Having access to a high-quality portable water filter can be a life saver. 

Bacteria, viruses, and protozoan cysts can all cause serious illness for travelers, hikers, or others forced to drink from uncertain water sources.

Whether you’re an experienced backpacker or a first time world traveler, it’s critical to know that the water you drink is clean and free from pathogens and other toxins, like chlorine and fluoride.

Owning a high-quality, portable water filter is the best way to do this on your own.

The real question then becomes which one works best for your needs?

That’s what we’ll go over in this article. 

I’ve been backpacking, camping, and traveling the world for years now, and I’ve had the chance to try out a lot of the top ranked portable water filters out there.

Below, I share the knowledge that I’ve gained over the years, so you can make an informed decision that can help you gain access to clean drinking water–whether you’re traveling in a small town in India, or backpacking through the Utah wilderness.

 Here’s a rundown of what we’ll go over below:

  1. What I look for when choosing a portable water filter
  2. In depth review on my top 5 portable water filter
  3. Important things to know about portable water filters

For those who want a quick overview, below is our comparison table:

What I Looked for in a Great Portable Water Filter

With portable water filters, there are three key factors that you should take into account first. These are filter effectiveness, lifespan, and portability. 

Filter effectiveness is numero uno. If it doesn’t filter out the contaminants you’re dealing with, nothing else matters. How long the filter lasts directly relates to its effectiveness, as filters designed to filter more things rarely last as long as those designed to filter fewer.

Finally, we get to portability. We’re living in a golden age of outdoor products, and water filters are no exception. You can pick up a highly-effective and long-lasting water filter that weighs barely over an ounce and fits in the palm of your hand. 

Those three will help you eliminate the vast majority of water filters that won’t fit your needs and narrow it down to the couple options that will.

Our #1 Pick For The Overall Best Portable Water Filter: HydroBlu Versa Flow(Best Overall Option & Great For Backpacking)

Portable Water Filter
Features
Our rating
HydroBlu Versa Flow
product-image
HydroBlu Versa Flow
Features
  • Capable of removing 99.999% of bacteria and protozoan cysts
  • Not rated to remove viruses, chemicals, or heavy metals
  • Lasts a jaw-dropping 100,000 gallons with basic upkeep
  • Weighs practically nothing and fits anywhere
  • Very affordably priced
  • Exceeds EPA standards for water filtration
  • Can be easily backwashed in the field with just a water bottle
  • Great for solo travelers, emergency preparedness, and backpacking
Our Rating
Our #1 Rated (For Best Overall Pick)
5 out of 5

The HydroBlu Versa Flow is a squeeze-style portable water filter that uses .1 micron hollow-fiber membrane technology. It can filter out 99.999% of bacteria and protozoan cysts for up to 100,000 gallons yet weighs just two oz.

It works by filling a pouch, water bottle, or hydration reservoir with dirty water and squeezing it through the filter. You can get just under a liter a minute of clean water that way–an astounding feat when you think of how bulky and annoying it was to use water filters a few years ago.

Maintaining it is just as easy; the Versa Flow is threaded on both ends of the filter. 

That allows you to attach a clean water bottle to the ‘out’ end and quickly backwash the filter to force out contaminants and restore flow rate. They even attached color-coded caps so you always know which end is which.

The only real downside to the Versa Flow is that it doesn’t filter viruses, chemicals, or heavy metals. It won’t work for you if you’re looking to remove something like lead, as an example. 

If you’re needing a water filter for camping and backpacking trips, in most cases, this filter is all you need, and all I’d recommend (although there are always exceptions). 

Other than that, the HydroBlu Versa Flow is just about the perfect portable water filter. It’s inexpensive, easy to use, easier to maintain, and weighs practically nothing.

