Since it entered the market in 2012, the Sawyer Squeeze Filter System has gone from the niche world of ultralight backpacking to become the go-to filter for thousands of outdoorsmen and women. And for a good reason: the Sawyer is simplicity itself, eliminating the cumbersome tubes and ball valves of the pump systems of yore for a simplified design: a single bag and screw-on filter. To operate, just fill your bag from the “dirty” water source, attach the screw-on filter, and squeeze the water through the filter into a “clean” container. This pared-down system makes it easier to keep the “dirty” parts of your water filtration system away from your “clean” parts, a common source of contamination with the pump filtration models. For most solo backcountry travelers, 3 ounces and a couple of minutes of squeezing are enough to secure fresh, safe drinking water, but the ultra-prepared may want to carry a replacement pouch and the back-flush syringe to ensure their filter stays in good working order for the duration of its lifetime.
If you’re out off the grid with your loved ones, then you may want something that’s both high capacity and minimizes the exertion required for each liter of water. Fortunately, the folks over at Platypus came up with an ingenious design, one that uses gravity itself to filter water effortlessly. To use the GravityWorks, fill the dirty bag with water, and position it high up—tying it to the branch of a tree or placing it on a high boulder. Your clean bag, clearly labeled so that it isn’t accidentally contaminated, goes beneath it, connected by two tubes with the filter separating them. Then just release the hose clamp and let gravity do the rest. This system is surprisingly fast—capable of filtering up to 4 liters in under three minutes. So by the time you’ve finished setting up your tent or prepped your meal, you have clean, safe water, ready for the whole family. Depending on the size of your group, the GravityWorkses come in 2-liter or 4-liter capacities.
Sometimes your biggest backcountry consideration is speed. Spending precious minutes at a water source fussing with tubes or bags isn’t an option. Fortunately, making miles is what the Grayl Ultralight Water Purifier does best. The filter fits inside the bottle, making it easy to carry on the outside of your pack without worrying about potential damage. When you need to refill, simply dip the bottle inside any available water source (river, marsh, cow pond) and press the filter, slowly but firmly, down until all of the water has passed through. Unlike most filter systems, the Grayl blocks everything: bacteria, protozoa, viruses, and even heavy metals. In just 15 seconds you get half a liter of water, clean and pure. Now that’s hard to beat.
We’ve all been there before: you’re out of iodine, the filter is clogged, the hose contaminated. In those moments, you’d give just about anything for a trustworthy filter that required little to no maintenance. The MSR Guardian Purifier delivers reliability again and again through an innovative design: every time you pump, a portion of the water pulled through the filter is then pushed out again, backflushing the filter with every pump so that you never need to worry. To ensure that this is the last filter you’ll ever need, the folks at MSR put the Guardian through its paces: dropping it onto concrete from 6 feet up and subjecting it to sub-freezing temperatures. The Guardian withstood all tests without damage to its filtering capacity. How good is the Guardian? This bad boy was designed at the request of the military to meet National Sanitation Foundation Protocol P248—ready to be deployed anywhere in the world to provide fresh drinking water to the troops.
If you’re like me and you’re tired of pumping a filter, again and again, every time you need a fresh liter of water then it’s time to try something radically different: the SteriPEN Classic 3. It uses ultraviolet light to sterilize bacteria and viruses alike, making your water safe to drink without changing the taste. To operate, press the button (twice for a 1L container and once for .5L), wait for the green light to flash, and place the lamp in the water so that the two sensors are submerged. The wand will glow blue for a minute and a half as you swirl it in your drinking vessel. The treatment has completed when the green light comes on again (a red light will flash if anything has disrupted the process). The SteriPEN is an exceptionally strong choice for dry climates with a significant daytime/nighttime temperature differential—where most filter units need protection from freezing temperatures to prevent damage to their internal mechanisms; warm the SteriPEN back up and it works perfectly fine.
This is arguably the most important part of any outdoor survival kit—the water filtration system. Fail to drink enough clean water, and you’ll weaken, suffer cramps, dizziness, and even death. In the backcountry, staying hydrated is the first step to staying alive. How much water you need depends on you. The average person needs a gallon of water a day—much more for bigger people, or in a dry, hot climate.
- RELATED STORY: How To Disinfect Your Water
Many people plan to carry all of their water with them when they head out into the backcountry, but this strategy quickly falls apart the farther you get from civilization, and for one simple reason: water is heavy. A gallon of it weighs more than 8 pounds. That’s 24 pounds to survive a three-day journey and nearly 60 pounds over the course of a week. It’s just impractical for all but the very strongest to carry that much water. Most of us will need to get water from natural sources—springs, rivers, and lakes. But with backcountry water sources come risks: Cryptosporidium. Giardia. E. coli.
To protect yourself and your family, you’ll need to treat backcountry water sources before drinking. For years, treating backcountry water meant dealing with the strange taste and the smell of iodine, or juggling the unwieldy tubes and balls of a pump filter. But today’s water filtration systems offer more flexibility, reliability, and performance.
Which one is right for you will depend on your particular situation: where you live, whether your family is with you, how fast you need to travel. Choosing the right one is a big step to a successful outdoors experience.
In the gallery above are five of today’s top water filtration systems, carefully crafted to meet a range of needs in different environments.
- RELATED STORY: Water & Food Reserve Tips for Long-Term Survival
For more information about the water filtration systems featured here, check out the following sites.
This article originally appeared in ‘Survivor’s Edge’ Summer 2017. To pick up a copy, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.
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