The MSR Guardian is our favorite hand pump, winning our Top Pick Award. Although it's a little bulky and expensive, it's super easy to use and filters out everything from bacteria to viruses. This purifier can be used anywhere in the world, filtering out the meanest microbes to keep you healthy and happy while traveling internationally or heading into the backcountry.
The Guardian Purifier is at home anywhere in the world. Here we use it in the pristine alpine meadows in the Sierra Nevada. While this technology is a little overkill for this environment, it's a great option for travel abroad in developing nations.
This purifier comes with a kickin' filter with a pore size of 0.02 microns. Most filters in this review only have a pore size of 0.1 - 0.2 microns, but this one is capable of filtering out bacteria, protozoa, and viruses.
The filter has a hollow fiber design and produces water that is clean, healthy, and tasty.
The Guardian's unique hollow fiber filter.
Unfortunately, because it doesn't have activated carbon, it doesn't remove chemicals or odors. However, we are impressed that it's the only model that can stand up to the most turbid streams. This model is perfect for international travel or while backpacking with small groups.
Durability and Maintenance
This water filter is exceptionally well-constructed and quite durable. Not only has it been drop tested up to six feet on concrete, but it can withstand freezing temperatures! Maintenance is minuscule. Every time you pump the filter, it is continually self-cleaned with every stroked. Unlike other models, the filter doesn't get clogged easily, even in turbid water.
This bomber design is highly reliable. The filter itself will last up to 10,000+ liters, which is far more than any of the gravity filters that we've tested. Of the purifying systems, this has by far the most extended lifespan that we've seen that can remove viruses. For example, the Aquamira Frontier Max only has a lifespan of 120 gallons or roughly 450 gallons and a much shorter lifespan than the MSR Guardian. If a reliable and well-built machine is what you're after, this handpump is our favorite — self-cleaning, low maintenance, with a wide range of applications.
In comparison to other hand-filters, this is the fastest, and one of the fastest filtration systems, period! After three trials, it produced, on average, one liter in 37 seconds. This fact makes the MSR Guardian Purifier a high-output hand pump, beating out the Katadyn Hiker Pro that averaged 56 seconds per liter. Overall, you don't have to worry about the filtration process taking forever. It's quick and easy to use.
We are surprised how easy and fast the MSR Guardian is to pump.
Weight and Packability
While this purifier is super fast, providing amazing water quality, it's heavy and pretty bulky. Weighing 1 lb 4.50 oz, it's one of the heaviest filtration systems out there. In terms of its volume, it's rather bulky and is a little larger than a Nalgene bottle. We like that it doesn't have a lot of loose parts and comes packaged nicely in its included carry case.
Its weight and bulky nature is a bummer, but the Katadyn Hiker Pro offers a friendly alternative, weighing just 13.40 oz with a packing size that's smaller than the Guardian. This filter is a good alternative if you don't need a purifier, and a filter that gets rids of bacteria and protozoan organisms will do. It's also a lot cheaper and suited for use all over North America. However, if a purifier is what you seek, this is our favorite hand pump, despite its larger size.
While this is not the lightest system, it still packs down relatively small. Here we see comparisons with the Katadyn Light Hiker, another hand pump that doesn't filter out viruses.
Ease of Setup
Setting up this filter is easy. In the box it comes with all parts together and intact. There are no loose parts that you might lose. Pull it out of its pouch, take off the cover, and place the hose in the water for direct filtration.
The handpump setup allows you to direct the intake hose to any water source. It works well in medium size water sources, but can also be used in small puddles or hard-to-reach areas like steep banks or off the side of a boat. The hose also features a mini-filter screen that will sift out larger particulates, so your hand pump filter doesn't need to deal with algae or debris sitting in the water — it's pre-filtered first.
The Guardian has no assembly required, is simply to use, with some key engineering that makes filtration easier.
Ease of Filtration
As a handpump, it's not hard to use at all. The large handle is super easy to grab and the cartridge body provides another place to hold the pump firmly. When pumping, the high flow output easily sucks water and pushes all of it out in one cycle. Of all handpumps we've tried, it's one of the easiest to use, making filtration nice and easy.
The only real issue we've come across is that sometimes the intake hose's float gets turned around in the water source, and sucking becomes less efficient. Therefore, you need to watch and make sure that it is in position for the most efficient pump action. It may also present a problem in shallow or small water sources because the float is quite large. Also, this pump comes with a bottle top adaptor that fits most wide-mouth water storage containers. You can also easily screw on a Nalgene bottle to the bottom of the filter. If neither of those work, pump into your water storage container.
While this is a smooth hand pump to use, hand pumping in general kind of sucks. Hand pumping requires a lot of effort, forces you to sit in one spot and not accomplish other tasks around camp, and can take a while. While it does provide an excellent output, if you can swing it, a gravity filtration setup is preferable and is a lot less work. But, it can't access the same hard-to-reach water sources.
Pumping purified water into a wide-mouth Nalgene works well.
We recommend this bomber purifier for any trip to your favorite international destination. If you're okay with the extra bulk and weight, it's also a prime option for any weekend or multi-day backpacking trip. Use it personally or with a small group of friends. Also because of its resilience in the cold, don't be afraid to use it for winter camping if you're not going to be melting snow and boiling water. Access hard to reach water sources like small, shallow streams or use it off the side of a boat. Overall, a wonderful handpump with a wide range of applications.
The Guardian is a great choice for group trips, especially international ones where virus-contaminated water is an issue.
So now that you've fallen in love with this filtration system, we're going to offer a kick in the pants: the price. Retailing for $350, it is the most expensive filter or purification system in this review. Most people don't have this kind of cash to throw down on a system that purifies water. That said, the investment is worth it for the durability of the product. Don't expect to buy another one for your lifetime. If you're a guide or a service looking for an option that will continue working for you, this model is good for multiple uses. And with its ease of use, it works for anybody. Since its niche is in its ability to filter out viruses, which we don't require in North America, there are better options for a much better price if you stay stateside. For example; the Katadyn Hiker Pro that retails for only $75. It's just not as durable or versatile.
The MSR Guardian Purifier stands out as an easy to use handpump that can get rid of viruses along with everything else. Its hefty price and heavier weight are two big downsides that might have some people looking in other places. Although, if you can afford it and you don't mind the extra weight, it's a perfect companion on any backcountry mission or international trip. If you're looking for something that can do it all, this is truly it.