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If you’re concerned about the quality of drinking water to wherever you’re traveling, then fear not: you’ve come to the right place.
In this guide, I’m going to explain both water filters and water purifiers, the difference between them, and look at the best water filters and water purifiers on the market you can take with you on your travels.
We’ll also run through some great tips and things to be aware of regarding drinking water in other countries.
Best Water Filters and Water Purifiers
I’d imagine you, at some point in your life, have had to bear the consequences of undercooked meat or contaminated water, and none of us ever want to go through it again.
Most people are far too nonchalant about the harmful microorganisms that can be found in food and drink.
But in hot, less developed countries, it’s a widespread problem that you have to take seriously if you want your vacation or trip to be an enjoyable one.
If you’re already in the know and want to look at my picks of the best water filters and purifiers on the market, click here.
If you know little about water filters and purifiers, and want to learn about what they do, why they’re important, and how to keep yourself safe from contaminated water while traveling, click here.
Top PickCheck Price on Amazon
Bottle filters are an excellent choice for both travelers and outdoor adventurers. Lightweight and carried in the same way as a water bottle, simply fill up the bottle and let the filter do the rest.
LifeStraw’s revolutionary filter straw put the company on the map, and they continue to strive to make effective water filtration products, one of which being their Go Water Filter Bottle.
If you don’t have the time to read through this article, then fear not. Here are my choice selections to get you to the water filters and purifiers that suit your needs best with minimal fuss.
- Bottle Filter: LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle
- Pump Filter: MSR Miniworks Ex Purifier System
- Gravity Filter: LifeStraw Flex Advanced Gravity Water Filter
- UV Purifier: SteriPen Adventurer Opti
- Straw Filter: LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
What is a Water Filter or Purifier?
Very simply, a water purifier or filter is a device that separates, or a method of separating, harmful microorganisms from the water they harbor within.
Once the process is complete, you are left with clean water that is safe to drink.
To do this, water filters and some purifiers have an internal element or cartridge built-in. This built-in filter catches debris and microorganisms as water passes through.
The clean, safe water then collects inside, ready for you to drink. Due to the build-up of debris, most filters do need to be cleaned or changed over time.
Purifiers, depending on the type, will rely more so on chemicals, or ultraviolet light, to remove the harmful viruses and microorganisms from the water.
The microorganisms that can exist within water can be broken down into the following categories:
- Protozoan cysts – Of the three, probably the type you’re least likely to have heard of. Protozoan cysts have rather long Latin-based names, but all the while can cause some unwelcome nastiness within your stomach and organs.
- Bacteria – The likes of E. Coli and Salmonella are strains of bacteria you’ve probably heard of. Common in raw and uncooked meat, they can also extend to contaminated water. Incredibly unpleasant, as you’ll know if you’ve ever had food poisoning before.
- Viruses – Finally, the smallest of the three microorganisms, and in cases, the most difficult for your body to combat. Hepatitis A and Norovirus are viruses you’ve probably heard of that are associated with contaminated food and water, and if left untreated, can stay in the body for prolonged periods, even forever.
Contracting any of these microorganisms can be dangerous. At the very least, they’ll ruin your holiday with an unwelcome bout of vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, and dehydration.
At worst, in rare circumstances, contracting certain strains can have fatal consequences.
What Should I Be Aware of When Traveling?
Water purification and filtration isn’t just something backpackers out in rugged terrain should be conscious of.
If you’re visiting a foreign country, more often than not you’re told not to drink the tap water. Sometimes, that is because the water supply is rife with microorganisms, such as in many parts of Southeast Asia.
Other times, however, it’s because the chemical makeup of the water is vastly different from what your stomach is accustomed to.
This is the case in the likes of Spain and Argentina, where the tap water is full of chemicals and can upset delicate stomachs.
Here are some points to consider about water when traveling:
- Water found in natural environments, even freshwater, should be filtered, as you have no idea what animals have been in the water or what germs are being harbored.
- Avoid drinking tap water and opt for bottled water, where possible. The country’s tourism board will guide you appropriately. If you do have to drink tap water, always use a purifier or filter.
- When purchasing bottled water from a street vendor, always check the seal of the cap. It’s common practice in some countries for vendors to fill old plastic bottles up with tap water, then seal them to look like bottles of drinking water, so stay alert.
- At restaurants, be careful. Restaurants will use tap water in the cooking process, or even in their ice. If your stomach is susceptible, try to avoid street food and local eateries. Trust your gut, as you know your own body better than anyone else.
