Water Purifiers for Travel in Third World Countries

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Water purifiers are a tough market to wrap your head around initially. By far and large, the most exciting thing about travelling is the planning stages. The researching regions, activities, flight etc are the only things that indicate that our travels are actually going to happen. I don’t know about you, but the closer I get, the more excited I get and therefore, the more time I spend researching my destination. What activities are there in Costa Rica? Is visiting Tulum in Mexico an absolute must? What is the food like? Being the fussy (very fussy) eater that I am, I like to be able to prepare myself for what type of food that I will be able to eat.

BBQ in Laos
Whilst I extensively research the food in a region before I go, sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised. This ‘BBQ’ in Laos only cost AU$5 and was one of my favourite eats.

It was during this planning period that I realised that like South East Asia, water is a little dodgy in Central America. Generally, travel sites advise you to buy only bottled water to avoid nasties such as Monetzuma’s Revenge in Mexico.

In South East Asia (SE Asia), I generally was happy to just buy and lug around massive 1.2 L water bottles that you could buy in corner shops for about AU$0.70. Though cheap, when you drink 1-2 of these a day for a couple of months, the cost adds up. You also get some peculiar problems, like when you’re in the middle of nowhere and your water runs out, or when you wake up in the morning and desperately want water for there to be none in site.

Drinks on a Mekong Slow Boat
Not all these drinks are mine – just two of the massive water bottles. This was a two day cruise up the Mekong from Laos to Thailand. Imagine if we had run out, there was no where to buy water on a river.

This time, instead of facing that problem again I decided that I would buy some kind of water bottle that would filter and purify water. This way, I can fill up and carry it with me. Of course, this decision presented its own problems. Water bottles each do their own thing, and no everything will meet the exact requirements of what you want it to do. I haven’t personally bought one yet, but I will soon and then update this post after my trip. However, below I’ve included some of these water bottles that look promising, and a small description of why I’m thinking about buying them.


GRAYL at this stage seems to be one of the most controversial, and yet universally praised water purifiers so far. It comes in several different forms, and you have the option of switching between three different filters to suit your needs.

I’ve been particularly looking at the GRAYL Ultralight, which as the name suggests is much lighter than previous versions and comes with their travel filter.

The way that the GRAYL works is like a coffee press. You fill the outer canister with your water, press in the insert which has a rubber seal, and as you press down this forces the water to go through the filter. Depending on the filter, this entire process should take 10-30 seconds. Once thats all done, you can open the GRAYL and drink from it like it’s a cup. Thats pretty neat.

GRAYL claims that it’s travel filter removes viruses, bacteria, protozoa, particulates, chemicals and heavy metals up to 99.999%. In other terms, it honestly seems like an amazing filter. But anything that sounds great can’t possibly be true, right?

The downside of the GRAYL is it’s small capacity, holding 473mL and weighing about 300g. If that’s fine with you, there’s something else you should probably consider, and that is the fact that you will need to change the filter after 300 cycles. With long trips, this may not be a very economical option and general feedback is that it does get significantly harder to push after a while.

However, it can be fairly expensive. Ultimately, I’m most likely going to look buying the GRAYL, it seems the best option for what I want, and if I’m really bothered about the small capacity I can carry an additional water bottle. From my searching online, the GRAYL ultralight is the cheapest on Amazon, and I’ve even managed to find one that ships to Australia (thats rare).

LifeStraw Go

LifeStraw Go works differently to the GRAYL, which instead of a coffee press system, you have to suck water through a straw and the filters within the straw is what purifies the water. Its based on the concept of the LifeStraw, which was originally developed to make drinking water safe for those in developing countries. What the company have done here, is pop that straw into a bottle – hence the ‘Go’ I assume.

They claim that the LifeStraw Go is designed for hikers, campers, travellers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Apparently, it filters out 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria and 99.9% of waterborne protozoa. However, chemicals, salt water, heavy metals and viruses are not filtered out. One particularly good thing about the LifeStraw Go is that once the filter needs changing, the filter will no longer pull through water. It’s a great, definitive end to the lifespan of the filter. There’s also the fact that it’s just over a third of the weight of the GRAYL and holds 650 mL of water. I also remember reading somewhere along the lines of it being the only water bottle that you can reliably fill up from creeks and streams and such. I seem to also remember the filter having a much longer lifespan than the GRAYL.

Of course, beyond the fact that it doesn’t filter out everything that the GRAYL does, there are a couple of things I personally don’t like about the LifeStraw Go. One is that it has an ugly sports bottle design. As you see it, you’ll know what it is. Unfortunately. Because of the way that the bottle is designed, some people complain that a few hours of using the LifeStraw Go makes their facial muscles hurt, but how else are you meant to get razor sharp cheekbones?

Honestly, if weight and capacity is a big concern, I’m probably going to go with a combination of the LifeStraw Go and a Steripen, which I’ve chucked in below.


The SteriPEN is unique in the sense that it relies on UV light to kill waterborne microbes, and will purify up to 1 L of water in 90 seconds. It does destroy viruses, bacteria and protozoa. The Classic SteriPEN also relies on AA batteries, which is a universal battery size.

They have a few different types, which are designed specifically with travel in mind. One that looks appealing to me is the SteriPEN PURE+, which is fairly lightweight and compact and is rechargeable via USB. This one will purify 500 mL in 48 seconds. I recommend you check out the SteriPEN website though, because they have a lot of different models for different uses.

Downsides? Cost, having to carry an extra something and its designed purely for tap water. Of course, because it’s not actually a filter as well, you do have to take that into consideration.

In conclusion, there are many options for water purifiers out there, and they all do different things, especially as far as finding one for travel. It’s up to you to decide what suits you best. Whilst the combination of LifeStraw Go and Steripen will allow me a bigger capacity of water to carry and last longer, it will ultimately cost me more money. These factors are probably the reason I haven’t definitively decided what I’m going to do yet.

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