When you think about the worst possible travel scenarios, they usually involve getting violently ill. The majority of travel-related illnesses stem from a lack of clean drinking water or food prepared with unclean water. The top ailment that strikes every traveler sooner or later is traveler’s diarrhea. More extreme cases can result in dysentery, cholera and typhoid. While these are usually rare cases, there’s one way to avoid getting sick from dirty water: water filters.
What is a Water Purifier?
A water purifier is a device that strains water from a stream or tap to clean it through a filter made of charcoal or other items. It’s a common necessity among hikers and backpackers and particularly those traveling to destinations known for poor water quality. They come in all brands, prices, shapes and sizes, from pocket sized sterilization lasers to basic iodine tablets. Most travelers will never need one because the majority of unclean water is found in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Why Do I Need a Water Purifier?
For the majority of trips, I would say that you don’t. But if you’re visiting areas of Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America or even hiking anywhere, it’s an easy product that can give you peace of mind and prevent you from getting sick.
Types of Water Purifiers
There are dozens of types of water filters, as I mentioned earlier, each with their own sets of pros and cons. Some need replacing every year or so, depending on usage and some take a certain amount of time to clean your water. Be sure to read the details on the packaging before purchasing so you know what’s right for your travels.
PuriCup Water Purifier – I heard about this product online and was intrigued by its reasonably small size and ease of use. A cup on the top is filled to the line with water and filters into the bottom cup or your water bottle for clean drinking water. The silver filters need to be replaced every 330 uses, which you can keep track of on the slidable numbers. It took around 5 minutes to filter the water, but got stuck before filtering all the water. The Puricup (Amazon link) is BPA free and eliminates 99.99% of pathogens and bacteria. It comes in both tap and natural water purifiers.
- Pros: Not too big and easy to pack; easy to use
- Cons: Filters need replacing and cost $13.99; filter got stuck on first use
- Price: $66.99
Camelbak Groovefresh Filtered Water Bottle – Having a filter in your water bottle means that’s one less thing to carry with you, but it also means you can only filter one bottle at a time.
The Camelbak Groove bottle (Amazon link) is intended mostly to filter tap water and needs to be replaced every 300 refills.
- Pros: Small size; spill proof; BPA free; inexpensive
- Cons: Not recommended for natural water
- Price: $29.00
Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter – Platypus is known for their collapsible plastic water bottles and backpack hydration. Their gravity-based water filter (Amazon link) can filter 4 liters of water in only 2.5 minutes.
You fill one reservoir with dirty water, which is connected to a second with a filter and hose. When the second reservoir is filled, you’re ready to drink. You can hang it on a tree and let the filter do all the work.
- Pros: Easy to use; quick filtration; can filter high volume; lightweight
- Cons: Bulky to pack; expensive
- Price: $119.95
SteriPEN Ultra Water Purifier – The SteriPEN is a highly rated device that uses UV rays to clean your water at the touch of a button. When the smiley face comes up on the screen, your water is ready to drink. The SteriPEN (Amazon link) comes with a USB charger for the rechargeable batteries. It can be used for up to 8,000 uses.
- Pros: Small size; easy to use
- Cons: Expensive; needs to be charged
- Price: $99.95
Camelbak All Clear Water Purifier Bottle – As with the other Camelbak filter bottle, this puts your filter right in your bottle without needing to bring extras. The Camelbak All Clear (Amazon link) uses the UV light technology to clean your water in the bottle. The LCD screen on the lid lets you know when your water is safe to drink in only 60 seconds of rotation. The light is good for 10,000 cycles. A USB cord included allows you to charge the UV light as needed and rechargeable batteries last for 80 uses.
- Pros: Easy to pack; easy to use
- Cons: Needs to be charged; expensive
- Price: $99.00
Potable Aqua Iodine Tablets – Another option for filtering your water is by using iodine tablets, which you can find at any camping or outdoors store. Each bottle of Potable Aqua Iodine Tablets (Amazon link) includes 50 tablets and two tablets treat one quart of water. Unopened bottles of tablets are good for 4 years, while opened bottles are good for one year. Simply drop a tablet into the water and wait. The taste and color may seem off, but you can be certain the water is safe to drink.
- Pros: Inexpensive; small to pack; good for many uses
- Cons: Takes 35 minutes to filter water
- Price: $6.95
You might be wary to drink bleach in your water, but most of the water we drink has some form of it anyways. It will kill most bacteria and make it safe to drink, but may still affect the taste. Add four to eight drops of bleach (not anything you would use for stain fighting, but just bleach) to every liter, depending on how the water looks. Wait at least 30 minutes and even more if the water is cold. Don’t forget to strain the water beforehand. For more information, follow the guidelines listed in Backpacker Magazine.
- Pros: Easy; cheap
- Cons: Takes 30 or more minutes to purify
- Price: Can be found at home before your trip or purchased for less than $5.00
If you suspect you have ingested water that is not clean, stay hydrated with re-hydration salts or electrolyte-filled drinks like Gatorade or Lucozade. Don’t use your filter beyond the recommended uses or else it may not clean the water properly and render you susceptible to disease.
Roni Faida says
I would have never thought about carrying a water purifier but it makes sense for certain types of travel. Thanks for the tips!
A timely article for me. I’ll be taking a 35-day trip this fall and will definitely need to sterilize tap water in Bali. Bali has a tremendous trash problem with plastic water bottles, I want to be sure to not contribute to the garbage. I was considering the Steri-Pen but post this points out other options.
Oooooo, nice list of purifiers. Good to know!
Thanks for the informative post! I’m traveling now for quite some time and hate all the plastic bottles but don’t want to get sick. I buy big 5L bottles whenever possible, but really wish I had invested in some kind of portable purification system before leaving home!
April G says
Thanks for a great post! You mention that most areas with unclean water include Sub-Saharan Africa, India and Central and South America, and also if you are hiking anywhere. Keep in mind that a planned hike as short as a couple of hours can easily turn into days if you get lost, sick or injured. Having a way to filter and purify water from a stream or lake would help keep this possibility from becoming a tragedy. Even such tourist-friendly places as Grand Canyon National Park recommend carrying a water filter if you will be hiking “below the rim” because all the water sources on the trails come from natural springs, streams, or the Colorado River. I recommend the Sawyer Mini or the LifeStraw. A $20 filter can truly save your life!
I use a Water to Go bottle which i picked up at a travel show, they did some great demonstrations with river water from the flooded plains of the Thames and drank the filtered water themselves.
The company will send you two free filters of you send them a photo of you using it somewhere they don’t already have pictures of too so its great for saving a few pennies. The filters last 2-3 months roughly.
Hope this helps suggestion someone!
After many backcountry adventures and filter experimentation, I’ve found the Sawyer mini water filter is hands down the best! It’s only 2 oz and screws onto most plastic water bottles. When I go backpacking, I just connect it right into my Platypus bladder hose, easiest thing in the world. When I’m traveling somewhere where I need to filter my water, I use the collapsible squeeze bags that it comes with.
Great tip, Emily! Sounds like a cool product – if you’d like to do a review for the site, drop me an email 🙂
I love the Sawyer Mini! It can fit a standard water or soft drink bottle or be used with the included pouch. It can even be used inline with hydration systems or with the included straw. Plus, it’s $20 or less on Amazon, depending on price fluctuations.
It’s small, weighs about 2 oz., and doesn’t need a filter. Removes 99.999% of bacteria and protozoa, and filters up to 100,000 gallons. It just requires backflushing to keep it working (syringe included).
Very popular with campers, backpackers, and hikers.