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MSR Trail Base Review

A great deal if you're looking for a variety of filter methods in one product; take it on day hikes or to base camp.
MSR Trail Base Water Filter Kit
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $140 List | $139.95 at REI
Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Gravity and pump filter in one, good value for all the different components
Cons:  Heavy, slow gravity filter
Manufacturer:   MSR
By Jessica Haist ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 21, 2018
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72
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#13 of 20
  • Reliability - 25% 8
  • Weight - 20% 4
  • Treatment Capacity - 20% 9
  • Speed - 15% 8
  • Ease of Use - 20% 7

The Skinny

We were intrigued when we saw this product pop up on the market. The MSR Trail Base uses the Trailshot filter unit and incorporates it with clean and dirty water bags to create a gravity filter for while you're in your base camp. You can grab the Trailshot unit while you're on the go and want to drink or pump water from the source as you hike. Because this product is so versatile and combines many components otherwise sold separately at a higher cost, we gave the Trail Base a Best Buy Award. We like this idea in theory; two things in one, though sometimes this creates products that are jacks-of-all-trades, master of none. This is what we found with the Trail Base. The MSR Trailshot is a great little hand pump filter on its own, but when combined to form a gravity system, it becomes heavy and cumbersome to use.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The jacks-of-all-trades, Trail Base combines a hand pump and gravity filter to give you a versatile set up for all your backcountry needs. It's not the fastest or lightest, but it includes a lot of different, useful components and is a good bang for your buck.

Performance Comparison


The MSR Trail Base wins our Best Buy Award for being a great value for so many expensive components.
The MSR Trail Base wins our Best Buy Award for being a great value for so many expensive components.

Reliability/Effectiveness


The Trail Base is quite effective. Its 0.2-micron size filter eliminates protozoa and bacteria, all the harmful things you may find in your water sources when backpacking in Canada or the US.


This is the same as most of the other products in this review, including the Platypus GravityWorks. Filters with 0.1 microns or smaller pore sizes can filter out viruses as well but are not necessary if you're in the countries mentioned above. If you are planning to travel to some destinations abroad, the MSR Guardian treats water for viruses and is our top recommendation.

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

We also think the Trail Base is quite reliable. Its components are durable, including the dirty and clean water bags, and the filter itself. It does have multiple parts to keep track of and put together each use, so we were a little nervous about losing one of them! The AutoFlow is very simple with fewer parts.

The MSR Trail Base set up for gravity filter mode.
The MSR Trail Base set up for gravity filter mode.

Ease of Use


In our experience, gravity filters are the easiest to use. As we've mentioned, the Trail Base has a lot going on and it took us a few minutes to figure out the gravity set up the first time we used it. Once figured out, it's straightforward and easy to use.


The Trailshot unit is also easy to use. You put the hose end in the water source and squeeze with your hand. If you enjoy using a hand pump, we recommend the Katadyn Hiker Pro Microfilter, the lightest and fastest of the pump models.

The Humboldt State team trying to get the Trail Base to work faster.
The Humboldt State team trying to get the Trail Base to work faster.

Weight


The kit as a whole is one of the heaviest products we've tested in this review, weighing in at 17.6 ounces. It weighs slightly less than the Guardian (20 oz) and the MSR MiniWorks EX (18 oz). It would not be our first choice as a lightweight backpacking option.


However, if you're planning to set up a base camp and take some day trips, this could be a good choice. It would be ideal for day excursions, as you can leave the bags at camp and grab the lightweight 5.6 ounce Trailshot for your water needs for the day. Two other excellent lightweight options for day tripping are the Lifestraw Flex or the Sawyer Mini.

Treatment Capacity


MSR claims the filter unit will last up to 1500 liters, which is average for all the products in this review.


However, when we looked at the TrailShot specifications, it was indicated that its cartridge life will last 2000 liters; as far as we know, it's the same cartridge.

The Trail Base's dirty water bag.
The Trail Base's dirty water bag.

The Sawyer Mini supposedly treats up to 100,000 liters but needs frequent backwashing with its included syringe. The Trailshot unit is straightforward to backflush in the field without any extra accessories. The included bags have a two-liter capacity. We prefer gravity units with larger reservoirs so we can avoid re-filling as many times when treating large quantities of water. For instance, the Gravity Camp's reservoir is six liters, and the Platypus Gravityworks has a 4-liter reservoir. Reservoirs that are larger in volume allow us to treat and store a much higher amount of water than the Trail Base.

You can fill other containers using the Trail Base instead of filling the clean water bag.
You can fill other containers using the Trail Base instead of filling the clean water bag.

Speed


We tested the Trail Base in a variety of settings and realized the hose that comes with it is way too long.


The speed of this product in gravity filter mode is greatly reduced when it is even just the slightest out of line (vertically). When we shortened the hose and had it entirely in line, it was producing about one liter for every minute and 15 seconds.

The MSR Trail Base was the slowest of the gravity filter models we tested.
The MSR Trail Base was the slowest of the gravity filter models we tested.

On more than one occasion, we found ourselves trying to use the Trail Base in gravity mode. We struggled with getting the product wholly vertical and were producing one liter every 2.5 minutes. We were able to filter a liter in one minute and six seconds using the Trailshot hand pump, but we imagine our hands getting tired if we had to pump a lot of water, and would choose to use a gravity filter instead! The fastest of the gravity filters was the Katadyn Gravity Camp 6L, which pumps out one liter of water every 40 seconds!

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

Best Application


This could be a great, versatile option if you're planning a lot of trips where base camping and day hiking is involved. It would also be an ideal option if you're looking for a small, lightweight hand pump to bring along on all excursions, and occasionally would like a gravity filter for a higher volume of treatment. Considering the number of components, it's a great value; if you've been eyeing that DromLite and the TrailShot, you might as well spring for the Trail Base! If you're looking for one of the three things that come with this product, we'd recommend the GravityWorks as our first choice of gravity filter and the Sawyer Mini for a lightweight on-the-go filter.

The MSR Trail Base's filter unite connected to a CamelBak brand quick connect.
The MSR Trail Base's filter unite connected to a CamelBak brand quick connect.

Value


The Trail Base wins our Best Buy Award because it comes with various components that are all sold separately otherwise. For $140, the Trail Base gets you a gravity filter and hand pump; this is a good deal, but we think the MSR AutoFlow or Platypus Gravityworks, both sold for $120, offer a better deal. If you're still interested in the Trail Base, the other added value is the additional water storage bag (the MSR DromLite) that it comes with, which is a $27 value.

Filling the Trail Base's bag in a shallow water source in Death Valley.
Filling the Trail Base's bag in a shallow water source in Death Valley.

Conclusion


When you look at all its separate parts, the MSR Trail Base is an exceptional value, and thus, the winner our Best Buy Award. It comes with a gravity filter set up, a lightweight hand pump filter, and a two-liter MSR DromLite clean water storage bag; all for $140. It is not the most effective gravity filter of the bunch, and if you're specifically looking for that one, we would recommend our Editors' Choice Platypus GravityWorks. However, if you're looking for the kit that will do it, all this could be a winner. We think the Trailshot unit is a great lightweight option for short trips and pumping water as you go, or drinking right out of the source. This jack-of-all-trades might just be the right combination for your next adventure.

Gravity filters like the Trail Base are difficult to use in places like the desert where there isn't anything to hang it off of.
Gravity filters like the Trail Base are difficult to use in places like the desert where there isn't anything to hang it off of.


Jessica Haist