Specifications:

  • Filter Lifespan: 100,000 gallons
  • Flow Rate: .75 liter per minute
  • Weight: 2 oz
  • Size: 5” long
  • Best For: Hiking, camping, ultralight backpacking, general travel, and emergency preparedness

Pros 

  • Capable of removing 99.999% of bacteria and protozoan cysts
  • Lasts a jaw-dropping 100,000 gallons with basic upkeep
  • Weighs practically nothing and fits anywhere
  • Very affordably priced
  • Exceeds EPA standards for water filtration
  • Can be easily backwashed in the field with just a water bottle
  • Great for solo travelers, emergency preparedness, 

Cons

  • Not rated to remove viruses, chemicals, or heavy metals

Our #2 Pick For The Best Portable Water Filter: Grayl Geopress Water Purifier (Best for International Travel and Viruses)

Portable Water Filter
Features
Our rating
Grayl Geopress Water Purifier
product-image
Grayl Geopress Water Purifier
Features
  • Best for international travel
  • One of the easiest filters to use
  • Certified to filter 99.99% of bacteria and 99.9% of protozoa and viruses
  • Filters out chemical contaminants and heavy metals
  • A great option for traveling in parts of the world with uncertain water supplies
  • One of the only portable filters certified to remove viral contaminants
Our Rating
Our #2 Rated (For Best Overall Pick)
4.9 out of 5

The Grayl Geopress is one of the most unique and highly-effective portable water filters out there. It uses an innovative purification method called OnePress.

If you’re looking for the water filter of water filters that filters bacteria, viruses, heavy metals, and everything else you can possibly think of–and you don’t mind paying for it–this is the one you want. 

If I were traveling in a country I was unsure of the water, this is the one I’d be taking, no questions asked. 

The filter element of the Geopress uses a multi-stage system that’s capable of removing bacteria, protozoa, viruses, heavy metals, and even chemical contaminants. That means you can use it safely and reliably to filter water from sources all over the world.

The Geopress is two containers that nest into each other. The outer container holds dirty water that presses into the inner container through a filter element. Using the weight of your body, you can filter 24 oz of water in just 8 seconds.

I found this video of Grayl on Youtube. I typically don’t like brand-sponsored promo videos, but I found this one to be well-done, and shows what it was designed to do. 

When it comes to purification standards, it has everything you want. 

It’s been independently tested to meet NSF protocols 42 and 53, and meets EPA standards. In other words, this means you can trust that the Grayl filter has been confirmed to be able to filter what it says it can filter. 

Here are the contaminants Grayl can filter:

  • 99.99% Of Viruses – Proven to remove Hepatitis A, Norovirus, Rotavirus
  • 99.99% Of Bacteria – Proven to remove E. coli, salmonella, and cholera
  • 99.99% of Protozoan Cysts – Proven to remove giardia and cryptosporidium, and amoebae
  • Heavy Metals – Proven to remove lead, arsenic, and chromium 
  • Chemical Contaminants – Proven to remove chlorine, benzene, and chloroform
  • Particulates – Proven to remove microplastics, sediment, and silt
grayl water filter contaminant

The effectiveness of the filter isn’t without its downsides. 

The most obvious two are cost and lifespan. The Geopress is significantly more expensive than the other filters on my list (it also filters significantly more harmful substances). 

It’s more than 4X the average price of the top-ranked HydroBlu Versa Flow as an example. Even then, each filter cartridge only lasts for 65 gallons of use. When you compare that to aforementioned Hydroblu that can last 100,000 gallons, the difference is staggering. 

But it all comes down to what you need it for. 

If you’re using this to go for short backpacking trips that aren’t known for viral or metal contamination, in most cases this is a waste of money, and I would rather go for our #1 option.   

However, if you’re traveling internationally or you’re needing to filter water with viruses, heavy metals or chemical contaminants, the Grayl Geopress is undeniably the best portable water filter for the job.

I’ve backpacked through India, Indonesia, and Cambodia, among others, and there’s no question, this is the one I’d be taking. 

**If you’re looking to learn more, check out my comprehensive Grayl Geopress review. I go over literally everything you could possibly want to know about the Geopress. 

