Best Survival Water Filters To Remove Disgusting Particulates

By Jason K. | Updated: 10/30/2023

Today I’ve got something incredibly important for survival…

A Complete Guide On Finding & Using Survival Water Filters

Because IF you’re in survival mode, you may have to consume gross water, such as:

  • muddy puddles
  • algae-filled ponds
  • livestock tanks
  • river runoff
  • roof runoff (i.e., rainwater harvesting)

These sources may be saturated with all kinds of bacteria, viruses, and chemicals.

That’s why, you need a water filter to remove these dangerous contaminants.

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Swampy Pond Water

3 Different Types Of Survival Water Filters

There are 3 main types of water filters for survival.

Each type works best for different situations.

So let’s quickly go over them in general now.

Then we’ll review what we consider the best water filters for survival later.

1. In-Line Filter

Win A Free LifeStrawIn-line filters are small, portable, hollow tubes with a filter medium.

Think of them as a large straw.

The sucking action pulls water through the interior filter medium.

And thus removes harmful contaminants.

Simple but effective.

The ones we will cover later (Sawyer Mini Water Filter & LifeStraw) are both lightweight, portable and packable.

2. Squeeze Filters

This is a new type of “personal” water filter.

Instead of sucking through a straw, you sneeze water out of a bottle.

The sneezed water push’s through a filter and into your mouth.

3. Hand Pump Filter

MSR MiniWorks Filter 1Hand pump filters are larger tubes with a filter medium inside.

Since they are larger than inline filters.

So sucking is no longer effective.

Instead, they’re built with hand pumps.

The pump pulls water through the filter medium to clean the water.

Hand pump filters are larger than inline personal filters.

Not too big to pack but bigger and slightly heavier.

They can also process water faster than inline filters.

So they’re ideal for small to medium-sized groups on the move.

4. Gravity Fed Filters

LifeStraw Mission Water Filter 1Gravity-fed filters take up the most space.

The filter itself can be small.

  • But you need a water reservoir above the filter.
  • And a collection reservoir below it.

That’s because gravity filters are passive.

You set them up and let them work via gravity.

While you go away and do other things.

You don’t have to suck or pump to filter the water; gravity does this for you.

Again, the filter doesn’t have to be large, but the setup is.

So this type of filtration system is not ideal for travel.

Many of the popular gravity-fed systems are not mobile at all.

And are better suited for a countertop.

The bottom line:

Gravity-fed water filtration systems are best for large groups staying put.

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Survival Water Filtration System Vs. Survival Water Purifier

First, a little terminology lesson.

I’m going to be very deliberate with my use of words.

So pay attention.

Because they mean very different things in water treatment.

Term 1 – Filters

“FILTERS” are mechanical devices that remove particles from the water.

They’re rated by the LARGEST particle size that can pass through the filter pores.

Most filters are rated in microns (1/1000000th of a meter).

So a 0.2-micron filter can safely remove the majority (i.e., 99.999%) of bacteria, protozoa, and sediments.

Term 2 – Purifiers

“PURIFIERS” may or may not remove particles.

Instead, they render dangerous contaminants inactive.

Purifiers add a layer of protection against viruses.

It kills viruses that could slip through all but the smallest filters.

You can purify water through UV light, chemicals, or mechanical filtration.

Also, some purifiers contain secondary treatment (usually activated carbon or chlorine).

These secondary treatments remove dissolved chemicals, taste, and odor.

Today’s article focuses primarily on water filtration.

You should also check out our water purification article.

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Best Inline Filters

For most, the first line of defense is a personal filter.

Everyone should have a personal filter in their pack at all times.

Even if you’re traveling with a group.

If your group needs to split up, you don’t want to lose access to water treatment.

With the ultra-lightweight options nowadays, there’s no excuse.

Everyone should add some water filtration to their pocket or pack.

1 Our Top InLine Pick
Sawyer MINI Water Filtration System

I've recently become a big fan of the Sawyer Mini Filter.

This tiny water filter can process up to 100,000 GALLONS of water through a 0.1-micron filter.

Unlike the LifeStraw, the Sawyer Mini has hose adapters on either side. This design allows you to use a large variety of water retrieval options.

