A Quick Guide To Water Filters

Water is the first line of survival. It doesn’t matter how well prepared you are in other areas. You can live longer without food than without clean water. Dirty water kills more people than disasters. A good water filter can mean the difference between life and death.

Over the years, I have advised a lot of people on how to get started on a path to preparedness. The first thing I always tell them is to get one or more water filters. After that, take care of food, medicine, clothing and footwear needs.

The intent of this post is to offer an overview of different types of water filters. Although I have highlighted some particular brands, there are plenty of others out there, if you want to do some further research.

If you are new to the concept of emergency water filters, be aware that water filters sold at grocery stores for your tap only remove some contaminants and particulates. Typically, they do not remove bacteria, protozoa, or viruses.

Countertop gravity-fed filters

Big Berkey

Big Berkey has an excellent reputation overall. At the same time, they have limitations. For example, they are slow. A Berkey can fit up to four filters depending on size. Each filter increases the flow rate of your Berkey, but at around $80 per filter, filling your Berkey with the maximum amount of cartridges is not a cheap endeavor.

I like that Berkey filters are gravity fed, so you don’t have to do a lot of work. Again, my problem is the flow rate. Unless you have one of the larger Berkey’s, good luck getting enough flow to take care of the average sized family.

Portability is another issue. The Berkey is bulky and made to be set up and used at a base camp or in a home. It is not appropriate for major mobile use.


This brand is very similar to Big Berkey, but costs considerably less. There is only one size available. A few years ago, I was sent one in exchange for an honest review. You can fit up to four filters in the unit to get a maximum flow rate. The AlexaPure works well, but it has the same issue as the Berkey. The capacity is just not enough for me to feel comfortable recommending it for anyone who needs anything beyond a little drinking water. For emergency use, it is nice to have for backup, but I would still rather have a HydroBlu and 10L bag.

Group and family-size filters

Hydro Blu Versa Flow with 10L Bag

I always recommend this filter for people on a financial or space budget. The Versa Flo System and Gravity Bag packs down to practically nothing, and at about $55, it is a bargain that will keep an entire group or family with a more than adequate supply of water. It also will not require any pumping or extra work.

I have tested this filter and drank enough water from it to know that it works well.

Another great feature of the 10L bag is that you can use a Sawyer Mini. So, if something happens to the in-line filter, you can quickly switch to a replacement and be back in business. The Versa Flo is rated to filter up to 100,000 gallons of water.

LifeStraw Family

LifeStraw makes several groups use filters. I typically recommend the LifeStraw Family because it is convenient and one of the more affordable options.


LifeStraw Mission

Similar to the Hydro Blu brand, the LifeStraw Mission hydration bag-style filter takes care of viruses as well as bacteria and parasites.

Portable filters

Every person should have a portable water filter solely for their own use. That doesn't mean that multiple people could not use it in an emergency. For example, on a camping trip or hiking excursion, I recommend each person have a Sawyer Mini and Squeeze Bag. At under $25, these inexpensive filters can be used for up to 100,000 gallons of water filtration. If everyone has their own filter, that means if someone gets separated from the group, they have increased odds of overall survival in a real emergency.

The Classic LifeStraw

The LifeStraw brand is one of the most popular water filter brands out there. Over the years, the company increased its offerings far beyond the classic individual straw filter so many people bought for their bug-out bag or car emergency kit. The biggest issue I have with LifeStraw Personal Filter is that they are only rated to filter around 2,000 gallons of water before you have to throw them away. But they are inexpensive and compact, and suitable for a get-home bag or other short-term needs.

Sawyer Mini

At around $20, the Sawyer is a very affordable and versatile water filter option. Sawyer’s typically come with a squeeze bag, so you can just sip water through the Sawyer with ease. Of course, the Sawyer can also be used “in line” with a hydration bag or backpack. The Sawyer Mini is an excellent choice for those that want an affordable option to purchase for everyone in the family. I recommend them as the individual filter to supplement for a larger family during emergencies.


