Man drinking water

These Are the 5 Best Water Purifiers for Travel

In Accessories by Dave Dean52 Comments

Last updated: 7 January, 2017

It’s only when you’ve been travelling for a while in countries with unsafe water that you truly appreciate being able to drink what comes out of the tap back home.

Sure, you can usually buy bottled water cheaply in those countries, but you’re not always sure where it came from. The environmental impact of plastic bottles is also hard to ignore when you see them washing up on the beach around you.

Water purifiers can give you the best of both worlds: clean, safe water on demand, without destroying the environment in the process. They’re a varied lot, though, and picking the wrong one can leave you with foul-tasting water and major stomach problems.

You’re looking for something that will kill bacteria, cysts and viruses. It’s the last of those in particular that many devices won’t destroy. At a minimum you need something that won’t make the water taste worse than it already does. Ideally it should filter out particulates, chlorine and metals so it tastes better.

Finally, it needs to be appropriate for travel — light, robust and reliable, at a price that won’t break the bank.

There aren’t many that fit the bill, but luckily there are a few. Here are five water purifiers actually worth buying for travellers.

LifeSaver

Lifesaver bottle

The LifeSaver was originally developed to provide clean water to people in developing countries who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it, and it shows in the design.

It’s a simple piece of equipment that’s easy to use, reasonably robust and lasts a long time without needing maintenance. That makes it equally useful for travellers as well.

It’s relatively heavy, at around 22oz (625g) when empty, so may not be for you if you’re an ultra-lightweight traveller. The purification cartridge lasts for an impressive 4000 litres before needing replacement. There are 1500 and 6000 litre versions as well.

You’ll need to replace the carbon filters more frequently, though. Depending on how dirty the water you’re using is, it’ll be roughly every 250 litres.

Filtering of the 750ml capacity takes under a minute, which compares favourably to many other approaches. I’m a big fan of the failsafe filter and cartridge, which won’t let you pump water after they’re used up. That’s a much better approach than trying to remember how much water you’ve used, or using your stomach as a petrie dish to find out.

That the LifeSaver functions just like a normal water bottle is also very handy. It lets you tip the water into something else to let you rinse out a cut, cook or brush your teeth with it.


Steripen Ultra

Steripen Ultra

Probably the most well-known portable water purifier, the various models of Steripen use a UV lamp to kill the bugs and bacteria. You just dunk the lamp into a cup or water bottle, stir for a minute or two, then drink. It’s a simple, inexpensive process, but it does have some limitations.

Firstly, it only purifies — there’s no filtering mechanism. This means you can’t use cloudy/dirty water with it, and while the treated version is unlikely to make you sick, it won’t taste any better than when you started. The reliance on battery power also isn’t ideal, although at least this Ultra model charges via USB. Cheaper versions use hard-to-find disposable batteries.

While it’s good to be able to purify water in any vessel, I’d much rather carry a bottle with a UV lamp built in. That way I could purify when necessary, and just use it as a normal water bottle the rest of the time.

Still, if the water you’re filtering is reasonably free of dirt and minerals to start with, the Steripen Ultra is a worthwhile, easy option.


Drinksafe Travel Tap

Drinksafe 2017 Travel Tap

There are several different models of purifier in the UK-made Drinksafe range, but my preference is the “Travel Tap” for one simple reason. As well as sucking water through the filtering/purification mechanism like the other models, you can also use the Travel Tap by gently squeezing the bottle.

This simple change greatly increases its usefulness, letting you do things like rinse your toothbrush and irrigate wounds with clean water. I also like that you can remove the filter mechanism if you know the water is safe, meaning you don’t use it up unnecessarily. A lanyard and insulation sleeve are included in the package.

The Travel Tap has an 800ml capacity. It  can purify up to 1600 litres of water before the auto-shutdown mechanism kicks in and the filter cartridge needs replacing. That’s pretty good — if you’re drinking two litres a day, it’s over two years of daily use. Water flow is around 300ml/minute. That’s fine most of the time, but perhaps a little frustrating if you’re particularly thirsty.