The Difference Between Water Filters and Purifiers
In a nutshell, water filters, while still incredibly effective, can only remove protozoan cysts and bacteria from water, not viruses.
Viruses are too small for water filters; hence, a water purifier is needed to combat all three of the microorganisms found in contaminated water.
Deciding on whether to purchase a water filter or purifier should come down to your level of comfort, and the environment you’re going to be in.
If, for example, you’re going to Spain and simply wish to drink the tap water, you’ll be fine with a filter.
If you’re planning on going to a developing country that has been recently hit by a natural disaster, however, the odds are the water there is going to be rife with contamination.
A water purifier, in this case, would be a better choice.
Types of Water Filters and Purifiers
There are several methods to separate harmful microorganisms from drinking water, and they exist in a range of products.
As technology has improved products in the marketplace, categorizing them has become a little more complex, as many products use a multitude of features.
However, at a base level, we’re able to categorize into the following seven categories:
- Bottle Filters and Purifiers
- Pump Filters and Purifiers
- Gravity Filters and Purifiers
- Ultraviolet (UV) Purifiers
- Chemical Purifiers
- Straw Filters
- Squeeze Filters
Bottle Filters and Purifiers
Bottle filters and purifiers work just like water bottles. The top, however, will have a built-in filter or purification device.
There are many types available to buy. Some use suction to extract the nastiness from the water, and others work similarly to a coffee press.
The advantages are that the device doesn’t take up any additional space in your carry-on or backpack, as it’s just like carrying a water bottle.
The process is also very simple, as you simply fill the bottle up and let the filter do the work.
However, the filter or device will need to be cleaned regularly, or eventually replaced. You are also limited to the amount of water you can hold, depending on the size of the bottle.
1 – LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle
Our choice of bottle filter or purifierCheck Price on Amazon
LifeStraw are renowned in the space for their filter and purifier products, and their water filter bottle is a great addition to your travel gear.
Their filter technology is award-winning and ensures that 99.9999% of bacteria and protozoan cysts are removed from the water you are drinking.
The two-stage activated carbon filer also helps remove the iffy taste, and wincing smells from tap or contaminated water.
It’s made of BPA-free Tritan, and the mouthpiece is composed of food-grade silicone, so you know the materials that are touching your skin and lips are not harmful to your body.
It is also lightweight at 23 ounces, and you get a choice of sixteen striking colors and color combinations.
If you want a water bottle that works both in built-up areas and out in the wild, LifeStraw has got you covered with this little lightweight gem.
2 – Brita 36386 Premium Water Filter BottleCheck Price on Amazon
Sleek to look at and slim to hold in your palm, this is a water filter bottle that bubbles with sophistication.
Made of tough, BPA-free plastic, the bottle can take plenty of hits in your backpack without cracking or leaking.
At only 26 ounces, it’s lightweight, and you’re doing your bit to help save the planet by replacing up to 300 standard single-use plastic bottles.
It comes with some great features. The carry loop allows you to carry it effortlessly, while the push-button lid gives you instant access to the straw.
For best practice, the filter should be replaced every 40 gallons or two months. But with this bottle, you can take off-tasting, chlorine-tainted tap water and turn it into refreshing, crisp drinking water.
It’s a great water bottle to take on your travels if you’re not planning to drink from anywhere too off the beaten track.
Pump Filters and Purifiers
One of the most come types on the market, pump filters and purifiers, rely on good old-fashioned elbow grease.
Usually, the pump connects to, or sits inside, a bottle or container to hold the water. Attached to the pump, you’ll have a hose that you place into the water you intend to drink.
From there, you use the hand pump to pump water through the hose, past the filter that catches the microorganisms, and into the container for drinking.
The advantages of the pump and hose allow you to obtain water from shallow bodies, such as surface streams or puddles.
Using the measurements on the side of the container, it’s also very easy to get the exact amount of water you need, quickly.
However, when you’re tired, pumping can be hard graft. You will also need to change the filter over time, and there are lighter, more compact treatment methods on the market than the pump, which is often a little heavier and bulkier.
3 – MSR Miniworks Ex Purifier System
Our choice of pump filter or purifierCheck Price on Amazon
If you want to take your water pump purification to the next level of safety, it’s time to take a closer look at MSR’s purifier system.
