MSR Water Products & Treatment Systems Guide
Perhaps nothing is more important to a good time outdoors than having a handy supply of fresh, clean water. In fact, MSR’s very first stove—the Model 9—was built explicitly to improve the hydration, and thus the performance, of high-altitude mountaineers. No matter what your goals are, we know that hydration is a key element in reaching them. Over the years, MSR has built the most comprehensive and reliable assortment of water treatment and storage products available. From ultralight and portable solutions for trail ultras to basecamp and emergency purifiers for demanding high-capacity needs, we’ve got you covered.
However, with many options come many choices, and that’s why you’re here. So let’s dive in with a comprehensive overview of what each water filter and water purifier was built for, so you can choose the best solution for you. Armed with a solid understanding of the latest technology and product options, you can easily use the chart below to zero in on the filter, purifier or combination that best fits your needs.
|Model||Weight||Filter Media||Flow Rate||Best Use||Group Size|
|1 lb 1 oz||
Advanced Hollow Fiber
|2.5 liters per min||International Travel,
Crowded Back and Frontcountry Areas
Guardian Gravity Purifier
|1 lb 3 oz||
Advanced Hollow Fiber
|0.5 liters per min||International Travel,
Crowded Back and Frontcountry Areas
AutoFlow Gravity Filter
|12 oz||Hollow Fiber||1.75 liters per min||Backpacking,
Thru Link Inline Water Filter
|2.5 oz||Hollow Fiber||1.5 liters per min||Long-Distance Backpacks,
Mountain Bike and Gravel Rides,
with a Reservoir-Based Hydration System
TrailShot Water Filter
|5 oz||Hollow Fiber||1 liter per min||Ultralight,
Long-Distance or High-Speed Missions
where Minimalism is Key
Home Emergency Water Filter
|3.5 oz||Hollow Fiber||1.5 liters per min||Home Emergency Use
During Boil Alerts or
Filling RV and Van Water Tanks on the Road
Trail Base Water Filter
|1 lb 2 oz||Hollow Fiber||1 liter per min||Ultralight,
Long-Distance or High-Speed Missions,
MiniWorks EX Microfilter
|1 lb||Ceramic Plus Carbon||1 liter per min||Backcountry Backpacking and Hiking||1-4 people|
|7.8 oz||Hollow Fiber||3 liters per min||Backcountry Backpacking and Hiking||1-2 people|
The ultimate water treatment devices, purifiers come in two forms: mechanical and chemical. Mechanical purifiers physically remove tiny viruses (and anything larger) via a membrane with pores that are smaller than a virus (0.02 microns). Chemical purifiers simply kill anything living in the water. Mechanical water purifiers are the most convenient to use, with no foul taste or waiting time (called ‘dwell’ time) for chemicals to take effect or wondering about effective concentrations of disinfectants. However, for very large volumes of water, such as municipal systems and lasting emergency situations, chemical treatment is still the preferred alternative. (Aquatabs® are also part of an extremely lightweight and essential backup to any mechanical purifier should it become lost or compromised in the field.)
Read more about whether you need a Purifier or a Microfilter.
The Guardian Purifier is designed to purify from the most demanding backcountry water sources imaginable, and it does it fast. Originally designed in conjunction with the US military, this highly advanced mechanical water purifier is ideal for global travel, crowded backcountry areas and for anyone building a home emergency kit. It puts out an impressive 2.5 liters per minute with a traditional pump design pushing dirty water through hollow fiber filter media. Unlike traditional pump filters though, it was engineered with a revolutionary, self-cleaning design, meaning no backflushing or disassembly is required to keep it running optimally. If you’re a visual person, check out this video to see it in action and hear what makes it the purifier you can lean on for the most challenging situations on earth.
