Emergency Water Filters: Guiding You Through the Maze

Approx Reading Time: 23 minutes

Safe drinking water is essential for survival. The world of emergency water filters can be a bit confusing, and quite overwhelming, as you consider which water filter you should purchase to produce clean drinking water when disaster strikes.

Which water filter should I purchase for emergency preparedness? There is no one best water filter for emergency uses. The best water filter is the one that meets your unique needs. The emergency water filter you select should be able to meet each of the following criteria.

  1. The water filter must be able to use the available water source, remove contaminants, and produce safe drinking water. Are you filtering stored water to improve taste, or are you filtering stagnant pond water that has been contaminated with chemicals as well as biological contaminants?
  2. The water filter must be the right size and weight for your specific situation. A Big Berkey water filter is not a good choice to take backpacking, and a LifeStraw is a lousy option for producing safe drinking water for an entire family.
  3. The water filter must be simple to use. Some filters require strength, or are a bit complicated for a beginner and may result in unintentionally producing contaminated water. A LifeStraw may be difficult for someone who is weak and cannot produce enough suction to pull the water through it.

Providing safe drinking water for your family is one of the most important preparedness priorities. In this post, we are going to focus on water filtration. Remember that your safest source of water in a disaster is the water you have stored in your home.

Learn more about storing water in our post, How to Store Water for Emergency Preparedness.

What are the Dangers in Water

What is it that could be lurking in the water that has everyone so concerned? We divide the contaminants into two main categories; biological and chemical.

Biological Contaminants

Biological dangers in the water are microscopic organisms that are too small to be seen by the naked eye namely; protozoa, bacteria, and viruses.

Protozoa

Protozoa are the largest of the microorganisms and include such parasites as giardia and cryptosporidium. These parasites can be resistant to chlorine and iodine disinfection due to the protection of an outer shell. However, they are easy to filter out because of their larger size. Cryptosporidium is a common source of waterborne illness.

Bacteria

Bacteria are medium-sized microorganisms. E. coli, cholera, campylobacter, and salmonella are examples of bacteria contaminants in water. Most of these little creatures are large enough to be filtered out using a quality water filter.

Viruses

Viruses are so tiny (less than one micron) that they float right on through most filtering systems and must be deactivated using other methods. Hepatitis A and E, Norwalk virus, rotavirus, poliovirus, and echovirus are examples of viruses that can cause waterborne illnesses.

Chemical and Radiation Contaminants

Chemical contaminants cannot be deactivated through any form of disinfection. They are not live organisms. The only way to protect yourself from them is to physically remove them through filtering or distillation. Boiling or disinfecting will not work! The best removal method depends upon the individual chemical.

Examples of chemical contaminants could be heavy metals, salts, pesticides, fuels, pollutants, and other chemicals. Municipal drinking supplies are monitored, and use methods to control levels of these contaminants to assure water is safe to consume.

A nuclear event may contaminate water with dissolved radioactive elements or compounds and fallout particles. They cannot be removed from water by boiling, chemical disinfection or even distillation. Settling and filtering is the safest way to remove radioactive elements from the water.

Water Purification

Water purification is the process of removing undesirable chemicals and biological contaminates, along with particles (leaves, dirt, and such) to make water safe and pleasant to drink. It involves a series of basic steps to achieve; clarification, disinfection, and filtering.

Each step is important to achieving safe, clean drinking water.

Steps to Purify Water

The following steps are typically used for purifying water, although all steps may not be needed, depending on the water source. For instance; if the source is a contaminated municipal water supply, you may not need to clarify the water. A “boil order” is commonly issued when the water supply is contaminated with a biological pathogen. The water has already been clarified at the source, you need to disinfect to kill the harmful pathogens in the water.

#1 – Water Clarification

Clarification removes floating or suspended particulate matter before disinfection. Think of it as making the water clear.

In this step, water is poured through coffee filters, layers of paper towels, tightly woven cloth or anything which will remove the big stuff you can see. Nature clarifies water as it passes through a porous medium such as sand.