Specifications:

  • Filter Lifespan: 65 gallons
  • Flow Rate: 24 oz in 8 seconds
  • Weight: 15.9 oz
  • Size: 10.4” x 3.4”
  • Best For: International travel, hiking/backpacking in areas with known viral or heavy metal contamination

Pros 

  • One of the easiest filters to use, just fill the outer container and push the top into place
  • Certified to filter 99.99% of bacteria and 99.9% of protozoa and viruses
  • A great option for traveling in parts of the world with uncertain water supplies
  • One of the only portable filters certified to remove viral contaminants

Cons

  • One of the lowest filter lifespans, just 65 gallons
  • Significantly more expensive than other options
  • Bulkier and heavier than squeeze style filters

Our #3 Pick For The Best Portable Water Filter: Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System(Runner Up For Backpacking Trips)

Portable Water Filter
Features
Our rating
Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System
product-image
Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System
Features
  • One of the smallest, lightest, and most affordable filters out there
  • .1 micron absolute filter certified to remove 99.99999% of bacteria and 99.9999% of protozoa plus 100% of microplastics
  • Versatile design allows use with the included squeeze pouches, on a standard plastic water bottle, or as an in-line filter with a hydration reservoir
  • Filter rated for 100,000 gallons of use with proper upkeep
  • Available in a range of different colors and patterns to customize your hiking look
  • Comes standard with a 16 oz ‘dirty’ pouch for squeeze filtration, plus a carry pouch and a drinking straw for use directly from a water source
Our Rating
Our #3 Rated (For Best Overall Pick)
4.6 out of 5

The Sawyer Mini water filtration system is a refinement of the original Sawyer Squeeze, the filter that ushered in the wave of modern squeeze filters. It took an already great product and made it smaller, lighter, and even more versatile.

The Mini is a hollow-fiber membrane filter that filters at the .1 micron level. That allows it to remove 99.99999% of bacteria and 99.9999% of protozoa for up to 100,000 gallons of water–however, it’s not capable of filtering viruses, heavy metals, or chemicals though.

What’s even cooler is how many different ways it can filter water. You can use it with the included squeeze pouch, screw it onto a standard plastic water bottle, with an included straw attachment, or attach it in-line on a hydration reservoir.

That means you can quickly and easily filter a lot of water, enough for multiple people. 

The sole flaw that set the HydroBlu Versa Flow above it in my list was the lack of double sided screw threads. You have to use a cleaning syringe to backwash the Mini instead of a water bottle or pouch.

Other than that single design flaw though, it has near-identical filtration specs as the HydraBlu, is the same size, same weight, and has the same rated filter lifespan.

Specifications:

  • Filter Lifespan: 100,000 gallons
  • Flow Rate: Varies depending on how hard you squeeze. We had no problem getting a liter of water through in a few minutes
  • Weight: 2 oz
  • Size: 5” long
  • Best For: Hiking, camping, travel, general off-grid living

Pros 

  • One of the smallest, lightest, and most affordable filters out there
  • .1 micron absolute filter certified to remove 99.99999% of bacteria and 99.9999% of protozoa plus 100% of microplastics
  • Versatile design allows use with the included squeeze pouches, on a standard plastic water bottle, or as an in-line filter with a hydration reservoir
  • Filter rated for 100,000 gallons of use with proper upkeep
  • Available in a range of different colors and patterns to customize your hiking look
  • Comes standard with a 16 oz ‘dirty’ pouch for squeeze filtration, plus a carry pouch and a drinking straw for use directly from a water source

Cons

  • Doesn’t remove viruses, heavy metals, or chemical contaminants
  • One way screw-on design means you need a cleaning syringe to backwash and clean the filter effectively

Our #4 Pick For The Best Portable Water Filter: LifeStraw Water Filter (Best Straw Water Filter)

Portable Water Filter
Features
Our rating
Lifestraw water filter
product-image
Lifestraw water filter
Features
  • Lightweight, compact, and incredibly easy to use
  • Can be quickly backwashed by blowing through the top of the straw
  • Capable of removing bacterial and protozoan contaminants
  • Inexpensive and long-lasting in storage
Our Rating
Our #4 Rated (For Best Overall Pick)
4.3 out of 5

LifeStraw is one of the most recognizable water filters in the world. Designed by a Swiss medical and philanthropic company, its distinctive straw shaped filters have been used by millions of people worldwide.

