MSR Trail Base Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Versatile, 2-in-1 filtration system, easy to use, little effort needed, great water quality
Cons: Heavy, expensive
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Trail Base does boast a myriad of uses. This gravity filter also converts into a handpump and offers about 8L of storage. The storage drom bags are super bomber with a 3-in-1 spout that is easy to hang. Collect, filter, drink, shower…do whatever! This system does have it all.
As a versatile filtration system, the MSR Trail Base is effective. It filters out all protozoa including Giardia and Cryptosporidium with it's 0.2-micron hollow fiber filter. It's a perfect option if you'll be heading out in the backcountry anywhere throughout North America.
This gravity filtration system produces clean water in sorts of water sources. While it doesn't perform in super turbid water and can get clogged, it functions well for clear water sources that might have contamination. Overall, water quality is top notch, offering the best features that any good backcountry filter should have.
Durability & Maintenance
The materials and construction of this filter are bomber. While the bags could be susceptible to punctures, the seams are of high quality and have withstood stuffing under the lid of a backpack without any issue.
The filter, as MSR claims, can be used with up to 1500 liters, which is pretty typical for a hollow filter. That said, it's a little confusing because, on their website, the Trail shot specifications claims to have 2000 liters. This fact is odd, as we believe this is the same filter. Regardless of the exact lifespan is might have, it's easy to backflush the filter in the backcountry and is pretty low maintenance.
Testing in a diversity of settings, we look at the treatment time of the Trail Base has a gravity filter and a simple hand pump filter. In our tests where the gravity filter was nicely lined up, the speed of flow didn't vary a whole lot from other gravity filters. To get one liter of water, it took an average of 69 seconds (after three trials).
Unfortunately, in gravity mode when the line is not entirely vertical, the flow rate slows down significantly. We even shortened the hose to align it, but it still proved to have a slower flow than when completely vertical. While this posed a small issue, it filtered water quite quickly and without a whole lot of effort.
The TrailShot hand pump also worked quite nicely but wasn't nearly as fast as other hand pumps tested. It was able to get a liter of water in just over one minute. Overall, this pump is still relatively fast, but you do need to consider your set-up and placement for optimal filtration speed.
Weight & Packability
With the entire kit, this is the heaviest gravity filtration set-up we've reviewed. At 1lb 3.60 oz for all the parts, it's not our top choice for a lightweight backpacking trip. If you plan on setting up a base camp and doing excursions from there though, this might be an amazing option. The kit itself is quite packable, and the reservoirs both offer excellent storage capacity and versatility.
You can use the storage bags as reservoirs on a day trip out, taking just the trail shot filter with you for a super lightweight set-up. Overall, this whole kit is pretty heavy. But if you're seeking a versatile option where you get a hand pump and gravity filter in one package, this is an excellent option.
Ease of Set-Up
Of all the types of filters out there, gravity filters are by far the easiest and fastest to use. While this set-up took a few minutes to figure out at first and is a little more complicated than other gravity filters out there, it's still pretty straightforward and easy to use. Fill the "clean" bag, attach the hose, then attach the filter to the "dirty" bag. Squeeze a few times and unclamp the hose for clean water. Just make sure the tube is completely vertical to ensure continuous and fast flowing water.
The filling can be hard in some water sources that are very shallow, but we've found that the flexibility of the bag openings provides an easy way to scoop water in both small and medium sources. Also, given that a hand pump is available, this makes it super easy to grab water from hard to reach sources like over the edge of a boat or along the bank of a fast-flowing river.
Ease of Filtration
As with all gravity filters, this part is pretty darn easy. Just sit back and let the water flow into your reservoir. We like the clearly marked "clean" and "dirty" bags that offer awesome storage capacity. Also, the hoses are compatible with hydration bladders and can easily fill up a water bottle, no problem. The bags have a 3-in-1 spout that allows you to do everything from sip from the bladder to pour water quickly, which adds to the versatility of the product.
A previous Best Buy Award winner, it is a full-value product. It doubles as both a hand pump and a gravity filter with great storage capacity and bomber construction. It can be a lot of money for a filtration system, though. Options like the Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L would save you significant cash. While it doesn't have the versatility of this system, it might be a better option if you're looking to invest a little bit less.
The MSR Trail Base offers a plethora of storage options with a 2-in-1 filtration design. Use it as either a gravity filter or a hand pump. The price tag is a little high, but if you're in the market for a filtration kit that can get water from any source, this is the best option out there.
— Amber King