The Best Survival Water Filter | Portable and Stationary

Being able to filter water can save your life. Just ask anyone in a developing country where the popularity of portable and personal water filters has skyrocketed. When you are faced with survival, you want a proven filter that won’t let you down. The best survival water filters will do just that in a compact package without any assistance from electricity or other power sources.

There are a slew of brands and types to choose from when it comes to water filters that will actually hold up in a survival situation. This is where we come in. We’ve researched the best survival water filters, tested each of them, and now the results are in: the overall best, a portable option, and an upgrade option. If you need to filter water in an emergency, one of our suggestions will keep you on top of any situation.


Contents (Jump to a Section)


Lifestraw Family Water Filter

The Best Survival Water Filter

Lifestraw Family

Mid-Capacity, Portable, and Proven

This proven filter will help any family through tough times- all at the right price.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Lifestraw started in 2005, introduced with its well-known personal water filter, but specifically for humanitarian use in underdeveloped regions. In 2008 they developed the Family filter, designed to reduce cost while being effective for the developing world’s families. Needless to say, it worked. Lifestraw has since become a household name synonymous with water filtration.

The Lifestraw Family water filter has been cost engineered making it exceptionally affordable for the life-saving functionality you get. It has an 18-liter capacity, and the filter has a whopping 18,000-liter lifespan. The flow rate isn’t going to hold you back with 9-12 liters per hour. Pick up a Lifestraw Family water filter and don’t look back- this thing will have your family covered in any disaster scenario.


Sawyer MINI Personal Water Filter

Portable Survival Water Filter

Sawyer MINI

Compact, Versatile, and High-Performance

Often imitated, this personal filter tops the competition with its versatile performance.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Sure, the Lifestraw personal water filter is great but it is limited in that it expects you to suck on one end to draw water through the filter. The Sawyer Mini, however, gives you multiple options with the squeeze pouch, straw, and cleaning plunger. This versatility brings it to the top spot for personal water filters. It doesn’t hurt that Sawyer is a reputable brand as well.

The Sawyer Mini personal water filter weighs just 3 1/2 ounces but can filter 100,000 gallons (454,609 liters) of water. It has plenty of attachments available, including our favorite gravity bag that lets you increase the capacity and put gravity to work instead of having to squeeze or use suction. Grab a Sawyer MINI for your portable kits and you won’t regret it.


Big Berkey Gravity Fed Water Filter

Upgrade Survival Water Filter

Big Berkey Gravity Fed

Large Capacity, Trusted, and Durable

When you might be filtering water for a while, you probably want the best on the market. This is it.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Berkey is the leader for in-place water gravity filtration and is a household name for homesteaders. The stainless steel container is heavy-duty and built to last. The filters are super effective and filter out everything you want them to, including heavy metals like lead, uranium, mercury, cesium, aluminum, copper, arsenic, strontium, and cadmium. A pair of black filters last 6,000 gallons before replacement and you can equip the Big Berkey with 2-4 filters to improve filter life and water flow.

The Big Berkey is the perfect family-size filter at 2 1/4 gallons- not too big and not too small. Grab one and a few extra filters to have off-grid homesteading-pure water anywhere!


Everything We Recommend

Lifestraw Family Water Filter

Lifestraw Family

This proven filter will help any family through tough times- all at the right price.

Where to Buy

$52* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

Sawyer MINI Personal Water Filter

Sawyer MINI

Often imitated, this personal filter tops the competition with its versatile performance.

Where to Buy

$21* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

Big Berkey Gravity Fed Water Filter

Big Berkey

When you might be filtering water for a while, you probably want the best on the market. This is it.

Where to Buy

$405* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing


The Filters We Compared

Our research narrowed the field down to the several filter brands and types that we tested: Sawyer, Lifestraw, MSR, Berkey, Alexapure, Katadyn, Grayl, HydroBlu, and more.

You can see our full list of review criteria below in the what to look for section, with an explanation for each.

We did not consider UV pens, boiling, or water purifying tablets to keep our review focused. Plus, we’ve already reviewed a few of those separately and they have their place.

We’re always looking for new and better equipment, so if you have a filter that you swear by let us know down in the comments. We review most of our tested gear annually, so we can always get it in the next roundup round and see if it makes the cut and we can see if it will beat out our top picks.


What to Look For

The best water filters have several important features to look for:

  1. Value
  2. Functionality
  3. Durability
  4. Size & Weight
  5. Versatility

When you get the right blend of these, you can find a truly reliable water filter that will keep you working through any situation. Below, we break down what each of these features means for a dependable tool that you can trust with your life:

Value: Cost vs. Benefit

The amount of money you spend on something like a water filter shouldn’t blow out your entire budget. Sure, it is important to have access to clean water, but you usually don’t need the most expensive option and only a few redundancies. Budget according to your risk and your needs rather than just spending lavishly.

On the flip side, you don’t want to go too cheap. Since the commercial success of Lifestraw, there are a ton of Chinese knock-offs that you can find everywhere- from Amazon to the tool store bargain bins. “Buyer beware” if you plan on trusting your survival to a $5 Lifestraw knockoff.

You never want to spend too much money on one resource, especially something like a filter. It’s better to diversify your tools and preparedness gear to make sure you are covered for a wide range of scenarios. There is a sweet spot where you get high value out of the best features with not-to-high of a price, which is where our top pick sits.