Using a LifeStraw is just as easy as a regular straw. Put the bottom into a stream, pond, or container of water and suck it through. The internal hollow-fiber membrane filter removes 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.9% of protozoan contaminants.

It manages to do all this while weighing just two oz and taking up about as much space as a small flashlight. Those are pretty good specs, but unfortunately, it just can’t quite match up to some of the other portable water filters.

It’s a straw. 

You have to drink directly from unfiltered water and can’t filter larger amounts for multiple people or store filtered water for later use. It also can’t filter out viruses, heavy metals, or chemical contaminants.

All in all, the LifeStraw is still a good portable water filter. It just isn’t the best portable water filter.

Specifications:

  • Filter Lifespan: 1,000 Liters
  • Flow Rate: N/A
  • Weight: 2 oz
  • Size: 1.2” x 8.8”
  • Best For: Hiking, camping, and emergency preparedness

Pros 

  • Lightweight, compact, and incredibly easy to use
  • Can be quickly backwashed by blowing through the top of the straw
  • Capable of removing bacterial and protozoan contaminants
  • Inexpensive and long-lasting in storage

Cons

  • Doesn’t remove viruses, heavy metals, or chemical contaminants
  • Doesn’t allow you to filter water outside of drinking
  • Not suitable for use by multiple people
  • Filter is no better than other hollow-fiber membrane portable filters, yet lasts substantially shorter

Our #5 Pick For The Best Portable Water Filter: Katadyn BeFree Water Filtration System (Best Flow Rate)

Portable Water Filter
Features
Our rating
product-image
Features
  • Collapsible bottle shape is easy to use and store
  • .1 micron hollow-fiber filter can remove bacteria, protozoa, and sediment
  • Open filter design allows for a fast flow rate
Our Rating
Our #5 Rated (For Best Overall Pick)
4 out of 5

The Katadyn BeFree is a squeeze style water filtration system from one of the most respected names in the portable water filter world. It uses a .1 micron hollow-fiber water filter capable of removing bacteria, protozoa, and sediment.

To use, fill the collapsible flask up with water and squeeze it into a clean container or drink it directly from the bottle.

The design is similar to other squeeze filters such as the Sawyer Mini or HydroBlu Versa Flow, but not quite as versatile. Because it nests inside the lid of its included .6 liter collapsible flask, you lose the ability to use the BeFree as an in-line filter or a straw style filter.

The upside is that it filters a bit faster than those filters because of the filter element’s open design.

The Katadyn BeFree is a capable and lightweight portable water filter that provides effective filtration but doesn’t quite match other options’ flexibility or longevity. It can still be the right choice, especially if flow rate is the most crucial factor to you.

In most cases, though, this wouldn’t be my recommendation. 

Specifications:

  • Filter Lifespan: 1,000 liters
  • Flow Rate: Two liters per minute
  • Weight: 2.3 oz
  • Size: 11.3” x 3.5”
  • Best For: Hiking, camping, general travel

Pros 

  • Collapsible bottle shape is easy to use and store
  • .1 micron hollow-fiber filter can remove bacteria, protozoa, and sediment
  • Open filter design allows for a fast flow rate

Cons

  • Filter element shorter than comparable hollow-fiber filters
  • Expensive for effectiveness and lifespan
  • Doesn’t filter viral, heavy metal, or chemical contaminants

What Are Portable Water Filters?

Portable water filters are basically anything that can be easily packed up and carried around while still providing effective filtration. They’re much smaller than countertop water filters or permanently mounted well water filters.

Even better, today’s portable water filters are incredibly improved over those of just a decade ago. Back then a backpacking style portable filter was either a bulky pump style system or gross tasting purification tablets. Now though, you can get a highly effective and long-lasting water filter that weighs almost nothing and can provide literally tens of thousands of gallons of clean drinking water.

