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|Water Purification Tablets
|Time to Purify
|Amount Purified per Tablet
|Effective Against Cryptosporidium?
|Top Pick: Katadyn Micropur MP1
|Runner-Up: Potable Aqua Chlorine Dioxide
|Best Taste: Potable Aqua with PA+Plus
|Best Value: Aquatabs
|0.75 L cold or 1.89 L room temperature
|Best Nose Hair Burner: Aquamira Water Purifier Tablets
We spent 5 days drinking nothing but tablet-purified water to find out which brand of water purification tablets truly works best. Ultimately, we discovered that Katadyn Micropur MP1 is the brand to choose. It has decent flavor, combats against cryptosporidium and the smell won’t burn your nose hairs.
It was a long journey to discover that Katadyn Micropur MP1 was the right choice to go with. It started way back when I was a little girl playing the virtual Oregon Trail game.
After my 7th fatal strike with dysentery that week, I promised myself something: I would never die of dysentery again.
More importantly, I’d never let any of my family or loved ones go through that awful death again. That’s why, among other arguably more realistic reasons, I carry water purification tablets when I go backpacking.
There are lots of water purification tablets to choose from on the market, plenty more than there were in the 1800s. But which brand tastes the best? Which ones kill cryptosporidium? Which one will ensure your wheels and axles don’t snap during river crossings?
We set off to find out.
Top Pick: Katadyn Micropur MP1
I really wanted to give this award to the Aquatabs, given its flavor and easy instructions.
But the top water purification tablet should kill all microorganisms, including cryptosporidium. Functionality over flavor. These tablets do that, while the Aquatabs only kill bacteria and viruses.
For that reason, the Katadyn Micropur MP1 took home our Top Pick award.
The Katadyn Micropur MP1 tablets have the best taste of all the crypto-fighting tablets and come in a durable package that is still fairly easy to open. Water purified with these tablets didn’t irritate my skin or throat at all, but know that I’ve been using tablets for a few years now. Irritation and side effects are different for every person. These tablets are also fairly cheap comparatively, which gave this option bonus value points as well.
Runner-Up: Potable Aqua Chlorine Dioxide
I consider the Potable Aqua Chorline Dioxide tablets to be your average, safe water purification tablets. They’re not too strong in smell or taste, and the packaging is fairly durable.
This brand is very similar to Katadyn, except for one small thing: water purified with one of these tablets may have given me a scratchy throat.
Admittedly, this was the first tablet that I sampled for a full day. It’s possible that my body was just getting used to adding chlorine back in the diet. However, know that the score was so close between these tables and the Katadyn Micropur MP1 tablets that that one side effect became the deciding factor in me choosing this as the Runner-Up instead of the Top Pick.
Best Taste: Potable Aqua with PA+Plus
After a few days of chugging chemicals, I was curious what this two-part powerhouse could do.
I put in the iodine tablet and let it do it’s job. Before even using the second-step tablet — whose only purpose is to neutralize the iodine after-taste and color in the water — I smelled and tasted the treated water.
It smelled like water. It even tasted like water! I was impressed that the chemical taste was nearly nonexistent.
I then put in the neutralizing tablets. I’m not sure how big of a difference they made, but I was already pleased. Water treated with these tablets was the best tasting water I drank all week, and it posed no irritation whatsoever.
Note: Potable Aqua sells their iodine tablets with or without PA+Plus. PA+Plus tablets are neutralizing tablets for use after water has been treated with Potable Aqua. They neutralize the iodine after-taste and color in the water. If you don’t want the PA+Plus tablets, you can buy just the Potable Aqua tablets.
Best Value: Aquatabs
Although Aquatabs do not combat cryptosporidium, they would probably keep my Oregon Trail family safe.
I was impressed by the bang for the buck on this one. We found them for fairly cheap online.
The taste is good, while the smell is only mildly chemical. These tablets are lightweight and don’t take too long to purify — only 40 minutes.
The only problem with the Aquatabs is that the packaging isn’t very durable. This was the only brand that didn’t pass the durability test. The tablets just crumbled into dust. But, on the other hand, the package is easy to open, something I can’t say for all tablets we tested.
Best Nose Hair Burner: Aquamira Water Purifier Tablets
The Aquamira Water Purifier Tablets — like all other crypto-combatting tablets — take four hours to purify water.
I had heard that this stuff is extremely potent so, out of curiosity, I took a big whiff of the Aquamira-treated water around the 2-hour purification mark.
