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MSR Guardian Purifier Review

This investment provides unbeatable water quality all over the world.
Guardian Purifier
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Price:  $350 List | $262.46 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Super fast flow, easy to use, very durable, self-cleaning, filters out viruses.
Cons:  Expensive, bulky, heavy, not first choice for backpacking in North America.
Manufacturer:   MSR
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 6, 2019
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SCORE


RANKED
#10 of 20
  • Water Quality - 20% 9
  • Durability & Maintenance - 20% 9
  • Treatment Time - 15% 8
  • Weight & Packability - 15% 2
  • Ease of Set-Up - 15% 7
  • Ease of Filtration - 15% 4

Our Verdict

The MSR Guardian Purifier is truly the Cadillac of hand pump filters. It's fast, easy to use, and expensive. As one of the few filters that can extract viruses as well as bacteria and protozoan pathogens, it's at home in the backcountry and abroad. The water quality output is incredible, and the filter itself is insanely durable and self-cleaning. It does well in freezing, hot, and turbid water conditions, making it one of the most reliable hand pumps out there. Unfortunately, it costs an arm and a leg, and it's quite large to carry around when packability is a concern. Of the hand pump purifiers out there, this tried, tested, and true products continue to be one of our favorites.


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Guardian Purifier
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Price $262.46 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Super fast flow, easy to use, very durable, self-cleaning, filters out viruses.Fast, 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 Expensive, bulky, heavy, not first choice for backpacking in North America.A 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 investment provides unbeatable water quality all over the world.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 Guardian Purifier Platypus GravityWorks Katadyn BeFree Sawyer Squeeze Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L
Water Quality (20%)
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8
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8
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8
Durability & Maintenance (20%)
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9
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6
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1
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5
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6
Treatment Time (15%)
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8
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9
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9
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8
Weight & Packability (15%)
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2
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7
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10
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7
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6
Ease Of Set Up (15%)
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9
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Ease Of Filtration (15%)
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9
Specs MSR Guardian... Platypus... Katadyn BeFree Sawyer Squeeze Katadyn Gravity...
Type of Filter Hand pump Gravity filter Squeeze & on-the-go Squeeze, in-line, on-the-go Gravity filter
Time to Treat One Liter (Timed Test) 37 seconds 52 seconds immediate 40 seconds 64 seconds
Measured Weight (entire kit -- oz) 20.5 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 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)? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Filter Pore Size 0.02 microns 0.2 microns 0.1 micron 0.1 micron 0.2 microns
Advertised Flow Rate 2.5L/min 1.75L/min 2.11 liters per min 1.7L/min 2 L/min
Dimensions 8.2 x 4.7 x 3.5 in 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 Hollow fiber Hollow fiber Hollow Fiber Hollow Fiber Pleated glassfiber
# of liters/galloons per lifetime 10,000+ liters/2,642+ gallons 1,500 liters/396 gallons 1000 liters/264 gallons 378,541 liters/100,000 gallons 1,500 liters/396 gallons
Water Bottle Adapter Yes No Yes No No

Our Analysis and Test Results

The MSR Guardian is our favorite hand pump and one of the most reliable options out there. Although it's a little bulky and very 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. It can't, however, remove heavy metals or chemicals.

Performance Comparison


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.
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.

Water Quality


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.
The Guardian's unique hollow fiber filter.

Unfortunately, because it doesn't have activated carbon, it doesn't remove chemicals, heavy metals, pr 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.

The self-cleaning unit allows this purifier to get rid of particulates...even in the most turbid rivers.

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. 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.

A look at the double intake hose and some key construction features.

Treatment Time


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. 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.
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.

A look at the relative sizes of other handpumps like the MSR Guardian. The Katadyn Hiker Pro is much smaller  offering better functionality as a backcountry water filtration option for those who are weight conscious.

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.
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.
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.

Pumping purified water into a wide-mouth Nalgene works well.
Pumping purified water into a wide-mouth Nalgene works well.

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.

The Guardian self cleans with every stroke  sucking water in through one hose and the purged water back out the other.
The Guardian comes with a bottle adapter.

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.

The Guardian is a great choice for group trips  especially international ones where virus-contaminated water is an issue.
The Guardian is a great choice for group trips, especially international ones where virus-contaminated water is an issue.

Value


So now that you've fallen in love with this filtration system, we're going to offer a kick in the pants: the price. 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.

Conclusion


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.


Amber King