Katadyn Pocket

This is an amazing filter for backpacking or emergency use if you can handle the fact that you have to pump it. Unlike some of the pump-style filters I have used, you can get a quart of water in just a few minutes with this one. My dad actually bought this filter for my husband and I many years ago. Katadyn features a ceramic filter element, so you do have to exercise some caution if camping out during freezing conditions. If water is particularly dirty, it is useful to rinse off the ceramic filter at the end of the day to facilitate better filtration upon the next use.


All-In-One bottle filters

I have tried out a few all-in-one water bottle filters. They are quite convenient, especially for older people that want something easy to use. You literally just have to pour water in and then drink it. LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle makes an excellent version that I have personally tested. Those that are looking for an easy all-in-one solution for a get-home bag might want to consider a water filter bottle. Other trusted brands include Katadyn and GRAYL.

How to get the most out of your water filter

No water filter will last forever, but many will last a long time if you care for them properly. Here are a few guidelines for the best flow rate and an increased lifespan for a filter or filter cartridge.

Pre-filter water that is high in particulates. You can use cheesecloth or a somewhat clean light-colored t-shirt or similar. Another option is to collect water in a large container and then let it sit for long enough to settle any sediment.

Never allow a filter to freeze. This is particularly true of water filters that use ceramic elements. It will crack your filter, and it will be useless, especially if there is moisture inside. If you are roughing it under cold conditions, always store your ceramic filter wrapped in something warm and preferably close to your body. Of course, letting it dry out before is preferable, but it is not always practical to do this with something you need to use so often.

Let gravity do the work for you. Using a water filter bag or a hydration pack takes a lot of the work out of filtering water. If you already have something like a CamelBak, you can add a filter to the output line and have a system that can accommodate multiple people with no pumping or hassle.

Clean your filter. Some filters require cleaning and unclogging more often than others. For example, a ceramic filter can get dirty fairly fast if pumping from small pools, creeks, lakes, etc. When my husband and I use our Katadyn, we make sure to rinse the dirt and sediment off the ceramic element before laying it out to dry. We typically do this after any major excursion, so sediment and dirt don’t dry in the filter between uses. Check your filter’s manual or online guide and familiarize yourself with the procedure for cleaning it, and how often it should be done.

Levels of filtration

Some products only filter out bacteria and parasites. To protect against viruses, make sure the filter is rated to do this. Overall, a great deal of the water filters available do offer virus protection.

You may be thinking that you live in an area with pretty good water. That the only thing you need to worry about is the bacteria and parasites from untreated groundwater. It may be true during times of relative stability. Still, in hard times when sanitary conditions deteriorate and people resort to using streams and rivers more, the viral load could increase a lot. It is best to be prepared with filters that can handle all types of situations. The cost is not significantly more, and it will give you some peace of mind.

Actual filter lifespan

While some filters like the Sawyer Mini claim they are good for up to 100,000 gallons of water, other filters have significantly shorter life spans. When calculating the cost of a filter, consider the price of replacement filters or if you have to throw out the entire filter and buy a new one. Remember the "filter life" is just an estimate. You can decrease the life of your filter by abusing it.

Do you care where your filter is manufactured?

There are a ton of different water filter brands available. Some versions are clearly knock-offs of well-known brands. Plenty of water filter manufacturing takes place in China. If you care about where your filter is made, find this out before purchasing.

Sometimes brands will change where their products are made based on costs and overall demand. Expect to pay more for filters that are not made in locations known for the low cost of labor and raw materials.

Find the best source for water during a short or long emergency.

You may already know exactly where to get water if not from your tap. If not, now is the time to make the effort. Those in urban environments may find this more challenging (keep in mind the amount of chemicals and particulates increase with people and urban settings). During especially hard times, including war, people have been known to use tarps to collect rainwater and then boil or filter it.

