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MSR Trail Base Review

An excellent gravity filter that also converts into a simple hand pump with ample storage
MSR Trail Base
Photo: MSR
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Price:  $150 List | $139.95 at Backcountry
Pros:  Versatile, 2-in-1 filtration system, easy to use, little effort needed, great water quality
Cons:  Heavy, expensive
Manufacturer:   MSR
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 6, 2019
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65
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#14 of 24
  • Water Quality - 20% 8
  • Durability & Maintenance - 20% 8
  • Treatment Time - 15% 8
  • Weight & Packability - 15% 2
  • Ease of Set-Up - 15% 3
  • Ease of Filtration - 15% 9

Our Verdict

As a real jack of all trades, the MSR Trail Base stands out for its many and remarkable components. As a gravity filter, it can filter 4L of water in 5 minutes by merely scooping water and setting up the system. Also, the filter used in the system can be detached and used as a hand pump if you decide to take a lightweight hike on the side. Unfortunately, this system isn't nearly as light as other gravity filters but has far more uses. It can reach more water sources and maintenance is easy peasy. If you're in the market for an all-in-one system that is ultra-versatile, this is a great option. Excellent value, despite the higher price.

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MSR Trail Base
This Product
MSR Trail Base
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award 
Price $139.95 at BackcountryCheck Price at REI
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$90 ListCheck Price at REI
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Star Rating
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Pros Versatile, 2-in-1 filtration system, easy to use, little effort needed, great water qualityFast, easy, hands-free filtration, large volume, storageEasy to use, fast flow rate, collapsible, lightweightLightweight, great price, durable design, fast flow, high volume filtration, use for cold weatherLightweight, adaptable, easy to use, lifetime guarantee
Cons Heavy, expensiveA little expensive, can't gather from shallow sources, clogs with heavy sedimentLacks durability and reliabilityDoesn't filter out viruses, no additional storage reservoirNot great for group use, better if you replace the bags
Bottom Line An excellent gravity filter that also converts into a simple hand pump with ample storageA fast and easy to use gravity filter perfect for small groupsOur favorite lightweight on-the-go filtration systemA convenient and easy-to-use gravity filter at a great priceSimple filtration that is lightweight and reliable for individual use
Rating Categories MSR Trail Base Platypus GravityWorks Katadyn BeFree Katadyn Gravity Cam... Sawyer Squeeze
Water Quality (20%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Durability & Maintenance (20%)
8.0
6.0
1.0
7.0
5.0
Treatment Time (15%)
8.0
9.0
10.0
8.0
9.0
Weight & Packability (15%)
2.0
7.0
10.0
6.0
7.0
Ease Of Set Up (15%)
3.0
7.0
9.0
6.0
7.0
Ease Of Filtration (15%)
9.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
Specs MSR Trail Base Platypus GravityWorks Katadyn BeFree Katadyn Gravity Cam... Sawyer Squeeze
Type of filter/purifier Gravity filter Gravity filter Squeeze & on-the-go Gravity filter Squeeze, in-line, on-the-go
Time to treat one liter (timed test) 69 seconds 52 seconds immediate 64 seconds 40 seconds
Measured weight (entire kit, oz) 19.6 oz 11.5 oz 2.1 oz 11.7 oz 5.7 oz
Total cost per 100 L ($) $10.00 $7.33 $4.00 $6.00 $0.01
Replacement cartridge cost per 100 L ($) $3.67 $3.67 $2.50 $2.67 $0.01
# of liters (L)/gallons (gal) per lifetime 1,500 L/396 gal 1,500 L/396 gal 1000 L/264 gal 1,500 L/396 gal 378,541 L/100,000 gal
Filter media or active ingredient Hollow fiber Hollow fiber Hollow Fiber Pleated glassfiber Hollow Fiber
Effective against bacteria? yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Effective against protozoa? (Cryptosporidium, Giardia) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Effective against viruses? No No No No No
Effective against chemicals? No No No No No
Effective against heavy metals? No No No No No
Removes Particulates (sediment, microplastics)? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Filter pore size 0.2 microns 0.2 microns 0.1 micron 0.2 microns 0.1 micron
Advertised flow rate 1L/min 1.75L/min 2.11 L per min 2 L/min 1.7L/min
Dimensions 15 x 6.5 x 3 in 9.4 x 3 in 9.05 in x 2.73 in 10 x 6 x 2.4 in 11 x 6
Storage capacity (L) 0.75 L 4 L 0.6 L 6 L 0

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.

Performance Comparison


Making some early morning breakfast after a short run at base camp...
Making some early morning breakfast after a short run at base camp with the Trail Base Gravity system.
Photo: Amber King

Water Quality


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.

Using the TrailShot to drink directly out of a shallow, muddy water...
Using the TrailShot to drink directly out of a shallow, muddy water source on a day hike in Death Valley.
Photo: Jessica Haist

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 system itself has many parts, but it is surprisingly easy to...
The system itself has many parts, but it is surprisingly easy to maintain with durable storage bags and parts.
Photo: Amber King

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.

For drying out, the dirty water bag can easily be cleaned and...
For drying out, the dirty water bag can easily be cleaned and flipped inside out for maintenance.
Photo: Amber King

Treatment Time


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.

Of the gravity filters, this was one of the slowest, but not by...
Of the gravity filters, this was one of the slowest, but not by much. In order for the flow to be perfect, it needs to hang close to vertical, which can be difficult.
Photo: Jessica Haist

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.

This is one of the heaviest gravity filters tested making it a...
This is one of the heaviest gravity filters tested making it a lesser recommendation for lightweight backpacking trips.
Photo: Amber King

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.

A look at the relative size of the whole kit in its storage bag.
A look at the relative size of the whole kit in its storage bag.
Photo: Amber King

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.

A team effort to use the Trail Base's "Trail Shot" hand pump in a...
A team effort to use the Trail Base's "Trail Shot" hand pump in a shallow water source.
Photo: Jessica Haist

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.

Filling the Trail Base's bag in a shallow water source in Death...
Filling the Trail Base's bag in a shallow water source in Death Valley.
Photo: Jessica Haist

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.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Value


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.

Heading out to a beach to sleep by the ocean in Hawaii. Given that...
Heading out to a beach to sleep by the ocean in Hawaii. Given that there's no freshwater close by, we pack a storage bag from base camp and head out. A perfect application of this filtration system.
Photo: Amber King

Conclusion


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