Water filtration is one of the most if not the most important part of any survival plan. You can do for a while without a lot of things but water is not on the list. There are a lot of filters out there to choose from and I will say right now that no filter is ideal for every possible situation, but this ultimate guide should help you sort through the best survival water filters on the market.
After studying this guide many of you will probably come to the conclusion that you need more than one type of filter to cover all of your bases. You may even want three types if you want a personal back up filter on hand.
Backdoor Survival has compiled this guide to the best survival water filters to help you find the right water filters for survival situations in the area you are in. Urban versus rural can matter when it comes to how dirty the water you are filtering starts out as and what type of contamination you are dealing with.
With the right filters you and your family can get through a major ordeal without worrying about water or getting sick from it.
Factors To Consider
Cost Per Gallon
Less expensive filters may seem like a good deal but when you calculate in how many gallons they can effectively filter, the more expensive models are often a better deal in the long term. Save a little money and get the best you can afford.
How Many People?
Family size is key to choosing what filters or filter will actually meet your needs. Short term you can get by with about any filter if you have to but using a little pump filter, for a family of 4 or more, is going to get cumbersome pretty quickly. Having a variety of filters is often the best choice.
Availability Of Filter Replacements
Most common filter brands have replacements that can be ordered on Amazon with ease. Buying an odd brand or a pump that has really expensive filters might not be the best idea.
Some filters make claims about how long they last but I say if it sounds too good to be true or the price reflects that, then watch out.
Where is your filter manufactured?
As a prepper I have a hard time trusting some products made in foreign locations. There have been far too many reports of shoddy workmanship as well as outright putting harmful substances in manufactured goods or foods.
Water is your first line of survival. Do you want to trust your first line of survival to a country with quality control issues? I don’t think it is worth it to save a few dollars. For water filters look to USA, Swiss, Canada, Germany, etc.
If the price of your filter seems too good to be true, check where it was made.
I am not saying that there are no good filters made in countries with low manufacturing costs and cheap labor but finding the ones that are is not something I am up for.
Bugging Out 1-3 People
It is important for everyone to have their own back up filter even if they are sharing a main one.
The Katadyn is a wonderful pump style filter. I am a big fan because you can get 13,000 gallons of water out of a single filter. A replacement filter is a mere $134 and will do another 13,000 gallons.
For a long-term bug out situation or those that want a smooth action when pumping, the Katadyn is hard to beat. The initial cost may be off putting but when you compare it to the SweetWater, which is another quality filter, it would take an outstanding $3,500 worth of extra replacement filters to equal one Katadyn.
This is why, generally, it is better to do the math before you buy a major water filter. A larger up front cost equals some major long-term savings and security.
Good for 200 gallons, the MSR SweetWater is a favorite for backpackers. For a long-term survival situation you will want to make sure to have a few replacement filters on hand. For those on a modest budget it does provide good quality water and comes from a trusted USA outfitter.
The SweetWater does not protect against viruses but you can get purification drops to use after filtration that will eliminate any viruses. The drops are $14 and treat 80 gallons. Of course a lot of people are not going to need these all the time but if you are in an urban area or there is an outbreak of anything particularly nasty you are going to want to have some around.
My husband and I bought the SweetWater for backpacking trips years ago for about $50 because a store was having a major special. Since then the Sawyer Mini and the LifeStraw have come on board.
While I will say The MSR is a solid filter, there have been enough advancements that many may prefer the $20 Sawyer or $15 LifeStraw for single person usage.
The Guardian is MSR’s all in one small compact pump filter that also removes viruses and self cleans. While $350 is a bit to pay, the purifier is rated to treat 10,000 liters or more. If you are in a cold environment the self-cleaning feature makes the pump far less likely to freeze or become damaged.
For harsh environments it can take a lot of abuse. MSR tests this filter by dropping it from a height of six feet straight on to concrete.
For a pump style filter, the flow rate is remarkable at 2.5 liters a minute. This means even if you are in a small group, this filter could take care of removing all the viruses, protozoa, and bacteria.
Water Filtration For 5+ People
Filtering the water for a large group is a far cry from the few gallons a couple needs. While everyone should have their own filter, a gravity fed one for a group can be nice to have and save some time on daily needs.