Guardian™ Gravity Purifier
Based on the same technology as the original Guardian, the Guardian Gravity Purifier is for anyone seeking similar protection with less work and larger volumes of water. It’s not as fast as the pump version of the Guardian Purifier but what it lacks in speed, it makes up for in capacity and ease of use. The Gravity version replaces the pump action with a single, 10-liter reservoir that you fill with dirty water. Simply hang the dirty reservoir high enough to get a straight hose between it and the clean outlet and let gravity pull the water through the hollow fiber filter media for you. A universal adapter on the clean side fits most any bottle for your filling convenience. It’s also self-cleaning, requiring just the opening of a valve. As an added bonus, the Guardian Gravity Purifier adds a carbon stage of filtration to help neutralize taste, odors and organic chemicals.
Traveling internationally? Learn more about treating water overseas.
Water Filters & Microfilters
Water filters and microfilters are the best choices for most trips in the U.S. and Canada where bacteria and protozoa are the primary concerns. These waterborne bugs are roughly ten times larger than viruses, so a microfilter’s pores are sized to match at 0.2 microns. This takes care of all the things you’ve likely heard of including Giardia, Cryptosporidium, E.coli, Salmonella and the like, in addition to particulates and dissolved solids. Some microfilters are also paired with activated charcoal for two-stage protection, helping to remove chemicals, tastes and odors from water.
AutoFlow™ XL Gravity Filter
The AutoFlow XL Gravity Filter is essentially the microfilter version of the Guardian Gravity Purifier with some key differences. First and foremost, it’s a microfilter, not a purifier, making it ideal for backcountry use throughout the U.S. and Canada. Like all microfilters that meet the EPA standard, it removes bacteria (99.9999%), protozoa (99.9%) and particulates—the most common contaminants in water. The AutoFlow’s single-stage hollow fiber filter relies on gravity to pull water through the filter media, freeing up your time and talents for other things, and the 10L capacity is perfect for group demands.
ThruLink™ Inline Water Filter
Are you often on BIG days in the backcountry? Does the idea of just stopping to scoop water for a quick refill sound good to you? If so, the ThruLink Inline Water Filter is worth a look. Harnessing the speed and ease of hollow fiber filtration, the ThruLink can be spliced directly into your hydration system, allowing you to drink as you go with on-demand filtering of your water. It also has a carbon element that helps eliminate chemicals, taste and odors and comes complete with all the attachments you need to turn it into a gravity system when you finally do get to camp.
TrailShot™ Pocket-Sized Water Filter
The pocket-sized TrailShot Water Filter takes the idea of minimalism to the next level, delivering clean water with minimal weight, size and surprising ease. You just drop the intake hose into the water source and squeeze your way to hydration. Even better, it cleans with just a few shakes to keep it running optimally. At one liter per minute and weighing just five ounces, it’s perfect for long XC mountain bike rides, trail runs and big traverses where speed, weight and bulk are key considerations for anything that makes it inside your pack.
Trail Base Water Filter Kit
If the Trail Shot piques your interest, but you’d prefer something a bit more versatile for general use, the TrailBase Water Filter Kit should be a top consideration for you. It’s based on the same, palm-sized pump filter of the TrailShot, but features unique fittings on each end that also allow you to also turn it into a 2- or 4-liter gravity system that’s perfect for backpacking and group use. The intake side is fitted with a male adapter that screws into the outflow of the supplied Dirty Reservoir. Then, on the outflow side, a quick-connect fitting snaps into the supplied 2-liter Clean Reservoir, providing you a solution for anything from ultralight missions to casual weekend backpacks, float trips or gravel rides.
The Hyperflow Microfilter is our original hollow fiber water filter and introduced the world to what this advanced filter media can do. Even with its diminutive size, it gushes an impressive three liters per minute—roughly a liter every 20 strokes—weighs just 7.8 ounces and can fit easily in the lid of a small daypack. It remains one of the fastest ways to get clean water in the backcountry.
MiniWorks® EX Microfilter
The trusted standard in backcountry water filtration, the Miniworks EX is the best-selling filter on the market for good reason. Its solid, hybrid ceramic and carbon filter element is virtually clog-proof throughout its useable life because you simply scrape away the clogged exterior to reveal a fresh layer of filter media beneath it. Mechanically, the pump itself can also be maintained and refurbished in the field, making it the go-to choice for absolute reliability on longer backcountry trips far from home.
