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5 Best Emergency Water Filters for Survival

Scott Winfield
Last Updated on
by Scott Winfield

Most people underestimate how important clean water is until they’re put in a situation where they don’t have ready access to a safe drinking source, such as while camping or hiking.

Thankfully, there are plenty of water treatment units you can use in a survival or remote outdoor setting to quickly purify your water and stay hydrated until you return to civilization. We chose five premium devices you can pick from depending on your circumstances.

Best Emergency Water Filters for Survival
Lifestraw GO
Best Water Bottle Filter
  • Filter Life: 1,000 gallons
  • Price: $25.95
Guardian Purifier
Best Handheld Pump Filter
  • Filter Life: 2,500+ gallons
Sawyer SP160
Best Gravity Filter
  • Filter Life: 100,000 gallons
  • Price: $39
Kelly Kettle Camp Stove Stainless Steel
  • Filter Life: Not applicable
  • Price: $116.64
Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets
  • Filter Life: 25 quarts or 6.25 gallons (for one bottle with 50 tablets)
  • Price: $9.95

Emergency Water Filters

Lifestraw GO – Best Water Bottle Filter

Lifestraw GO
  • Filter Life: 1,000 gallons
  • Effective two-stage microfiber and activated carbon media
  • Holds up to 22 ounces of water
  • Easy to clean and disassemble
  • Can’t remove viruses or very potent contaminants

Most people have probably heard of Lifestraw or at least seen the ads. They usually involve people kneeling in rivers and drinking directly from them, thanks to a small blue cylinder that works like a water straw with a filter inside.

The Lifestraw GO is an upgrade on the brand’s most popular product — it’s the same filter straw placed in a water bottle.

We consider this a massive improvement to the original design since you don’t have to be near a body of water to drink. Instead, you’re able to fill the bottle, carry it with you, and drink when you get thirsty.

The filter inside the bottle eliminates dirt particles, bacteria, organic chemicals, microplastics, and other common contaminants. It’s also able to clear cloudiness and improve the water’s overall pH level and taste.

All these capabilities are thanks to the two-stage filtration process composed of a membrane microfilter and a carbon-activated one.

The bottle holds up to 650 ML, or 22 ounces of water, which is a decent amount that won’t weigh you down when you walk.

You’ll also find that both the bottle and the filter are BPA-free and very easy to clean. The filter is attached to the cap, so you just need to unscrew it and wash the bottle by hand or throw it into the dishwasher for a quick spin cycle.

Since the filter is detachable, you don’t necessarily need to carry the bottle around. You can just take the straw, as it easily fits in your backpack or pockets and use it on its own by simply putting one end into a body of water and drinking from the other as you would if it was still in the bottle.

The one flaw of the Lifestraw model is that it’s not as powerful as some ads may lead you to believe. The activated carbon and microfiber media are good at removing specific types of bacteria but struggle with viruses or more powerful contaminants found in very polluted water.

Guardian™ Purifier – Best Handheld Pump Filter

Guardian Purifier
  • Filter Life: 2,500+ gallons
  • Very easy to use and requires no electricity
  • The hollow fiber media is effective at removing the most common contaminants
  • Incredibly easy to maintain
  • One of the most expensive handheld water treatment units on the market

The Guardian is slightly bigger than the Lifestraw GO but has a significantly more powerful filter.

It works like a classic hand-operated water pump, where you push a handle up and down to create suction and force water through the hose.

The hose is made of rubber, so it’s easy to coil it around the top of the device instead of having it hang on the side. The end of the hose goes into the water, and the handle is pushed so that the water passes through the hose and into the unit.

Clean water then pours into the clear, cylindrical container at the bottom. You just detach the container to pour yourself a clean cup of water. The bottom of the unit also features a cover to protect it while the water container is detached.

Unlike other handheld models, the process is easy and fully manual, so you don’t need to be close to an outlet to power this item.

The filter uses a very simple but effective hollow fiber filtration media that works like the membrane on reverse osmosis devices. The small holes in the hollow fiber are big enough for water to pass through but small enough to catch any sediment particles, organic chemicals, and, most importantly, bacteria and viruses.

Maintenance is easy because you don’t need to clean the filter, while the container can be cleaned with a sponge and some dish soap every once in a while.

Unfortunately, the price of this product makes it a difficult sell. The nearly $400 price tag makes it a costly investment, and the $230 replacement cartridges don’t improve things.

Sawyer SP160 – Best Gravity Filter

Sawyer SP160
  • Filter Life: 100,000 gallons
  • Takes up no space in the backpack and is very simple to set up
  • Very easy to use and maintain
  • Impressive longevity
  • Cleaning out the bag is inconvenient.
  • Doesn’t remove viruses or contaminants with molecules smaller than 1 micron.

