For adventurous wanderers, a portable water filter for travel is insufficient. A portable water purifier is necessary
A major mistake that many travelers make is assuming that because they have the best filtered water bottle or travel water filter available that they are ready to drink from any water source in any place, but the average portable water filter (such as Lifestraw) doesn’t remove viruses – and that’s the major flawe that should drive your decision.
For adventurous international travelers that may end up in rural back country or the urban sprawl of a developing nation, in areas frequented by people and animals, a true portable water purifier is necessary to turn tap water into safe drinking water for the average North American or European.
Below, we’ve listed all of the travel water purifier options on the market suited for adventurous international travelers aiming to keep their pack small
The most important reason drinking dirty water is such a risk, and why is drinking purified water so important: Traveler’s diarrhea, parasitic infections, and gastrointestinal diseases
We all want our travels to be as enjoyable as possible – enjoyment is specifically why we travel. Drinking “dirty” water, or more specifically water from an unpurified source that potentially carries bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and parasitic helminths, can quickly ruin your health and weeks of travel.
According to the CDC, most of the organisms that cause the much dreaded “traveler’s diahrea” can be transferred, and are most commonly acquired, through contaminated and unpurified water sources. This is why having a water purifier when traveling adventurously, to places throughout SouthEast ASia, South America, the Middle East, and Africa, is so important. In countries with poor hygiene (think, handwashing practices after using the bathroom and food handling practices in the kitchen) and inadequate sanitation practices (keep an eye on whether trash is sanitarily stored before disposal, or sits in the open and how sewage is disposed of) common water sources can become very contaminated carrying.
Though you can review CDC’s drinking and eating recommendations by country, generally avoiding drinking unfiltered tap water in South America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa is a reasonable safe practice to take on that has kept me healthy during my travels.
So if we can’t drink tap water in most countries, what can we drink? And why is a portable water filter or purifier essential for travel in SEA, South America, and my other favorite destinations?
Why you need a portable water filter: To avoid disposable water bottle trash and protect yourself by knowing your water is clean.
Straight forward, here are the reasons you want to travel with a water purifier or at least a water filter.
- Drinking tap water is not a safe option in most of Southeast Asia, Central Asia, South America, the Middle East, and Africa
- When traveling through Southeast Asia, South America, adventures and off-grid destinations, the free “filtered water” may be insufficiently filtered or may have been standing too long to be safe
- In some locations, local vendors have been known to refill water bottles with tap water. To get around this, carry a purifier or filter to be safe when adventuring through rural destinations.
- Extensive environmental damage from plastic water bottle related waste is destroying beaches in some of our favorite destinations
- Carbon packed water filters generally improve water taste and quality
- Constantly drinking bottled water when traveling is an unnecessary cost to your wallet. ($60 to $90 additional per month)
Drinking tap water is not an option in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, South America, the Middle East, and Africa
As we’ve reviewed, if you are traveling to some of the best destinations in the world, or wandering through some of the best cities for nomads and backpackers the tap water is not drinkable, for your safety and by the Center for Disease Control recommendations
When traveling through Southeast Asia, South America, adventures and off-grid destinations, the free “filtered water” may be insufficiently filtered, or may have been standing too long to be drinkable
Many welcoming and wonderful hostels and restaurants throughout South America and Southeast Asia are kind enough to offer free water for guests, in hopes of reducing water bottle waste and keeping their customers healthy. This is the kind of beautiful hospitality that makes travel to adventurous destinations around the world wonderful, however, wary travelers, especially those with sensitive digestive systems, should be wary.
Whereas some locations, like in Bali, have a standard process of delivering disinfected water, many other places have a less standard approach – perhaps a pitcher of filtered water or water from an unlabeled 5 gallon water bottle. If these bottles aren’t labeled with clear indications that they have been commercially disinfected and purified and delivered sealed, your best bet – to avoid a bout of traveler’s diarrhea – is to either stick to sealed, purified sources of water or use your own purification/filtration process in addition to the filtered water.
