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Backpacker Magazine – June 2009

Gear School: Water Filters

Remove most micro-nasties, draw water from barely-there puddles, and quench thirst fast with the versatile pump filter.

by: Kelly Bastone, Illustration by Don Foley

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The cartridge contains tiny pores (.2 microns or smaller is standard for backcountry use) that let water pass through but block protozoa (Giardia, cryptosporidium) and bacteria. Consider these major types:

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Reader Rating: -


May 04, 2011

Hail to "First Need"; I've had two different upgrades, and have only changed one filter in 12 years use. Biggest change is ease of pumping, handle fits my hand well, and it fills fast/locks tight on all standard water bottles. I do like the upgraded "pre-filter", never had any hose problems,and after a day's trail use, I just pump out all water in filter and hose, and put it back in it's rubber bag. They include a small bottle of "stain?" to run a test on the filter, and if it starts to show the "purple/bluish" color, time to change the filter. Great filter for the money!

Rob West
Jan 09, 2011

I highly recommend the MSR MiniWorks Ex microfilter. I've been using the MSR WaterWorks II [which is now discontinued I think] since 1998 and have only replaced one ceramic element because I broke it while cleaning. It will remove all bacteria, protozoa and parasitic worms eggs and the granular activated carbon internal element removes many chemicals and bad tastes. If I think viruses are present [I'm downstream of a drop toilet] I'll pretreat the water with Polar Pure iodine for 30 minutes then pump it through the filter to strain out the larger pathogens and the GAC filter element removes the iodine leaving good tasting completely safe water. I've used this method in over a dozen countries and some pretty nasty places and never been sick from drinking water. In most cases I just use the filter without the Polar Pure iodine pretreatment. Check out for more than you probably want to know about waterborne pathogens and treatment systems.

Apr 07, 2010

The best water treatment is the MSR MIOX, it works the same way municipal water treatment works but on a smaller scale. It kills giardia and Cryptosporidium which iodine doesn't kill. It also doesn't have a taste like Iodine. It kills all bacteria and viruses also. And at 3.5 oz and 7 inches long it is small and light

Dec 18, 2009

To answer Ben's question (posted Aug 04, 2009) about "why not just boil?"

Boiling would mean having to stop, get out your cookware, your stove, and then find something to carry the water in back to your area that you're stopping in. Then, you have to hope that you scoop up water without getting any grit/sand in your pot.

Then you have to concern yourself with using up all of your fuel (wood fires aren't an option in many backcountry areas). The higher the altitude the more fuel it takes to raise water to a boil. That leaves you with less fuel to cook your food.

Boiling also doesn't remove chemical contaminates like pesticides and herbicides which could very well be present downstream from agricultural areas. Nor does it improve the smell or taste of water. If your boiled water smells bad how are you going to bring your nose and mouth to it in order to drink it?

The amount of water you'd also have to boil on the trail to fill water bottles and camel backs would be quite a lot for the size of most camping pots. You could easily find yourself needing to boil two or three pots of water. More fuel and time wasted. Then you would probably need to wait for your very hot water to cool before putting it into your liquids container.

When you're on a trail, why go through all of that when you can filter straight from the river/lake straight into your container. Done.

Aug 13, 2009

I have used the MSR pump filters for many trips in Alaska. In silty glacial waters I have had no problems. When I get home from trips I always rinse off the filter element and dry it to prepare for the next trip. Water is clean and tastes great. I bought these for my sons when they started hiking/camping because of my experience with them.

Aug 09, 2009

First Need... My first one I pumped probably 3 filters worth I change at 100 instead of rated 150. Even at 100gal best tasting water than my filtered tap. Introducing my nephew to backpacking. He stated it was best water he's ever tasted!
Positive- love screw on outlet for bottles. Never had to "on trail" back wash. Never failed me. 3 days overnight is my norm, but lots of two days. One gasket, carry spare. Like drip overnight option. I do back wash it after every trip. 46 pumps, one up, one down and fills water bottle of 750ml. Negitive- Had to buy a new one b/c of hose diameter change, rubber began to rot. I purched in 1993, so I feel I got my moneys worth. (could have found hose at hardware store probably.)
Told sales clerk who was trying to sell different model to forget it.
First Need.... Zero problems starting from 1993. I even took it to Iraq!

Perry Clark
Aug 06, 2009

I've used a Katadyn Hiker Pro for years, and have absolutely no complaints. Drinkable water in minutes without a chemical taste is a wonderful thing. (I have no connection with Katadyn or any other maker.)

Aug 05, 2009

There's nothing that breaks my heart more than seeing a poor hiker struggle with a pump filter. Yes, pump filters make water instantly and without chemical taste, but to sit there in a cold rain pumping your arm off, dealing with jammed filters, messing around with hoses, and suffering frozen hands: is it worth it? I say no! My choice: ULA's H20 amigo, you get all the benefits of a pump filter, but without all the labor and headache!

Aug 04, 2009

why not just boil?

Jul 28, 2009

The good news is when the filter just stops working, because then you know it's broken and can try to fix it. (if you can find the problem and have the spare part).

The BAD news is when the filter is broken (i.e., it stops actually filtering, but it still pumps water and only "appears" to be working.

This is why I only use halogens to treat water.

Also, I question the advisability of using chlorine to clean a device with rubber gaskets.

Scott Haas
Jul 25, 2009

I have an MSR and love it. It does become clogged with silt but it is super easy to take apart and clean. I bought a pre-filter for my next use and I think that should eliminate a lot of the silt problem. I read too that wrapping the element with a piece of nylon keeps the silt off the element but you still end up opening the changer to clean the nylon so the prefilter seems the way to go.

Jul 16, 2009

Ran into a hiker last month that an MSR pump. His had debris lodged under the orange chck valve (flapper) on the filtered water side. Hard to see, but once it was cleaned he was back in business.


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