For example:

  • Splice it into your hydration pack
  • Convert it to a gravity filter
  • Use a small piece of hose to gather water out of a small crack

Plus, it has a threaded end that screws onto a small bladder (or any soda bottle) to let you filter and drink on the move.

It also only weighs 2oz and is only 4" long.

Again, it's an excellent survival water filter for daily use or emergencies.

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↓ Sawyer Mini Filter Review – Can This Filter 100,000 Gallons?

LifeStraw Personal Water Filters

In the past, we've detailed the LifeStraw personal straw filter.

These are impressive little filters that can treat up to 1000L of water. Using a LifeStraw is as simple as, well, drinking from a straw.

Their 0.2-micron filter material is effective against waterborne bacteria and parasites. Plus, they don't need any extra chemicals or moving parts to function.

They're only 2oz, and just under 9" long, so they fit in any corner of your pack - or even a coat pocket. And, at this incredible price, they're easy to stock up on for a group.

However, The LifeStraw isn't the only personal filter on the market.

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↓ LifeStraw Review and Field Test

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Best Small-Group Filters

A personal water filter is NOT practical for groups.

In this case, it’s helpful to transition to a pump-style filter.

They’re about the size and weight of a 1 Liter water bottle.

This weight increase makes it a bit more cumbersome to carry.

So it’s not practical for everyone in a group to have one.

But with a group, you can share and distribute the weight of other supplies.

That’s why these are great backpacking water filters.

One person can carry the group filter while another packs more food.

This distribution helps even out-pack weights accordingly.

Fortunately, there’s a wide range of filter options on the market today.

From the simple sub-$100 filters to more advanced ones costing over $300.

It comes down to understanding your survival needs…

3 Our Small Group Pick
MSR MiniWorks EX Backountry Water Filter

On the less expensive end is the MSR MiniWorks EX purifier system. This system combines a filter and a purifier for better virus protection.

Plus, the MSR MiniWorks (and most MSR products) commit to designing field-serviceable equipment.

In this case, you can disassemble the entire filter without tools. A toolless disassembly allows you to clean and replace the filter core anywhere.

In fact, regular cleaning of the surface of a ceramic filter core (via a scrub pad) helps keep the water flowing.

The filter/purifier cartridge is good for about 2000L, after which you'd have to replace it with a fresh one.

While the cost of entry is low, the filter replacement costs will add up over time. Filtration costs are even more of an issue if you depend on the MSR MiniWorks for everyday use.

Also, the two-step treatment workflow is a bit clunky. However, you can decide whether you feel virus treatment drops are necessary. Then conserve them for the times they seem justified.

The MSR MiniWorks EX purifier is ideal for small group water treatment. Perfect as a temporary portable filter (traveling to a cabin) that won't see a ton of use and you're on a tight budget.

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MSR Guardian Water Purifier

For longer-term and worst-case water situations, check out the MSR Guardian purifier. It's another decent option, though it is a bit more expensive.

The Guardian is a mechanical filter purifier.

Mechanical filters don't rely on any added chemicals. It uses a tiny filter pore size (10x smaller than the MiniWorks EX). And this filter removes microscopic viruses from the water.

In the past, mechanical purifiers were incredibly quick to clog with sediments.

But MSR has found a way to deal with this limitation. They now divert 10% of the water on each pump stroke to flush the filter element.

I've heard stories of people returning their Guardian because they pumped too easily! The users couldn't believe the water was actually going through the filter.

Having used one on a couple of trips, it certainly made me double-check at first as well.

This design allows the Guardian to remove the tiniest viruses without sacrificing flow rates.

In fact, it maintains flow rates more than double what you find in comparable filters. So when you're filtering for a large group, that equates to a LOT of saved time and effort every day.

If your group plans to be on the move and encounter suspect water sources, the MSR Guardian is an excellent survival water filter.

This massive volume helps to offset much of the cost difference.

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↓ MSR Guardian Filter Review

NOTE: It can take up to 30 minutes to pump enough water to fill the reservoir completely.

Best Large-Scale Filters

In the world of survival, a permanent camp is a luxury.

But, with a good plan and essential camping gear, it’s a great way to conserve resources and energy.

On a long trip, even a single no-travel day can feel like a vacation.

With larger groups, the first resources to secure is an abundant amount of drinking water.

Sure, you could sit and pump gallons of water through a hand-held filter.

