Woman drinking water. (Shutterstock)
Review Words : Team Wanderlust | 13 July 2018

Traveller's guide to water treatment devices

From heading into the wilds to supping questionable water from hotel taps, the right device ensures you can enjoy safe H20 wherever your travels take you...


Which type? There are a range of water treatment devices on the market, from simple chlorine drops and tablets to more advanced purifiers, such as microfilters (in bottle or pump-action) and UV light stirrers. All have their advantages and disadvantages. Tablets and drops are small and easy to use but can taste unpleasant. In bottle filter-based systems are quick but will mean changing the filters regularly; they will also take up space in the water bottle, meaning less water. Pump-action filters require effort to make your water safe, and while UV purifiers are lighter, you will need to take spare batteries. It’s a case of personal choice as to which you prefer.

Ease of use. This will depend on what you’re doing. If using frequently, then you need something with minimal fall; if it’s just for occasional use, you may opt for something less efficient as long as it’s cheaper or lighter. Look for minimum effort and good water flow rate – you don’t want to waste energy trying to suck out water you’ve cleaned!

Protection. Obviously you want to be protected from as much as possible. The key factors to look for are protection from bacteria (cholera, Ecoli), viruses that cause waterborne illness (hepatitis, polio) and parasites/ protozoa (cryptosporidium, giardia). Most will offer 99.9% protection – this is really as good as it gets.

Weight and size. Both are key when travelling. Smaller and lighter are usually better for the casual user, but then a smaller size can mean sourcing water more frequently and possibly changing the filter (if applicable) or batteries more regularly, so it’s worth considering this when looking at overall weight.

Added extras. Some water purifiers offer added extras, such as adapters that turn the bottle into a shower or extra sediment catchers (good for backcountry camping). Do remember, though, that each ‘extra’ adds weight.

Price. Purification devices vary in price depending on the technology. Do remember that all filters will clog up in the end and need replacing (at a cost), and UVs will regularly need replenishing with fresh batteries.

Purifier, UV, filtration...What's the difference? Purifiers dose water with a chemical (usually chlorine) in order to filter harmful particles. UV uses ultraviolet light to destroy bacteria, viruses and parasites in seconds. Filtration forces water through microscopic holes that trap bacteria, viruses and parasites and stop them passing through to you. Note: a pure filter with no extra technology will require chlorine, or similar, for protection against viruses.

1. Water-to-Go bottle, £15.90

Using filter technology (where the water is squeezed through tiny holes to force out contaminants), this bottle offers 99.9% protection against bacteria, protozoa and viruses. The filtration is mechanical (though no batteries are required) and the device works by attracting the impurities magnet-like. It reportedly remains effective for up to 130 litres and has a handy indicator to tell you when it needs changing. However, users should note that it can be left to ‘dry out’ (not used for long periods) just three times before it needs replacing.

In terms of use, it couldn’t be easier. Simply unscrew the lid, fill the bottle and you can drink immediately. The flow rate is reasonable (600ml/minute) and it’s light (103g), but also small (0.5 litres). That is the only downside – with it being so diminutive it will need refilling more regularly. Wanderlust best value buy.

Verdict: Easy to use, small and cheap, but effective. For shorter trips, it’s excellent value for money.

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2. Lifestraw bottle, from £33

The original straw-shaped LifeStraw was launched in 2005, enabling users to safely slurp up untreated water. It was developed as an emergency response to water shortages in the wake of natural disasters. Over ten years later, the straw is now available in bottle form (total weight 201g), but philanthropy is still at its core, and with each device purchased comes the promise that a child in a developing country will get access to safe water for a year.

It offers protection from 99.9% of bacteria and protozoa, but not viruses; for that you’d need to add chlorine dioxide or purification tablets. But it’s still very simple to use: just fill the bottle with water and drink. It’s essentially a straw-shaped filter in a bottle with a flow rate of 100ml/minute, and it lasts for 1,000 litres, which is around three years if you only filter 1 litre per day.

Verdict: A handy option and good value – if viruses aren’t a concern. Plus it has a nice backstory to boot.

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3. Steripen Aqua, from £50

Looking like a luggage unmentionable (though I digress), this is essentially a high-powered UV light in a glass tube (note the protective cover). It takes 4 AA batteries (not included; total overall weight 182g), which should last for 50 litres (if using alkaline batteries) or 150 litres (lithium batteries). The lamp itself lasts up to 3,000 treatments and will no longer light up fully when it ceases to be effective.

You can use it to clean up to 1 litre of liquid at a time. Simply submerge it in water, so the sensor is covered, and push the button (the light should come on) and stir for about a minute. After that, the water is ready to drink, with 99.9% of bacteria, protozoa and viruses killed off . The downside is having to replace the batteries, but for the weight, price and effectiveness, it’s a pretty handy addition. Wanderlust best in test.

Verdict: Small, light, highly effective and it can be used with a number of drinking vessels (even a glass in a bar), making it the perfect option for travellers.

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4. Katadyn, Hiker Pro / Base Camp Pro, from £110

The test: This pump microfilter system protects against 99.9% of bacteria and protozoa (it doesn’t cover viruses but its makers do sell tablets for this). Simply put the hose into water – river, puddle, etc – and hand-pump it into either a bottle or, thanks to a handy attachment, a bladder, forcing the liquid through a filter. It takes around 1.5 minutes to pump 1 litre and the filter lasts for 750 litres (when it gets hard to pump, it’s time to replace). It weighs 362g and is quite compact, packing down to the size of a small bottle.

Even niftier is the Base Camp Pro (337g), which is a bag that holds 10 litres that you fill, hang from a tree and let gravity push the water through the in-built filter (lasts for 1,500 litres). You can even convert it into a shower!

Verdict: Ideal for backcountry hiking, where viruses aren’t an issue (though tablets can be added), while the Base Camp Pro is good for larger groups.

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5. MSR, Sweetwater Purifier System, from £95

Similar to the Katadyn device, this is also a manual hand-pump filter system that offers protection against bacteria and protozoa. It comes with its own solution to add virus protection, which it recommends. It also pumps a little more effectively (1 litre per minute) and lasts for 750 litres before a replacement filter is needed. A handy ‘change filter’ indicator will tell you when this is required.

It feels a little easier to pump than the others on test, and seems to suck up shallow water more effectively, but the handle itself does feel a little brittle and less robust. It weighs 339g and comes with a lot of paraphernalia, but you can fold and secure the handle so that it is more compact, which is handy for travelling.

Verdict: A little bulky, but the flat-folding handle makes it good for two people on multi-day hikes, though you will need to pack the virus-protection solution.

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6. Lifesaver, Bottle 4000UF, from £110

Looking more like a water pistol than a bottle, this British-designed device has been used by the military for several years. Once primed (a bit of a faff , but it need only be done when first used), cover its mouthpiece with the water-tight cap (to stop it being contaminated), then fill the container from the bottom – there’s a filter sponge to keep out debris. Use the built-in pump four-to-six times, which applies pressure to force the liquid through the filter (2 litres/minute; 99.9% protection from bacteria, protozoa and viruses). But beware: once the cap is opened, it does spurt out!

The filter has a lifespan of 4,000 litres, with an automatic indicator to remind you when to replace it. It’s pretty bulky and heavy – 799g for just 0.75 litres – but a jerry can is available and every part is replaceable, so it’s ideal for tough, long-distance overlanding.

Verdict: A little heavy and bulky for casual use, but if on a long overland trip, then the added jerry can option is great.

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