Staying hydrated while traveling, especially in countries where tap water isn’t safe to drink, doesn’t need to be difficult. There are plenty of solutions, from SteriPEN to pristine water tablets, but the Grayl Ultralight Water Filter might be the easiest to use. It works just like a french-press coffee maker:

  1. Remove the lid and separate the base cup and filter cup
  2. Dunk the base cup into the water source
  3. Plunge the filter cup into the basecup
  4. Replace the lid and enjoy the purified water

The Grayl Ultralight water filter system costs $79.00 and replacement filters are $32.00. Each filter purifies 300L of water, removing 99.999% of all viruses and bacteria. Essetially, it’s $100 for 600L of water, which is a staggering savings compared to buying bottled water.

Field Test: Grayl Ultralight Water Filter

Tim Leffel bailed us out with his Grayl Ultralight Water Filter while hiking in Kyrgyzstan

I’ve twice suffered from giardia, so I’ve developed a careful approach to managing my drinking water while on the road. Over the past few years, I’ve always traveled with a steri-PEN; however, on my hike in Kyrgyzstan last year, I discovered it’s biggest weakness. We were camped above 2000m, along an alpine river surrounded by pastures. Horses and goats crazed nearby, so it was essential we treat our water. We were also close to the river’s source glacier, so the water was filled with sediment and silt. My steri-PEN couldn’t purify it, as it relies on UV-light to travel through clear water. Using Pristine tabs would have worked, but the water would have still been filled with nasty-tasting sediment.

Luckily, Tim Leffel had his Grayl Ultralight Water Filter with him and we immediately put it to use, filtering enough water to keep our entire group hydrated.  It easily filtered out the sediment and silt, along with all the bacteria and viruses bound to be in any water source traveling through heavily used farm pastures, allowing us to enjoy clear drinking water.

We used the filter throughout the trip, favouring it for two major reasons: it was faster than both the steriPEN and pristine tablets we carried and it worked no matter the water conditions.

Pros and Cons & Price Comparison vs Competitors

Grayl is a great alternative for filtering water on short hikes or while traveling

Grayl Pros

  • Lightweight – it’s only 300g
  • Easy to use
  • No chemicals and no batteries
  • No funky tastes

Grayl Cons

  • Filter Replacement every 150L
  • Only 500 mL capacity
  • High cost per Litre

The Grayl Ultralight water filter system costs $79.00 and purifies 150L of water. Replacement filters are $32.00. Doing some simple math, an initial $100 investment purifies 300L, while a $200 investment covers 600L.

A steriPEn costs $85.00 and can purify 8000L, but it does require 4AA lithium or NiMH batteries for every 100 treatments/ 50-100L of water.

Pristine tablets cost $9.00 per 50L.

Bottled water, well, let’s not even get into it. Single-use plastic is a major environmental issue. It’s also comically expensive, no matter where you’re traveling.

Grayl Conclusions

The Grayl Ultralight water filter is an ideal solution in more travel situations, but it might fall a bit short for the truly adventurous.

This is an exceptional product for backpackers or general travelers. It’s ideal for day-to-day use while in developing countries where tap water isn’t safe to drink. It’ll work great on day hikes and shorter backcountry trips, too, for more adventurous travelers. My personal experience with the Grayl, which came during an epic 6-day backcountry hike, shows its true potential. It provided clean drinking water to our group in a variety of backcountry scenarios.

The only situation I can see where it’s a less-than-ideal solution is for truly epic outdoor pursuits. Thru-hikers or bikepackers on extended trips will likely find the 150L capacity restricting, especially if they’re unable to resupply along their route. It often isn’t possible to carry extra filters on these types of trips, as lightweight travel is considered paramount.

Aside from those month-long epics, I can’t see another situation where the Grayl wouldn’t be my go-to choice for clean drinking water.