Water must be clarified prior to disinfection to prevent biological contaminants from “hiding” in particulate matter and avoiding deactivation.

# 2 – Water Disinfection

Disinfection is the second step. This is the process of killing or deactivating microscopic critters that cause illness and death. There are a variety of methods, but not all methods kill all harmful pathogens.

You can learn to disinfect water in our post, Making Water Safe to Drink: 7 Disinfection Techniques.

#3 – Water Filtration

Water filters screen out particles and are effective against pathogens down to a certain size. Many filters are unable to catch the tiny viruses. Water purifiers filter out chemicals and biological contaminants, as well as using another method to kill the viruses that may get through the filter.

I prefer to disinfect the water before filtering it. The filter may remove the chemical taste and odor, making it more pleasant to drink. The cleaner the water, the longer the filter will last.

Filter Micron Rating

Filter ratings can be a little deceiving. Nominal micron rating refers to the average pore size. Some pores may be larger and some smaller. An absolute micron rating is the maximum pore size. Manufacturers may not always disclose the micron rating or specify if it is nominal or absolute.

All filters are not created equal. Only a few are rated to filter out viruses and do not require disinfecting prior to filtration. Pay close attention to the size of the contaminants the filter is designed to remove. Understand the limitations of your filter and use it correctly to produce safe, clean drinking water.

Shopping for an Emergency Water Filter

Shopping for a water filter can be a bit overwhelming. It is a good idea to start with a clear understanding of how you need your water filter to perform. Consider these questions before shopping for a filter.

  • What exactly are you going to use the water filter for? Evacuation? Household water? Personal needs?
  • How much water do you need to filter? 100 gallons? 10,000 gallons?
  • What rate of flow do you need? One gallon a minute? One gallon an hour?
  • Does the water filter need to be portable? Evacuation? Camping? Traveling?
  • Who will be using it? Grandma? Children? Dad?
  • How much can I afford to spend? $50? $100? $300?

We will review a few water filtration systems in each of the basic filter categories. This list is not an all-inclusive list – just some examples to consider.

Quality is important. You do not want to find out that your filter is a piece of junk by contracting a nasty waterborne illness.

Gravity Water Filters

Gravity water filters use gravity to pull the water through the filter. Water is poured into the top container, filtered, and is accessed through a spigot at the bottom. Again, the cleaner the water, the longer the filter will last.

Some gravity filters are not easily portable but are great for use on a countertop in emergencies or for everyday use. They produce large amounts of clean drinking water.

AquaRain Natural Water Filter

AquaRain Natural Water Filter is made from stainless steel. The filters are created out of a hard ceramic shell with a concentrated bed of Granulated Activated Carbon (GAC) and self-sterilizing metallic silver.

This filter removes most of the harmful organisms while leaving naturally occurring electrolytes and minerals found in the water. It is not rated to remove viruses. The ceramic filters can be cleaned up to 200 times and will last up to 10,000 gallons.

The AquaRain retails for $330. It has four ceramic elements, which produce up to one gallon of water per hour. Replacement filters are around $60 each.

Berkey

The Berkey stainless steel water filters are my favorite filter for in-home daily and emergency use. They are incredibly easy to use and look nice sitting on my countertop. You can purchase this high-quality gravity water purifier in five sizes ranging from 1.5 to 6 gallons.

Black Berkey replacement elements are classified as a water purifier and will remove nearly all contaminants, including a 99.9999% reduction of viruses. Each element will filter up to 3000 gallons. A set of 2 Black Berkey replacement elements are $120 for a set of 2 filters.

The Black Berkey replacement elements will fit most other manufacturer’s gravity water filters and may be used to upgrade a filter to a purifier. You can use them to create your own bucket filter system.

The Berkey Water Filters are designed with holes in the bottom of the top tank for the filters. You operate the filter using only 1 of the elements and plug the remaining holes using the plugs provided. Or the filter can operate at full capacity with a filter element in each of the holes which will increase the flow rate.

