Going off the beaten track? We’re here to help find a reliable water purifier that you can take with you on your travels. We’re looking at the best portable filters the industry has to offer for those that dare to venture to unexplored territories.
If you’ve travelled to places with unsafe water, you’re probably the first to appreciate the water that comes out from the tap at home.
Indeed, municipal water in the UK is one of the safest in the world, but not all countries can say the same about their municipal water supplies, and the countries that struggle most to provide healthy clean water to its residents are underdeveloped or developing countries, or countries with fresh water scarcity issues.
Although most water purifiers are designed as units that are attached to your mains water line, there are options for on-the-go filtration.
Buying bottled water in countries with water cleanliness issues is an option, but this option carries its own set of risks — you don’t know how that water was bottled or where it comes from.
And if you’re adamantly against contributing to the plastic pollution caused by plastic bottles, a portable water filter is definitely your best bet.
In this article, we’re exploring the best water purifiers for travel, but first, let’s see what are portable filters and what are the attributes of a good portable water filter.
Are Portable Filters Reliable?
Portable water filters may question everything you know about water filter systems — that they’re pressure based, that they come with bulky hardware, that they work with large replaceable filter cartridges, and most importantly, that they’re plumbed into your water network.
These all hold true for residential filter, but also for portable filters. They work based on pretty much the same principles as residential units, only that they’re smaller, lighter, and they’re stand-alone units.
Portable filters make sure you don’t have to rely on bottled water or municipal water, but since they’re quite varied in their filtration capabilities, you must choose wisely.
Even though their filtered water output lags behind that of residential models, the filtration capability of portable filters is on equal footing with that of residential filters.
Therefore, portable filters are both reliable and a way to get the best of both worlds: their portability reminds of the portability of bottled water, while their eco-friendliness and effectiveness reminds of traditional water filter units.
To make sure your portable filter protects you from gastrointestinal diseases and potentially deadly waterborne diseases, here’s what you should look for in a portable water purifier:
Portable Water Purifier Checklist
For a carefree travelling experience, make sure your to-go filter has all the following attributes:
Before you can pick a portable purifier, make an assessment of the region or area you’re travelling to — How’s water sanitation? Is clean water readily available? Is the area known for water-borne disease outbreaks?
If you’re travelling to Europe, Canada, or the USA, you can get away with a simple water bottle filter that removes chlorine, particulates, and other water ingredients also found in tap water at home.
If you’re travelling to countries with rampant environmental pollution and dodgy water sanitation laws, you need to be more circumspect in choosing a filter.
The water purifier you’re looking for must remove cysts, bacteria, viruses, pathogens, industrial pollutants, heavy metals, agricultural contaminants, etc.
The more contaminants the filter removes, the better, after all, it’s your health that’s on the line.
Another thing you should consider when determining if the portable filter you’ve set your eyes on is any good, is the durability of the filter cartridge inside the purifier. Make sure filters are easy to replace and easy to come by when the time comes to replace them.
Since you’ll be travelling with your filter, it must be lightweight enough for it not to become an inconvenience during your trip.
If you’re going for filter bottles, you won’t have any troubles carrying these around, and even larger portable units are made from lightweight materials like stainless steel.
But volume or size may be an issue as you will see below:
Portable water filters are a varied lot, but the most common ones include:
- Water bottle filters, which have a small filter system built into the cap or neck of the bottle, and water is purified by using a hand-operated pump or through suction through a straw;
- Gravity water filters, which are much bigger than filter bottles and which filter water through gravity-fed ceramic filters;
- Filter straws that you can place into a water source and drink through the straw directly from the water source;
- Water filter cubes, jerry cans, and packs that are two compartment units that filter water through pumping into a second compartment for filtered water.
These are the most common options you’ll come across in your search for a portable filter. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, so we recommend analysing both before you commit to a type.
For example, water bottle filters are easy to carry around (just like filter straws for that matter), but their filtered water output is limited to the volume of the bottle, which rarely goes over 1 000 ml.
If you’re backpacking, they won’t be an inconvenience, but they also won’t deliver filtered water without constant refilling.
Gravity water filters on the other hand are much bigger with higher filtered water output and storage volume, but they’re not as easy to carry around unless you buy really slim versions like the Propur SCOUT 1 Person Water Filter or the Travel Berkey Water Filter, both of which are smaller than regular gravity filters, but bigger than filter bottles.
Filter cubes, jerry cans, and filter packs all have the same disadvantage of being larger than something you could carry in your backpack or pockets, but if you’re travelling by car, these are certainly the better option.
Wear and Tear
Size, filtration efficiency, filter durability are all very important things to check before making a portable water filter purchase.
However, the filter system’s resilience and ability to withstand wear and tear are also crucial, especially if you’re going to expose it to the elements in rough environments.
No matter the type, a robust filter that’s made from durable materials is going to be your best choice.
