Filtering Water in the Backcountry

Filtering Water in the Backcountry

September 19, 2023

Staying hydrated is an important aspect to enjoying your time in the wilderness. While many natural water sources may appear drinkable, they can contain harmful microorganisms. That's where water filtration comes in. In this post we will discuss the basics of water filtration and some of the different filter options available on the market.

Before your adventure, familiarize yourself with water sources along your planned route. Lakes, rivers, and streams may be potential sources of drinking water, but always be cautious. Avoid stagnant or visibly contaminated water, and choose running water sources when possible.


There are several methods for filtering water in the backcountry. Common options include:

  • Water Filters: Portable water filters are designed to remove bacteria, protozoa, and larger particles. Water filters typically push contaminated water through the filter into a clean container using either gravity, pumping, or squeezing. There are many examples, including the Sawyer Mini, Sawyer Squeeze, Katadyn BeFree, Katadyn Hiker Pro, and MSR Miniworks.
  • Water Purifiers: Purifiers go a step further than filters by also removing viruses. They often use a combination of filtration and chemical treatment to provide complete protection. Examples include the MSR Guardian and Grayl Purifiers.
  • Chemical Treatment: Water treatment drops or tablets containing chlorine dioxide or iodine can be used to disinfect water. While effective, these methods may take longer to work and can leave a slight taste. Examples include Katadyn Micropur and Potable Aqua.
  • UV Sterilization: UV sterilization devices use ultraviolet light to kill microorganisms, making water safe to drink. They work quickly, but they rely on batteries and may not remove debris. Examples include the Steripen Purifiers.

Regular maintenance is crucial to ensure your water filter continues to work properly. Clean the filter regularly, especially if you notice a decrease in water flow. Most filters can be backflushed using clean water to remove debris. Always refer to the manufacturer's instructions for proper maintenance.

After filtering, store your clean water in a designated container. Keep it separate from untreated water sources to avoid cross-contamination.

Proper water filtration is a vital skill for backpackers, allowing you to enjoy the backcountry without compromising your safety. There are many options out there, so if you are unsure ask an expert or someone with extensive experience.