I coughed. I wheezed. It burned my nose hairs. It had me double checking that I got the dosage right.
After the purification process completed 2 hours later, the water no longer smelled like pure bleach, but it was still certainly the strongest smelling of the products. The flavor was decent but chemical. My lips tingled every now and then throughout the day, but that may not have been related to these tablets (I eat lots of jalapeños).
I found it interesting that the Aquamira tablets were so strong, because before this project, my favorite water purification method was the two-part Aquamira water treatment drops.
Here are the best water purification tablets:
- Katadyn Micropur MP1
- Potable Aqua Chlorine Dioxide
- Potable Aqua with PA+Plus
- Aquamira Water Purifier Tablets
How to Choose the Best Water Purification Tablets for Your Needs
Beyond looking for water purification tablets that “just work”, here are the important specs to consider before buying.
Time to Purify/Ease of Preparation
Are you somebody who always forgets to do things on a schedule? Then a 4-hour wait time probably isn’t ideal. Go with the Aquatabs or the Potable Aqua with PA+Plus. Both of these purify your water in less than an hour.
Note: Despite their convenience, neither Aquatabs nor Potable Aqua with PA+Plus combat against cryptosporidium, a protozoan known to be present in North America.
Otherwise, if you can afford to wait 4 hours for your water to purify, our Top Pick and Runner-Up are the two options we liked best.
Weight is, of course, a crucial consideration for any backpacking gear. The packages of all the brands we tested weighed less than an ounce, but some were more durable than others.
If you want your pack to be as light as possible, go with the Potable Aqua tablets. They were the lightest tablets we tested.
If you prefer a package that is more durable, the Potable Aqua Chlorine Dioxide tablets and Aquamira tablets are both extremely difficult to open without a camping knife or backpacking knife but keep your tablets intact.
Taste & Smell
How much of a chemical taste and smell can you handle in your water?
If you’re highly sensitive, we recommend you get the Potable Aqua with PA+Plus since the PA+Plus tablets neutralize the iodine after-taste and color in the water.
Alternatively, if you like a strong chemical smell that leaves you 100% confident that any living organism that once lived in your water is certainly dead, then pee-yew, Aquamira Water Purifier Tablets are right for you.
Microorganisms the Tablets Are Effective Against
All the water purification tablets we tested kill viruses and bacteria when used correctly. However, not all kill cryptosporidium.
Make sure to choose a brand that kills all the microorganisms you might encounter on your backcountry trip. We’ve indicated which of the brands we tested are effective against cryptosporidium in the table at the top of this article.
Alternatives to Water Purification Tablets
Here are two alternative ways to purify water:
- With a backpacking water filter. In our experience, this is the most popular method employed by hikers and backpackers.
- By boiling water on a camping stove or backpacking stove. It’s good to have the necessary supplies to boil water should your primary water filtration method fail. Our testers like carrying an ultralight backpacking lighter with them to light stoves. We also know some backpackers who like taking fire starting rods to help them start a fire.
How We Tested
Our testing process was three-fold.
1) Taste Test
First and foremost, we wanted to test the actual taste of the purified water. To do this, we drank water purified with each tablet. We then scored the waters on how badly they smelled of chemicals and how much the taste reminded us of water at a public pool.
2) Side-Effect Test
Secondly, we wanted to ensure that there wouldn’t be any side-effects from consistently using each brand. For five days, we exclusively drank water purified by these tablets — whether it came from streams, rivers or sketchy-looking park faucets.
Each day, we focused on a different brand and then measured how we felt throughout the day. Did anyone get a sore throat? Did anyone experience eye irritation or, at worst, chemical burns?
3) Packaging Test
Lastly, we scored each brand on its packaging. We threw each package of tablets in the bottom of backpacks and suitcases, stepped on them, you name it. If the tablet exploded into a powder, it lost points.
While durability was important here, for the next part of this test, we measured the opposite. How easy are the packages to open? Do I need a knife (because if I do, that really blows because I don’t always carry one of those) or will my teeth suffice?
No matter how well the tablet scored in taste, smell and packaging, 10 points were deducted from the final score of any tablet that is not effective against cryptosporidium. We hope that, by doing this, we can bring extra awareness to this spec, in cases where this may jeopardize your health.
All products tested are certified and meet EPA microbiological water purifying test standards. We’re not working from a lab here, so we just had to trust that if these things are on the market, they won’t kill us. Nobody died of dysentery during our research, so we call that a win.