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What to look for in a Backpacking Water Filtration System

The XStream Straw offers lightweight, packable filtration for backpacking, mountaineering, kayaking, and other outdoor endeavors.

Photo: David Bowers

When you’re headed into the backcountry, solo or with a group, access to clean water is essential. Choosing a water filtration system can be confusing, we tried out the Xstream Straw, and outlined what makes it a stellar option for your next outdoor adventure. 

Requires Minimal Physical Effort 

Most traditional filter pumps require both pushing and pulling, the former to expel the water and the latter to draw new water in through the filter. This naturally becomes quite tiring after a while, particularly after a long day climbing, paddling, or hiking. 

The XStream Straw on the other hand uses a simple passive suction-style pump system. That means instead of pumping in and out, as you do with most handheld water filter pumps, you simply squeeze the XStream Straw’s silicone handle to pump the water, then release and the suction automatically fills the straw up again. A single squeeze provides a decent squirt of water. 

This makes for a very easy pumping process, one that isn’t physically tiring at all. You can pump entire buckets with this and not tire your hand out. Also, since you’re only using one hand instead of two, like most pumps, it’s easy to swap hands if you do get tired, and on solo expeditions, this simple design allows you to hold your bottle or bladder with one hand and direct the stream with the other. 

That said, this luxury comes with a couple of flipsides. It’s worth noting that you need to be prepared for the passive suction to take a second or two to fill back up after each squeeze, as opposed to traditional pumps where the water comes out as fast as your hands can pump it.

Lightweight and Packable

The XStream Straw also offers an extremely lightweight system, clocking in at 5oz with the straw itself, and 9oz with the hand pump. Aside from that, the entirety of the filter system is concentrated in the filter itself, which is about half the size of a soda can all around. 

The hand pump itself is barely wider than the filter tube. The entire device, as a result, can be wound up like a hose and stowed almost anywhere in your pack (or even your pants pocket) for easy access. This is next to nothing compared to most pumps on the market, which are many times bulky affairs requiring both inflow and outflow tubes, and often both in-water auxiliary filters and then primary filters, usually coupled with the pumping apparatus. 


The XStream Straw is an all-in-one system. You can use it as a traditional straw via the mouthpiece and drink straight from the water, or you can use it as a pump, which in turn has a powerful enough stream and handheld aim so it can double as a sprayer. Swapping these systems in and out is seamless, with a simple click-on attachment to exchange the mouthpiece for the pump. 

As I mentioned, the sustained squirt from the pump means that in addition to using the XStream Straw to pump water, you can also use it to clean dishes, rinse off gear, and more. 

Meanwhile, the XStream Straw’s Journey Water Filter is able to purify up to 250 gallons of contaminated water (independent laboratory tested to EPA standards), removing 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.99% of  protozoan, and viruses without the use of iodine, chlorine, or any other chemicals. This all adds up to make an extremely versatile, functional water filtration package that can work well on the water, as well as in the high mountains, woods, jungle, or anywhere else.

The Length Is Incredible 

More than any other feature, the reach of the XStream Straw is what impresses. This straw is two feet (24”) long, and with an included extension tube, the length doubles to four feet (48”). Four feet of reach means you can access water from almost anywhere. No need to worry about slipping and falling while trying to get close enough to streams and creeks to pump water, with the XStream Straw you can stay on solid and dry ground. 

There’s also no need to squat down or bend over in awkward positions near water sources. You can sit in a kayak or canoe and drink straight from the river with the mouthpiece, or you can sit back from the water on the shore of a lake or stream and pump into your canteen, take a sip, or wash clothes and dishes without getting wet. 

The entire filtration component is situated on the end of the hose, as well, as opposed to having a primary and auxiliary filter as I mentioned above. This means that 100% of the XStream Straw’s four-foot length works to your benefit. There is no central pump requiring inflow and outflow hoses, cutting your usable length in half. The filter sits in the water, and everything that comes through that filter is clean, drinkable water.

There are many filtration systems out there, but if you keep in mind the physical exertion, packability, versatility and accessibility of your water source, you can be confident heading out into the wilderness. The XStream Straw is a stellar choice for backpacking, climbing, kayaking, and other excursions where you need a lightweight, compact water filter that can function as both a direct water straw and a pump.

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