for pathogen and chemical removal.

LifeStraw Go

Understanding Water Purification Systems
$40 |

An advanced two-stage bottle, the LifeStraw Go lets you fill the 22-ounce bottle with water, replace the lid with the connected carbon filter, and start drinking. It doesn’t get much simpler. The hollow-fiber microfiltration membrane works in concert with the activated-carbon filter to remove bacteria, parasites, and microplastics. The bottle is fitted with a silicon mouthpiece and a carabiner, which makes attaching the Go to your pack all the easier.

Gravity Flow

Few things are worse than arriving at base camp after a hard day in the woods and having to filter water. It sucks. You’re cold, exhausted, and often wet. All you want to do is eat, hydrate, and go to bed. With a gravity flow filtration system, you can fill a bag with unfiltered water, hang it, and walk away. Most units come with storage bags holding between 5 and 12 liters, meaning you won’t be running to the creek every day to fetch water. I prefer to hang my unit in the morning before heading into the woods, so water is ready when I arrive back at camp.


Platypus GravityWorks 6.0

Understanding Water Purification Systems
$120 |

Perfect for base camp, the GravityWorks 6.0 Water Filter System from the minds at Platypus filters up to 1.75 liters of water per minute without any pumping required. Just fill the Dirty Reservoir bag with water, hang it, and let gravity take over. The EPA- and NSF-tested microfilter removes 99.99 percent of bacteria and protozoa, and when filtration is finished, your hunt group can enjoy a total of 6 liters of filtered water. The unit has a mass weight of 11.5 ounces, and it will filter up to 1,500 liters of water before a filter change is needed.

LifeStraw Mission

Understanding Water Purification Systems
$120−$130 |

Available with a 5- or 12-liter gravity bag, the LifeStraw Mission is a great hang-it-and-forget-about-it system. Capable of filtering 12 liters of water per hour, this gravity bag with quick-connect hose features a purification cartridge and built-in backwashing system. With a lifespan of 4,755 gallons, this unit will likely last you and your hunting companions a lifetime.

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