As a subset of the outdoor industry, the water filters and purifier category enjoyed robust growth during the pandemic, capitalizing on consumers’ growing desire to get outside. But it also played on buyers’ survival instincts, offering them an added sense of well-being and reassurance from everything from natural disasters to COVID restrictions, as well as a way to hydrate when recreating off the beaten path outdoors.

According to the NPD Group, year-to-date sales for water filters from January 2021 through July 2021 were up 56 percent versus the same period pre-pandemic two years earlier. Looking at the 12 months ending July 2021 compared to the previous year, sales were up 32 percent to $82.7 million. The top three brands in the category, it reported, are Lifestraw, Sawyer and Katadyn.

“Consumers are investing in products that both get them outdoors but also provide some security in case of emergencies like hurricanes or wildfires,” said Dirk Sorenson, sports industry analyst, NPD. “Water filtration products meet these needs.”

Specialty retailers that carry them seem to agree, with gravity filters as opposed to pump-style filters doing best at retail.

“Filters have done well over the pandemic depending on the style,” said Chris Gerston, owner of Bellingham, WA Backcountry Essentials. “While we don’t go through a ton overall, we have seen the Sawyer mini filters do well for us, nearly tripling in sales over 2019, and definitely up from 2020. 

MSR’s Trailshot has also doubled in sales from 2019. The more traditional pump filters have been flat despite the pandemic.”

Sawyer has seen a flush of sales momentum in the category, but it has also witnessed a slight tapering off, mirroring a fall trend in general among specialty retailers.

“There was definitely an unexpected surge in the water filtration market at the beginning of the pandemic, inevitably influenced by a mix of things but certainly including a bit of panic and uncertainty,” said Sawyer’s Travis Avery, adding that its standard systems continue to be popular for outdoor recreation. “That has since settled down, and I would say we’re maybe 10 percent up in the category compared to pre-pandemic.”

He added that the category seems resilient, however. “Our sales were definitely impacted, but the outdoor market has been fortunate to remain one of the more active categories during COVID restrictions,” he added, lumping filters into that list. “There were definitely far more first-time users and adventurers, but there is understandable uncertainty if post-COVID they will stick around or go back to their previous hobbies and passions.”

Fellow filter-maker Katadyn also reported robust sales stemming from the pandemic. “Generally, the pandemic has been very favorable towards water filtration and purification,” said John Wright, VP, sales, Katadyn North America. “The outside mindset that resulted from COVID has us all outside more often and all thinking in terms of health, sanitation and safe water practices. Water filtration and purification sales have been strong in the past year for these reasons.”

Several manufacturers are leading in the category.

With ten water filters in its line-up, from squeeze and mini offerings to personal water bottle systems, Sawyer hangs its hat on its 0.1-micron absolute hollow fiber membrane, with high-level removal and flow rates. Its Select Series Foam Filtration systems protect against viruses, heavy metals, chemicals, and other contaminants; and one of its newest products its Tap Filter, designed for international relief use and also growing domestically for such uses as RVers and in emergencies like Texas’s boil alerts earlier in the year.

In May of this year, Katadyn debuted its BeFree Gravity 6.0 Liter and 10 Liter water filters, adding two group-compatible sizes to its gravity-fed BeFree line, which uses hollow fiber filtration technology and its EZ-Clean Membrane, the hallmark of its BeFree collection with a flow rate of up to two liters per minute. The company also launched a BeFree Gravity Upgrade Kit to convert its Gravity Camp or Base Camp Pro filters into a BeFree gravity system.

Lifestraw‘s latest BPA-free Go Water Filter Bottle, available in plastic and steel, protects against bacteria, parasites, microplastics, chlorine, organic chemical matter, dirt, sand, and cloudiness; improves taste. The company also rolled out the smaller Lifestraw for direct drinking and its Personal Carry Case, Flex and Universal filters and filter bags.

Platypus introduced its QuickDraw Microfilter System, a fill-and-squeeze water filter. Weighing 3.3 ounces and filtering up to three liters per minute, the system comes in two parts: a one-liter QuickDraw reservoir and a hollow fiber filter cartridge. Users can shake it to clean the hollow fiber filter or perform a tool-free backflush for fast flow rates even after filtering. With an inside/outside, dual-thread design, the filter cartridge adapts to Smartwater bottles and other Platypus bottles and reservoirs.

With nine different filters and purifiers in its line, MSR debuted its Guardian Gravity Purifier for 2021, a gravity-fed filter that removes viruses, bacteria, protozoa, sediment, and microplastics hands-free. With a flow rate of up to one liter in two minutes, a rate it claims is “2.5 times faster than the next leading gravity purifier,” its sales aren’t as robust as its best-selling Thru-Link Inline Water Filter, which turns any hydration reservoir into a filtration system. Originally designed to protect service members in the field, meeting the military’s NSF P248 testing standard, it comes with a ten-liter reservoir to support large groups.

Photo courtesy Lifestraw