Water is everything, get the right filter

One of the most important pieces of outdoor gear (and survival gear if we want to go that route) is the ability to get clean water.

Without water you’ll have a real rough time living in the wild. According to the rule of 3s it’s the 3rd most important part of surviving. The rule of 3s is a basic way to remember what is most important in surviving: You’ll survive 3 minutes without breathing, 3 hours exposed to the elements (cold or hot), 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. So, hopefully when push comes to shove you are breathing and have the right clothes on.

Clean Water is Good

Water can’t be trusted anymore to just drink from the river or stream or most springs. There’s too many microorganisms in it to be safe for consumption. You will get sick.

Of course the myth is if you get giardia once you’ll never get it again…I don’t trust it though.

giardia organism

Giardia is a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal illness known as giardiasis. While the parasite can be spread in different ways, water (drinking water and recreational water) is the most common mode of transmission. From the Center for Disease Control.

Of course giardia is only one of the problems that exist out there in the water. So, there are a few ways to clean water, and these tend to be the most popular types of backpacking/hiking fitlers.

First there is boiling it. If you get any amount of water to the point of boiling, even just small fisheye bubbles, it’ll kill everything in it. It’s probably one of the most safe ways to treat water, but it leaves all the floaties in it.

Mmm, nothing like gulpin’ down a clean swig of sand-filled water!

There is chemical treatment which works effectively. It has the same problem as boiling it; whatever you leave it you’ll be drinking; sand, bugs, sticks, etc. However, chemical treatment will also leave a nasty taste to the water. Some companies claim they have gotten rid of the nasty taste; don’t be fooled.

Then there is the filters: UV, Ceramic, Carbon, Charcoal, and Fabric. These ones are my favorite types of ways to clean water in the backcountry. They work effectively, they leave the good taste of backcountry water, and most of them get rid of the gunk. If you trust a UV filter enough to use it (I don’t) you’ll have to chug down the sand, bugs, sticks, etc. that you don’t pick out.

The other ones, though, work great! Most are a combination of the four types: Ceramic, Carbon, Charcoal, and Fabric. They will clean your water well and you’ll have great tasting water without all the floaties.

Below you’ll find my three favorite ways to clean water in the backcountry.

General Ecology First Need XLE

Global Ecology First Need Water FilterThis filter in my opinion is the best water filter out there. It’s a bit heavier than most filters and it’ll cost a pretty penny, but you’ll be glad you had it. At 2 liters per minute you’ll be kicking back in your Crazy Creek with clean water watching everyone else still pumping water or drinking their iodine flavored mix.

It screws into large water bottles like a Nalgene and it also has a smaller port for the smaller necked bottles. This is awesome because it works with Gatorade bottles or most any bottle out there.

One major problem is cleaning this filter and in-field fixing. All that means is you have to watch what you’re doing. It can’t take the dirtiest and siltiest of water, but I’ve used it in some pretty sand filled pools.

MSR Miniworks EX Microfilter

MSR Miniworks Water FilterI’ve used this filter the longest out of any and I have liked it; that being said it is not my favorite filter, that’s the one you just read about above. The ease of cleaning and field repair coupled with the cost makes it one of the most popular filters out there.

The ceramic-style of this one is pretty easy to clean and will last for a long time. MSR didn’t mess around when it came to in-field cleaning and repair of this filter.

One major problem I have found with this is it takes a long time to pump water. MSR claims 1 liter per minute, but that’s only if the filter is spotless and the water doesn’t have any silt in it. In the desert southwest, where I use most of these, the filter gets gunked up every few pumps. When this happens you have to take it apart and scrub it clean.

Katadyn Hiker Pro MicroFilter

Katadyn Hiker Pro Water FilterAnother really cost effective filter, Katadyn has been making quality products for years. I’ve only used this filter a few times while out backpacking, but it performs similarly to the MSR one above; different type of filter system though, it’s not ceramic.

It’s the lightest of the three mentioned here at only 11 oz. It attaches directly to your water bladder too instead of to a water bottle. Many people carry Camelbaks and this will be the easiest to filter into one of those.


What water filter do you enjoy the most or did you just say, “screw it!” and take the giardia-one-and-done route? Comment below.

2 Replies to “Water is everything, get the right filter”

  1. Tom Larson

    Keith: Just discovered your website. Great stuff, I’ll return often to see what you’ve been up to.

    RE: your gear page about water filters; I entirely agree with you that filters beat the hell out of tablets, boiling or UV. But of boiling, you write, “If you get any amount of water to the point of boiling, even just small fisheye bubbles, it’ll kill everything in it.”

    Now, I’ve always understood that you must vigorously boil water for at least twenty minutes (longer if it’s nasty) to be assured that all the critters are dead.

    Only one of us can be right–it might be worth further research. You know what they say about undercooked meat, shellfish…and bacteria.

    Thanks, and keep up the good work.

    • Keith Howells Post author

      Hey Tom,

      Thanks so much for reaching out. I need to come in and add an update to this post about water filters because I have found an even better one: the MSR Guardian. Oh that thing is amazing!

      So, the boiling water thing really is a place full of ideas and opinions. From studies done by the World Health Organization the range of temperatures to kill all of the water-born virus, bacteria, and protozoa is 131-204 Fahrenheit.Once the water hits that temp then it destroys the terrible things.
      Since water boils at 212 (at sea level), this is when people take it into their own judgment of when that is. Institutions will teach different things and set different standards of practice…so depending on who you learn from will give you how long you want to boil water.

      I was taught fisheye bubbles (to save on gas use) and haven’t gotten sick yet…

      I appreciate the comment. It’s always good to hear others experiences with these outdoor living skills.




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