The Best Water Filtration System for the Back-Country

Big Bull
By Chris Woodburn

Generally, when we decide to do an extended back-country hunt, or fishing trip we often need to pack the gear on our backs.  At least those of us who don’t have access to livestock for the trip.  If the gear is strapped to our backs, we need to look for ways to cut the weight of our gear, so we can get deeper into the back-country without hurting our backs.  One thing we can’t afford to cut back on is water.  That’s a core need of our bodies and we must have it to survive.  This article will show you some water filtration options with some pros and cons that’ll help you decide on what water filtration system is right for you on your next adventure.

Years ago, when I started back-packing into the wilderness areas of Oregon I often packed in a gallon of water and kept my intake of water low and managed to survive on eating very dry and tasteless foods.  Then I decided to buy a water pump, so I could pump my own water and well, stay hydrated.  This not only helped me to increase the amount of water I could drink, but it also gave me the ability to correctly cook and prepare freeze-dried meals.  My first pump was bulky and heavy.  Today we have countless options to provide our back-country water.  I’ll explore a few different options for you here, but by no means is this an exhaustive list.

Katadyn Vario water pump

Katadyn Vario

The Katadyn Vario is a great little pump.  It’s roughly 7 inches tall and a few inches in diameter and weighs in at 15 ounces.  This pump has a couple of options on output when pumping.  You can set it to a faster flow to get around 2 L/minute, or you can choose to pump with a “Longer Life” setting.  This will restrict the flow down to about 1 L/minute, but you won’t have to keep cleaning the filter.

I’ve used the pump a lot over the first couple years of owning it, but I did have some challenges with it.  The biggest challenge was that it’s tiring and if you choose to pump with the “Faster Flow” setting you’ll have to clean the pump filter more often.  This pump comes with a nice container bag, hoses, and some cleaning and maintenance supplies.  Again, I’ve used this pump quite a bit in the back-country and it did fine for the first few years.


  • Pumps clean water out at 2 L/minute
  • Processes up to 2,000 liters in one filter use – of course that depends on the water source, you can purchase replacement filters
  • Carry bag and various supplies
  • Relatively light at 15 Oz
  • Good for about 3 people on a trip
  • .2 micron – suitable for microorganisms, chemicals and some water taste issues
  • It can attach to a water bottle, so you can pump directly into the bottle


  • It’s a pump and it gets tiring, depending on how much water you need
  • The pump can develop a leak as there are seals in the pump that can go bad
  • The outlet flow nipple can break causing an issue


$80 to $95

Where to buy:

The Katadyn Vario Water Pump

Sawyer Sqeeze Bag Water Filter system

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filtration

The Sawyer water filtration system was a pretty new concept in that you can load up a bag from a water source and squeeze the bag forcing the water to flow through the filter and into a clean container.  The other option with this system is to connect it to a straw or water bottle via some adapters.  Water flow of this system comes in at about 1.7 L/minute, which is not bad.

This system comes with two 32 oz bags, filter, a straw to connect it to your own water container, a syringe that allows you to flush out the filter if you find that it’s clogging up and need faster water flow. This system is pretty interesting, as you can also use it as a gravity system.  We ran this bag through a test and found that it was pretty useful, and it happens to be one of my buddies’ favorite filter systems.


  • Small and lightweight at 3 ounces
  • 99.99999% removal rate for bacteria
  • Relatively inexpensive system and could be a first attempt at a back-country water filtration system
  • Not a lot of moving parts, so it’s simple to use and maintain
  • Could easily be used as a back-up system in case your main water source fails


  • Not a large water system
  • Squeezing a 1 person system



Where to Buy:

The Sawyer Squeeze Bag System

Katadyn Water Filter

Katadyn Gravity Water Filter

While on a back-pack hunt in western Wyoming my cousin and I came upon a camp high up on a mountain ridge.  The guys in that camp had a water filtration system hanging in the tree with a couple different water jugs underneath the system.  They explained the idea is that they could go down to the water source, hike back up with a large container of dirty water, pour it into their filter system and walk away to hunt and know they’ll have some clean water when they returned.  This was a great idea, which meant that a person didn’t need to sit and pump water wasting valuable sunlight that could be used for exploring, spotting or fishing.

When I returned home, I decided to check in on this idea and do a bit of comparisons to the pumping method I’ve used for years.  The Katadyn Base Camp 10L gravity filter system was an obvious choice for my needs.  The kit comes with a 10 L bag to fill and hang, a filter, a tube that has an on/off clamp, and a sponge to clean the filter every so often.


  • Lightweight system at 12.4 oz
  • Fast filter system at 2 L/minute
  • Filters out bacteria and protozoa
  • Field cleaning kit
  • Strap to allow you to carry the water bag
  • Allows you to hang and filter the water so you can go explore


  • Cost is a little high
  • Still trying to determine any other Cons…


  • $80 to $99

Where to buy:

Katadyn 6L Gravity Filter

Katadyn Base Camp Pro 10L Gravity Filter


These were just a few options we either own, have owned or have been given to test.  We have a video of using most of these options up on our YouTube channel as well.  We compared the MSR pump as well and it’ll be the next update on this post.  Check back to see the details.

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