Whether you’re just getting started planning your van adventure or you’re a seasoned van lifer, one thing is for sure, you need clean water. When you’re out on the road, particularly when boondocking, there isn’t always a source of clean drinking water available.
A high-quality water filter can be the difference between a great day and a severe problem. Today we’re covering van life water filters, including a breakdown of what to look for in the best water filters for van life and giving some recommendations for our top picks.
What Makes a Good Van Life Water Filter?
When picking out a water filter for your van, there are a couple of critical factors to keep in mind. Filter effectiveness and lifespan determine how well and how long your filter will function, while portability and ease of use are significant components of how likely you are to actually haul it around with you and use it.
The final consideration is price. Let’s face it, while expensive filters are often more effective, with longer lifespans and lighter designs, the price can be the factor that ultimately makes the purchasing decision.
Water Filter Effectiveness
The first thing to consider when choosing the best water filter for your adventure is how effectively it filters contaminants. This comes down to the kind of contaminants filtered and how much a filter can reduce them.
Most popular and highly portable water filters offer excellent protection against bacteria, protozoan cysts, and parasites. They can effectively remove as much as 99.9999% of possible contaminants for thousands of gallons of use, but for some locales, that just isn’t enough.
If you’re traveling outside the U.S., Canada, or Western Europe, it’s a good idea to upgrade to a water purifier capable of protecting against viruses, chemicals, and heavy metal threats. These filters are generally more expensive and somewhat bulkier than the best portable water filters, but they can be a real lifesaver if needed.
Any filter you’re considering should comply with specific filtration standards backed up by independent laboratory results. There are several widely acknowledged standards, with NSF 42, 53, 401, and NSF P231 the most commonly used. NSF 53 and NSF P231 are the most important for van life water filters as they cover contaminants that can negatively impact your health.
Water Filter Lifespan
The lifespan of a water filter is a major factor in the overall cost of ownership and plays a role in effectiveness. Across the board, more capable filters and purifiers have a lower filter lifespan than those focusing on a less comprehensive tier of threats.
Popular and highly-affordable ultraportable filters such as the Sawyer Mini or Hydroblu Versa Flow offer as much as 100,000 gallons of lifespan and are highly effective against bacterial and protozoan threats but offer no protection against viruses, chemicals, or heavy metals. Something like the Grayl Geopress costs significantly more and has a lifespan of just 65 gallons per filter element but offers comprehensive protection against virtually any threat you’re likely to face globally.
Balance your desire for a long-lasting filter element with the types of contaminants you’re likely to face in your van.
Storage space is at an absolute premium in a van, so portability is one of the most critical aspects when choosing a van water filter. Our number-one recommended Big Berkey gravity water purifier offers stellar and cost-effective protection against a vast range of threats yet is significantly too large for practical use in a van.
If you’re just traveling in the U.S., Canada, or Western Europe, you’ve got many excellent options. Modern ultralight hiking water filters effective against the contaminants you’re likely to face are absolutely minuscule and weigh barely two ounces. They’re also so cheap you’ll have no problem picking up a backup in case you manage to lose or damage your primary filter (guilty on both scores there).
Ease of Use and Upkeep
Over the past decade, there’s been an absolute renaissance in portable water filter technology. Old school hiking filters were bulky, expensive, and kind of a nightmare to actually use.
Innovators such as Sawyer and Lifestraw have revolutionized the water filter market with new technology and ultralight designs that allow filters the size of your thumb to quickly and effectively protect you against a range of potential contaminants. The Sawyer Squeeze kicked off this new model of filters, quickly supplanting bulky old pump-style filters in popularity and allowing anyone to filter water easily.
Squeeze filters use common sense innovations that allow you to quickly squeeze dirty water through a filter element and into any container you like. They can double as a straw filter direct from a water source or even be connected through an inline link to a hydration bladder.
For a van water filter, we recommend a squeeze style or bottle style filter. They take up the least space and offer the easiest use and upkeep.
In a perfect world, the price wouldn’t matter when picking the best filter, but it’s another significant consideration to make. Thankfully for those looking to pinch their pennies, picking up a high-quality water filter has never been easier and more affordable.
Squeeze and straw filters with multi-thousand-gallon lifespans can be had for just over $20. Even if you need more comprehensive protection against viruses or chemicals, you’re looking at less than $100.
Types of Van Life Water Filters
There are numerous types of water filters and water purifiers available, but for the purposes of van life, we only recommend three.
These are squeeze filters, straw filters, and bottle filters.
Squeeze filters have taken the hiking and outdoor space by storm. Over the past decade, they’ve blown past pump-style filters and purification tablets to become by far the most popular portable water purification option out there.
Squeeze filters use hollow fiber membrane technology, a form of physical exclusion filter, combined with an innovative source of pressure. By filling an included dirty water pouch and attaching it to the filter you can physically squeeze water through the filter element in mere seconds.
Squeeze filters are tiny, lightweight, and highly effective at removing bacteria, protozoan cysts, and waterborne parasites. So long as you aren’t traveling in parts of the world with viral or chemical contaminants, they’re the best option.
Our picks for best squeeze water filters for van life:
- Hydroblu Versa Flow – Best Overall Squeeze Filter for Van Life
- Survivor Filter Squeeze – Best Squeeze Filter for Viruses and Chemicals
Straw filters are another popular option among hikers and vehicle campers. They use the same hollow fiber membrane technology as squeeze filters but require you to suck on them like a straw to draw water from a dirty source.
They’re just as effective at removing contaminants as squeeze filters are, but their design lacks some of the practical utility.
Simply put, they’re straws. You have to suck up every drop of water you want to filter and drink it right away. With a squeeze filter, you can filter water for cooking, cleaning dishes, or storing for later use, but straw filters don’t allow that.
They’re not without their uses though. Straw filters make great backups or water filters to keep in your van for hiking.
Our picks for the best straw water filters for van life:
- Hydroblu Sidekick – Best Overall Straw Water Filter for Van Life
Bottle filters are an interesting mix of technology and effectiveness. Some use hollow fiber membranes as their primary filtration system, but others rely on newer and more advanced tech that can effectively remove virtually any contaminant.
Some of the very best are capable of removing virtually every contaminant you should worry about, and do so quickly and easily. The tradeoff for that capability is cost and lifespan.
Our overall pick, the Grayl Geopress, is highly effective against viruses, bacteria, protozoa, parasites, chemicals, and heavy metals, but costs significantly more than the squeeze or straw filters on our list.
Our picks for the best bottle water filters for van life:
- Grayl Geopress Water Purifier – Best Overall Bottle Water Filter and Best Bottle Filter for Viruses, Chemicals, and Heavy Metals
- Sport Berkey Water Purifier – Runner Up Best Bottle Water Filter
These are only some of the many, many high-quality water filters out there for different kinds of alternative living. Check out some of our other articles below to learn more about water filtration.
We’ve covered countertop water filters, highly portable water filters, well filters, and even gravity water filters. They cover a different sizes, capacities, and use cases to help you find the very best water filter for your needs.