Travel Berkey Water Filter is the smallest version with a capacity of 1.5 gallons. It has 2 filters. It can support water production for 1-3 people. The Travel Berkey can produce up to 2.75 gallons of water in an hour. It retails for $249.

Big Berkey Water Filter has a capacity of 2.25 gallons and is a good size for 2-4 people. It comes with 2 filters but has the ability to accommodate 4 filters. It will produce up to 7 gallons of water an hour with 4 filters. The Big Berkey is $278 with 2 filters. Additional filters are $120 for a set of 2 filter elements.

Royal Berkey Water Filter has a capacity of 3.25 gallons. It will produce clean drinking water for up to 6 people. It comes with 2 filters but has the ability to use up to 4 filters. It can produce up to 8 gallons of water an hour. The Royal Berkey filter is 9.5 inches in diameter and 24 inches tall and retails for $305 with 2 filters. Additional filters are $120 for a set of 2 filter elements.

Imperial Berkey Water Filter has a capacity of 4.5 gallons and will support at least 10 people. It comes with 2 filters but has the capacity for up to 6 filters. It will filter up to 16.5 gallons of water an hour. It is pretty tall measure 10 inches around and 17 inches high. The Imperial Berkey retails for $335. Additional filters are $120 for a set of 2 filter elements.  

Crown Berkey Water Filter has a 6-gallon capacity and will produce clean drinking water for at least 10 people. It has a maximum filter capacity of 8 but the unit only comes with 2 filters. It can filter up to 26 gallons of water an hour. The Crown Berkey is huge measuring 11 inches around and 31 inches tall. It retails for $360 with 2 filters. Additional filters are $120 for a set of 2 filter elements.  

The GO Berkey Kit may be an option for emergency evacuation. It is only recommended to support 2 people and has a 1-quart capacity. It can produce up to 1 gallon of water an hour. The GO Berkey Kit contains both the small stainless steel filter unit as well as a Berkey Sport Bottle.

Katadyn Base Camp

Katadyn Base Camp is a portable gravity filter that will filter to 0.3 microns. It will filter about 200 gallons of water at a rate of one quart per minute before needing a replacement filter. It is 3 x 6.5 x 2.4 inches and weighs 11 ounces.

Water should be pretreated to kill viruses before running through this filter. It retails for $80.

MSR Trail Base Water Filter Kit

MSR Trail Base Water Filter Kit is a portable gravity filter designed for use in the backcountry. It uses a hollow fiber filter is rated to remove bacteria and protozoa. You may need to pretreat the water with chlorine or iodine if your water.

The Trail Base water filter cartridge will last for 1500 liters. The unit sells for about $150 and replacement cartridges run $35.

Sawyer Water Filtration Kits

Sawyer makes a couple of versatile water filtration kits that are inexpensive and a great option for emergency water filtration. The bucket adapter can be used with a 5-gallon bucket to create a nice gravity filter. The kits also come with an adaptor that will connect the filter directly to a household faucet.

Sawyer uses hollow fiber technology which provides a high flow rate and outstanding water filtration. The Sawyer filters can last up to a million gallons with a little maintenance and backflushing.

The Sawyer All-in-One Squeeze Water Filtration System includes adaptors to make a 5-gallon bucket filter or connect the filter to a household faucet. It can also be used with the 32-ounce water pouch.

The Sawyer All-in-One system is rated to a 0.1 micron absolute hollow membrane inline filter. If you are concerned about viruses, you should pretreat the water before running it through this filter. The Sawyer PointONE can yield up to 540 gallons a day and this kit is only $50.  

Sawyer Point ZeroTwo Bucket Purification System uses a 0.02 micron absolution filtration and will filter out viruses in addition to bacteria and protozoa. The flow rate is a little slower, one liter per minute, and can yield up to 170 gallons per day.