Benefits of a Portable Water Filter

The most obvious benefit of a portable water filter is its portability. They’re a fraction of the size and weight of something like a Big Berkey gravity-fed filter yet provide highly-effective filtration of specific contaminants.

If you’re hiking, camping, or trying out something like Vanlife, a portable water filter is a necessity. They take up a tiny amount of space and provide you with safe drinking water from most sources.

Buying Guide

Comparing different portable water filters comes down to just a few key metrics. 

Filter Effectiveness 

The effectiveness of a water filter refers to how well it can remove specific types of contaminants. Most modern portable water filters are designed with hiking and camping in mind, so they match your average hiker’s needs.

They’re quite good at removing sediment, bacteria, protozoa, and other microbiological nasties but generally don’t remove viruses, heavy metal, or chemical contaminants. For those threats, you need a more comprehensive water purifier that’s usually a lot larger.

Most of the filters on my list use hollow-fiber membrane filtration that relies of physical exclusion. Bacteria, protozoa, and sediment particles are too large to pass through the membrane’s tiny pores.

 It allows them to be very, very small and means you’ll need to regularly backwash and clean them to keep them working effectively.

Always look for independent verification and certification of filter effectiveness. The NSF is the most widely recognized arbiter of water filter effectiveness. Any filter with their seal of approval can be trusted. 

Just because a filter doesn’t have an NSF certification doesn’t mean they aren’t reliable. Many choose not to go through the NSF process and instead pay an independent lab to perform the tests on their filters.

Portability

Portability is critical for an effective portable water filter. The largest size I consider to be genuinely portable in this sense are the dedicated water bottle and straw style filters. 

Some of the very best portable water filters are barely over an ounce and can fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. If you want to go minimal, you can even use water purification tablets, though they have their own range of downsides.

Working Lifespan 

How long a filter lasts depends heavily on what it filters, its size, and what design style it uses. Hollow membrane filters in the .1+ micron pore range, such as those commonly found in squeeze bottle style water filters, are the least expensive and longest lasting.

When properly cared for they can last through 100,000 gallons of use. For most people, thats enough for a lifetime of use. Filters designed to filter out chemical and viral contaminants have drastically shorter lifespans, with many lasting under 100 gallons.

Ease of Use and Upkeep 

Until the last decade or so, basically every portable water filter was a pump-style. You put a tube into a source of water and worked a handheld pump to pull water through a filter membrane and into a bottle, pouch, or another container. 

Now, thankfully, the best portable water filters are smaller, lighter, easier to use, and much more durable. Squeeze filters fit onto small pouches or standard water bottles, while straw style filters can be placed directly into a water source.

Both of these are intuitive to use and generally require only regular backwashing of clean water through the filter as maintenance.

Very important caveat to care instructions. Most portable water filters cannot be stored wet at freezing temperatures. Freezing can damage the hollow-fiber membranes and render them inoperative.

Price

The days of spending hundreds of dollars on a ‘good’ hiking water filter are thankfully behind us. Most portable water filters are unbelievably affordable and generally pretty consistent in price. 

The exception to this is water filters designed for very specific threat environments requiring more capable/multi-stage filters to remove chemicals, viruses, and heavy metals.

Final Thoughts

Portable water filters are lighter, smaller, cheaper, and more useful than ever before. You can pick one up for practically nothing that can last years with only basic maintenance.

If you’re looking for an excellent portable filter that can handle the most commonly encountered threats, the top-ranked HydroBlu Versa is the way to go. It’s easy to use, easier to care for, and provides a massive amount of filtered water.

For those looking to travel internationally or concerned about chemical or heavy metal contamination, the Grayl Geopress is the best choice. It’s certified to remove bacteria, viruses, heavy metals, and chemical contaminants and is very easy to use.

Josh Davidson

Josh is a freelance writer and avid outdoorsman. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a B.A. in Political Science and has done his best since to live location-independent. He's been a firm supporter of the tiny movement, new homesteaders, and sustainable alternative living and used his knowledge of these topics to convert a 1999 Dodge Ram van to explore as much of Wild America as he could reach.

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