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 that list. A filter can give you access to clean water in a STHF situation, which makes them a must for any prepper.
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 backup filter on hand.
Backdoor Survival has compiled this guide to the best survival water filters to help you find the right water filters for any survival situation 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.
Water Filter Top Picks
LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System
Why Use a Water Filter?
Think of it this way: no water filtration means no drinking water. Without clean water, you risk ingesting bacteria, protozoa, and heavy metals. In short, no clean water and no water filtration means death in a survival situation.
The goal is to find something that will provide you with clean water that is no different than what you’d drink through a ceramic filter at home. With the right filters, you and your family can get through a major ordeal without worrying about dirty water or getting sick.
These are just some situations that can end poorly if you don’t have a filter on hand.
Biological Outbreaks of Disease
During hard times or a survival 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, increasing a need to purify water.
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. Furthermore, foreign areas are able to consume their drinking water because their digestive systems are acclimatized.
If you find yourself in a survival situation while abroad, your drinking water options may be further limited. A sip here and there may not cause a problem, but if you consume liters of water without using a purifier, you could be in trouble. If you’re going abroad, consider researching what it takes to make water drinkable in your destination.
Older Individuals & Those With Weakened Immune Systems
In a long-term survival situation, 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.
A water-borne disease or bacteria and protozoa may cause severe illness and death. Water purification and access to a portable water filter are crucial for this group.
Factors To Consider When Buying a Water Filter
It pays to know more about water filters and the different factors that affect their functioning. When shopping for a filter, these are some things you should look out for.
Cost Per Gallon
Less expensive filters may seem like a good deal but when you calculate how many gallons they can effectively filter, the more expensive water purifier 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 filtration system 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.
It is important for everyone to have their own backup filter even if they are sharing a main water purification system.
Availability of Filter Replacements
Most common filter brands have replacements that can be ordered 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 chemicals in manufactured goods or foods.
Clean 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. If you want products you can trust, look for water filters made in USA, Swiss, Canada, and Germany.
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.
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. You don’t want to risk letting through contaminated water and heavy metals due to negligence.
While you can always let the 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 as you purify water.
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 in the dirty water. Here are some scenarios where virus protection is something you need to worry about.
Best Water Filters in the Market
Now that you know what to consider before buying a filter, it’s time to get your own! The following are our top choices.
The Katadyn is a wonderful pump-style filter (my full review here!). I am a big fan because you can get 13,000 gallons of water out of a single filter. A replacement filter is easy to install and will last for 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 purify as much water as one Katadyn.
This is why, generally, it is better to do the math before you buy a major water filter. A larger upfront cost equals some major long-term savings and security.
Good for 200 gallons, the MSR SweetWater (my full review here!) 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 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 any particularly nasty viruses, you are going to want to have some around.
Consider also the impact of common viruses during a survival situation. You certainly wouldn’t consider the common cold viruses or common influenza viruses to be water-borne diseases, but consider the implications if you are stuck outdoors or without medical assistance.
These common viruses can quickly become something more deadly if you are exposed to the elements and unable to recover properly. That’s why it is essential to procure a water purifier that filters out viruses.
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 as well.
While I will say The MSR Miniworks is a solid filter, there have been enough advancements that many may prefer the Sawyer or LifeStraw Personal for single-person usage. The LifeStraw family of products goes above and beyond with their offering.
MSR Guardian Purifier
The Guardian is MSR’s all-in-one small compact pump filter that also removes viruses and self-cleans. 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.
Particularly good for harsh environments, this filter can take a lot of abuse. MSR tests this filter by dropping it from a height of six feet straight onto 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.
Purifying Water for Large Groups of People
Filtering the water for a large group is a far cry from the few gallons a couple might need. 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 clean water 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 portable water filter — such as 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 portable water filter options and if someone loses their personal filter, they can share with someone else in the group.
For this section, I’ll divide filters between those meant for a permanent settlement, and those that are designed with portability in mind.
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 clean water for an extended period of time.
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 drinking water. Berkey says that their standard filter system will filter enough clean 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 constantly if you need a large volume of filtered water at once. The Berkey is gravity fed so that is a nice touch.
The physical demands of the water purification process 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 the Berkey water filter in many different models. They even have a model called the Crown that can provide drinking water for large groups of well over 100 people.
Water purifier flow rates per hour and maximum gallons per day depend on how many water filter elements are stacked in your Berkey. You can have as little as 2 or as many as 9 depending on what water purification model you choose.
Berkey has a very informative website that helps you calculate your estimated water needs so you can purchase the right water purification system.
The most expensive model, The Crown, with the maximum number of filters in it can 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, 4 filter system then you can anticipate getting at least 12,000 gallons of water before you need to replace the filter. That’s a lot of contaminated water prevention.
In a lot of cases, you can just clean the ceramic filters (or whatever type of filter used) and get more use out of the element. 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 and need clean water, The Berkey has a lot to offer and has been proven time and time again.
If you want to know more, check out our guide on how to get the most out of your Berkey water filter.
Best For Portable Long-term Use By Group
Comes with 5 or 12 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-fueled 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 one of these as a group backup. Check out our guide on how to make the most of your LifeStraw Mission.
The Essential Back-up Filter
Even if you have one of the filters mentioned above, you should still have one or more backups in case things go awry. These are our top picks for backup filters!
You really cannot beat LifeStraws for a very affordable backup. Sure they are slow as can be, but they will keep you alive and healthy in an extreme situation and that is what matters. There is nothing else that will filter this much water in such a compact filter.
I don’t care if you have the Katadyn Pocket, you still need a backup in case things take a turn for the worse. Both LifeStraw Personal and LifeStraw Family live up to their brand name.