Top Water Purifiers for Travellers
Now that we’ve cleared up the things you should check before buying a water filter for travelling purposes, here are our top recommendations with a pros and cons approach to each:
Using two ceramic filters changed every 22,700 litres, the Travel Berkey is a compact, robust unit that is perfect for 1-3 travellers.
The Black Berkey purification elements in this filter are one of the best in the industry and the pores of the ceramic filters are microscopic, which prevents pathogenic bacteria and viruses to pass through the pores.
Besides sediments and foul odours and tastes, the Travel Berkey also removes the following contaminants: VOCs, dangerous bacteria, detergents, herbicides and pesticides, organic solvents, heavy metals, and more.
The best features of the Travel Berkey can be summed up as follows:
- Stainless steel construction that makes the unit lightweight and durable;
- Upper chamber of the filter can be nested in the lower chamber, making the unit stand at only 12 inches;
- The filter delivers 10.4 litres of water per hour and the unit has a storage capacity of 5.7 litres;
- The system can be expanded to include arsenic and fluoride filter elements;
- Filter elements are cleanable under running water.
If you’re looking for a larger model, we recommend the Big Berkey Gravity Water Filter, which has a higher storage capacity and filtered water output.
The advantage of this gravity filter is its filtered water output and excellent filtration capability, however, the filter elements that are used in gravity water filters must be handled with care since they can easily break.
If you’re travelling, make sure you store the filter elements in a shock-proof container and avoid dropping them.
The Lifesaver bottle is one of the most reliable portable filters today. It was first introduced on the market in 2007 and it’s used by Military customers all over the world.
The bottle is available in various colours and sizes, and it’s an excellent choice for when you’re disconnected from a reliable source of water.
Although it doesn’t match the storage capacity of gravity water filters, depending on the model, these filters in a bottle boast a service life of up to 6000 litres.
The filter disks in this bottle are designed to filter down to 15 nanometres (that’s 0.015 microns!), which is more than enough to remove all viruses, cysts, bacteria, and water-borne pathogens from any water source.
The bottle is easy to use — simply fill it with water, use the pump to create pressure, and drink!
The features that make this filter bottle one of the top choices for portable filters include:
- Sizes run from 500 ml to 750 ml capacity;
- Filtering 750 ml of water takes under a minute;
- The failsafe filter cartridge doesn’t allow you to pump after they’re used up;
- The outer shell of the bottle is robust and comes with a carrying strap.
The Lifesaver bottle is hands down one of the most advanced filter bottles, its only disadvantage that it weighs around 600 g even when empty, which some travellers looking for absolutely lightweight options may dislike.
LifeStraw Filter Straw
If you’re looking for ultimate in portability, the LifeStraw should definitely be one of your top choices. Whether you’re hiking, backpacking, or in an emergency, the LifeStraw can help you turn contaminated water into clean drinkable water on the go.
The features that make this filter straw a must-have for any traveller include:
- You can drink directly from lakes or streams through the straw and stay protected against water-borne diseases;
- The filter weighs 57 grams, which makes it the most lightweight type of portable filter;
- The straw is BPA free and contains no chemicals;
- Removes 99.999% of microplastics, Giardia, Cryptosporidium, salmonella, E-Coli and other waterborne bacteria and protozoa;
- It’s 1 inch in diameter and 22.5 cm long.
The only disadvantage of the filter straw is the fact that it cannot be used to store water, but other than this it’s the ultimate choice in lightweight portable filtration.
Other Portable Filters
Lifesaver doesn’t manufacture just filter bottles, their product selection include jerry cans, filtering cubes, and filter packs.
Some of these are bigger than the others, and they’re not quite suitable for backpackers, but if you’re travelling by car, they’re an excellent alternative to the other portable filters discussed in this article.
Whichever portable filter you choose, make sure it’s appropriate for the purposes of your travel. Always take extra filter cartridges with you as you may be forced to replace them more frequently if the water is too dirty.
Remember that just like not all residential filters are made the same, not all portable filters are equal either.
Be sure to check filter maintenance requirements, filter cartridge handling precautions, and information about filter service life.
Test the filters at home before you go on a trip to make sure everything is in working order and to avoid any surprises while you’re abroad.
All the filters presented above are from a reliable manufacturer that meets quality and safety guidelines. These filters are used with success in emergency situations by emergency relief organizations and even the military.
You can always combine two types of portable filters for extra precaution. For example, you can have both a filter straw and a filter bottle.
If you’re travelling in a group, make sure everyone has their own portable filter system, or choose a system that can meet the demands of the entire group.
If the filter is not cleanable, don’t attempt to clean the filter or use it beyond its service life since you risk getting sick.
Hopefully, this rundown of the best portable water purifiers has answered most of your questions related to these filtration devices and now you’re better equipped to choose the best filter for your travels.