This system is similar to the Sawyer All-in One Squeeze Water Filtration System except that this filter will filter out viruses. It also comes with a bucket and a faucet adapter. Cost is about $140.

Pump Filters

Pump filters typically use a hand pump to force the water through the filter. These come in different sizes from portable individual pumps to larger pumps designed to service many people.

Katadyn Expedition

Katadyn Expedition is a pump filter designed to provide water for large groups and relief organizations. It has a cleanable 0.2 micron ceramic depth filter and weighs a little over 11 pounds.

The Expedition will filter around 26,000 gallons of water, at a rate of one gallon per minute, before it needs a replacement filter ($200). This high-end filter runs around $1500.

Katadyn Pocket

Katadyn Pocket is a portable pump filter with ceramic depth filtration up to 0.2 microns. It is rated for bacteria and protozoa removal. It is highly durable with a 20-year guarantee. It will filter up to 13,000 gallons of water. It is made from aluminum, stainless steel, silicone, and ceramic materials. The filter is cleanable, not disposable. It retails for $370.

MSR Miniworks EX Microfilter Water Purifier

Miniworks EX Microfilter Water Purifier from MSR is a compact on pump filter that utilizes a carbon/ceramic element to produce up to one liter per minute of clean drinking water. It uses Aquatabs to protect against viruses.

The cartridge life is around 2000 liters of water. The carbon core removes unpleasant tastes and odors. Each Aquatab will treat 2 quarts. The tablets have a shelf life of about 2 years. It can be purchased for around $100.

Seychelle Pure Water Pump

Pure Water Pump, by Seychelle, is a pump system that includes an in-line filter. Water is filtered as it is pumped from bottles, drums, bathtubs, storages tanks, or even directly from the water source.

It has been proven effective against bacteria and viruses to a reduction of up to six logs (99.9999%) and can be classified as a water purifier. The pump delivers 80 PSI at point of contact and will filter up to 100 gallons of water. The pump retails for around $50.

HydroBlu Pressurized Jerry Can Water Filter

HydroBlu uses hollow fiber technology to filter water biological contaminants along with carbon filters that remove chemicals and heavy metals. The Jerry Can will hold up to 4 gallons of water and weighs 4.7 pounds. The filters have a capacity of up to 10,000 gallons.

HydroBlu has a couple of options to choose from:

HydroBlu Pressurized Jerry Can Water Filter

The HydroBlu Jerry Can standard package is rated to remove bacteria and protozoa from the water using a 0.1 micron hollow fiber filter. It will also remove chemicals and heavy metals with the activated charcoal filter.

These filters will not remove viruses. Water should be pretreated with chlorine or iodine before filtering to kill viruses if they are a concern. The standard HydroBlu Pressurized Jerry Can retails for $160.

HydroBlu Pressurized Jerry Can Water Filter Virus Free Package

The “Virus Free Package” is a much better option for only $20 more than the standard package. It retails for $180. The Pressurized Jerry Can Water Filter Virus Free Package has everything that the regular Pressurized Jerry Can Water Filter has with an additional 0.02 hollow fiber virus filter.

You can use either the 0.1 hollow fiber bacteria filter or the 0.02 hollow fiber virus filter along with the activated carbon filter depending on your water source.

This is a fantastic portable water filtration system for a family.  We take ours camping and it is our family water filter for emergency evacuation.

Suction Filters

Water is sucked through the filter by the individual at the point of consumption with a suction filter. One area of concern with the straw filters is the close proximity of your face to the contaminated water and the possibility of accidental contamination.

However, they are highly portable. Hydration pack filters can be quite convenient when traveling on foot.

HydroBlu Sidekick 3-Stage Straw Water Filter

The HydroBlu Sidekick uses a pre-filter membrane, an activated carbon filter, and finally a hollow fiber filter (0.1 microns). It removes protozoa, bacteria, chemicals, and heavy metals. It is not rated for virus removal.

