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MSR Aquatabs Review

This is the lightest chemical treatment option out there.
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Price:  $10 List | $8.59 at Amazon
Compare prices at 3 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
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67
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#11 of 20
  • Water Quality - 20% 1
  • Durability & Maintenance - 20% 9
  • Treatment Time - 15% 2
  • Weight & Packability - 15% 10
  • Ease of Set-Up - 15% 9
  • Ease of Filtration - 15% 10

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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Price $8.59 at Amazon
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Pros Easy to use, super packable, lightweight, cheap in comparison to other filtersFast, easy, hands-free filtration, large volume, storageEasy to use, fast flow rate, collapsible, lightweightLightweight, adaptable, easy to use, lifetime guaranteeLightweight, great price, durable design, fast flow, high volume filtration
Cons More expensive then other chemical treatment, chlorinated taste, does not kill CryptoA little expensive, can't gather from shallow sources, clogs with heavy sedimentLacks durability and reliabilityNot great for group use, better if you replace the bagsDoesn't filter out viruses, no additional storage reservoir
Bottom Line This is the lightest chemical treatment option out there.A fast and easy to use gravity filter perfect for dynamic duos, solo travelers, and groups.Our favorite lightweight on-the-go filtration system.Simple filtration that is light and reliable with a lifetime guarantee.The best value gravity filter on the market.
Rating Categories MSR Aquatabs Platypus GravityWorks Katadyn BeFree Sawyer Squeeze Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L
Water Quality (20%)
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10
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8
10
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8
10
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8
10
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8
Durability & Maintenance (20%)
10
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9
10
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6
10
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1
10
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5
10
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6
Treatment Time (15%)
10
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2
10
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9
10
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10
10
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9
10
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8
Weight & Packability (15%)
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10
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7
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10
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7
10
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6
Ease Of Set Up (15%)
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9
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7
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9
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7
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6
Ease Of Filtration (15%)
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9
Specs MSR Aquatabs Platypus... Katadyn BeFree Sawyer Squeeze Katadyn Gravity...
Type of Filter Chemical treatment Gravity filter Squeeze & on-the-go Squeeze, in-line, on-the-go Gravity filter
Time to Treat One Liter (Timed Test) 30 minutes 52 seconds immediate 40 seconds 64 seconds
Measured Weight (entire kit -- oz) 0.1 oz 11.5 oz 2.1 oz 5.7 oz 11.7 oz
Storage Capacity Varies 4L 0.6 L Varies 6L
Removes Bacteria? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Removes Protozoa? (Cryptosporidium, Giardia Yes (Only Gardia, no Crypto) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Removes Viruses'? Yes No No No No
Removes Chemicals? No No No No No
Removes Heavy Metals? No No No No No
Removes Particulates (sediment, microplastics)? No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Filter Pore Size N/A 0.2 microns 0.1 micron 0.1 micron 0.2 microns
Advertised Flow Rate N/A 1.75L/min 2.11 liters per min 1.7L/min 2 L/min
Dimensions N/A 9.4 x 3 in 9.05 in x 2.73 in 11 x 6 10 x 6 x 2.4 in
Filter Media or Active Ingredient Sodium dichloroisocyanurate Hollow fiber Hollow Fiber Hollow Fiber Pleated glassfiber
# of liters/galloons per lifetime 30 tablets treat up to 60 liters/16 gallons 1,500 liters/396 gallons 1000 liters/264 gallons 378,541 liters/100,000 gallons 1,500 liters/396 gallons
Water Bottle Adapter -- No Yes No No

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


Fastpacking on the remote Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in Iceland is a perfect utility of the ultralightweight MSR Aquatabs that weigh next to nothing.
Fastpacking on the remote Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in Iceland is a perfect utility of the ultralightweight MSR Aquatabs that weigh next to nothing.

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.

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.
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.

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.

Counting down the time to purify water with the Aquatabs.
Counting down the time to purify water with the Aquatabs.

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.

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.
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.

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!

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.

The AquaTabs is a simple and easy backup purification solution. Use it the backcountry as a back-up emergency method or for ultralightweight travel.
The AquaTabs is a simple and easy backup purification solution. Use it the backcountry as a back-up emergency method or for ultralightweight travel.

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