Though many hostels and hotels likely do only use water with a high level of purification, there is a very risk that a substandard filtration system or that the properly filtered water has been sitting exposed too long. Here, at my nomadic base in Bali, as a complement of beautiful island lifestyle, even bottled water poured into a cup and allowed to sit for a few days can collect mold, bugs, or waterborne bacteria that can ruin a week of travel – and the same can happen to a dilapidated water filter out of view in the back.
To avoid the risk of overestimating the water filtration capabilities, simply use the water (which may not be perfect but is far better than tap water) and pair it with one of the water purifiers on this list to ensure the best health possible and leave the risks for other, more worthwhile adventures.
In remote locations of developing countries, some local vendors have been known to refill water bottles with tap water – carry a purifier to be safe when adventuring through rural destinations to re-filter questionable bottled water
During my motorbike travels through far northern and rural Vietnam and into very rural Laos, finding a recognizable brand of bottled water was uncommon, but worse, finding a 100% trustworthy brand was difficult, simply because many of the water bottles had been sitting for so long. “Aged” water isn’t a problem however in some rural destinations, unscrupulous shopkeepers (around the world) have been know to refill used water bottles with tap water (not disinfected) ultimately putting you at risk without knowing it.
If you’ll be in a far off destination where the source of water (even bottled water) will be questionable, carrying a source for purification – such as a quick UV light – is an excellent choice.
Extensive environmental damage from plastic water bottle related waste is destroying beaches in some of my favorite destinations
Personally, the best reason for carrying a good water filter or purifier, aside from avoiding the unpleasantness of the sickness that comes from unsafe drinking water, is to avoid creating more disposed plastic bottles.
Some of the places that had potential to be the most beautiful places I’ve visited were beaches and destinations with thousands of miles of coastline ruined by trash washed ashore. This picture of Bali, just south of tourist beaches south of Canggu and north of Seminyak, shows the plastic that washes ashore everyday during the wet season.
In developing countries with weaker trash disposal infrastructure, such as on Indonesia and the island of Bali, plastic that is “disposed of” commonly ends up in piles that are stacked and rarely end up in landfills, but more likely wash out to sea – eventually returning to ruin potentially beautiful shores as this picture shows.
Every single plastic bottle you use takes around 450 years to decompose as detailed in this article by WWF on the life of plastics and impact on the environment.
Even the most conservative filters can filter 150+ liters of water, equating to at least 150 bottles. If you’re in Southeast Asia and use a water filter instead of purchasing bottles of water, you’ve effectively saved 150 plastic bottles from washing ashore or into delicate ocean ecosystems.
Carbon packed water filters generally improve water taste and quality
Some places you may travel to (parts of the US for instance) may have potable, disinfected water, but the chemicals used (such as chlorine), or the water source (near volcanic lands) can leave the water drinkable but with off odors and tastes.
In water bottle filters, such as the **Lifestraw Go water bottle**, often have carbon packed filters and carbon is generally excellent at not only filtering water but improving the flavor.
Constantly drinking bottled water when traveling is an unnecessary cost to your wallet ($60 to $90 extra per month).
The average person needs 2 to 3 liters day minimum, and the average liter of bottled water costs roughly $1.
That means every 30 days you will spend $60 to $90 minimum if you plan on bottled water as your source of water. That $60 to $90 is the equivalent of 2 to 3 days of accommodation, food, and enjoyment in most destinations in Southeast Asia and South America.
Do your travels a favor – get a filter, skip the bottled water, and save the extra money.
The best solution for your health, and the environment: Refill a reusable water bottle with available potable water, and filter or purify for your safety
Ultimately, the best way to save money, save trash, and save yourself the trouble of diarrhea is to carry a well rated and effective water purification method you are confident in.