It weighs 1 ounce and is 6 inches tall. It is a good option for traveling or in a bug out bag. The HydroBlu Sidekick is $15. The activated carbon filter replacements are $1.50 each and will filter 50 gallons each.

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter will clean water to 0.2 microns through the use of hollow fiber membranes. It is rated for 260 gallons per straw before it becomes clogged with debris and the flow stops.

The straw intake end is inserted into the contaminated water for 30 seconds to allow water to saturate the membrane. Water should be pretreated for viruses if necessary. The LifeStraw is about $20.

Seychelle Pure Water Straw

Pure Water Straw, made by Seychelle, is compact and designed to be carried in a purse, briefcase, pocket or backpack. This straw has a tiny filter that will clean up to 25 gallons of water. The advanced filter can remove viruses, while the radiological drinking straw filters radiological particles. The straws retail for $17 to $23 depending on the type of filter.

Water Filter Bottles

Water filter bottles are a good option for personal water filtration. These can be used every day to improve the taste and safety of the water. They are lightweight and perfect for emergency kits, or to throw into a suitcase or backpack when traveling.

Each water filter bottle is unique in the amount of water it will filter, the price, and the overall effectiveness of the filter.

Sawyer Personal Water Filter Bottle

Sawyer Personal Water Filter bottle has a 0.1 absolute hollow fiber membrane inline filter. It is rated to remove bacteria and protozoa. This bottle is simple to use, just fill and drink from the bottle. The manufacturer guarantees it will filter one million gallons. The Sawyer bottle retails for $50.

Seychelle Water Filtration Bottle

Seychelle Water Filtration Bottle will filter 100 gallons of water or more depending on the quality of the water source. The standard bottles may use either a standard or advanced filter. The standard filter uses an ionic absorption micron filtration system and can be used with any type of water source except saltwater.

The Seychelle Extreme Water Filtration Bottle is similar to the standard filter with the addition of iodinated resin resulting in increased removal of bacteria and virus to 99.9999%. Seychelle filtration bottles retail for around $35 and will filter up to 100 gallons of water.

Standard filters are $15, while extreme replacement filters are $25.

Sport Berkey Water Bottle

Berkey Sport portable water filter uses an ionic absorption micron filtration system. It will filter around 25 gallons of water from any source, or 100 gallons from a municipal source. Before storing this device (after use), it should be flushed with a chlorinated solution and allowed to dry.

The bottle retails for $38 and replacement filters for $13 each. Go to www.berkeyfilters.com for more information on Berkey products.

HydroBlu Clear Flow Water Bottle Filter

The HydroBlu Clear Flow Water Bottle has a 0.1 micron hollow fiber membrane that removes 99.99999% of all bacteria, 99.9999% of all protozoa, and the activated charcoal in the filter reduces heavy metals, iron, sulfur, negative taste and any discoloration from your water.

It is not rated to remove viruses. The filter has a life of 1,500 gallons. The Clear Flow Water Bottle retails for around $22.

The Best Water Filter for Emergency Preparedness

The best water filter is the one that meets your needs. You may want to purchase a filter that is highly versatile like the Sawyer All-in-One. Or, you may want to purchase a few water filter systems.

A quality water bottle filter for each family member’s personal emergency kit and a large gravity filter (such as the Berkey) that will sit on your counter and provide water for the entire crew may be a good option.

Only you can decide what will work best for your needs. These are our personal recommendations for water filters depending on your budget.

$20-50

Sawyer All-in-One Squeeze Water Filtration Kit – This filter will remove bacteria and protozoa in one million gallons of water. It comes with a bucket and faucet adapter in addition to the squeeze pouch. It retails for about $50. This is a good, portable option to purchase and tuck away “just-in-case.” You will need to pretreat water if viruses are a concern.

HydroBlu Versa Flow Water Filtration Package – This filter is only $20. It will not filter out viruses so you may need to pretreat the water but the filter will filter up to 100,000 gallons.

