best water filter for travel

Best Travel Water Filter – Your Easy Comparison Guide!

by Ellie Cleary

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If we had a penny for every time we had a conversation about how to avoid buying bottled water while travelling, or for when we were asked about our favourite travel water purifier… suffice to say, we’d have a lot more pennies! Several countries of travelling without buying bottled water and filtering our own later (including many months in India), we’ve tried and tested many a water purification method. Based on our experiences, here’s our unbiased comparison guide to the best travel water filters.

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In Search of the Best Travel Water Filter

Since starting Soul Travel back in 2015 we’ve been determined to travel without giving in to buying water in single use plastic bottles. There’s a lot wrong with the the bottled water industry, and while we don’t have time to go into all of those issues today, seeing the plastic waste that gets left behind from water bottles alone was enough to make us determined not to add to the problem.

Since then, we’ve travelled all over South East Asia, India, Iran, Bangladesh, Jordan, Costa Rica as well as much of Europe with the help of our trusty water purification equipment. Without getting sick or having to buy bottled water. 

Fortunately, the options and range of filter water bottle products has improved drastically over the last few years, and there is now an array of choice available for the conscious traveller that wants to avoid buying bottled water on their travels *and* stay fit and healthy, drinking clean water. 

There’s so much choice today that things can even get a little confusing! For those of us who don’t want to dig into the science and marketing hype it all boils down to this: 

How can I be sure I am getting clean, reliable and healthy water for me and my travel companions?

That’s where this post comes into play – we’ve done the research, drawn on our own travel experiences. Read on for our comparisons! 

Our Favourite Portable Water Filter

In a hurry? In our humble opinion the Best water bottle for traveling abroad is the Water to Go 750ml Bottle. 

Water to Go is a UK company who use technology developed for NASA to purify water. Their bottles use activated carbon filters that are extra special – they use a 3 in 1 technology to filter biological, chemical and metal contaminants making this the ONLY portable water purifier you’ll ever need. What sets them apart from other water filter bottles is that Water to Go don’t glue the activated carbon into a block (which reduces efficiency). Instead they incorporate the activated carbon into a membrane to make it perform up to 70% better at removing nasties. 

Why we love it: We were so happy to find that the Water to Go bottle is so effective at removing chemicals and especially fluoride! Flouride is a chemical stealthily being added to even our tap water supplies around the world and (beyond the official line of helping healthy teeth and bones) actually does us a lot of harm. This is one of the only bottles that really does get rid of everything bad, improves taste and removes odour too. Plus we love that their filters last longer than most and are zero waste / fully recyclable, and it’s been thoroughly tested in India too 🙂 

Buy your Water to Go Now!

 

How do Travel Water Filters Work?

Travel water purifiers work in a few different ways, largely depending on the type of filter they use. The water filtration bottles discussed here have a filter inside them – usually from Activated Carbon, and / or hollow fiber membranes. Other types of water filtration include Reverse Osmosis and UV filtration – although you won’t find travel water bottles with these types of filters fitted in. We’ve included one UV filter in our comparison as well.

Activated carbon filters work by a process called adsorption, whereby pollutant molecules in the fluid to be treated are trapped inside the pore structure of the carbon substrate. The activated carbon filter works until all pores inside the carbon are full, whereon you’ll need to fit a replacement filter – how often you need to do this depends from model to model. Hollow fiber membranes work in a similar way in that they have microscopic pores that trap contaminants: these are effective for biological contaminants but not chemicals or metals unless combined with an activated carbon filter. 

All water purification options mentioned here remove biological contaminants such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa. Where it varies from brand and model is on removing chemical and metal contaminants (such as chlorine, lead and fluoride). 

We don’t recommend using charcoal (this is un-oxidised carbon) water bottles for travel as while charcoal adds beneficial minerals to water and absorbs odours such as chlorine, it doesn’t remove bacterial contaminants or viruses. These are more useful at home when you want to improve tap water quality.

We do have one major peeve about travel water filter bottles: Which is that all of them are made from plastic! The plastic is BPA free on all of the below (make sure to check that when buying a bottle), and it does still help to cut down the problem of single use plastic… but we hope to see a time when many of these bottles will be made with aluminium, stainless steel, or with other materials instead. 

The Best Water Filter for Travel Comparison Chart

Here are our favourite travel water purification methods rated and compared: 

ProductView ProductSoul Travel RatingVolume & WeightType of FilterWhat it Filters Out
Personal LifestrawView on Amazon2/52oz/ 56g
No capacity
Hollow Fiber MembraneBacteria, Viruses, Parasites and Microplastics
GraylView on Amazon4/510.9oz / 309g
16oz / 473ml
Activated CarbonBacteria, Viruses, Parasites; Reduces Chemicals & Heavy Metals & bad odours/tastes.
Water to GoView on Amazon5/54.8oz / 138g
26oz / 750ml
3 in 1 filtration, activated carbon membrane, NASA technologyBacteria, Viruses, Parasites, Fluoride, all chemicals, heavy metals, bad odours & tasts
Lifestraw FlexView on Amazon4/53.15oz / 89g
22oz / 625ml
Hollow Fiber Membrane + Activate Carbon CapsuleBacteria, Viruses, Parasites, Microplastics. Helps Reduce chemicals, chlorine, heavy metals & bad odours
Steripen AdventurerView on Amazon3/56.61oz / 187gUV FilterKills all microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, protozoa)

Here’s a bit more background on our choices: 

The Personal Lifestraw

The Personal Lifestraw is a standalone straw which uses a hollow fiber membrane. It doesn’t come with any water container which makes it very light and small to carry around. I tested this one while trekking in the Himalayas and while it filtered the water effectively, the Lifestraw was not very easy to use. 