The Grayl

The Grayl

There’s plenty to like about the Grayl. Rather than a straw or traditional pumping mechanism, this purifier works more like a coffee press. You fill the bottom part up with water, attach the top part and press down.

No more than 30 seconds later, you’ve got up to 16oz (a little under 500ml) of clean water in a stylish container. It’s super-simple and reliable, and the filter eliminates pretty much everything including viruses.

So what don’t I like? Well, a couple of things. The capacity is a bit low — at less than half a litre, you’ll get through it very quickly in hot countries. Of course, being able to fill it up again from almost anywhere negates that problem somewhat, but not entirely.

Secondly, it’s more expensive for lengthy trips than some of the other options. The filter costs around $25, and only treats 150 litres of water before it needs replacing — assuming you can find one wherever you happen to be, of course. Take an extra filter from home if you’re likely to need one.

Overall, though, it’s a good option, especially for shorter trips.


Aquamira Frontier Flow Red Line Bottle

Frontier Flow

Finally, if you’re looking for an inexpensive, effective all-in-one purifier and don’t mind having to suck through a bite valve, the Frontier Flow Red Line bottle fits the bill. Note the “red line” part — that’s the filter that wipes out viruses, as well as bacteria and chemicals. The cheaper “green line” version doesn’t include virus removal, so isn’t as useful for travel.

Filters last for 450 litres, which is reasonable without standing out. It’s lightweight, holds a useful 22oz (660mls) of water, and can be attached to a backpack via the built-in ring.

Since you have to bite on the valve and squeeze the bottle to filter the water, you can’t really use it to fill up hydration packs, wash dishes or irrigate wounds. If you’re happy to only drink direct from the bottle, though, this is a cost-effective option that works well.

 

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Which Would I Buy?

So, crunch time — if I had to buy a water purifier for an upcoming trip, which would it be? All things considered, I’d go for the Grayl for most short to medium-length trips. It’s effective, durable and easy to use, and recent price drops have made it more affordable.

Being able to filter out light sediment and other particulates, while still having the option of using the filtered water outside the bottle, makes it more useful than many of the alternatives.

If I was planning to spend months or years somewhere where the water quality was dubious, I’d opt for the LifeSaver instead. With much longer-lasting cartridges, it’d easily pay off its higher price, and not having to find replacements so often would also be very useful.

It also seems more robust than most of the alternatives, which can never be a bad thing.

Do you carry a water purifier? Which one, and why?

Product images via respective manufacturers.

About the Author

Dave Dean

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Founder and editor of Too Many Adapters, Dave has been a wanderer for nearly 20 years and a geek for even longer. When he's not playing with the latest tech toy or working out how to keep his phone charged for just a few more minutes, he can probably be found sitting in a broken down bus in some obscure corner of the planet.

Comments

  1. I have a water-borne enterovirus from being given well water as a baby on the family farm in the US. I have a diagnosis of Immunology Deficiency Subclass (IgG 3, IgG 4 & IgM) as well as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Contaminated water is no joke.

    I researched this topic. I bought the Seychelles water bottle. It’s certified my multiple US and UK agencies. It works well to clean water. It’s cheap, light and you can get different filters for radioactive water (Japan post nuclear meltdown), city water, stagnant water, etc. The owner of Seychelles started Pur Water and sold it. Then he started Seychelles.

    I went to my tailor to have a carrying sling made.

    Then I left the country. I found the water bottle filter method difficult. I had to squeeze the bottle and suck….. Hard. This requires 2 hands which is inconvenient. I prefer to only use 1 hand. I had a difficult time sucking up the water. You have to suck hard to pass the water over the filter. I abandoned my water filter bottle and bought bottled water instead. I have a bottle for sale with loads of extra filters. Let me know if you want to buy it. Maybe you can find it more useful than I did?

    I’m going to buy the largest LifeSaver bottle next. I’m getting away from the water filter straw.

    I hope that helps.

