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MSR Aquatabs Review

This is the lightest chemical treatment option out there
msr aquatabs backpacking water filter review
Credit: MSR
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Price:  $11 List | $9.99 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Easy to use, super packable, lightweight, cheap in comparison to other filters
Cons:  More expensive then other chemical treatment, chlorinated taste, does not kill Crypto
Manufacturer:   MSR
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 6, 2019
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
67
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#13 of 28
  • Water Quality - 20% 1.0
  • Durability & Maintenance - 20% 9.0
  • Treatment Time - 15% 2.0
  • Weight & Packability - 15% 10.0
  • Ease of Set-Up - 15% 9.0
  • Ease of Filtration - 15% 10.0

Our Verdict

The MSR Aquatabs stand out as an ultra lightweight purification method that offers protection from bacteria, viruses, and Giardia cysts (but not Cryptosporidium). The small prepacked tablets fit nicely into a first kit and are perfect if you're a fast packer or a trail runner looking for a reliable purification source. While this seems swell, water quality is questionable and it will come out with a chlorinated taste. So much for fresh, delicious alpine lake water! While they are light and packable, there are other options that offer better value, water quality and protection.

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msr aquatabs backpacking water filter review
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MSR Aquatabs
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  
Price $9.99 at Amazon
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Easy to use, super packable, lightweight, cheap in comparison to other filtersLightweight, adaptable, easy to use, lifetime guaranteeExcellent design and quality, durable and lightweight, versatile filtration options, extended filter lifeLightweight, inexpensive, kills all pathogens (including crypto), reliableEasy to use, lightweight, packable
Cons More expensive then other chemical treatment, chlorinated taste, does not kill CryptoNot great for group use, better if you replace the bagsExtra maintenance to maintain microfilterTakes a long time to kill crypto, slight taste to the water, chemical treatmentNot safe to use long-term, lower value than other chemical treatments, poor taste
Bottom Line This is the lightest chemical treatment option out thereSimple filtration that is lightweight and reliable for individual useThis filter is an excellent choice for lightweight and durable collapsible bottle filtrationThese drops are a reliable and lightweight option to carry all over the worldThis can be used as an emergency treatment system, but not much else
Rating Categories MSR Aquatabs Sawyer Squeeze LifeStraw Peak Squeeze Aquamira Treatment... Potable Aqua Purifi...
Water Quality (20%)
1
9.0
8.0
5.0
2.0
Durability & Maintenance (20%)
9.0
6.0
6.0
10.0
10.0
Treatment Time (15%)
2.0
9.0
6.0
2.0
2.0
Weight & Packability (15%)
10.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
10.0
Ease of Set-Up (15%)
9.0
7.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
Ease of Filtration (15%)
10.0
8.0
9.0
9.0
10.0
Specs MSR Aquatabs Sawyer Squeeze LifeStraw Peak Squeeze Aquamira Treatment... Potable Aqua Purifi...
Type of Filter/Purifier Chemical treatment Squeeze, in-line, on-the-go Squeeze Chemical treatment Chemical treatment
Measured Weight (entire kit) 0.1 oz 5.7 oz 3.8 oz 3.0 oz 2.3 oz
Number of Liters (L)/Gallons (gal) per Lifetime 60 L / 16 gal (30 tabs) 378,541 L / 100,000 gal 2000 L / 500 gal 114 L / 30 gal per package 25 L / 6.6 gal
Filter Media or Active Ingredient Sodium dichloroisocyanurate Hollow fiber Hollow-core membrane microfilter Chlorine dioxide Iodine and Tetraglycine Hydroperiodide
Effective Against Bacteria? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Effective Against Protozoa? (Giardia,Cryptosporidium) Yes (Giardia = yes; Crypto = no) Yes Yes Yes Yes (Giardia = yes; Crypto = no)
Effective Against Viruses? Yes No No Yes Yes
Effective Against Chemicals? No No No No No
Effective Against Heavy Metals? No No No No No
Removes Particulates (sediment, microplastics)? No Yes Yes No No
Filter Pore Size N/A 0.1 micron 0.2 microns N/A N/A
Advertised Flow Rate N/A 1.7 L / min 3 L / min N/A N/A
Dimensions N/A 11 x 6 in 9.48 in x 4.8in x 2.67in N/A N/A
Storage Capacity (L) N/A 2 L 1 L N/A N/A

Our Analysis and Test Results

These treatment tabs are ultra lightweight and relatively inexpensive. While they do have their place purifying against bacteria, viruses, and giardia cysts (but not crypto), they taste like a chlorine pool after treatment, but, if you are okay with the taste and want the lightest and most packable purification option, the MSR Aquatabs is our recommendation.