These filters make a lot of claims and plenty of preppers love the Sawyer Mini to use in their water bottle for safe drinking water free of bacteria and protozoa. 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 premium hand pump water filter and is rated to an amazing 13,000 gallons of capability, a far cry from the 100,000 sawyer claims.
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. 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. However, activated carbon is no longer the industry standard for optimum water purification.
Best Practices for Getting the Most Out of Filters
After you bought your filter, you have to take care of it if you want it to last! These are our tips for making the most out of water filters.
Pre-filter or Let Settle if Water Has a Lot of Sediment
Even clean water that appears fairly pristine from afar can have a lot more sediment in it than you would expect and could benefit from water purification. There are several ways to deal with this issue.
- Let water settle out naturally in a larger container
A half-gallon jug or similar size water bottle is excellent for letting the water settle out if you don’t have a water purifier. If water has been stirred up a lot it can take longer but any amount of time you wait will help.
- 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 purification 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. This method won’t remove bacteria the way a portable water filter would.
- Use an aftermarket prefilter
As stated before some filters like the MSR Sweet Water 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
Whether you use activated carbon, a ceramic filter, or anything in between, 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 it 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.
Over the past year, I have tested a lot of water filters. This knowledge has changed the way I see some filters and what I would recommend for others, especially those who are on a budget.
AlexaPure Versus Berkey
For those looking to buy the classic-sized 2.25 gallon Berkey, I recommend you check out my review on the AlexaPure. For half the cost you can get the same level of filtration and virus protection. The replacement filters are easy to find and competitively priced.
The one area where Berkey has AlexPure beat is that they offer more sizes of filter systems than AlexaPure. On the other hand, AlexaPure offers bottles and their version of the Lifestraw.
Gravity systems offer lightweight and easily accessible water solutions for families and groups. After years of pumping water through a filter, I am loving that I can just fill up a Hydro Blue, hang it, and then have water on tap. No more trying to make sure that enough water is pumped to get through the night.
I am kind of over the pump-style filters that weigh more than the bag style too. My Katadyn Pocket weights 19 ounces whereas my Hydro Blu 10L gravity-fed filter weighs 8.9 ounces and is practical for a group. You don’t want to have to spend all your time pumping water when SHTF or any other survival situation.
The fact is that water filtration technology has come a long way and you can get more for less money than you could years ago.
The Aquamira Frontier is a water filter straw you can put in your pocket or your pack to provide clean water whenever you need it. The ultra-light and water filter removes chemicals and contaminants to provide tasteless, odorless, clean drinking water. This water filter straw has been gaining popularity in recent years.
Lifestraw Classic Versus Survivor Filter and Sawyer Mini
The Classic Lifestraw was a game-changer for a lot of the water filter market. This staple supply of preppers continues to be popular but with its limited filter capacity, the Sawyer Mini and Survivor Filter are a much better deal.
You are talking 250 gallons of filtration versus 26K to 100K gallons. Even if you are planning on putting back filters for trade, having a filter on hand and produces 100K of filtration and can be used in line with hydration bags too, is better and worth far more in barter.
Best Water Filters for Elderly & Disabled
Gravity-fed systems can be challenging because the bags and reservoirs can be heavy but elderly or disabled persons can fill them up a little at a time after hanging them. Sure it takes longer but there is no pumping involved.
For some people using the water filter bottles put out by Lifestraw, Hydro Blu, and others can be the best easy to use solution. Even those in good physical condition can get some very tired hands from pumping water.
Tabletop filters like Berkey and AlexaPure can work but if the top gets bumped they can leak. I tried to use an AlexaPure at my Dad’s house. He uses a walker a lot of the time and it would appear the leaking issues are due to it getting bumped.
Do Your Own Research
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.
Don’t Cheap Out
I am naturally just a little paranoid when it comes to water filters. Like I have said before it is hard for me to get over how cheap some have become. I still believe that a water filter is like a tool. You don’t want to buy the cheapest one but you also don’t want to immediately get the most expensive thing out there.
So don’t go for the $10, Chinese-made, off-brand straw style filter when you can get a Sawyer Mini, MSR MiniWorks, or Hydro Blu that will do more and has a lot of reviews. If there is one area of prepping where you don’t want to skimp out on it is your water filter as safe drinking water can be the difference between life and death.
Since writing some of the reviews and researching water filters more, it seems like there are more and more cheap and questionable ones out there.
Backdoor Survival Water Filter Reviews
We have reviewed a lot of different water filters. Here are links to our filter reviews so you can get the most in-depth look at each one so you can make a more informed choice about which ones are right for you.
- Hydro Blu Hydra Flow 10L Bag With Versa Filter
- Katadyn Pocket
- Lifestraw Mission
- MSR Sweetwater
- Survivor Filter Pro
This is a very affordable and much higher capacity straw style filter that is my choice for an alternative to the Lifestraw.
This is a great article if you want to find out more about the various affordable options that Hydro Blu has to offer.
This article has a variety of options that are similar to the Big Berkey water filter for getting clean drinking water, but in a wider price range to meet a lot of different budgets and capacity needs. Berkeys are great filters but it is always good to know a lot of your options before investing that type of money in a filter.
Be sure to check back regularly so you can stay up to date on the world of water filtration and other important happenings in the prepping world. If there is a filter you would like to see reviewed please comment below and we will see what we can do!
Final Word on the Best Survival Water Filters
Having your bases covered when it comes to water should be the first priority when it comes to prepping and survival followed by having enough food on hand to get through an emergency. It takes liters of water on a daily basis to sustain human life, and that water needs to be free of chemicals and contaminants.
With the advancements in water filtration technology, even those on a tight budget can have a few filters like the Sawyer Mini on hand or a few LifeStraws.
Hopefully, this guide has helped you figure out the best options for you and your loved ones to get through a long emergency survival situation.