The Sawyer SP160 uses the Sawyer mini water filtration system similar to other small water devices like the Lifestraw. The SP160 model uses a one-gallon bag to store the water before it passes down the hose and through the water filter.

The beauty of this gravity model is that it’s effortless to fold up and carry when there’s no water inside the bag, so you can slip it into any pocket in your backpack, and it’ll fit.

It’s also straightforward to set up since it comes with a hook that allows you to fill the bag with water and then suspend it from something like a branch. You can also place the bag on a rock or at a stretch or even hold it yourself until you pour yourself a cup of water.

Gravity does all the work for you, and as long as you have the bag above the hose and the filter at the lowest end, everything should work fine.

Unfortunately, the device can’t remove viruses or contaminants with molecules smaller than 1 micron. Still, it effectively eliminates microplastics, dirt particles, protozoa, and many bacteria commonly found in river water.

The main selling point of this unit remains its 100k gallon capacity, and a large part of that is thanks to the backwash function. Because the filter consists of a screen, it can become clogged with contaminants over time. To resolve this issue, you may use the included syringe to flush water through the opposite end of the screen.

With this move, you would push the contaminants off the screen and reset its efficiency.

However, while the unit removes sediment particles, they may get stuck in the bag itself since it doesn’t have any screen or protection. You should be able to remove the particles inside the bag by rinsing it out a few times, but you can’t reach inside and remove them any other way, which is inconvenient.

Kelly Kettle Camp Stove Stainless Steel – Best Boiling Filter

Kelly Kettle Camp Stove Stainless Steel
  • Filter Life: Not applicable
  • Very effective at removing viruses and bacteria
  • Comes with a lot of additional gear
  • An excellent unit for camping in general
  • Doesn’t remove dirt particles or lead from the water

The Kelly kettle isn’t only a fantastic water filter, but also a great piece of camping gear in general.

There are several components to this device, but the biggest one is the kettle itself. It’s divided into a main chamber that acts as a chimney where the smoke and the fire pass through and a water chamber where you pour in the water.

The water chamber is located on the side and has a stopper. To use it, take off the stopper and pour in the water before you start the fire. Then start a fire in the firebase and place the kettle on top. The smoke and fire pass through the opening at the top of the main chamber, effectively heating the water on the side.

Boiling water to remove contaminants has been an effective filtration method throughout human history. Fortunately, it remains one of the most effective methods of removing viruses and bacteria from the water.

Aside from the firebase and the kettle, you also get a 2-piece grill, a chimney support, a pot, and a frying pan. These elements will allow you to cook meat on the grill and firebase. You may also use the chimney support and the pan to heat beans and so on.

You also get a travel bag that allows you to easily store the kettle with all the other components so that they’re convenient to carry.

All these features make the Kelly Kettle Camp Stove the jack-of-all-trades of camping and a great addition to anyone’s camping arsenal. Best of all, you’re getting everything for just $116.

The one downside of this item is the boiling process itself. While boiled water eliminates organic contaminants and viruses, it’s ineffective against lead and large sediment particles.

You can eliminate the dirt by pouring the water into the kettle through a clean piece of cloth, but that strategy won’t reduce potential lead content.

Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets – Best Purification Tablets

Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets
  • Filter Life: 25 quarts or 6.25 gallons (for one bottle with 50 tablets)
  • Effective at eliminating viruses and chemical contaminants
  • Very easy to carry
  • 4-year shelf life if unopened and 1-year shelf life after opening the bottle
  • Not effective at removing dirt and soil particles

Purification tablets are a popular water treatment method amongst campers and survivalists for a number of reasons.

One of the main reasons why they’re such a popular option is because of how small they are. While the other filters on our list would fit in a backpack, you only need a free pocket to carry these tablets into the mountains with you.

Another reason for their popularity is how easy they are to use. Drop the tablets in a container filled with contaminated water, and the iodine within the tablets will eliminate most viruses and chemical pollutants.

You get 50 tablets in the package, and you need two to purify 1 quart of water. Since a quart equals a quarter of a gallon, that means that with 50 tablets, you’ll be able to purify more than 6 gallons of water, or more specifically, 6,25 gallons.

To make things easier, you should get a container that holds 0,25 gallons of water to know that you need to add two tablets. After dropping the tablets in the water, you should wait 30 minutes for them to act before drinking.

The tablets have a shelf life of around 4 years before opening – but only if the container remains sealed. After opening, you must use them within a year.

The main weakness of these tablets is that they’re useless against non-chemical contaminants. Dirt, sand, clay, and other common water contaminants won’t be cleared from the container you’re using to dissolve the tablets, so you’ll need to funnel the water through a cloth or use another filtration method in addition to them.

