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Learn How to Purify Water: Water Filtration for Hiking (Infographic)

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When it comes to penning a list of essential items for camping or hiking, the first thing that comes to our mind is water. What if the hike will last more than a day? You will certainly despise the idea of carrying huge jerrycans of water adding weight to your already burdened shoulders. So the only option left is to filter the water to make it potable. There are numerous types of filtering methods, read on to learn the best water filtration for hiking to ensure you have a safe hike.

For more tips on hiking equipment, read our article on Must Have Camping and Hiking Gear.

Many researchers state that backcountry water is not as dirty as we all think. Unspoiled streams at high altitudes, areas free from animal grazing, and less-populated regions are safer than we think. Nevertheless, where humans and animals can reach, the microorganism can, too. So, it is always better to take precautions than regret later. Before discussing the methods of water filtration for hiking, let us first go through the primary types of waterborne threats.

Waterborne Threats

There are three types of pathogens or microorganisms which are of great concern and can lead to various waterborne diseases like diarrhea, cholera, botulism, dysentery etc. These pathogens are transferred through human and animal feces.

some of the waterborne threats


These large sized (usually 5-100 microns) organisms are found in all types of water sources. They can be easily filtered out by UV and boiling filtration techniques but are resistant to chemicals. Common types of protozoa are Cryptosporidium and Amoebae .


These are medium sized (typically 0.1-1 micron) organisms and can be filtered through UV, boiling, and chemicals. Common types are E. coli and Salmonella.


They are the smallest pathogens (usually 0.01-0.1 micron) and are difficult to filter out of the water. To remove/deactivate virus you need to “purify” the water as just filtering the water is not enough. Common types Hepatitis A and Rotavirus .

Learn the Techniques of Water Filtration For Hiking

Drinking clean water is necessary for your survival when you are hiking far away from civilization. Here are a few water filtration techniques you can use on your hike for making potable drinking water.


All the pathogens can be deactivated by boiling water for around 1 to 3 minutes. However, at a higher elevation, above 6,500 feet, boiling takes slightly more time. Though it is a foolproof technique, it is not a practical method as it wastes both fuel and time.

Nevertheless, in sticky situations, it works just fine.

Livingit Tip
If you lose or break your filter, or if the batteries get drained, boiling is a sure shot backup option.

Using Chemicals

Chemicals in the form of drops or tablets (chlorine, iodine, or chlorine dioxide) are used to make water potable. The time taken depends on how dirty the water is. One drawback of this technique is that chemicals eliminate bacteria and virus but not protozoa. Some of the available options are Aqua Mira drops, Potable Aqua Iodine Tablets, and MSR Aquatabs.

chemicals used for water filtration

Grapefruit Seed Extract

If you love the idea of a natural purifier and do not want to consume chemicals or don’t have the budget for a filter, you can opt for this method. The flip side is it is very acidic and has a bitter taste. Moreover, it isn’t advised for exceptionally impure water.

Bleaching Powder

Choose unscented bleach that has the fewest additives. It protects from bacteria and viruses but not from Cryptosporidium. Mix two to four drops in one-liter water. You might experience an unpleasant taste and a prominent smell. You can neutralize the taste by adding taste-neutralizing tablets.

Water Filtration Systems

The use of a backpacking water filter system is pretty popular among hikers as it is inexpensive and requires very little effort. A water filter purifies water only from protozoa and bacteria. However, you can first treat the water against virus using a chemical and then filter it to wash out protozoa and bacteria. A filter less than one micron is effective.

Three types of filters are available and you can choose the best water filtration for hiking depending on your requirement.

Pump Filters

They are the most common and best backpacking water filter as they cleanse water fairly quickly. Water is pumped through a filter whose pore size is smaller than the size of the bacteria and protozoa, leaving no space to move through. The most popular pump filters are Katadyn Hiker Pro, MSR Sweetwater, MSR Hyperflow, and MSR Miniworks.

katadyn water purifier

To use a pump filter, drop the intake hose into the water source and the outlet hose into the collecting reservoir. Then pump it.