Performance Comparison


msr aquatabs backpacking water filter review - fastpacking on the remote hornstrandir nature reserve in iceland is...
Fastpacking on the remote Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in Iceland is a perfect utility of the ultralightweight MSR Aquatabs that weigh next to nothing.
Credit: Amber King

Water Quality


These super lightweight tabs are sufficient for treating bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. The active ingredient, Sodium dichloroisocyanurate kills these organisms. We are sad to say that it does not treat Cryptosporidium, a protozoan known to be present in backcountry water sources in North America. Most filters will not get rid of viruses, which are so small that they pass through many filter elements; for this reason, chemical filtration is often appropriate for viruses.

msr aquatabs backpacking water filter review - here we see some turbid water with some particulate matter. while...
Here we see some turbid water with some particulate matter. While these tabs can destroy most protozoa (except Crypto), bacteria, and viruses, it can get rid of chemicals or particulates.
Credit: Amber King

Also, because you are just adding a tablet to the water, this type of treatment does not filter out particulates. If you find yourself in areas with lots of silt or sediment, be sure to bring along a buff or handkerchief to filter out these stuff out of your water.

The reason this treatment system gets such a low score in this category is simply because of the taste. Unlike filtration systems and some of the chemical treatments out there, the flavor is pretty awful. In a blind taste test, our testers concluded that water treated with the Aquatabs is the worst, offering a gross chlorinated taste, synonymous with drinking pool water — not our first option when it comes to chemical treatment, simply because of the taste. However, if lightweight is what you're after, this will do it.

Durability & Maintenance


Aquatabs come pre-packed individually. Just make sure they don't get wet as they can dissolve if the packaging gets saturated. Toss them in a mini plastic bag, and they'll be just fine. Super reliable. An entire package can treat up to 60L.


Treatment Time


These tablets take 30 minutes to purify your water effectively. Other chemical treatments are similar. On the spectrum of water filtration and treatment systems in general, this is relatively slow considering you can filter a liter of water in roughly a minute using a gravity filter.

msr aquatabs backpacking water filter review - counting down the time to purify water with the aquatabs.
Counting down the time to purify water with the Aquatabs.
Credit: Amber King

Weight & Packability


Aquatabs are the lightest method of purification in this entire review. Their weight is a negligible 0.2 ounces for all 60 tablets. The weight of an individual packet didn't even register on our scale. If you're looking for a lightweight and reliable method of water treatment, or need a back-up emergency system, it's a great option.


Ease of Set-Up


These tabs are one of the easiest methods to use; rip open the package and drop them in. Simply, easy peasy. Our only caveat to the tabs is the number of tabs per package. These come individually packaged, and each package contains two tabs. One tab can treat 2 liters of water. Since many carry a Nalgene, this means breaking a tablet in half to treat just 1 liter of water. If you use the whole tablet, the chlorinated taste is strong. For situations where just 1 liter of water needs to be treated, its a bit of a pain. Though, if you often carry more than 1 liter, it's pretty nice. Overall, easy to use!

All you have to carry with you is a water storage container. The water sources you can access depends on the container.

msr aquatabs backpacking water filter review - since each tab is designed to treat 2l of water each, it can get...
Since each tab is designed to treat 2L of water each, it can get tricky if your storage container holds an uneven number, like 1 or 3 liters.
Credit: Jessica Haist

Ease of Filtration


The package of 30 tablets will treat up to 60 liters meaning that one packet (that contains two tablets) can treat 4L total. Filtration is painless, drop it in, mix, and wait. The only bummer is you might need to pre-filter your water of particulates which might take some time.

Simple and easy. Just add the MSR tablets to water.
Simple and easy. Just add the MSR tablets to water.

Carry a buff or handkerchief with you. If you come across a murky source of water and are in a pinch, scoop the water in one collection container (if you've got it). Then put the handkerchief over the opening of the "clean water" container. Then pour the water through to filter out silt and dirt. Then add your tablet.

msr aquatabs backpacking water filter review - the aquatabs is a simple and easy backup purification solution. use...
The AquaTabs is a simple and easy backup purification solution. Use it the backcountry as a back-up emergency method or for ultralightweight travel.
Credit: Jessica haist

Value


As a backup that you can store in your first aid kit for a long time before using them, the Aquatabs is a decent value - which works out to under 20 cents per liter. You can also buy in bulk if you're looking to treat ample water for a base camp or water purification program.

Conclusion


The best and primary purpose for MSR's Aquatabs is as a backup or super lightweight travel purification method. They are do not eliminate cryptosporidium, which limits their functionality, but they do treat viruses, unlike many filtration systems. While we don't like the chlorinated taste that they leave in your mouth, we do appreciate that each packet is seemingly weightless, making it a great option for those who need a super light purification method or an emergency back-up on long trails.

Amber King
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