Its stylish, effectively designed pump can pump at a rate of one liter of water per minute. Plus, at only a pound in weight, you’ll barely notice the device in your carry-on or backpack.
With the device, you get two effective methods operating to cleanse your water.
Firstly, the ceramic and activated carbon filter draw 99.9999% of protozoan cysts and bacteria from the water, while removing the chemicals and giving your water a refreshing, odorless taste.
While this is happening, the aqua tabs, that you place in the water, attack the viruses, removing 99.9999% of them from the water.
The filter works effectively for an almighty 2000 liters of water before it needs replacing.
The pump can also be attached to a wide range of bottles, bags, and water-holding instruments. An effective solution to keep your water clean and microorganism free.
Gravity Filters and Purifiers
If you’re traveling with a group of people off the beaten track, then a gravity purifier or filter may well be the best choice for you.
Generally, these products will consist of a large bag that you fill with water. You then hang them from a high point, and some form of filter, hose, and collection device will be included with the product.
Once hanging, gravity takes care of the rest, as the water flows down the hose, past the filter, and collects below.
Gravity filters and purifiers are great if you just want to sit back and let physics do the hard work for you.
They are often designed to filter or purify larger volumes of water, so they are great at getting big amounts of drinking water for more than one person. The filter or cartridges inside will also be replaceable.
However, gravity filters are not the easiest to set up. You have to fill the bag with a lot of water, and then find a place to hang it, firmly, in case it falls, before setting up the collection point.
Cleansing water is a very slow process, and generally, you’ll need a deep body of water to be able to fill the bag. They’re great for groups of backpackers, but not practical anywhere else.
4 – LifeStraw Flex Advanced Gravity Water Filter
Our choice of gravity water filterCheck Price on Amazon
Let’s start at the filter level and LifeStraw’s excellent Flex water filter. Simply locate your water source, fill the bag, and hang it up.
Inside, the hollow fiber membrane and carbon filter capsule will work on overdrive to draw 99.9999% of bacteria and protozoan cysts from the water.
All the while, it will keep the water crisp, refreshing, and free of nasty smells. The clip is sturdy and is easily hung from the likes of trees, trunks, and gutters.
The bag has the potential to reach reassuringly large numbers. Over its lifetime, you can expect 2000 liters of water to be filtered before the membrane needs replacing, and 100 before the carbon capsule bites the dust.
Courtesy of LifeStraw’s initiatives, a percentage of your purchase will also go toward a school child in need receiving a year of clean drinking water, which is a wonderful incentive.
5 – LifeStraw Mission Water Purification System
Our choice of gravity water purifierCheck Price on Amazon
If you want to move to a purification system, LifeStraw again has you covered.
Their Mission Water Purification system uses its remarkable hollow membrane water purifier to remove 99.999% of all microorganisms in the water, ready for you to drink cleanly and safely.
You have the option for a 12 or 5-liter bag, and its double clip and adjustable strap allow it to be hung from a variety of places, so that gravity can kick in and do the work.
The reservoir bag allows rolls up nicely when you’re not using it, so it can easily be carried in your rucksack or backpack.
With a lifetime filtration capacity of 18,000 liters and a surprisingly quick flow rate of 9-12 liters of drinking water per hour, LifeStraw’s water purification system is a great way to purify water for drinking alone or with a large group of people.
Ultraviolet (UV) Purifiers
Ultraviolet purifiers look like pens, and all you have to do is turn the device on, then stir in the contaminated water for a period of time (around 60 seconds, but products will vary) for pure, cleansed water.
The device uses UV light to destroy the microorganisms in the water. Now there’s some crazy science for you!
The advantage of the UV purifier is its simplicity of use. Within a minute or so, you’ll have clean drinking water, with minimal effort.
There are also no filters or devices to be cleaned or replaced, which is a great time-saver.
A UV purifier, however, will need batteries, so be sure to travel with some.
And, if the water is particularly cloudy, you’re going to need to pre-filter it first. As much as a UV purifier sounds like magic, it still has its limitations.
6 – SteriPen Adventurer Opti
Our choice of ultraviolet purifierCheck Price on Amazon
This is a nifty little device that’s very easy to carry with you wherever you travel to. All you have to do is input the batteries, place the SteriPen into your glass, bottle, or reservoir of water, and click the button.
Simply stir the pen inside the water, and the light will start to blink once the purification process is complete.
Once finished, you’ll have drinking water rid of 99.9% of the protozoan cysts, bacteria, and viruses that harbor within, that also taste clean and rid-of chemicals.
