As a professional outdoor journalist and former Eagle Scout, I’ve used a variety of water purification and filtration devices over the years, in terrain from the South Pacific to the Balkans to North Africa. When I’m packing for a trip, my water setup is the first thing I take into account no matter where I’m flying into.
Similarly, access to clean water is also the #1 thing you’ll need to stay alive in case of a natural disaster, political turmoil, or any other unprecedented emergency situation. Food, shelter, protection, all these things are important, but dehydration will kill you far faster than anything else.
A dependable, lightweight water filtration system is a critical component of any Bug Out Bag or survival kit.
What is the best emergency water filtration system?
For your bug out bag, aside from needing a filter system or other purification method which is safe to use and reliably makes your water safe to drink, you want to get your hands on a product which will work on the move, one you can pack easily, and one that doesn’t contain a lot of moving parts which will potentially break or malfunction.
From iodine tablets to filter pumps, the options on the market are myriad, and most have been around for years. But it’s 2021, and there have been quite a few advances in filtration technology lately. So if you haven’t updated the water filtration system you keep in your bug out bag or survival kit in a while, it’s time to give things a second look. That pump you were using five or ten years ago has been outclassed by dozens of new products. The world just keeps getting crazier, so don’t get complacent and overlook upgrades you can make to your kit. When stuff goes south, if there’s one thing you don’t want to have compromised on, it’s your access to water.
Most water filters offer one of two designs. There are heavier, bulkier hand pumps, which require two hands to pump and operate. Then there are the filter straws, which allow you to drink straight from the water directly, but don’t offer a pumping system to fill your water containers and have very limited reach. In the past, those were basically your two options, unless you wanted to use chemical filtration methods.
Now there is the XStream™ Straw, my new favorite filter, and one of the best water filters for a bug out bag.
In short, the XStream™ Straw is a long straw with a compact filter on the end, which you can stick into a water source and use to drink. There are a few other similar “filter straw” type products on the market, notably the LifeStraw, but none lives up to the XStream™ Straw, in my experience. This is hands down the most lightweight, packable, and versatile water filtration method on the market.
At a mere 5 oz without the optional hand pump and 9 oz with the pump, the XStream™ Straw is lighter than a deck of cards. The included filter, the Journey™ Water Filter, is able to purify up to 250 gallons of contaminated water (independent laboratory tested to EPA standards), removing 99.9999% of bacteria, protozoan, and viruses without the use of iodine, chlorine, or any other chemicals. So whether you’re in New Delhi, Nairobi, or New York City, you can drink out of any non-salt water source without worrying about contamination. It’s that simple.
Best of all, you get a high flow rate here, without any moving parts. You can suck water directly using the standard straw, or use the optional hand pump, which requires a simple squeeze (similar to a stress ball) to spray out your filtered water in a powerful jet. This makes the XStream™ Straw excellent, not only for taking a drink, but for cleaning dishes and clothes or filling water jugs and bladders.
I’ve spent hours upon hours pumping water over my career, and the XStream™ Straw’s squeeze pump is far less strenuous than traditional hand pumps while offering a more powerful spray akin to a kitchen sink. It also only requires one hand to use. Most other filter pumps require at least two hands to efficiently pump, and on top of that, someone else usually needs to hold the outflow hose in the water container so the water doesn’t spray everywhere. With the XStream™ Straw’s squeeze pump, you can pump AND aim the hose all with one hand.
The whole experience using the XStream™ Straw makes me look back on a backpacking trip I took with my father when I was a kid…
We were in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, and we had run out of water. We took our filter pump down to the river to get more, but the hose was only a foot and a half long, and the filter was in the middle of the hose, with the outflow hose on the far side. As a result, my dad had to climb out onto a rotten log, hanging over the river, to get close enough to pump the water.
You can probably tell where this story is going… he fell in. This was winter in northern Kentucky, with sub-freezing temps, so that was bad news. Luckily we hustled back to our campsite, started a fire, and got him warmed up, but we were almost put in a really bad situation simply because our water pump didn’t offer decent length. And this was on a simple camping trip. In an emergency situation like a natural disaster, on the other hand, the result could’ve been much, much worse.
That’s why one of my favorite features about the XStream™ Straw is its extremely impressive reach. This straw is two feet (24”) long, and with an included extension tube (free of charge) that length doubles to a whopping four feet (48”). With four feet of reach, there’s absolutely no need to squat down or bend over in awkward positions near water sources. In the past, I’ve spent plenty of mornings lying in the mud near the bank of a river or stream, straining to get my filter straw into the water. With the XStream™ Straw, you can sit upright in a boat and drink straight from the river with ease, you can sit back from the water on the shore of a lake and pump into your canteen, take a sip, or wash clothes and dishes.
Even better is the fact that the entire filtration system is on the far end of the hose, so 100% of the XStream™ Straw’s four-foot max length is able to work to your benefit (as opposed to other filter pumps where there are inflow and outflow hoses of equal length, essentially giving you the length of only one hose).
Simply put, the XStream™ Straw is hands down the best water filter for a bug out bag or survival kit.
It’s worth mentioning that I don’t say this stuff lightly. I have 15+ years of experience in wilderness terrain, and I am extremely impressed with the XStream™ Straw. My next assignment is in the Darien Gap in Panama, one of the most inhospitable jungle regions on the planet, and I will be using the XStream™ Straw while I’m there. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
Owen Clarke is an outdoor adventure journalist. He is a Contributing Digital Editor for Climbing and Gym Climber magazines, and a writer for Benegas Brothers Productions.