  2. I’m a huge fan of SteriPens. My wife and I have been using it for years and never had any issue. I pair it with a collapsible Nalgene bottle… compact, light, easy to use, water taste (if an issue) is easily over come with any of the powdered or liquid flavor packets available pretty much everywhere. No “sucking” not carrying around a heavy filter you don’t need and not purifying water that doesn’t need to be purified.

  3. I bought the water2go bottle for my trip. I’ve had nothing but bad luck with it. My very first flight I managed to lose the silicone sleeve and it didn’t take long to find out that it leaks like crazy any time that it is not perfectly upright (which no matter how I place it in a bag it always manages to end up upside down – would be ok if it had a tab to put a clip through to hang it from my bag) I gave up on using it. I’m swapping it for a clearly filtered bottle which is waiting for me at home. I’ll be picking it up when I visit home before I go to Nepal and India.

    1. Author

      Hi Jaimee, that’s useful info, thanks! I did read a couple of reviews that said something similar — it didn’t seem to be all that widespread a problem, but it sounds like it might be. Leaking water bottles in a daypack that often carries electronics is not a good thing!

  4. I have had my Seychelle bottle for 15 months and have had no problems with it at all. I take it with me wherever I go whether I’m abroad, at home or going to the gym.

    Throughout years of traveling, I found myself at times ill (learning later the symptoms were dehydration) for disliking the taste and smell of some ordinary municipal tap water. That hasn’t happened once since I got my bottle and replacement filters at Amazon/ebay.

    And I love imagining how much plastic I’ve saved from being created/recycled.

    1. Author

      Unfortunately I haven’t been to either country, so can’t make a specific recommendation — sorry!

  5. Can water purifying tablets be used then any of the above? Any precautions while using those?

  6. Do you have any thoughts about the Aquapure Traveller bottle? This also seems to filter viruses and looks quite good from what I can see. I’m currently trying to decide between then Aquapure and Traveltap.

    Thanks!

    Pete

  7. […] those things that could save your life if you run into any danger. At the top of that list is a water purification bottle. This is a water bottle that will filter any water that passes through it. So, if you need water […]

  8. Traveling to China for first time. Have Crohns and worried about water. What do you recommend

  9. Thanks for the thorough analysis Dave. Have you ever tried the Katadyn MyBottle Water Purifier? Any thoughts?

  10. Hi Dave, Im traveling to Jamaica and not positive on there water situation as I wouldn’t be staying at a resort. I found Life Straw Go Water Bottle and thought about getting that. But the drink safe one may also be good.

  11. hi there!! I’m heading to sri lanka and then india for a month, any sugestion on what could be the best option, concidering the major issue that tap water represent over there? thanks

    1. Author

      I drank bottled water without issue while in Sri Lanka, but haven’t been to India. In Sri Lanka, at least, it was easy to find and very cheap, and as I wasn’t travelling with a sterilizer of any kind at that point, made the most sense.

      In India, I’d probably buy bottled water, then run it through something like the Travel Tap (above) in case the vendor had decided to refill the bottle with tap water. The stories about water-borne illness in India are legion, so I’d be looking to reduce that risk as much as possible.

      1. thanks Dave!! but what I’m trying to do is to avoid(really hard) or minimize consuming plastic!! do u think it would be safe just refilling the Travel Tap(or any other) using water from the tap????
        thanks again

      2. Author

        I can’t make that determination for you, sorry. I don’t have personal experience of the water situation there, and the reports from other travellers aren’t great — I’d hate you to follow my advice and get sick!

  12. I see! thats what I’m getting travel tap” seams to be the most accurate one for this trip! I’ll report how it goes!
    thanks for replying!!

  13. HI thank you for the post and the continued follow up replies. this has been very helpful with figureing out which filter/purifier to take on a trip. I was wondering now that Grayl’s prices have come down a lot (filters $25 and a non stainless steel option) would you consider it a better filter then the straw filters?