Seychelle Extreme Personal Water Bottle – This water bottle filter will produce clean drinking water for one person for only $35. It will filter out all biological pathogens, toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and radiological contaminants. It will filter up to 100 gallons.

$100-$200

Sawyer All-in-One Point Zero Two Purifier System – This filter removes viruses as well as bacteria and protozoa in up to a million gallons of water. It has a bucket and faucet adaptor kit to make it highly versatile. It retails for $140.

HydroBlu Jerry Can Water Filter (Virus Free Package) – This is a great portable filter for only $180. The Pressurized Jerry Can Water Filter Virus Free Package comes with 3 filters: a 0.02 hollow fiber virus filter, a 0.1 hollow fiber bacteria filter, and an activated carbon filter. You decide which filters you need to use depending on your water source.

$200-400

Berkey Water Purifiers are my favorite choice for countertop emergency water filters, along with everyday use. Pick the size of Berkey that makes the most sense for your family.

  • Travel Berkey Water Filter is the smallest version with a capacity of 1.5 gallons and retails for $249.
  • Big Berkey Water Filter has a capacity of 2.25 gallons and is a good size for 2-4 people. The Big Berkey is $278 with 2 filters.
  • Royal Berkey Water Filter has a capacity of 3.25 gallons. It will produce clean drinking water for up to 6 people. It retails for $305 with 2 filters.
  • Imperial Berkey Water Filter has a capacity of 4.5 gallons and will support at least 10 people. The Imperial Berkey retails for $335.
  • Crown Berkey Water Filter has a 6-gallon capacity and will produce clean drinking water for at least 10 people. It retails for $360 with 2 filters.  

Jones Family Water Filters

Water is a critical part of our emergency preparedness plan, and we believe it is a good investment to have quality filters. Our family emergency plan includes these water filters. Some may rightly accuse us of being a little bit over-prepared when it comes to filtering safe drinking water. I think it is just right.

Berkey Water Purifier (Travel Berkey, Big Berkey, and Crown Berkey) – Our favorite water filter is the Berkey so we have 3 different sizes. I take the small one with me when traveling. The other sizes are much larger and are used mostly for emergency preparedness. The stainless steel gravity fed water filters that can sit on the kitchen counter and produce enough clean drinking water for our entire family.

AquaRain Water Filter – The AquaRain is another stainless steel gravity water filter. It does a great job of filtering water but must be pretreated to kill viruses.

Sawyer All-in-One – This filter is highly versatile and portable. Our Sawyer filter can be used with a pouch to clean small amounts of drinking water. It also can be attached to our kitchen faucet to filter water right from the tap. It also has parts to convert it into a 5-gallon bucket gravity filter.

This filter kit has literally traveled the world with us to make sure we have clean drinking water when we need it.

HydroBlu Pressurized Jerry Can – The jerry can filter system is a good way to be able to filter water for a group on the road. We can use this filter while camping or if we need to evacuate.

Personal Water Bottle Filters – We have a variety of water bottle filters that we take when traveling or for each person’s survival kit. 

What Emergency Water Filter is Right for You?

We have given you a lot of information to think about. There are many water filters that we haven’t even talked about that may be a good choice for your emergency water purification needs.

Just remember the basics. What are your potential emergency water filtration needs? Will your filter be able to produce the clean drinking water you need for the number of people that you have and from the water sources that you have available?

Your plan should be uniquely tailored to meet your needs. Take your time and consider the needs of your family. If your budget is limited, start by purchasing a less expensive filter that will provide you with safe drinking water if disaster strikes today.

Thanks for being part of the solution!

Jonathan and Kylene Jones

Kylene

Kylene Jones is a blogger, content creator, published author, motivational speaker, homesteader, prepper, mother, and grandmother. She practices self-reliance, provident living, and emergency preparedness in her everyday life. She loves working with her husband, Jonathan, and is committed to helping our community be prepared to thrive during the challenges that lie in our future.