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.
Fastpacking on the remote Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in Iceland is a perfect utility of the ultralightweight MSR Aquatabs that weigh next to nothing.
These super lightweight tabs are sufficient for treating bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. The active ingredient, Sodium dichloroisocyanurate kills these organisms. However, unlike the Aquamira Water Treatment, 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.
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. The Aquamira Drops take a little bit longer if you need to treat basic bacteria and viruses'. 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 like the Platypus GravityWorks.
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.
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.
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.
There is a couple of great applications here. Even though the tabs offer the worst taste of any treatment system offered, they do protect against everything except Cryptosporidium. They are the lightest and one of the most inexpensive options out there.
The AquaTabs is a simple and easy backup purification solution. Use it the backcountry as a back-up emergency method or for ultralightweight travel.
As a result, if you can swallow the caveats, they have vast applications in the ultra-lightweight travel world, such as fastpacking, trail running, long-distance biking, and the like. While they do work for backpacking, if you can carry more weight, we'd recommend just putting a box in your first aid kit and bringing an actual filtration system with you mainly because this treatment doesn't protect from Cryptosporidium, which is present in contaminated water sources throughout North America.
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 at $10 - which works out to under 20 cents per liter. While this is pretty darn cheap, the Aquamira Treatment is a much better value since it can treat up to 30 gallons for $15, which works out to 13 cents per liter, almost half the cost as the Aquatabs. You can also buy in bulk a 10K pack for $350 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.