    1. Author

      I do prefer the way the Grayl works, so as long as you’re happy with the smaller capacity and carrying extra filters with you, yup, I’d say it’s a better filter. As you say, the price is noticeably more reasonable now, at around $60 for the basic model and $25 for the filters.

  14. hey there!
    So my BFF and I are going to Cambodia in march. Neither of us have been over seas. She is allergic to iodine, would the steripen be enough for the water there?

  15. I’m Traveling to Costa Rica. Any advice about buying water down there or traveling with filters etc?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Author

      I haven’t been, unfortunately — although as mentioned above, I can’t give advice about water quality in individual countries anyway.

  16. Hi Dave Dean,
    Thank you so much for your report!
    I am getting ready to start a graduate program that will have me studying in
    India for 3 months.
    I know you have no personal experience with that country, but I was hoping you could help me choose between the LifeSaver and the DrinkSafe Travel Tap?
    While I do like to pack lite, I am a HEAVY water drinker, and I am very nervous about not having reliably safe drinking water. I figure it’s worth not bringing an extra pair of shoes if it means peace of mind 🙂
    Any thoughts about the choice?
    Thanks in advance!
    Rachel

    1. Author

      Either should last you the length of your stay in India. Whichever one you buy, I’d suggest getting it well ahead of time and testing it thoroughly for things like leaking, water flow rate, etc, to make sure you’re happy and can get a replacement or alternative if needed. Obviously you can’t test the purification part of it with tap water from home, but reviews of both filters talk about having used them in India with no problems. For extra security, it might be worth calling the manufacturers or distributors and asking them specific questions. 🙂

  17. Hi Dave —
    Could you advise on where to buy a Travel Tap bottle in the USA? Amazon says it can’t ship the bottle from the UK.

    1. Author

      I can’t, I’m afraid. Maybe drop the manufacturer a mail through their site and see if they have a US distributor yet?

  18. Hello,

    I’m living in Shanghai where the quality of the tap water is very questionnable (metals, bacterias and maybe viruses). Do you know which bottle would suit me best ? (i’m also on a budget, so I would like to avoid the lifesaver for example)

    Thanks in advance,

    Remy

  19. headed to SE Asia next month and i’m very interested in buying one of these. the right one, of course.
    i want to be able to fill up with tap water anywhere and maybe even up in the mountains. it looks like travel tap would be the best with the squeeze action for toothbrushing/cleaning/filling. however, it also looks like they only ship to the UK…. am i reading this correctly?

    1. Author

      Please see the comment from Delores a few days ago on how she got a Travel Tap shipped elsewhere in the world.

  20. Hi,
    I have the Grayl – Quest version since 2015 and it has been my travelling companion. I prefer it to the others cos’ of its ease of operation. Although on the pricey side but worth the investment.

    My recent trip to Laos gave me quite a bit of savings with my Grayl with the tap filter (USD14.50). A 1.5L of bottled water cost Laos kip 5000 -7000 (USD 1 = Kip 8000). Assume 2L per day, for 10 days would be 20L i.e. 14 bottles which works out approx USD 9 based on Kip5000. Most places you would have access to tap water. Keep the purifier filter for remote areas.

    After a flight especially on budget airlines or late at night upon arrival, with my Grayl, I no longer need to hunt for water.

    Most tap water in SE Asia are fine but in doubt, use the purifier filter.

    Hope the above helps in some way.

    Cheers

  21. Grayl – been using one for a year, fill, squish, pour into lager container, has paid for itself many times over in free water and not to discount the value of health and peace of mind

  22. Hey all, great read. I took Grayl for a test spin almost 6 months ago on a 75 mile trip from Sequoia National Park to the top of Mt Whitney. I absolutely loved it in the beginning but as the trip went on it became harder and harder for me to press down to filter.

    1. Author

      Sounds like the filter maybe got clogged or wore out – the instructions say it’s time to replace it if pressing down gets more difficult.

  23. Yep, it’s doing its job filtering out the junk, remember the cleaner the water you’re starting with in regard to floating solids the longer the cartridge will last before changes.

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