But it’s far more efficient to set up a gravity filter.

A gravity filter allows you to do other camp chores while your water takes care of itself.

Our Top Recommended Tap Water Filtration System
AlexaPure Countertop Gravity Water Filter

This water filter can withstand years of daily use with only occasional filter changes.

It provides convenience and protection at the flip of a spigot! The Alexa Pure has even become a staple in homes with modern kitchens.

These gravity filters consist of stacked stainless steel reservoirs and high-quality ceramic filters.

But with a sleek stainless steel container, it looks great sitting on your countertops.

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↓ Alexapure: Better Than Berkey?

LifeStraw Mission High-Volume Gravity-Fed Water Purifier

One of the more portable gravity filters, the LifeStraw Mission purifier. This unit combines a 0.02-micron filter purifier (0.02 not 0.2) with either a 5L or 12L reservoir.

The reservoir is like a dry bag, with a roll-top seal and a hose port on the bottom.

The LifeStraw Mission also contains a handy pre-filter. That way you can use murky water but remove the larger sediments to prevent clogging of your primary filter.

From there, the water flows through a modified version of the LifeStraw filter. But, unlike the LifeStraw, this model includes a backwash valve for cleaning.

The LifeStraw Mission system gives you up to 3 gallons of fresh water per hour. That 3 gallons with no effort on your part except to fill the reservoir and hang it.

When not in use, the whole system packs down into a small stuff sack and weighs less than a pound. It's a tremendously useful turn-key system.

The LifeStraw Mission is an inexpensive way to provide bulk amounts of filtered water for a group camp.

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MSR AutoFlow Gravity Water Filter

Another gravity filter option is the MSR AutoFlow.

This unit provides much higher flow rates (1 gallon in about 3 minutes) through a 0.2-micron filter.

But that high flow rate comes at the cost of virus protection.

If you're in a pristine environment in the wild, the MSR AutoFlow is a great option for filtration.

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↓ MSR Autoflow Gravity Microfilter

Nasty Backyard Pool Water

Critical Water Filter Factors

There are a lot of factors to selecting the right filter for you.

You have to think and plan for future use.

Remember that your needs may change as you travel.

So it’s often best to have several options.

Also, I always keep backups for emergencies.

With this in mind, here are the most important aspects in a perfect survival water filter.

Source Water Quality

The most important factor in choosing a water treatment system is;

“What do you need to remove from my water?”

You’ll need very little treatment near the water source (i.e., glaciers, cold springs, snowmelt).

In these locations, the water is mostly pure.

It has had little chance of becoming contaminated with bacteria and viruses.

These situations are ideal for a basic water FILTER.

But, if you’re filtering near farms, cities, or swamps (where most of us live), contamination is more likely.

Upstream human activity has probably contaminated the water to some degree.

So you’ll need more and better treatment than a basic filter.

You’ll also want to purify the water to remove viruses, chemical runoff, and bad tastes and odors.

Group Size

Another critical factor is the size of the group you plan to provide with clean water.

If you only have to supply for your own needs, you may be able to get by with a lightweight inline filter or filter straw.

They’re cheaper, lighter, and take up less space in your pack.

A personal filter no longer makes sense if this expands to a small party (2-5 people).

Instead, you’d be better served by a small pump filter.

They’re faster for filling several water bottles, and you can take turns pumping water.

Gravity-fed filters are a good option if you camp in one place for a while.

They remove much of the slow effort of water treatment.

They can provide gallons a day if someone keeps adding raw water.

The downside is they’re bulky and sometimes heavy.

But you can’t beat the convenience of water at the turn of a tap in camp.

Weight and Size

Many of our survival plans involve being mobile.

The smallest in-line filters weigh nearly nothing.

And can fit in the tiniest pockets.

But, as you move into larger systems, the weight and pack size increase.

The larger pump style and gravity filters are great options for a cabin but won’t work in a pack.

It all comes down to weighing the technology against your needs.

You must understand the tradeoffs to develop your water filtration plan.


Finally, we all know quality survival gear doesn’t come cheap.

When comparing water treatment systems, check the specifications carefully.

Two seemingly similar filters can have wildly different prices.

There’s a significant difference between a 1-micron “filter” and a 0.2-micron “purifier.”

