Are water filters useful for long-term trips?

Over at the Q&A, a reader asked me to recommend a water filter to use while he goes vagabonding overseas. His logic was that a filter will save him money (and prevent pollution) in regard to plastic bottles, but my instinct was to tell him to leave the water filters at home. I said this not because portable water filters are bad (though some of them are quite useless), but because in seven years of overseas travel, I have yet to meet a traveler who used a portable filter for more than a month before giving up on it. At home, it’s easy to think you can spare the world a few empty plastic bottles, but on the road even the most stalwart idealists I’ve met get sick of filtering their own water supply several times a day. If you really want to avoid plastic bottles, I suggested, try treating your water with iodine or purification tablets (but check with your doctor first on the long-term effect of these products). If you’re particularly intrepid, take note of how the locals prepare their water, and follow suit. This will require a period of building up resistance (i.e. getting sick), but to a big extent it will wean you off plastic bottles. [Note: I don’t recommend this for everyone.]

My most basic advice, however, was to just go ahead and use plastic bottles. Granted, there are few official recycling programs in the developing world — but locals have a way of reusing plastic (as fuel funnels, for example, or fishing buoys) in ways First World folks have never considered. For a second opinion, however, I checked with Joe Ehrlich of the Travel Gear Blog, and he concurred. “I buy bottled water wherever I go,” he said, “and I just try to make sure that it isn’t owned by Nestle, Coca-Cola or Dannon (I’m trying to support only the local companies!). The owner will be clearly listed on the label.” As far as filter recommendations, Ehrlich says this:

“From what I’ve learned, Pur is the market leader. Katadyn is, from what I can gather, #2 in the market place. Also, I have used the fine products from McNett in Bellingham, WA, (makers of “Seam Grip”, my favorite seam sealer) and I will attest that the water taken out of a tropical fish tank and run through their special bottle using the McNett product tastes like, well, water. Their product is a sold for a fraction of what the others are. Do check it out. I haven’t used the MSR. Check that one out too, but look at the others first. [Note: Filter reviews can be found at online sources such as,, and Backpacker Magazine.]

“The big issue amongst them seems to be whether or not they can deal with viruses. (I wouldn’t personally trust any filter to effectively filter out viral strains and still make palatable water, which is why I recommend bottled water.) Most people are worried about giardia, and with good reason. Once you get it, you will be very, very sorry. Most filters should filter out giardia. Your local, independent specialty retailer will be happy to demonstrate them. If they won’t actually demonstrate the water filters in front of you, just walk out and try someplace else.”

In addition to all this, I’m interested to hear people’s experiences with water filters on multi-week and multi-month overseas journeys. Have any of you ever used filters consistently over the long haul? How did they work? Please post comments and experiences here.

Posted by | Comments (3)  | October 28, 2003
Category: Vagabonding Advice

3 Responses to “Are water filters useful for long-term trips?”

  1. Water Filters Says:

    Yeah, don’t use water filters while travelling, bad idea. Also, PUR is not a market leader…well maybe by volume, but sure not in quality, they make you replace filters every 2 months. Great business model, bad for customers. Also, look around for water filters from small internet companies that sell NSF-certified, or standard (KDF, carbon, etc.) filters. Also you can try taking one of these water test kits with you.

  2. water filter Says:


    yes do not use water filters during your trip to some places…if you are outside for a long term …than you need to replace the filters to get the quality water of your choice…!


  3. Water Filter Review Says:

    Personally, I buy bottled water when I go on a trip. It’s purely for convenience. My carry-on luggage is max-out as it is. On any third world countries, the water is so bad that bottled water is the only way to go.