Emergency Water Treatment Solutions
We don’t always think of needing water filtration for home or tap water, but having an emergency option on hand in case of a natural disaster or other issue that impacts your clean water supply is a smart idea, just in case.
Home Emergency Water Filter
Having a Home Emergency Water Filter in your home emergency kit will provide you great peace of mind during boil-only alerts from your local water authority. It’s essentially a ThruLink™ water filter that comes with the adapters you need to easily hook it up to any standard residential hose bib.
Two-stage protection filters bacteria, protozoa and particulates, while also reducing chemicals, tastes and odors from your water. (NOTE: If viral or fecal contamination is a possibility, you’ll need to add 1-2 drops per liter of water (4-5 drops per gallon) and wait 20 minutes before drinking.)
Care, Maintenance & Other Pieces to the Puzzle
Optimizing Flow Rates
There’s no consideration of a filter’s worth without talking about flow rate. A filter could make pristine water from mud on Mars, but if it’s not fast enough, it’s useless. Measured in liters per minute, the rates given are always with a new filter in optimal conditions. It goes without saying then that results will vary based on the quality of water you’re filtering and how many liters of water you’ve already passed through your filter media. There are two ways to optimize flow rate, depending on the style of water treatment:
The method for backflushing and cleaning your filter varies with the type of filter media, but the process is pretty easy once you’ve done it a few times. You can never backflush too much and it’s especially important with hollow fiber membranes. The less packed the membrane becomes with debris, the easier it will be flushed back out, so do it often.
2. Full Extension (Gravity systems)
You’ll get the best performance out of your gravity system by lifting the system high enough to get straight tubes between the dirty reservoir and the clean reservoir/outflow point. The difference between a fully extended system and one even partially straight is significant, so if you want better speed, hang ‘em high and straight.
Because it’s impossible to visually tell the difference between water with and without microbes present, each MSR filter and purifier comes with instructions for an integrity test to ensure that your system is doing its job. Ideally, you’ll run one of these simple tests before each trip or after an incident that could potentially affect your filter media. Depending on your filter, such things as a hard drop, getting frozen or a mechanical issue could affect its efficacy. Do the test and take the guesswork out.
Putting anything away wet is normally a bad idea and this certainly holds true for water filters. If your filter can’t be disassembled and dried prior to long-term storage (like many hollow fiber filters, which need to remain wet permanently to be effective), it’s a good idea to run a weak bleach solution through them to ensure nothing grows inside the filter. The most common issue is a slime mold that can grow and clog filter media. Again, follow the instructions provided with each filter and you’ll be all set for your next trip.
Backup Water Storage
Having backup storage can make camp life easier and your filtering chores far more efficient, especially in basecamp and group situations or when your water source is far away. Check out our extra burly Dromedary® Bags for expeditions and road trips, or our lightweight DromLite™ Bags for backpacking and other times when space and weight are priorities.
Plan B for Water Treatment
Just as you bring a pole splint for a broken tent pole or spare batteries for your headlamp, having a backup plan for a compromised or exhausted water treatment system is an essential part of any trip. It could be as simple as an extra filter cartridge, spare parts for pumps, or the lightest and most compact backup, a handful of Aquatabs® to chemically treat your water in an emergency. However you filter, be sure to have a backup or a way to fix what’s wrong; no one wants a trip to end with waterborne illness.
- All about the world-class MSR Water Lab
- Water Treatment – All You Need to Know
- Safe water treatment solutions for international travelers.
- Water Treatment 101: When & Why Should I Treat Backcountry Water?
- Backcountry Water Treatment: When is it Considered Safe to Drink?
- Comparing Your Water Treatment Options: Part 1
- Comparing Your Water Treatment Options: Part 2
Updated. Originally Published May 6, 2021.