What Are Emergency Water Filters for Survival

As the name suggests, these items are tools used in emergency or survival situations with which you’re able to purify contaminated water until you gain access to a clean water source.

Realistically, people use these units 99% of the time for camping purposes rather than dire straits. However, it’s still good to know that you have gear that can help you survive for a long time in nature.

How Do the Emergency Water Filters for Survival Work?

The Lifestraw GO uses a two-stage process comprising a microfilter and an activated carbon media to absorb chemical contaminants and soil particles from the water. The unit functions like a straw.

The Guardian™ Purifier uses a manual handle to draw in water from a hose and pass it through a hollow fiber filter that catches all present contaminants before pouring it into the container at the bottom.

The Sawyer SP160 uses a bag that needs to be filled with water. The bag is then placed on an elevated surface with the hose and the filter beneath it and eliminates contaminants with the help of gravity.

The Kelly Kettle Camp Stove Stainless Steel uses heat generated from the firebase to boil the water in the reservoir on the side and remove chemical contaminants.

The Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets must be dissolved in a water container. Two tablets purify around 0,25 gallons of water. You then need to wait 30 minutes for the purification to take effect, after which the water will be clean and safe to drink.

Types of Emergency Water Filters for Survival

As evident from the various types of emergency devices we mentioned in our article, there’s a diverse range of water treatment units designed to help you when you don’t have access to clean water.

To make things easier for you, we’ll divide the products into categories based on what we consider to be the most critical factor – the type of contaminants they remove.

The Lifestraw GO and the Sawyer SP160 are good picks for any scenario since they remove chemical contaminants and dirt particles. Unfortunately, they don’t work well on highly contaminated water since it can clog the filters quickly.

The Kelly Kettle model and the iodine tablets are excellent picks to remove viruses and bacteria from the water. However, they’re not very useful for dirt particles.

And finally, the Guardian™ Purifier is the most effective item on our list since it removes both chemical contaminants and dirt particles while also working on very contaminated water.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Emergency Water Filters

The Lifestraw GO is cost-effective, portable, and easy to maintain. But, it can’t do much against viruses or highly contaminated water.

The Guardian™ Purifier is our list’s most effective filtration unit since it eliminates most contaminants. The only issue is its price tag, as not many can afford to splurge so much on an emergency water treatment unit.

The Sawyer SP160 is easy to carry, simple to use, and a cinch to maintain. However, it shares the same issues with the Lifestraw GO in that it’s not all that powerful and struggles with eliminating viruses.

The Kelly Kettle Camp Stove Stainless Steel is a cheap and effective device for removing viruses from your drinking water, aside from being an all-around handy camping/survival tool. It’s also the most inconvenient model to carry, and it‘s not an ideal choice if you’re trying to eliminate dirt particles from your water.

The Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets are very easy to carry and use. Still, you need to wait half an hour for them to take effect, and while they’re remarkable against viruses and chemical contaminants, they’re not effective against dirt and soil particles.

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s answer the most commonly asked questions regarding emergency water filters for survival.

What is the cheapest emergency water filter for survival?

If you’re looking for the most affordable water filtration method for survival, we couldn’t find anything better than the Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets at $9.95.
However, we recommend that you invest $26 and get the Lifestraw GO if you can afford to.

What is the average price of an emergency water filter for survival?

It’s pretty difficult to estimate an average price on emergency water treatment products since they differ in size, contaminants removed, filter life, etc.
However, we would say that most standard portable filtration systems cost between $20 and $200, with premium items like the Guardian™ Purifier costing twice that amount.

What’s the most convenient filter to use?

Convenience boils down to personal preference, but the easiest-to-use filtration methods are the Lifestraw Go and the Purification Tablets since all other methods require some preparation.
The Lifestraw GO is the better option out of the two because it’s instantaneous. You only need to fill the bottle and suck from the straw to safely satisfy your thirst.


The Lifestraw GO is cheap and easy to carry, but it’s not a great pick for highly contaminated water.

The Guardian™ Purifier is, without a doubt, the best filter on our list, but it’s only an option if you’re willing to spend a small fortune to buy it.

The Sawyer SP160 is easy to set up and has a large capacity, but it’s not an ideal option if you’re going to an area with mostly flat terrain and no trees.

The Kelly Kettle Camp Stove Stainless Steel is a great overall tool for most occasions, but it’s bulky to carry, so only get it if you don’t mind the extra weight on your back.

The Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets are the cheapest and most portable option, so they’re a great pick if you want to travel light. However, they’re pretty slow, so you must be patient.

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Scott Winfield
Scott Winfield
My name is Scott Winfield and researching and writing about water filters and other strategies to purify water has become my full time passion in recent years. I'm glad that you found our site and you can look forward to authoritative and well researched content here to help you get the best in water.
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