2. MSR Guardian Purifier System ($350)
Type: Pump purifier
Weight: 17.3 oz.
Filter life: 10,000 liters
What we like: The most advanced portable water purifier on the market.
What we don’t like: At $350, the Guardian is the priciest option on this list.
We’ll start by acknowledging the steep $350 price tag of the MSR Guardian, but this pump is the real deal. Most importantly, it’s both a water filter and purifier, adding ever-important virus protection to the mix. Whereas other pumps from Katadyn and MSR only protect against protozoa and bacteria, the Guardian provides the ultimate piece of mind when backpacking in high-use areas (viruses are most commonly carried in human waste). In fact, it’s such a reliable and convenient system that it’s now being used as an emergency water purifier after natural disasters and in less-developed countries around the world.
Aside from cost, the MSR Guardian is not a small or light system. At just over 17 ounces and packing down roughly to the size of a 1-liter water bottle, this is much more pump than its non-purifying siblings. But it’s head and shoulders above the competition in performance and build quality. Not only does it boast advanced self-cleaning technology (the Guardian uses about 10% of the water from every pump to flush contaminants), it’s far less likely to break down than cheaper models. In terms of whether or not you need the purifying capabilities: it’s certainly smart for travel and backpacking in less-developed regions of the world. In Peru, we pumped and drank water from a creek where a full cow skeleton had come to rest and did not get sick. Viruses certainly are less of a risk in the North American and European backcountry, but as the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.