Portable water purifiers are most often used for camping, traveling, or backpacking. A variety of different water purifiers are available on the market to choose from.
Since I do a lot of hiking and backpacking (that's me in the blue shirt), finding a good portable water purifier was a high priority. I have sifted through most of the riff-raff and have come up with my favorites.
The following is a quick overview of the four main types of portable water purifiers: (1) water filters, (2) water filter bottles, (3) ultraviolet purifiers, (3) mixed oxidant purifiers, and (4) purification tablets and mixes.
I have also indicated my top picks in each category.
All portable water filters are not considered water purifiers because some only filter out certain contaminants and do not disinfect (i.e., purify) the water. However, portable water filters are the most common and the most-used type of water purifier.
Many portable water filters use a single filtering system. However, higher quality ones use a multi-stage filtering system.
If you are looking for a really safe level of filtration that will actually purify potentially contaminated water, you will need a multi-stage water filtration system. These range anywhere from about $74 to $500 or more.
With most multi-stage portable water purification systems, you stick the nozzle directly into the body of water and then the water is sucked up through a pump system, cleaned through the multi-stages of filtering media, and then deposited into your water bottle or container.
Good quality, multi-stage filters can be trusted in most any circumstance as long as the filters are not worn out or damaged. These are great when you are going camping or somewhere where you need a heavy-duty filter to purify the water.
Multi-stage filters are the safest and most effective of the portable water filters, and I recommend the Katadyn portable filters for this purpose.
The Katadyn portable filters range in price from about $70 to $400 plus. My favorite is the pocket water microfilter because of how small and light it is for such a high degree of filtration.
The drawbacks to this filter are: (1) the bulkiness of the filter and (2) the set-up and pumping that is needed to get clean water.
In general, I don’t like the standard filtration water bottles, which usually have a single filtration media.
The portable water bottle exception for me is the Lifesaver water bottle, which is a multi-stage filtration bottle. This portable water purifier is awesome!
With a built-in pump, great suction, and an amazing multi-stage filter system that incorporates both an internal filter and an activated charcoal filter attached to the under side of the bottle top, which together filter to .015 microns.
This water bottle is very easy to use and it is made to last. Long-lasting membrane microfilter lasts up to 4,000 liters and the activated carbon filter lasts up to 100 liters of water with proper use and maintenance.
The plastic is durable, lightweight, and BPA-free. Most importantly, it is independently lab tested to meet protocols established by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and NSF International/ANSI. The price is reasonable also, about $50 or less.
The single-filter systems are going to be much more portable and are often the BPA-free water bottles (preferably stainless steel) with a filter attached to the bottle cap. The filter usually hangs down into the water and has a hose attached that you suck on to get the water out.
Other single filter types have a rod or filter that you stick in your water bottle that filters and cleans the water. These filters are not meant to be used in brackish or torpid water and should only be used for clear water that might run the risk of giardia or bacteria contamination.
Top Pick: Seychelle Stainless Water Filter Bottle
This filter bottle is BPA-free, non-leaching and lead-free. It removes up to 99.99% bacteria and viruses.
The main drawback of this type of portable filter, from my experience, is that it takes a strong vacuum-like sucking ability to get even a small amount of water out.
In addition, the filter seems to get clogged up pretty fast and only has about 1/20th of the life of a good multi-filter system. They are, however, a lot less expensive (about $25 to $35) than the multi-stage portable water purifiers and are good for short trips.
Ultraviolet is well-known to be highly effective for water purification, and is used in some municipal water treatment facilities for disinfection.
The best portable ultraviolet purifier I have found is the Steripen—the evolution of portable water purification.
You simply dip the pen into your water, click a button on the side, and voila! One and a half minutes later you have a disinfected, purified cup of water.
The Steripen works by utilizing ultraviolet light, which breaks through the cell walls of micro-organisms at a molecular level, causing molecular reorganization of the organism’s DNA.
This prevents the organism from reproduction. If a cell cannot reproduce it is considered molecularly dead and is of no further harm.
The Steripen has been proven effective, exceeding the EPA’s standards and is trusted by military members around the world. It kills all types of bacteria and viruses, including giardia, E.coli, and dysentery, effectively and FAST.
This pen is very portable, weighing only 4 ounces, and is only 6 inches long. Thus, you can carry it with you wherever you go and if you don’t completely trust the water, give it a zap!
The pen runs on batteries or it can be hand-powered through a crank system. With a retail price of just $99.99, this is my top pick for an ultraviolet water purifier.
The mixed-oxidant purification system is fairly new on the market. The only type of mixed-oxidant portable water purifier I have found is the Miox system made by MSR.
Top Pick: Military Miox Portable Purifier Pen (currently unavailable July 2021)
This nifty little Miox “pen” creates clean, filtered water through a battery-powered process called electrolysis.
First, you pour a small amount of water and a teaspoon or two of salt (depending on how much water you want to purify) into this small pen. By pressing a button, a surge of electricity jolts this water into a clean, purifying solution, which you then pour into the unpurified water inside your bottle or water container.
Within a matter of minutes, this solution will kill off any dangerous viruses or bacteria in the water and give you clean, purified water.
This purifying system is effective for large groups of people, and one batch of water from the pen can create up to a gallon of fresh water.
What I like best about this filter is the convenience and portability of it. This pen weighs only 3.5 oz and is small enough to fit inside your pocket or small compartment of a backpack. You never have to replace any filters.
However, it is fairly expensive, retailing for around $140 but is effective at killing all types of viruses and bacteria.
The two problems I have with it are (1) the time it takes to create a batch of water (about 30 minutes) and (2) the reliance on 3V batteries when you are roughing it in the wild. Other than these two factors, the Miox pen is an effective, portable water purifier.
A variety of different water purification tablets and/or mixtures are available which will purify a batch of water.
These tablets and mixes are usually inexpensive, costing anywhere from $10 to $15 dollars for 50 tablets, and are highly portable and easy to carry.
The downside of tablets and mixes, however, is that they are usually made of iodine or chlorine and will thus have a funky taste. In addition, these chemicals are not that healthy for your body.
The other major downside is that they usually take four hours or more to purify one batch of water. So, you better be ready to sit at the campsite for a while and sing some kumbaya’s with your friends or family while you wait for clean water.