Remember the easiest-to-reach sources of water have a good chance of becoming increasingly polluted during a long emergency. Easier-to-reach sources may also be more dangerous to use if there are other factors at play such as people seeking to innocents. War and severe civil unrest can make doing basic things very dangerous. Knowing where more obscure sources of water are is a good thing!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/a-quick-guide-to-water-filters/

Two, Two For The Price Of One!

Great article again Samantha, Thanks to you and your Dad.

Water Filters

Well done!
That’s some solid useful info there.

Cold Climate Filters?

You mention “Never allow a filter to freeze. This is particularly true of water filters that use ceramic elements. It will crack your filter, and it will be useless, especially if there is moisture inside.”
What if you live up north where water is a solid for several months? Will boiling purify the water?

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Yes. Great catch! Boiling water will purify for bacteria etc. as would a small amount of bleach. Of course, we have to be mindful of the water’s source. Chemicals like those found in an urban drainage canal would be a whole other part of the larger topic. So while this article was focused on reviewing filters for sale from relatively clean water sources and not the broader topic of water purification, you’ve inspired a perfect article for the near future. Thanks!


Chemicals And Heavy Metals

Great info and topic, thanks!
Out in Colorado, we have a lot of mines that leak into our rivers and streams (Gold King Mine spill was the most recent one that got national attention). Because of this, I’m as focused on filters that can reduce/eliminate heavy metals, chemicals, and pesticides as bacteria, protozoa, and viruses.
I’d love to find a lightweight backpacking filter that would do this but I’ve never been able to … if anyone knows of any, please let me know.
We use under sink ROs for drinking water but in the event of no power, it looks like the Royal Berkey is probably the best bet followed by this HydroBlu which is more portable. Any other ones?

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Boiling Water

We have a number of these filters too and we have done a lot of water purification. The Berkey is great, but like all the filters, they are slow. Make sure you always pre-filtered to protect your best filters with cheaper ones first. Also, get the biggest Berkey they got. You always need a lot of water. Filters are good for emergencies, boiling water is for every day usage. Expect to use 5 gallons or more per day. Doing dishes and rinsing uses a lot of water.
Thus, here is a real recommendation. Build yourself a rocket stove outside and get the biggest kettle you buy. Use the rocket stove when it’s warmer, and an inside wood stove when it’s colder. We use a 2 1/2 gallon kettle and keep it on the wood stove all winter. We refill the pot from the stream nearby. You can use strait rain or snow water for mopping and general cleaning.
Also, remember that kids/teenagers do dumb things all the time. Be warned before you send them down to the steam with your last filter or let them fill the Berkey.
Let me harp on the kids/teenagers thing some more. This is going to be a big problem for a lot of people. There is no such thing as common sense. There is only relative sense. Amish kids for example grow up living a natural life just know stuff. Kids these days have zero clue. If you have some life saving important tool or supplies, you better assume they will somehow destroy all your careful planning.


Life Saver

What about the Lifesaver filters ? https://iconlifesaver.com/?v=d3dcf429c679

Great Article!

Many thanks for a very informative article, already have water stored, now on to get the filters and your article certainly helps with the selection process!
Best regards,

Lessons Learned With Water Filters

Samantha - thanks for your insight on this important topic!
After 3+ decades of backpacking, alpine trips, and backcountry hunting, and thus having to filter/treat water, I’ve learned a few lessons. Some were learned the hard way. Here’s a quick summary that might be helpful to others:

  1. No matter which filter you choose, always have a backup. I’ve experienced several failures miles into the wilderness. Water is too critical not to have a backup plan.
  2. Because of lesson #1, I now always have a few Katadyn MicroPur tablets (chlorine dioxide) and carry a Sawyer Mini or Squeeze as a backup since it only weighs 3-4 ounces. This is all I’ll carry for a big day hike or in an emergency kit.
  3. The Sawyer’s are simple and work well, but their weakness is the bag. They wear out and it doesn’t take much squeeze pressure to rupture a seam. I suggest getting a Platypus bag instead, which are much more durable and will still connect to the Sawyer. My experience with the Sawyer Mini is that they are very slow and take too much pressure. The slightly larger Sawyer Squeeze is a big improvement in filtering time for only an additional ounce or so of weight. If you’re in an area with little water (i.e., the arid west) and that water is typically found in puddles or trickles, it’s tough to get the squeeze bag filled. A little dixie cup can help with this, but without water deep enough to submerge the bag, you’re going to be challenged.
  4. Because of lesson #3, I’ll use a pump filter anywhere I’m at with limited water supply. A pump filter can suck water out of a tiny puddle. Both the Katadyn Hiker Pro, Vario, and MSR MiniWorks work well. Don’t let them freeze!
  5. With ample water supply, my favorite is now the Platypus Gravity Works. It has dirty and clean water bags and an inline filter. It requires zero effort - just fill the dirty water bag and hang it higher than the filter. Gravity does all the work and it does it quickly (a couple minutes), much faster than a Berkey. But like the Sawyer bags, it requires a lake, pond, or stream deep enough to submerge the bag to fill it, which is impossible to do if you have to get water from a puddle or trickle.
  6. Tried a Geopress Grayl for the first time this past fall. It was super easy and fast. I liked it and it seems to be very rugged, though I need to use it more to give it full trust. Its main negative is the weight. No big deal for home emergency use or car camping, but something to consider for backpacking, day hikes, etc. I’m always looking for ways to cut weight, but the Grayl goes in the opposite direction. It’s still worth considering though.
  7. Boiling water is always an option as long as you can build a fire, have a metal pot, aren’t in a hurry, and practice good fire prevention to put the fire out. For most backcountry traveling, it’s not practical as long as good filters exist.
  8. A Big Berkey is awesome for home or RV water treatment. We’ve used one for 100% of our drinking water for at least 10 years now for a family of four. Usually have to fill it 2-3 times per day and keep it right beside the kitchen sink. The water tastes much better and the additional white PF-1 filters remove fluoride if that’s been added to your municipal water. I’m considering building a filter system using readily available materials combined with a 12-volt RV water pump all built into a Pelican style case. I think this might be perfect for treating large quantities of water quickly in an emergency.
  9. This is general advice for all things preparedness related: practice with your equipment long before you ever need to rely on it. Make sure that water filter works well for your intended purpose before actually needing it. I made that mistake before too.
    Good luck!

Dug Well

My old dug well cover was very loose and I stopped drinking the water at some point. Still use it for everything else, and I even have an old iron hand pump installed for if the power goes out. You’ve sold me on a filter - I’d like to start drinking my own well water again.


Other Helpful Tips

Great article, Samantha!
When purchasing water filters don’t forget to buy extra filters and spare part kits as applicable. Pieces break, o’rings and gaskets wear out. Buy extra cheesecloth too. If you buy water purification tablets as a back up, store them in a ziplock bag inside a one liter Nalgene or other appropriate BPA free bottle. This will ensure you have a clean, adequate container with which to use them.
I have two Katadyn filters, a large capacity portable pump model that is used by outfits like the Red Cross in remote areas, and a smaller drip style unit that will be okay for around the house in short term situation. Both can fit in my go bag or backpack. One I keep in my vehicle, one at home.
I live in an urban environment. While I know that pollution and chemical treatments will be a factor, water features, such as those found at hotels, condos and apartments can be invaluable emergency sources of water. I would trust that far more that the pond water in the park which most times looks like a cesspit due to all the ducks and geese waste. Filtering is one thing, figuring out how to transport an decent quantity home is another. That too must be planned for, and perhaps even doing so discreetly if/as a situation requires. The last thing I want in a social unrest situation is for the masses to see me hauling water home.
Given our life dependency on water, I would say multiple methods to filter and store water, as well as long term supply of parts to support each method are mandatory. The book shown below is an excellent reference for your libraries.