  • Advantages – You can pump out as much water as you need. You can use them in shallow water sources too. The cartridge is replaceable.
  • Disadvantages – Pumping can be tiring. The weight of the device is comparatively more.

Gravity Filters

As the name suggests, water is cleansed using gravity to push the water through the filter. The most popular gravity filters are Platypus Gravity Works and Sawyer Complete systems.

sawyer purifier for hiking

Fill a reservoir, hang it, and wait.

  • Advantages – Gravity does the work of processing large volumes of water. The cartridge is replaceable.
  • Disadvantages – Finding a place to hang it can be difficult. The process is slower. In shallow water sources, using it can be challenging.

Straw/Bottle Filters

These devices treat water through a double hollow fiber filter. Some models also use UV light.

straw filters for water filtration

  • Advantages – Treatment is easy and you can drink water immediately. Lighter and cost effective.
  • Disadvantages – They don’t have a storage system, so you can carry them as an emergency backup. Not all models have replaceable elements. Can be used only for one person.

What is a Water Purifier?

Purifiers not just filter the water but also purify it using UV light like the SteriPEN. They can purify around 1 liter of water at a time to deactivate all the three pathogens. Although expensive than the other techniques, they are more durable and recommended for frequent hikers or for large hiking groups. Purifiers run on battery, so carry spare batteries or a solar recharging system.

steripen purifier with UV

One merit of a purifier over a filter is they can also combat viruses, which most filters cannot catch efficiently due to the size of viruses.

How Filters and Purifiers Work?

The microscopic pores in the cartridge catch debris and pathogens. Purifiers additionally contain chemicals or UV light to kill viruses. Many filters and purifiers include activated carbon, which removes unpleasant taste and reduces pesticides and industrial chemicals that contaminate water. The pores need to be cleaned and cleared from time to time and eventually replaced.

Choosing Water Source

The following do’s and don’ts are essential for proper water filtration for hiking:


  • Always prefer collecting from flowing water like a stream or river. Flowing water isn’t conducive to microorganism accumulation and algae growth.
  • The second choice should be water from a lake or pond (that is, calm water). Less sediment or silt in such water will make filtering easy.


  • Taking water from an area where animals graze could contain micro-organisms.
  • Taking water from an area where you find human or chemical waste in the vicinity is a big no.
  • Collecting water soon after rains will have a bacteria overload; wait for the sediments and silt to sit.
  • Gathering dirty snow and even clean snow has a lot of bacteria because these microorganisms can live for a long time in ice.

How to Gather Water?

Look out for the clearest possible water. Leaves, silt, and algae complicate the treatment process of water filtration for hiking. Collect water in any pot or cooking utensil from the surface of the water. Then let the sediment sit to the bottom of the pot. Try to stay still, as in a hurry all the settled mud will be mixed again in the water.

Use a pre-filter like a bandana to remove trash and avoid clogging. And finally, the most important point, sanitize your hands before and after the water collection process.

The “Leave No Trace” Principle

Dedicate yourself to the following responsibilities to preserve the quality of water:

  1. Always set your camp at least 200 feet from the water source.
  2. Dispose of human waste at least 200 feet away from the water source.
  3. Clean utensils at least 200 feet away from the water source.
  4. Do not let soapy water get into the water source.
  5. Dispose of soapy water on soil rather than rocks.

You should not take purifying water lightly as any water-borne infection and illness can ruin your hike. Using the correct process of water filtration for hiking is essential. As Stephen Curry has rightly said, “Drinking water is essential to a healthy lifestyle.” So, invest in a good water treatment apparatus depending upon your budget and convenience.

Also, read about Hiking Food Ideas!

Do spend some time and familiarize yourself with the filter or purifier before the hike. Write us about the plan and type of water filtration for hiking that you use.

Here is an infographic on Water Filteration techniques which you can save and share!

Water filteration techniques for hiking Infographic

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