The pen is reusable for around 8000 liters, so you have plenty of longevity.
As long as you have batteries on hand, SteriPen is an incredibly effective, easy, and lightweight way to keep your water clean, drinkable, and rid of microorganisms.
Straightforward to use, you can buy various chemicals in little bottles that you simply add to the water.
In time, the chemicals will remove the microorganisms, and you’ll have clean drinking water at your disposal.
The advantages of using chemicals are that they’re ultra-lightweight and very inexpensive, so you can have plenty of bottles with you on your travels.
However, the process does take some time. Purification can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours, depending on the water, so you’ll need to be patient.
Because you’re using chemicals, they can often leave a strange taste in the water.
You also need to be cautious if you have a thyroid condition or are pregnant, so be sure to check the label very carefully before use.
Quite remarkable to behold, straw filters simply allow you to place the device into a body of water and slurp as though you’re drinking a soft drink at the cinema through a straw. The built-in filter takes care of the rest.
Incredibly light and barely taking up room in your carry-on or backpack, there’s also no preparation time with this product.
You simply dip the straw in and start drinking. This can also be used to get drinking water at the scarcest of sources, such as surface run-off or shallow bodies of water.
This, however, does mean that you cannot store water in the device. You will only be able to drink when you’re at a water source, which could become problematic.
The filter also needs to be cleaned, and in most of the models, the filter is not replaceable.
7 – LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
Our choice of straw filterCheck Price on Amazon
LifeStraw’s flagship product has been occupying the backpacks and carry-ons of backpackers and travelers for a long while now and for good reason.
In its lifespan, it can filter around 1000 liters of water, and remove 99.9% of protozoan cysts and 99.9999% of bacteria in the process.
At 2 ounces, it’s ultra-lightweight and a must-have necessity for any backpacking trip.
The straw itself is made from BPA-free materials and measures a compact 9” x 1” x 1” in size.
LifeStraw has set and raised the bar with this product, and if you want a quick, simple way to obtain drinking water without having to store it, this is an excellent choice to accompany you on your travels.
Similar in many ways to a bottle filter, squeeze filters are like drinking from a juice carton.
Once filled, you attach the filtration element, and drink through that while squeezing the bottle.
To travel with, these squeeze filters are much lighter and cost much less than some of the more adventurous methods on the list. The filter or element inside is also replaceable.
However, due to their size, you can’t carry much water. The filter will also need to be checked, cleaned, and replaced, if necessary.
8 – Sawyer Products SP124 Mini Water Filtration System for Squeezable Pouches
Our choice of squeeze filterCheck Price on Amazon
With a mere 2 ounces of filtration dynamite in your hands, Sawyer Products’ mini water filtration system can be a life-saving companion on any tourist or backpacking trip.
The purchase comes with four squeeze pouches, but the filter itself can be attached to an array of bottles, bags, and reservoirs, for multi-purpose use.
Once attached, you simply drink through the straw attached to the top, and the filter takes care of the rest.
The micron absolute inline filter will remove 99.9999% of harmful bacteria and protozoan cysts, and 100% of any rogue micro plastics shifting around in the water.
Combined with the pouches, the filter is an excellent way to simply and quickly drink water taken from any source.
Plus, with a filter rate of around 100,000 gallons, your filter should be able to last you for a long time before needing to be replaced.
Water Filters and Purifiers Summary
Whatever level of protection you’re comfortable with, drinking water quality while traveling is something that cannot be ignored.
Having your very own water filter or purifier with you will always give you peace of mind and allow you to drink safe drinking water in those inevitable moments when you may not feel so sure.
The longevity of all of these products is impressive for what they do, so an investment now is more than worthwhile.
We all read horror stories online about when things go wrong while traveling.
As rare as they are, when products like water filters and purifiers exist on the market, why take the risk in the first place?
You Might Also Like to Read
If you’re still keen to add to your travel gear after looking through this article at the best water filters and purifiers on the market, be sure to check out some of our other articles:
- Best Packing Cubes for Travel
- Best Waterproof Backpacks and Water-Resistant Backpacks for Travel
- Best Microfiber and Quick Dry Travel Towels
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Author: Dale Johnson is a content writer, creator, and full-time digital nomad as of 2016. He is passionate about the latest, most innovative travel tech and gear, constantly adding to his nomadic setup and attire.
Non-product images licensed via Shutterstock