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Let me harp on the kids/teenagers thing some more. This is going to be a big problem for a lot of people. There is no such thing as common sense. There is only relative sense. Amish kids for example grow up living a natural life just know stuff. Kids these days have zero clue. If you have some life saving important tool or supplies, you better assume they will somehow destroy all your careful planning.
? No matter how politically incorrect, I'm with you all the way Travis... and I love my kids even more because of that ?
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Great Info And Summary…rounded Off By The Comments - Thanks!

Great info and summary Samantha…rounded off by the comments - thanks a lot!

Uranium In The Water Supply! ??

Unsafe Levels of Uranium Present in American Public Drinking Water: University Study (theepochtimes.com)
In this article from the Epoch times (behind their paywall), it cites that “We estimated that 63.1 percent of CWS compliance monitoring records reported detectable concentrations of uranium, and that 2.1 percent of CWSs with available uranium data had 2000–11 average concentrations above the MCL [maximum contaminant levels],” based on data collected in the study published in The Lancet Planetary Health on April 1.
What to do about Uranium? Thoughts?
Also, Stew Peters (via Telegram) is to have an expose regarding contaminants in the drinking water…To break live at 6:00PM EST today (Monday 4.11.22).

My Water Filtration Solution…

I have a homemade Big Berky using 2 5 gal. buckets. I have about 35 single gallon containers bought with water in them, and I just reuse them, filling from my homemade big berky. On my kitchen counter, I have a Britta water filter pitcher. Before I drink the tap water, it’s been through my big berky and my Britta filter. Tastes great, plus I’m ready with a tested system in case we have to get water from natural sources. If I’m getting water from a natural source, I have a couple of ceramic filters and would stack my buckets 3 high - Ceramic filter, Big Berky filter, and then into the clean water bucket (with tap installed) to fill my water gallon containers. And before drinking, filter again through the Britta. And have a bleach so I can add a couple of drops in case we want more sanitation after all that. I also have a few of the lifestraws just in case.


Slow Sand Filter

I’ve been using a slow sand filter for more than ten years. It consists of poyethylene tank (made for brine?) approximately 52 inches high by 24 inches wide, a 34 inch layer of somewhat fine sand (30 mesh if I remember correctly), some cross-cut slotted PVC pipes in a cross formation at the bottom to collect the filtered water, one leg of which comes back up the inside and out through a bulkhead adapter at 36 inches from the bottom (this is the outlet port), another hole in the side at 36 inches with a valve for periodic cleanout (the process is called harrowing: disturbing the top layer of sand until it runs clean), and a hole in the side near the top to let the water in using a float valve. The filtering is achieved both by adsorbtion to the sand and, more importantly, a “schmutzdecke” in the top several inches of sand that allows bacteria to slowly digest biological contaminants. I’m careful to not let it run past a gallon per minute lest the schmutzdecke become compromised. I put several thousand gallons through mine every year for irrigation, washing dishes, and even brushing my teeth with it. The county wanted me to install a UV lamp, but it doesn’t seem to make a huge difference in residual bacteria once they colonize your pipes, which is inevitable.


Great Work Samantha

We really appreciated this article and it came at the perfect time as we are looking at different types to have on hand around the farm. Keep up the great work!


Hi Samantha
Very good overview of water filters, thank you. Just one quibble regarding the Berkeys. I am a long time Berkey dealer and I rarely get feedback regarding slow filtration speed. Most people refill in the evening before bed and wake up to a full Berkey. It’s important when buying a Berkey system to choose one which fits your personal situation regarding family or group size. Which means it’s best to purchase a size Berkey which you refill, when empty, daily or at least once every 2 days. In this way the water is constantly refreshed and filtration speed rarely is of concern.
If you do run out in the middle of the day, without having refilled in time, once you’ve refilled you should have 1-2 liters of water within 10-20 minutes depending on the size of the Berkey. As the level of the water drops in the upper chamber the flow rate slows down as the pressure on the filters decreases.
For instance we (2 of us) have a Big Berkey with 4 filters, capacity 8.5l, and we refill about 11 times a week. When it’s busy here with friends or family and we refill we’ll have 1-2 liters in about 10 minutes.
All the best
Captain Cassandra