They are different regarding function and cost, even in similar packaging.

That said, sometimes, a simple filter is all you need.

In these cases, paying more for a high-tech purifier leaves you with less for other supplies.

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Simple DIY Gravity Filter

Of course, there are those out there who want to keep costs to a minimum and aren’t afraid of DIY.

If that sounds like you, building a gravity filter from a Sawyer Mini is simple.

There are several ways to set up a gravity filter, but they almost all use the following:

  • an elevated reservoir (a bucket, bladder, or tank)
  • a length of tubing
  • an inline filter (like the Sawyer Mini)
  • a second reservoir for clean water

Seriously, that’s it!

Plumb a valve into the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket (large elevated reservoir).

Then attach several feet of hose to your inline filter.

Let the water drip into a second 5-gallon bucket (or bottle).

Voila! You have a simple, inexpensive gravity filter.

The greater the elevation between the reservoir and the filter, the more pressure.

Head pressure is what’s required you need to force the water through the filter element.

The good news is:

A few feet is usually enough, but more will help to increase the flow rate.

A simple gravity filter can filter at the same rates as the commercial version at a fraction of the cost.

↓ Sawyer Mini DIY Gravity Water Filter System

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Finding and Purifying Water Survival Skill

Water Filtration Best Practices

Best practices exist no matter what type of water treatment system you choose.

Techniques to make it work as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

These best practices should become simple habits when filtering and treating water.

Water Source Selection Matters

First, don’t make your filters do any more work than they have to.

Find the cleanest, most transparent water available.

Avoid dirty water with visible pollution if possible.

Manufacturer filter ratings are all based on a generic “bad” water specs.

But that’s usually cleaner than a stirred-up muddy puddle.

The more material you put into your filters, the faster the pores clog.

  • Soon you’ll notice a drop in flow rates.
  • And an increase in effort to move water through the filter.

Eventually, they’ll clog so severely that you won’t be able to use the filters at all.

Sometimes you don’t have any options.

But this is where pre-filtering can help.

I keep a small piece of filter sponge, a survival bandana, and some elastic hair ties with my water filter.

That way, I have a prefilter when I encounter silty water.

I place the sponge over the filter inlet to filter the small debris.

Then I cover it with at least one layer of the bandana.

And wrap the whole thing with a hair tie.

This setup creates a DIY prefilter.

And helps remove the sand, muck, and leaves before it enters the filter inlet.

The pre-filter reduces the work my filter element has to do.

And thus extends the filter’s useful life.

Avoid Cross-Contamination

One common mistake with water treatment is cross-contamination.

Allowing dirty water to drip onto the clean water end of the filter.

This means the contaminants can pass on to your next batch of treated water.

This is why most commercial filters have clear labels or color codes.

This helps to determine which end is which.

Many also include protective rubber caps for both ends to reduce leakage after use.

If you’re careful not to cross-contaminate, you reduce your risk of waterborne illnesses.

Take Time To Learn Maintenance

Take the time to read and follow the maintenance instructions for your treatment system.

Many hollow-tube filters (LifeStraw, Sawyer, MSR Guardian) are susceptible to freezing.

If you leave trace amounts of water in them during sub-zero temps, they will not work again until they thaw.

Others with ceramic filters can crack if frozen.

  • Some need to be flushed with clean water after each use.
  • Others only require this if you plan to store the filter for extended periods.
  • Some filters need to be scrubbed instead of flushed to prevent clogging.
  • Other systems do it automatically.

Don’t skip them to save a couple of minutes.

Action Plan

Emergency Water Action Plan

As you can tell, there are a lot of options out there for water treatment.

Remember, clean water is one of the most crucial elements of your survival plan.

From cooking, cleaning, and staying hydrated, everything stops without life-giving H20.

These are just a few brands we’ve tried.

But they represent a good cross-section of the market.

We hope they show you how they work and their differences.

You’ll have a personal water filter with a massive 100,000 filter lifespan.

You can also use it to create a simple group gravity filter.

It’s the easiest, most cost-effective way to cover all your bases regardless of the emergency you’re dealing with.

And I highly recommend a good backup (or two), just in case.

If you want the most options at the best price, pick up a couple of Sawyer Minis.

That way, you’ll kill two birds with one stone.

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