Pair that water purifier or filtration device with a good reusable water bottle – such as a **Smart Kanteen** or a **Nalgene** – and you’ll be able to have safe, clean water, virtually anywhere, without destroying the beach you flew across the world to get to.
However, not all water filter and purifier devices are made equal.
Let’s talk about how to find a good way to filter and purify water, appropriate to your travels.
The Difference Between Water Filters and Purifiers
The difference between water purifiers and water filters is purifiers use a water cleansing method that removes all harmful waterborne pathogens, chemicals, and contaminants that make water unsafe, including bacteria (like E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter), viruses (like hepatitis A, rotavirus and norovirus), protozoa, parasites (like cryptosporidium and giardia lamblia), heavy metals, and any undesirable elements in water,
Water filters simply use a filtration method, forcing water through a filtration medium that separates solids larger than the pores from the water, while potentially allowing contaminants smaller than the absolute pore size of the filtration medium through to the discharged, filtered water.
While purified water can be trusted to be safe and drinkable, some water filters have a pore size that is too large to filter out viruses, heavy metals (which are dangerous to consume), and chemicals.
Types of Water Filters, Filtration Methods, and Purification Methods**
- Mechanical straining and filtration (pushing through pores of a filtration medium)
- Electro – Adsorption
- Chemical Disinfection: Iodine
- Chemical Disinfection: Chlorine Bleach
- Ultraviolet Disinfection
Your average portable water filter isn’t good enough, so, what do we need in a travel ready portable water purifier?
A travel water purifier should be contained in a bottle or in a very small, self-contained package, be able to remove any likely waterborne threats, last for the duration of your trip, and be easy to use.
Criteria for a good travel water filter:
- Eliminates viruses, bacteria, and protozoa/parasites: Filtering chemicals and heavy metals would be a great plus but isn’t necessary
- Long Life: The best travel water filter options have a useful life that will last on an extended trip (3-6+ months) and for the length of your trip. This accounts for durability and filter life
- Brand, Reputation, Reviews: From a reliable brand with a product that is reviewed well on multiple platforms (Amazon, blogs, etc.) – reputation and reviews are good assurance that the product will last through the adventures
- Small, self-contained design: Must be very packable no larger than a small pocket at max
- Clean, simple design: Avoid contraptions with external hoses that can break or snag
Also consider these options:
Consider getting a purification system that is an “EPA designated water purifier.” According to the CDC, “Filters that claim Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designation of water “purifier” undergo company-sponsored testing to demonstrate removal of at least 106 bacteria (99.9999%), 104 viruses (99.99%), and 103 Cryptosporidium oocysts or Giardia cysts (99.9%).”
Any water filtration systems that are EPA designated water purifiers will be good in most places, excluding the possibility of chemical contamination or heavy metal contamination in the water.
For areas that have high human or animal activity (such as most cities) and poor sanitation practices and conditions, a filtration or purification method removes viruses is recommended by the CDC. Ultrafiltration (remove particles of 0.01 microns), nanofiltration (remove particles of 0.001 microns), and reverse osmosis (can remove particles of 0.0001 microns) are capable of filtering out viruses and enteric pathogens.
Filters with pore sizes of 0.001 microns or smaller are capable of removing chemicals and organic molecules.
Reverse osmosis filters, which pore sizes of 0.0001 µm [0.1 nm] and smaller) can remove salts, desalinating water, and remove dissolved metals.
The main types of portable water purifiers and water filter bottles
- UV Light and UV Purifier Options: Effectively use ultraviolet light to disinfect water against bacteria, parasites, and parasites, but can be less effective in cloudy water.
- Activated carbon filter cartridge options: Activated carbon effectively asdorbs (chemically attaches to thus removing from water), organic compounds, inorganic compounds and chemicals, like chlorine and iodine, and thus improves the odor and flavor of water. Howver, activated carbon filters are generally not rated for microbe removal and do not kill microorganisms, so are often paired with another disinfection/filtration method.