What we love: The lightweight design, effective technology, and the fact that for every Lifestraw purchased, Lifestraw donates one to communities without access to clean water around the world! 

What we don’t love: It was super awkward drinking from rivers and streams because you have to get up very close to the water! The best way to use this personal lifestraw would be with a mug/cup which you could fill with water and then put the lifestraw into to drink from. It also takes a bit of effort to suck the water up through the membrane inside! 

Read more reviews on the Personal Lifestraw here! 

The Grayl Ultralight

The Grayl comes with a sleek design and does pretty much all that you’d want from a travel water filter. There are a few different models that you may want to compare – some have sleeker design and functionality but weigh more, which is why we’ve chosen the ultralight version. 

What we love: The Grayl filters out all the bacterial nasties plus reduces chemical contaminants and metals; it’s lightweight and it’s also super easy to full – just remember not to fill it to the top or you’ll have spillage when you push the filter down! 

What we don’t love: It can take a bit of effort to push the water filter down in the bottle (its easiest if you put it on a solid surface low down so you can use your bodyweight). This model also has an open top making drinking on the go a bit of a hazard (hello spills) so we recommend also checking out the Grayl Geopress which has a drinking spout. We also find it pretty pricey, especially compared to the Water to Go which has a superior filter. 

Read more reviews on the Grayl hereRead more reviews on the Grayl here!

Water to Go Filtered Water Bottle

Winner of our best travel water bottle contest, we love the folks over at Water to Go for bringing an all-in-one solution to the market! This bottle removes everything you don’t want in your water with technology that was pioneered with NASA and has been tested all around the world. 

What we love: Firstly, that it gets rid of everything you don’t want in your water! Secondly, this comes at a great price (about half the price of the Grayl) and we also love the quality of the filter – which lasts longer than most others – and is fully recyclable too! 

What we don’t love: It’s not the prettiest of bottles out there (the smaller 500ml looks a bit nicer) but this one’s all about the quality. 

Read more reviews on the Water to Go bottle here!

The Lifestraw Flex

 

A more sophisticated model from Lifestraw, this collapsible and squeezable travel bottle is made from BPA free plastic and contains two levels of filtration technology: Hollow Fiber Membrane and Activated Carbon. 

What we love: This is a great value for money alternative to the Grayl Ultralight, we love that this can fold up small when not in use, plus the double filtration action even gets rid of microplastics. You can remove the straw and use it with hydration bladders and other lifestraw products. It’s also part of Lifestraw’s one for one campaign, where for each product bought, one is donated to a child that does not have access to clean water. 

What we don’t love: As with the other Lifestraw, it takes a bit of effort to suck the water through the filter, but we didn’t find this to be a major issue. 

Read more reviews of the Lifestraw Flex here

The Steripen Adventurer

This one is not a filtered water bottle, it’s a UV water purification “stick” that you use to kill all biological contaminants and micro-organisms. We’ve included this one in our guide as this has been one of our main methods of water purification in the last few years, in many of the countries we have visited. Note that the Steripen is not suitable for use with cloudy or muddy water, but it’s fine on clear water from streams that look clean or on tap water which needs purification. 

What we love: This is a super light weight, easy purification method to carry around on your travels, even as a back up. Purifying water takes less than a minute and you can use it with whatever water bottle you like (we love our bamboo & stainless steel Klean Kanteens). It’s perfect in the situation that you are in a country where the tap water is not safe to drink and someone gives you a glass. You can whip out your steripen, purify it, and avoid any offence or getting sick! The Steripen is a great alternative to water purification tablets as it leaves no smell or taste. 

What we don’t love: It doesn’t filter out or treat chemicals, heavy metals or chlorine, and it’s also not safe to use on murky/cloudy water. Plus make sure you stock up on batteries online if going on a long trip, as they are a size which is not easily found in the stores. 

Read more reviews of the Steripen Adventurer here

Where Can I Use My Travel Water Bottle? 

If you have one of the water filter bottles mentioned above or the Lifestraw, you can use it pretty much anywhere! From rivers to streams, to dodgy tap water, to lakes – fill away. Water to Go has even been tested in the Ganges! These water filters are also intended for use anywhere around the world – you can even use them at home to filter out chemicals from tap water (which is an increasing issue). 

Be aware that it’s still better to fill up from clear sources of water – not only for your psychological peace of mind 😉 but it also avoids your carbon filter or membrane getting clogged up very quickly.  Whichever option you go for, do make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use, especially when using a product for the first time. 

Also note that these water filter bottles are intended for use with freshwater, river water and tap water: They’re not suitable for sea water. However the world’s first desalination bottle has now been invented in South Korea… so we’re watching this space for what the future holds!

What’s your favourite way to purify water? Let us know in the comments below!

Read More Sustainable Travel Tips from Soul Travel: 

How to Travel without Plastic – Our Best Hacks

How to Reduce your Carbon Footprint as you Travel

Sustainability in the Air: Which Airlines are Best (and Worst)

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3 comments

Our Ultimate Packing List for Sustainable Travel | Soul Travel May 1, 2019 - 6:26 pm

[…] Water purification bottle such as a Water to Go or Grayl if you’re likely to travel to places where tap water is unsafe. Read our full guide to water filter bottles here. […]

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[…] Avoid single use plastic. It’s not hard to see, that India has a huge plastic problem. Avoid adding to it. Take your own refillable water bottle and water purification method, or re-fill with filtered water, called “RO Water” (reverse osmosis purified water which is fine to drink). See our recommendations for which water filters are safe for India in the packing section or see our full comparison guide here. […]

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India Packing List: EVERYTHING you need for your India trip (2020) October 26, 2019 - 5:35 am

[…] Water purification method (eg Steripen  / Grayl read more about the different options here) […]

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