Using Water Bottle Filters for Clean Water While Traveling

Here’s why I use water bottle filters instead of gravity systems, UV filters, or straw filters.

When I first started traveling, I really was desperate for an easy and sustainable water purification solution. I couldn’t justify adding any more single-use disposable plastic bottles to landfills or popping any more foul-tasting water purification tablets on the hiking trails.

Luckily, this is about the same time that new filtration technology and innovative, travel-inspired water purification bottles with built-in filters started emerging in hostel common rooms and trekking lodges.

Initially convinced that this was some kind of magic, I was shocked. These bottle purifiers could turn dirty and unsafe water into safe, and great-tasting clean water– devoid of heavy metals and harmful parasites!

This is how my search for the best water filter bottle for travel began.

Fast-forward four years later and I’m still living full-time on the road. I’ve tried just about every travel water filter on the market, from ultralight gravity filter systems to membrane ultrafiltration straws. After a lot of trial and error, I’m convinced that the best solution for travelers is to buy a reusable water filtration bottle.

Here’s why…

1. A Filter Will Keep you Safe from Harmful Bacteria & Parasites

Access to safe drinking water anywhere is likely already your biggest motivation for buying a filter bottle.

However, did you know that most of the bottles in this roundup remove 99.99% of harmful contaminants, even from dirty, stagnant water sources including lake water and even muddy puddles?

Most importantly, the best water bottle filter should filter bacteria such E. coli, which is the cause of Traveler’s Diarrhea, more commonly known as Delhi belly, Bali belly, Montezuma’s revenge, or the Aztec two-step. Whatever you want to call it, the Rangoon runs is serious business– and the leading cause of illness in travelers overseas.

2. Using a Filter Bottle While Traveling Reduces Plastic Waste

Secondly, the impact of one traveler simply swapping to a reusable water bottle rather than buying two 1.25L plastic water bottles each day is remarkable. Consider a 3-month backpacking trip in South East Asia. That’s over 180 plastic bottles either ending up in landfill or more likely, burnt up into our atmosphere.

3. Even an Expensive Travel Filter Bottle Will Save You Money

Yes, a high-quality water bottle filter might seem like a considerable investment for just a bottle.

But, consider the cost of the above example. Those plastic bottles might seem cheap, but the cost adds up. When we total the cost of single-use bottles with the inevitable use of water purification tablets on hikes, the yearly cost can easily end up in hundreds of dollars, especially if you travel a lot.

A good, reliable travel filter bottle will save you money!

4. Bottle Filters are Convenient and Easy to Use

Yes, but why not just buy a gravity filter system, simple straw filter, or squeeze filtration system for travel?

Because chances are that you simply will give up on these systems because they are too inconvenient. Trust me, I’ve been there. There’s nothing worse than having to set up a gravity rig and wait 15 minutes to get a drink.

A travel-ready filter bottle is simple, easy to use, clean, and doesn’t feel like a chore to get water out of.

What Makes a Great Reusable Travel Water Filter

As promised, here’s a quick breakdown of what you should consider when choosing the best water filter bottle for travel, outdoor, or everyday use.

1. Ease of Use

When it comes down to it, the reason why the world uses over 1 million single-use plastic bottles every single minute is convenience. When choosing a water filter bottle, you’ll want to ask yourself a few questions.

  1. How will I use it? Day to day, for special trips, or for backcountry use?
  2. How likely am I to commit to filtering my water through this bottle?
  3. Where am I planning to use the bottle?

A water filtration bottle offers the most convenient way to filter pure water since it doesn’t require a complex setup to do so.

2. Quality of Clean Filtered Water (Taste & range of Protection)

Of course, the quality of clean, filtered water should be a top priority. Consider purchasing a bottle based on its produced water taste, and odor. Many bottles will filter out gross chemicals like chlorine dioxide and heavy metals, which is great for filtering water already deemed “safe”.

While taste is important, quality should also be considered based on your range of protection. Typically, press filter systems like the Grayl GeoPress will deliver better safe water than quick-sip straw systems since they can filter out viruses as well as bacteria and protozoa cysts.

At a minimum, travelers will want adequate protection from the following. But, don’t take my word for it, all the health information is summarized from the CDC website.

Bacteria & Protozoa

Bacteria is a broad term that describes unicellular microorganisms. When filtering questionable water sources for drinking, the bacteria that we are concerned about are those that can cause disease and other issues. The main examples of harmful bacteria commonly found in water include:

  • Escherichia Coli (E.Coli) – can cause travelers diarrhea when consumed
  • Campylobacter Jejuni – can cause infections with symptoms of cramping, diarrhea, fever and pain
  • Hepatitis A – yes, this is a bacteria that can cause severe issues like jaundice, fever, chronic fatigue up to 28 days after exposure
  • Salmonella – not just from eating raw chicken. Salmonella is a common pathogen that will cause you severe feveres, headaches, diarrhea, and pain
  • Cryptosporidium – a protozoan acting in a very similar way to parasites. This can cause severe and very painful diarrhea and commonly occurs in even very clean-looking drinking water.

Luckily, nearly all water filter bottle systems in this roundup will protect travelers from the majority of bacteria and protozoa.

Parasites

If you’ve ever been infected with a common parasite like Giardia you’ll know that this is one of the worst experiences your bowels could ever endure. Luckily, parasites are usually larger than bacteria, and a filter with a very small micron filter will usually remove these, but you’ll want to check.

Viruses

Viruses are one of the most difficult things to filter out of water. Water bottles that are capable of removing harmful global waterborne viruses are called water purifiers.

This aspect is where the Grayl is the best water filter bottle for travelers visiting one of the around 100 countries in the world where this can be a problem. In my opinion, bottles like the LifeStraw Go or the Katadyn BeFree are only useful in countries without this risk.

3. Filter Flow Rate or Time to Clean Water

Another reason why some people stop using their water filter is that it just takes too long to filter water. This specification is called flow rate, measured in liters per minute.

A reusable water bottle doesn’t require the filtration of gallons of water at a time, but slow flow rates can get annoying.

This is where on-demand straw-style filters like the LifeStraw are convenient since there is little to no waiting time. However, these straws do take some time and effort to suck the water through and don’t provide a lot of water at a time.

UV-C light filters like the LARQ are designed to break down and kill bacteria and viruses inside the bottle, and generally take the most time, but the least effort to do so, since everything happens inside the bottle at the press of a button.

On the other hand, press and squeeze systems like the bottles from Grayl and Katadyn, require slightly more initial effort to get clean water. However, provide the ability to prepare large quantities of safe water at a time.

4. Filter Bottle Material & Durability

Travelers know that investing in products with poor durability is not a good idea. This is due to the simple fact that things get banged up on the move. Whether you’re chucking your filter bottle in a backpack, dropping it off a hostel bunk, or throwing it in the back seat of your van, chances are it’ll suffer some scuffs and bruises along the way.

When grading a water filter bottle for its durability, it’s best to consider the material of both the bottle and filter. Hard, durable plastics on bottles like Nalgene and Grayl’s are much more durable than soft plastics and even stainless steel. Soft plastics have a tendency to warp, while stainless bottles often are left with dings and cracks.

5. Filter Longevity & Ease/Cost of Replacement Filters

Even the best water filter bottle will need a replacement filter after a while. Initially, people tend to pay the most attention to the volume of lifecycles. While this is important in gauging how much water you can expect to filter between replacements, what I believe is more important for travelers is the ease and cost of the replacement.

For example, in this roundup, you’ll find several filters that claim to purify thousands of liters of water. However, it’s a good idea to consider where or how you will attain a replacement, especially if you are planning to travel for an extended period.