- Chemical Purifiers: Chlorine compounds and iodine are common examples of chemical disinfectants that are effective against bacteria and viruses
- Gravity filters or pump filers: Use a porous medium to push water through, removing microbes of a designated size or larger. These commonly don’t remove viruses, unless there is an electrochemical filter added to the normal medium. Judge these filters, and what they filter, based on their absolute pore size, not their nominal pore size.
Note: No matter what filter you have, always avoid potential chemical and heavy metal contaminated water sources at all costs. Even most “purifiers” don’t remove these elements well enough to risk it.
Additionally, avoid water sources that have potential viral contamination (from waste of humans or animals) if you are using a water filter that isn’t rated (by absolute pore size) to filter out viruses.
Why do viruses matter in choosing a travel water purifier?
Viruses are microscopic organisms, much smaller than parasites and bacteria, that when ingested cause disease and are transferred via contact with animal or human waste (i.e., feces, urine). In North America and Europe, the risk of viruses in tap water and rural water sources is low. Unfortunately, when traveling in rural areas and urban centers of developing countries differences in customs and infrastructure standards, compared to North America and Europe, can often lead to contaminated water supplies.
1. Bathing and water disposal in rural lakes and streams often contaminates rural water sources with viruses from humans
Customs, such as bathing in local water sources and disposing of waste in drainage runoffs that lead to local water sources, make most international, rural water sources very likely to be contaminated with viruses from human waste.
2. Leaks and unidentified breaks of underground pipes in developing countries can mix wastewater with freshwater and leave viruses in tap water without any clear warning
For these two reasons (local customs and degraded infrastructure) ensure your portable water filter is capable of removing viruses, in addition to bacteria and protozoa/parasites when you travel abroad.
Questions to ask when choosing the best portable water filter or purifier for you**
Questions to ask about your needs and your travels
- What do you need to filter out? Bacteria, parasites, viruses, chemicals, or metals?
- Where will you be traveling? What are the common contaminants or situations you’ll face? (Check the CDC websites)
Questions to ask about the water filter or purifier you purchase
- Does it remove the contaminants from the water that you are likely to face while traveling?
- How long (time or gallons/liters of water) is it good for? How easily can the filtration system be replaced?**
- What special issues are there for the filter? Doesn’t work with cloudy water? Doesn’t improve taste? Requires a separate container? — And will these limitations be ok for your planned travels?
HUGE WARNING: Always avoid farm and industrial waste runoff. These sources are more likely to contain chemicals and heavy metals and few portable water purifiers reliably remove these elements.
Be sure to check the CDCs food and drink recommendations. (CDC Travel Site Link)
Best Travel Water Purifier Options
- 1. The Grayl Water Purifier Bottle
- 2. The Sawyer Select S2 and S3 Filter Bottles
- 3. Lifesaver Liberty
- 4. Etekcity Personal Filter
- Sawyer mini water filter**
- Lifestraw Go
The water purification new kid on the block, The Ultralight Grayl Water Purifier Filter Bottle is an excellent open for purifying water while traveling with a french press style design and function and easy to replace filters.
- What it filters: Viruses, Bacteria, Protozoa/Parasites, some Chemicals, some Heavy Metals
- What it doesn’t filter: Filters everything
- Cost: $60
- Lifespan (in liters & days): 150 liters per filter, 37 days of water at 4 liters per day
- Replacement filter costs: $25
- Recommended region & use: Great for any region of travel, compact enough for any type of travel
- Brand Reliability & Reviews: The Grayl water purifier is a new product and receiving many great reviews but reviewers have stated that when repeatedly using murky or sediment heavy sources, the Grayl can clog much more quickly (~1 week of routine use in the backcountry). Pro Tip: Avoid this and extended the by filtering your water with a bandana or t-shirt before purifying with the Grayl.
- Bottom Line: A new product receiving great reviews but limited by filter life (1 month). The Grayl Water Purifier Filter Bottle appears to be a great short-term travel water purifier, just remember to bring an extra filter from home if you’ll be gone longer than a month. Not recommended for RTW trips.
