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.
MSR Aquatabs Review
Cons: More expensive then other chemical treatment, chlorinated taste, does not kill Crypto
Compare to Similar Products
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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