If you staying in and then just going out for patrols to hunt or find food, it could be good to have everyone keep a Sawyer Mini or LifeStraw on them and have the main water filter for the group at camp. This combined approach means you have a lot of water filter options and if someone loses their personal filter, they can share with someone else in the group.
Check out the water filters described below for good, high-volume filters.
Staying In Place/Permanent Camp
For those situations where you are holding out where you are, a gravity fed filter will save you a lot of time and energy. These types of filters can take on a large volume of water at once and keep filtering for an extended period of time.
$258 For A System That Can Produce Up To 3.5 Gallons Of Filtered Water Per Hour
$358 For A System That Can Produce Up To 7 Gallons Of Filtered Water Per Hour
These have a solid reputation for providing a lot of quality water. Berkey says that their standard filter system will filter enough water for 4-16 people, which is quite a range. For home use or base camps it is a good option and even offers virus protection.
That being said, you are going to have to remember to fill it since the reservoir capacity is only 2.1 gallons. That means someone has to be there pouring water in consistently if you need a large volume of water at once. The Berkey is gravity fed so that is a nice touch.
Pumping water through a filter can get tiring and for the elderly or those that are disabled it may be a lot harder to pump enough water to get by.
You can get many different models of Berkey filters. They even have a model called the Crown that can provide drinking water for large groups of well over a 100 people.
Flow rates per hour and maximum gallons per day depend on how many filter elements are stacked in your Berkey. You can have as little as 2 or as many as 9 depending on what model you choose. Berkey has a very informative web site that helps you calculate your estimated water needs so you can purchase the right filtration system.
Even the most expensive model, The Crown, with the maximum number of filters in it is a mere $625 and will produce up to 26 gallons of filtered water per hour! The holding capacity or water storage tank on your Berkey will vary depending on what model you have.
The total number of gallons you can get out of your Berkey depends on how many filters you have in place. If you have the $358, 4 filter system then you can anticipate getting at least 12,000 gallons of water before you need to replace the filter.
In a lot of cases you can just clean the ceramic elements and get more use out of the filter. The filters don’t just stop working but the flow rate will slow. If after you clean them the rate is still slow, then it is time to replace the filters entirely.
For a family or group survival situation where you plan on being in place, The Berkey has a lot to offer and has been proven time and time again.
Best For Portable Long-term Use By Group
$118 With 12 Liter Holding Capacity
$94 With 5 Liter Holding Capacity
This is an amazing deal for a group water filter. For your money you get a filter that is good for over 4,750 gallons of quality water. If you want a more compact version choose the one with a five liter holding capacity. The LifeStraw Mission gets rid of viruses, bacteria, and protozoa, all in one gravity-filled step.
Just hang the filled bag up and enjoy a phenomenal flow rate with no pumping or hassle. LifeStraw does an amazing job of providing outstanding filtration technology and virus protection at an affordable cost. In fact, even if you have a different filter such as the Berkey for a group filter, you may want to have a LifeStraw Mission as a group back up.
The Essential Back-up Filter
You really cannot beat LifeStraws for a very affordable back up. Sure they are slow as can be, but they will keep you alive and healthy in an extreme situation and that is what matters. At a mere $15-$20 there is nothing else that will filter this much water in such a compact filter. I don’t care if you have the $250 Katadyn Pocket, you still need a back up in case things take a turn for the worse.
These filters make a lot of claims and plenty of preppers love the Sawyer Mini. After researching a lot of filters though, I find it amazing that this small filter can take care of up to 100,000 gallons of water. It seems like manufacturers that have been around a lot longer would have some filters that did this for such a low cost. For example, the Katadyn Pocket is considered a primo hand pump water filter and costs $245 and is rated to an amazing 13,000 gallons of capability, a far cry from the 100,000 claim.
Perhaps one day someone will use a Sawyer Mini enough so that we can truly know its capability. Sure, I have read how it has been tested and I love the idea of a filter that is cheap and you never have to replace. I truly hope the Sawyer Mini lives up to its claims because a lot of people trust them.
I wouldn’t normally be so incredulous but 100,000 gallons is so much more than any other filter claims to be able to handle. I truly hope the Sawyer Mini lives up to its claims because a lot of people trust them. If you have extensive experience with the Sawyer Mini please feel free to comment on this post.