- What it filters: Viruses, Protozoa, Chemicals, Pesticides
- What it doesn’t filter: Heavy metals
- Cost: $80
- Lifespan (in liters & days): 484 liters, 121 days at 4 liters of water per day
- What it filters: Viruses, Protozoa, Chemicals, Pesticides
- What it doesn’t filter: You’re covered for everything with the S3
- Cost: $90
- Lifespan (in liters & days): 242 liters, 60 days at 4 liters of water per day
- Recommended region & use: The S2 and S3 are capable of filtering water commonly available in urban centers and rural areas of the developing world.
- Replacement filter costs: Replacement filters not available
- Brand Reliability & reviews: Sawyer is renowned for great portable water filter options for the backcountry. Sawyer’s newest additions (the S2 and S3) perform the job of filtering out nasties very well. Users have reported frustration on occasion with difficulty manually squeeze water through the filtration system and with an odd flavor for the first several uses of the system.
- Bottom Line:
- Cost: $110
- Lifespan (in liters & days): 2000 liters, 500 days at 4 liters per day
- Replacement filter costs: $40
- What it filters: Viruses, Bacteria, Protozoa/Parasites
- What it doesn’t filter: Chemicals, Heavy Metals
- Recommended region & use: Suitable for everywhere – originally designed for disaster relief efforts
- Brand Reliability & reviews – What are other people saying?: Large and cumbersome (similar to a coffee thermos) but a suitable option for reliable water if you’ll be spending extended time in the bush.
- Bottom Line: This is the only filter water bottle with an inline pump, meaning you won’t have to suck the water through, just pump. Additionally, a detachable hose allows you to refill from streams but remove it and tuck it away while on the move. The Liberty is the newest among our travel appropriate portable water purifier bottles…but that remains to be proven.
- Cost: $19
- Lifespan (in liters & days): 1500 liters, 375 days at 4 liters per day
- Replacement filter costs: Filter not replaceable
- What it filters: Bacteria and Protozoa/Parasites
- What it doesn’t filter: Some viruses
- Recommended region & use: Not for travel (see reviews)
- Brand Reliability & reviews – What are other people saying: Though this filter cleans water very well, sucking water through the straw is extremely taxing and not worth the work. This filter is more for a survival scenario as a last resort than adventurous travel situation where you to use it. Additionally, there isn’t clear evidence on the manufacturers site of tests proving the filter can remove viruses.
- Bottom Line: Designed for survivalists and should be combined with chemical or UV purification for safety. Travelers should look elsewhere
Other Popular Portable Water Filter options, and why they’re inadequate (but still awesome)
The following portable water filters are beloved by their following but are inadequate for international travel as they do not filter out viruses. The Sawyer Mini, Lifestraw, MSR Trailshot, and Survivor Straw Filter all contain pore filter sizes too large to remove all viruses. See how your favorite portable water filter pore size stacks up against common viruses
Average Virus Size: 0.004 to 0.1 microns
Common Viruses and Sizes:
Hepatitis A, 0.004 microns
Rotavirus, 0.004 microns
Norwalk, 0.004 microns
The Best Travel Water Filter Options and Filtration Capabilities
- What it doesn’t filter: Vruses – Doesn’t filter Hepatitis A, Rotovirus and Norwalk virus
- Filter Pore Size: .1 Micron
- What it doesn’t filter: Viruses – Doesn’t filter Hepatitis A, Rotovirus and Norwalk virus
- Pore Size: .2 Microns
Lifestraw (Lifestraw Go, Lifestraw Universal, and original Lifestraw)
- What it doesn’t filter: Viruses – Doesn’t filter Hepatitis A, Rotovirus and Norwalk virus
