Troubleshooting Common Problems with Backpacking Water Filters


Troubleshooting Common Problems with Backpacking Water Filters

Here we have a troubleshooting guide for backpacking filters of all kinds. Some of the most common issues that you might face with these filters are unpleasantness in the taste of filtered water, unwanted odors, microbial growths, freezing of filters, mechanical issues, low flow rate, etc. The steps involved in solving these problems are straightforward and can be undertaken by anyone.

To get clean water while backpacking is no longer a difficult task for hikers or adventure enthusiasts.

We used to think water purification systems are bulky devices that can come handy only for home use.

However, the designs of water purification systems have evolved to a great extent to provide portable and natural solutions for water purification on the go in the form of backpacking water filters.

The most common designs of backpacking water filters are in the form of water bottles like this or a simple pump-like design like this.

In this article, we are going to explore some of the common problems that you might experience while using both these products.

Below, we briefly discuss some of these problems. We also guide you on how to deal with them in a DIY setup.

Unpleasant taste or odor in the water

Like any other water filter, when the filtration media in a backpacking water filter is near the end of its useful life, the quality of water output starts getting affected.

The filter media loses its effectiveness over time, and this can be witnessed when the purified water has unwanted odors or unpleasant taste.

In any case, the primary culprit, in this case, is the filtration media, and there are a couple of ways to rectify this situation.

How to troubleshoot

There are a couple of ways to go about this problem.

  1. Clean the filter media
  2. Replace the filter media

For cleaning-

Backpacking water filters require regular cleaning and maintenance to ensure that it functions properly.

The frequency of this cleaning depends on the quality of water that has been used with the filter.

It is necessary to regularly inspect the check valves, pre-filter, and piston O-ring and maintain them if needed.

The following steps can be undertaken to preserve the health of the filter and clean it to restore it to optimal performance.

  1. Take the large and small check valves and clean those making sure reinstall them in the correct flow direction.
  2. Rinse the pre-filter in clean water to remove any silt or debris that may have built-up.
  3. Lubricate the piston O-ring using the silicone lubricant provided in the water filter kit.

Check out the cleaning process of a backpacking water filter in a quick video at

For replacement –

At any point, the filter should not be allowed to take a hard drop.

If you suspect that the filter has been damaged and would need to be replaced, it is easy to check the integrity of the fibers first.

How to check the integrity of the backpacking water filter?


The test for the integrity of the filter must be done after backflushing. (Details of how to backflush the filter is elaborated later in the article)

  1. Remove the water source from the filter and pump air through it. (Make sure not to cover the outlet port as this will create an airlock condition)
  2. Extend the pump for four seconds and then release it.

The pump should snap back sharply.

If the pump does not snap back, then the filter may be damaged. It is possible to get a failed result even if the filter is intact.

This failed result is due to the filter not being properly saturated during the backflush.

Following a failed integrity test-

  1. Repeat the backflush process
  2. Retest the filter’s integrity

The filter only needs to pass the test once to verify integrity.

Water Freezing

When backpacking in cold climatic conditions, the water filters tend to freeze.

When this happens, the filter media expands and contracts, thus compromising the integrity of the filter.

It tends to develop micro-tears and cracks that make it ineffective in filtering all the impurities that it can otherwise tackle.

How to troubleshoot

At any point, the filter should not be allowed to freeze. ‘=

In cold conditions, put the filter in a watertight storage bag and place it in the foot of your sleeping bag to protect the element from freezing.

Microbial growth on the water filter

You should keep in mind that the filtration capacity of a backpacking water filter is much lesser than conventional water filtration systems used in households.

This tendency of microbial infection also makes it necessary to conduct more regular maintenance activities.

However, if you neglect to stick to a regular maintenance schedule, you might notice that after continuous use, a thin film starts to develop on the filter cartridge.

This biofilm is an indicator of the growth of microorganisms, which is extremely unhygienic.

When the filter is continuously wet and doesn’t get a chance to be cleaned and dried out, it makes the filter surface conducive for microbial growth.

How to troubleshoot

A backpacking water filter should be cleaned regularly.

You can come up with a maintenance schedule depending on the frequency of usage and the quality of water that needs to be filtered.

It should be kept in mind that you have to disinfect the filter before long term storage necessarily.

It should also be cleaned after long term storage or after fifteen days of continuous use to ensure fresh-tasting water.

How to disinfect the backpacking water filter?

  1. Mix a solution of one liter of water with two drops of household bleach.
  2. Remove the inlet hose from the hose barb and pump the diluted bleach solution through the filter.
  3. Take the pump out of the water and continue pumping to purge any solution remaining in the filter cartridge.
  4. Completely air dry or towel dry all of the pump assembly parts.
  5. Residual bleach inside the filter cartridge will prevent the mold or bacteria from growing.
  6. Pack and store the pump in its original storage.

The handle of the backpacking water filter is hard to push

The handle of the backpacking water filter should have a smooth motion to facilitate easy pumping of water into the filter.

It makes the entire process cumbersome if the handle gets jammed and compromises on the efficiency of the device.

How to troubleshoot

The motion of the handle is affected by the performance of the O-ring.

The O-ring, which is fitted at the base of the handle, should be adequately lubricated with the silicone lubricant, which is generally supplied with the water filtration kit.

Get rid of any excess build-up, if needed, near the O-ring of the handle.

Another reason for a malfunctioning handle is a jammed or overused filter cartridge. The solution, in this case, is to replace the cartridge.

The steps to replace the cartridge are detailed below.