These are handy to have and they can make it easier for some to use the LifeStraw. Plenty of people use similar designs to remove the chlorine taste from city water and save on bottled. I have to say I bet the water bottle also provides some protection for your LifeStraw as well just in case it falls or gets hit by something. You can be as careful as possible but over time accidents can happen.
This system uses activated carbon though and LifeStraw says that the bottle is only good for about 26 gallons before you need to replace the cartridge. This is still a much cheaper option than bottled water and it would give you some level of comfort and survival capability for a short-term situation. Of course you could have a few spare cartridges and keep it going longer.
Maintenance & Accessories
A lot of filters have accessories you can buy separately and/or maintenance kits. It is recommended that you have some extra supplies on hand. A pump or filter is like a lot of things in that there are smaller parts and some of them move which means wear and tear.
While you can always let water settle out if you have the time, you can also pre filter. Some pumps such as the MSR SweetWater have an after market pre filter you can attach so you are not putting a major sediment burden on your primary filter.
Most water filters that you read about are effective against bacteria and protozoa. Unless a filter specifically says it filters out viruses never make the mistake of assuming this is the case. While some filtration is definitely better than none, it might not hurt to at least have some purification drops or tablets on hand if you suspect viruses. Here are some scenarios where virus protection is something you need to worry about.
Biological Outbreaks Of Disease
During hard times or a crisis situation there may be outbreaks of viruses to deal with. The higher the population where you are the greater the chances. More people equals easier spread and more contamination. Some fear that in some situations bioterrorism could occur at some level.
Not all countries have the water and climate of others. Mission groups and others traveling have long ago discovered how important protection against viruses really is.
Older Individuals & Those With Weakened Immune Systems
In a long emergency scenario those with compromised immune systems should be especially careful. This needs to be considered when preparing. While a younger and healthier person may have better resistance to viruses someone with a weakened immune system may get very ill so much more readily.
That being said having the best filter you can and virus protection when needed or when there is any doubt at all about water safety, is highly advisable.
Best Practices For Getting The Most Out
Pre-filter or Let Settle If Water Has A Lot Of Sediment
Even water that appears fairly pristine from afar can have a lot more sediment in it than you would expect. There are several ways to deal with this issue.
- Let water settle out naturally in a larger container
A half gallon jug or similar is excellent for letting water settle out. If water has been stirred up a lot it can take longer but any amount of time you wait will help out
- Filter through a cheesecloth or clean white cloth
Cheesecloth is great stuff to have around in a survival situation. I recommend having some on hand for water situations since you can quickly eliminate a lot of the worst debris and sediments. This will make your filter last longer and it will allow for faster filtration overall. The more debris in water the longer it will take to filter no matter what type of filter you have.
- Use an aftermarket prefilter
As stated before some filters like the MSR SweetWater have a pre-filter that eliminates large volumes of sediment from entering your main filter. Keep in mind this does slow down the rate at which you can filter water so
- Never let a filter freeze
Most any filter will be entirely ruined if they are allowed to freeze regardless of how new the actual filter is. If you are in a survival situation where you are forced to endure very cold temperatures then make sure all water is pumped out of your filter after each use, allow to dry when you can in a warmer environment, and/or make sure to pack it close enough to your body to keep it above freezing.
- Keep activity levels lower
While I know that plenty of survival situations will require a lot more physical activity than many are normally required to do, if you are staying in rather than bugging out or just able to exert less energy then you are going to drink less water. A group that is working really hard or walking long distances will use a lot more drinking water than one hunkering down. Think about how you are using your energy and time.
All The Other Filters Out There
Filtration options have never been so plentiful.
There are plenty of worthy filters that are not mentioned in this guide because you could literally compile a book if you tried to cover each and every one. If you are not ready to buy quite yet then there is nothing wrong with doing a bit more research and looking at other models. Backdoor Survival encourages readers to comment on this post with other filters they think are worthy of consideration.
Still Stuck? Take the Water Filter Quiz:
Having your bases covered when it comes to water should be a first priority when it comes to prepping and survival followed by having enough food on hand to get through an emergency.
Hopefully this guide has helped you figure out the best options for you and your loved ones to get through a long emergency.