- Filter Pore Size: .2 Microns
- What it doesn’t filter: Viruses – Doesn’t filter Hepatitis A, Rotovirus and Norwalk virus
- Pore Size: .05 microns
Ultimate List of the Best Portable Water Filters for Travel
- Water to Go Water Bottles (Classic, Active, and Go!) – https://watertogousa.com/
- Lifesaver 4000UF – https://iconlifesaver.com/product/lifesaver-bottle/?v=7516fd43adaa
- Grayl Geopress – https://grayl.com/products/24oz-geopress-filter-purifier-water-bottle-nature-edition
- Grayl Ultralight Water Purifer – https://grayl.com/products/16oz-ultralight-compact-filter-purifier-water-bottle
- Epic Water Filters – Ultimate Travel OG Water Bottle – https://www.epicwaterfilters.com/products/ultimate-travel-bottle-og
- Sawyer S1 Select Water Filter – https://www.sawyer.com/products/s1-select-water-filter
- Sawyer S3 Select Water Filter – https://www.sawyer.com/products/s3-select-water-filter
- OKO Original with Level 2 Filter – https://okoh2o.com/product/oko-original/
- Katadyn BeFree .6L – https://www.katadyngroup.com/us/en/8019639-katadyn-befree-0.6-us~p10915
Ultraviolet Disinfection Options
- Waatr Crazy Cap – https://waatr.com/pages/crazycap
- Katadyn Steripen Ultralight –https://www.katadyn.com/us/us/72078-ULL-MP-EFG-UltraLight
- Katadyn Steirep Adventurer Opti – https://www.katadyngroup.com/us/en/ado-mp-efg-steripen-adventure-opti-uv-water-purifier~p6693
Water Filters (Do Not Remove Viruses)
- Lifestraw Go – https://lifestraw.com/products/lifestraw-go-1l
- Lifestraw Go Stainless Steel – https://lifestraw.com/products/lifestraw-go-steel
- Lifestraw – https://lifestraw.com/products/lifestraw-go-1l
- Lifestraw Flex – https://lifestraw.com/products/lifestraw-flex
- Lifestraw Universal – https://lifestraw.com/products/lifestraw-universal
- Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System – https://www.sawyer.com/products/mini-water-filtration-system
- Sawyer Squeeze Water Filtration System (Models SP129, SP131, SP137) – https://www.sawyer.com/products/squeeze-water-filtration-system
- Sawyer Bottle Water Filtration System – https://www.sawyer.com/products/bottle-water-filtration-system
- Aquapure Traveller Filtered Water Bottle for Travel – https://purehydration.com/products/aquapure-traveller
- Katadyn Vario Filter – https://www.katadyn.com/en/de/251-8014932-katadyn-vario-eu
- Seychelle 28oz., STANDARD Flip Top Bottle – https://www.seychelle.com/collections/filter-bottles/products/28oz-standard-flip-top-bottle
- Sawyer Personal Water Filter Bottle – https://www.sawyer.com/products/personal-water-filtration-bottle
- MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter – https://www.msrgear.com/water-treatment/filters-and-purifiers/miniworks-ex-microfilter/56425.html
- NSF Guide to Water Filtration Standards 42, 53, 44, 55, etc. https://www.nsf.org/consumer-resources/articles/standards-water-treatment-systems
Recommended Water Bottles
- Klean Kanteen
Frequently Asked Questions about the Best Portable Water Filter for Travel Options
How do you filter water while traveling?
Water should be filtered using a portable travel filter with an absolute pore size smaller than the largest contaimant (e.g., bacteria, viruses, parasites) that you will face during your travels. Be sure to operate the filter according to manufacturer specific instructions based on its function as a gravity filter or pump/suction filter.
Which portable water filter is best?
The Grayl water bottle purifier is currently the best, safest, and most convenient water bottle purifier for travelers.
Do travel water filters work? How effective are portable filters?
Travel water filters fo work, however, each travel water filter is only as effective as its tested specifications at removing microbes of the declared absolute micron filtration size.