In case a replacement cartridge is not available readily, as a temporary fix, you can remove the current cartridge and swish it around in clean water to get rid of the superficial debris and put it back inside the backpacking water filter unit.

How to replace the filter cartridge?

  1. Remove the output hose from the output port.
  2. Grab the cartridge inside the filter housing and turn it counterclockwise by hand.
  3. Discard the used cartridge carefully.
  4. Rinse the filter housing thoroughly with clean water and discard the water.
  5. You have to towel-dry the insides by using a soft cloth to remove any remnants.
  6. Take the new filter cartridge from its packaging and install it into the filter housing.
  7. Apply lubricant to the O-ring of the cartridge before fitting it.
  8. Make sure that the new cartridge is installed correctly by turning it clockwise.
  9. Reattach the output hose.
  10. Flush the cartridge before use by pumping a liter of water.

The new cartridge is now ready to use.

If the unit pumps efficiently, but there is no water flow

When the backpacking filtration unit is pumping correctly, but you notice that there is no water coming out.

The problem, in this case, could be with the hoses, the pre-filter, or the check valves.

How to troubleshoot

If you are not sure where the problem lies, firstly, make sure that the hoses are not pinched or bent in a way that it restricts the free flow of water.

You should make sure that the pre-filter is submerged while operating. Keep the pre-filter in good health.

Regularly remove any debris that might have got caught in the strainer. For proper cleaning, remove the pre-filter entirely and clean it with a soft brush and some clean water.

A small amount of lubricant can also be applied to the strainer in the input hose for greater ease of assembly.

Lastly, you should take a careful look at the check valves. Sometimes, it may be the case that the debris gets lodged inside the pump body.

This debris prevents the valves from functioning correctly and hinders the water draw.

The check valves need to be adequately cleaned to solve this issue.

How to clean the check valve?

  1. Remove the filter cartridge.
  2. Fill the pump with some water (ideally, halfway).
  3. Swish the water around in the pump and discard it.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 as many times as needed.
  5. Fill the pump halfway with water.
  6. Reinstall the cartridge.

Check if the standard flow rate of the pump has been restored by this activity.

Leakage in the backpacking water filter

Leakage in a backpacking water filter can be due to loose connections or improper sealing/ damage to the O-ring.

How to troubleshoot

Check the hose connections to the pump to make sure that there is no damage to the hose.

The connections should fit snugly, and there should not be any cracks or breaks along the hose body.

Another point of the leak could be at the O-ring. Make sure that the ring is in top shape and has not been damaged by wear and tear.

If there is any damage to the ring, it cannot function as a proper sealant. If you notice any damage to the O-ring, replace it at the earliest.

Reduced flow rate

As the filter is used, it collects particles that gradually clog the filter elements, thereby reducing the flow rate.

How to troubleshoot

Backflushing, the filter returns the filter cartridge to optimal performance by expelling any trapped debris.

It is generally recommended that backflushing of the filter should be performed every eight to ten liters or after one day of normal use to prevent silt build-up and extend the filter’s lifespan.

NOTE: Do not pump during backflushing operations unless it instructed in the manual to do so. (trapped air will hamper the process). Always perform backflushing in a controlled area to prevent the loss of small parts.

How to backflush the backpacking water filter?

  1. Collect half a liter of filtered water into a clean container. (Do not purge remaining water from the filter)
  2. Remove the inlet hose and unscrew the pump inlet from the pump cylinder.
  3. Reverse the large check valve and reinstall it into the pump inlet.
  4. Pull the pump cylinder to the end of the stroke and turn it until the piston locks.
  5. Use the cylinder to unscrew the piston from the filter cartridge.
  6. Reverse the small check valve and carefully reattach the pump cylinder back on to the filter cartridge.
  7. Rethread the pump inlet into the pump cylinder.
  8. Connect the container with the filtered water to the outlet adapter to avoid air getting into the system. (Be sure to invert the container)

NOTE: Do not pump until the clean water container is attached. Pump ten or more strokes of filtered water to flush the filter cartridge. Wait for the pump cylinder to fill with water during each stroke.

When backflushing is complete, disassemble the pump and reinstall the large and small check valves in their original forward flow position.

Check out how to perform the backflushing procedure for a pump-type backpacking water filter in a quick video here- >


Check out how to perform the backflushing procedure for a squeeze-type backpacking water filter in a quick video at

If nothing works

Regular maintenance can prevent a wide range of problems that might crop up while using backpacking water filters.

Check out a quick video on performing proper maintenance procedures here –


Backpacking water filters are covered under a specific duration of the warranty.

When you run into some problem with the filter that you are not able to solve with the help of this troubleshooting guide or with the help of the user manual, it is prudent to get in touch with the manufacturers of the filter.

The customer service helpline can come in handy to help solve the problem.

Any repairs or replacements that the product might need should be done by professionals of the company to get the best possible result.


Backpacking water filters are all the rage with hikers and adventure enthusiasts. They make it possible for the user to get clean water from any kind of source.

However, in exchange for this service, you also have to make sure that you take proper care of this product to get optimal performance.

The cleaning and maintenance of this product is not a big task and requires straightforward steps.

In this article, we have tried to cover as many problems that you may face while using a backpacking water filter and elaborated on measures to mitigate these problems at the earliest in the easiest possible way.

About Donald Parker

Donald has more than 15 years of experience working with power tools. But his main area of expertise is working saws, especially chainsaws. He's always had an affinity for the cutting edges and all that they can do.