Effectiveness

The single most important consideration for a water filter is how well it works, or its effectiveness. A cheap water filter that doesn’t filter down to the micron level won’t help you out and will give you a false sense of security that will end up costing you big.

The effectiveness of a water filter is usually measured in microns, or how small the openings in the filter are to trap bacteria, viruses, contaminants, etc- but still let water molecules through. This isn’t always the complete story, as the material composition of the filter can also affect how well it filters water. Activated charcoal and ionized materials can work wonders at neutralizing contaminants and not just filtering them.

Our portable pick filters down to 0.1 microns, and our top pick down to 0.02 microns. Neither one is technically 100% effective, but the chances of a pathogen making it through the filter are slim with openings this small. They both test at least 99.9999% effective, which is a one-in-a-million chance of a single pathogen making it through the filter.

Durability

The last thing you want is to have an excellent water filter but have it break on you when you need it most. All of our picks are durable ABS plastic or stainless steel- so you shouldn’t have issues with cracking or breaking the casings unless you are extremely hard on them. Limit the plastic casing sun exposure to prevent it from becoming brittle over the years.

You should clean the filters regularly and avoid using highly contaminated water since it will clog the filters and/or reduce their lifespan. If you plan on getting water from very dirty sources, consider using a cheesecloth pre-filter to keep sediment out of your drinking water filter.

Capacity

Capacity is important to consider since it can determine how much water you can filter at once. The larger the capacity, the less you have to refill and pay attention to the filter as it is working.

Luckily, all of our picks have higher capacity add-ons, purchase options, or even hacks that you can do – even the portable Sawyer MINI!

Planning for your capacity needs ahead of time can help, and you can use our water storage calculator to predict how much clean water you’ll need for yourself and your family.

Versatility

One of our picks was buoyed to the top because of its versatility. Whenever you consider survival tools, you’ll need them to work for you in a variety of situations. When it comes to water filters, versatility is being able to filter water using suction (straw), gravity feed, or forcing water through the filter (squeeze).

In extreme situations (or where you encounter redundancies) water filters can be repurposed into siphons and containers for non-water liquids. Of course, this isn’t condoned by any manufacturer, but with a syringe pump, length of tubing, gravity feed bag, or any other accessory that comes with a water filter- a resourceful prepper will find plenty of versatile uses.


How to Use a Survival Water Filter

Charcoal filters were first patented in the mid-1700s, but people have been filtering water to make it clean to drink for as long as they have been collecting it. Each filter has its quirks, and squeeze filters work differently than gravity filters.

The Goat Mumbler does an excellent job breaking down our top portable pick, and demonstrating how to use it to its maximum potential:


Who Needs a Water Filter?

Water filters are a prepping and survival staple, but they have started to go main ‘stream’ thanks to the marketing and philanthropic efforts of companies like Lifestraw and Sawyer. Lifestraw, in particular, created suburban demand for its filters that caused a wave of blue imitators which in turn drove down prices.

Now, water filters are needed for survival and are much more affordable.

This is why you’ll find it suggested for almost every kit.

Water filters are essential for:

We suggest a water filter for these kits as well:

Of course, you can always use a water filter for things beyond emergencies and survival kits too- like rugged camping and bushcraft or family get-togethers. We actually encourage it- don’t let the filter sit in your kits without knowing how it works or how to use it properly.

How We Review Products: We research thoroughly before selecting the best products to review. We consult experts in the field for a better understanding of what makes the gear great. Hours on end are spent field testing gear in stressful conditions. We assign performance criteria and impartially rate each tested item. You can support us through our independently chosen links, which can earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. After our review process, some of the items reviewed end up in our giveaways.

Sources and References

All of our experience and the testing we do to determine the best water filter is useless without listing our research sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our hands-on testing and practical military and prepping experience:

Logsdon, G. (1990). Microbiology and Drinking Water Filtration. McFeters, G.A. (eds) Drinking Water Microbiology. Brock/Springer Series in Contemporary Bioscience. Springer, New York, NY. Pages 120-146. (Source)

Shen, C., Wu, S., & Meng, Q. (2021). Construction of portable drinking water device using an agricultural biomass-derived material of polyethylenimine-grafted-corncob. Food Control. Volume 130. (Source)

Walters, A. (2008). A performance evaluation of the LifeStraw: A personal point of use water purifier for the developing world. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. (Source)


The Final Word

Water is important for survival and clean water is difficult to find in emergencies. Many people rely on a city tap or electric wells that aren’t as robust as you may think. Make sure you have a water storage plan and a way to replenish water over extended periods.

To go along with a solid water filter, you should also consider a few other tools to help with your emergency water plans:

We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our research and testing found that the Lifestraw Family is the best option given the value, capacity, durability, effectiveness, and versatility. If you pick up one of our suggested water filters- make sure you get it out and get to know how to use it before an emergency. Don’t let your survival gear sit in your kit without getting familiar with it- use it on your next camping trip, or just around the house.

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.


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The Best Survival Water Filter

Rusty Collins

I am an engineer by day, but a prepper 24/7. I am an Air Force veteran that developed emergency and disaster plans as an emergency manager and responded to many attacks and accidents as a HAZMAT technician. I have been exposed to deadly chemical agents, responded to biological incidents, and dealt with natural disasters worldwide. Check out my full story here: Rusty's Story

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