5 of the Best Portable Water Filters for Backpacking in 2024


We’ve spent 40+ hours of research and testing to identify the best portable water filters for outdoor use—so that you don’t have to.


Updated: January 5, 2024
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Jeremiah Zac
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Editor's Choice for Best Portable Water Filter

  • Pump Filter
  • 0.01 Microns
  • Filter Capacity: 26,000 Gallons
  • Weighs 14 oz.
  • Removes Bacteria, Parasites, Viruses, Heavy Metals
  • 3-stage Filtration System
  • Lifetime Warranty
Click for Best Price!
Survivor Filter PRO

Our team of experts independently researches and tests products to bring you our best recommendation. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Read our affiliate disclaimer here.



There are 100+ different portable water filters available for you to purchase online today.

Many of them will make most natural water sources drinkable, but some of them are poorly designed and inefficient.

But there are a select few that are thoughtfully designed, made of high-quality materials, and trustworthy with your health.

Fortunately for you, we’ve hand-selected the five best ones available.

And we’ve come to our conclusion by researching and testing the different brands according to filtration capacity, durability, effectiveness against pathogens, and company reputation.

That’s right, we’re water fanatics and have been for over eight years. And this review of the best portable water filters is a testament to our expertise and passion.





Best Portable Water Filters


Survivor Filter PRO

Survivor Filter - Best Portable Water Filter

  0.01 Microns
  Filter Capacity: 26,000 Gallons
  Removes Bacteria, Parasites, Viruses, Heavy Metals
  Lifetime Warranty


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Sawyer Mini

  o.1 Microns
  Filter Capacity: 100,000 Gallons
  Removes: Sediment, Bacteria, and Parasites
  Lifetime Warranty


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Lifestraw

  0.2 Microns
  Filter Capacity: 1000 Gallons
  Removes: Sediment, Bacteria, and Parasites


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Katadyn Pocket

➤  0.2 Microns
  Filter Capacity: 13,000 Gallons
  Removes Sediment, Bacteria, and Parasites


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HydroBlu

  0.1 Microns
  Filter Capacity: 100,000 Gallons
  Removes Sediment, Bacteria, and Parasites




The Best Portable Water Filters for Backpacking and Outdoor Survival







Our Top Choice





  • Pump Filter
  • 0.01 Microns
  • Filter Capacity: 26,000 Gallons
  • Weighs 14 oz.
  • Removes Bacteria, Parasites, Viruses, Heavy Metals
  • 3-stage Filtration System
  • Lifetime Warranty


Survivor Filter PRO

Our top pick for best portable water filter goes to the Survivor Filter PRO for its filtering capability and lifetime warranty. While most portable water filters on the market operate on the 0.2 micron level, the Survivor Filter PRO has a 0.01 micron size – 20 times more effective at removing microorganisms. Independently tested at multiple USA labs, this filter removes viruses, bacteria, parasites, and heavy metals. It has a triple filtration system which includes a dual hollow fiber membrane and carbon filtration.

While filters with a small micron size of 0.01 tend to have a slower flow rate, the Survivor PRO filters quickly at 500 mL per minute. It is sturdy and well built – manufactured from ABS material and food-grade activated carbon, with a steel rod inside for extra support. It is BPA-free of course, and comes with a 100% money-back lifetime guarantee.

The Survivor Filter PRO is well-reviewed by hikers, preppers, and environmentalists alike. Its ability to filter out viruses sets it apart from other portable water filters in its class. With its durable design and lifetime warranty, the Survivor Filter PRO remains our top choice for best portable water filter.

The inlet hose, which makes contact with the water source, is 3.5 feet long. The outlet hose, which produces clean water, is 1 foot long.

Lightweight and compact. Fits easily into a backpack side pocket.

The pre-filter is placed in the water source

Our experience with the Survivor Filter

Ease of use

While the filter itself isn't quite as straightforward as a straw filter, it is designed this way for a reason. There are quite a few different components that need to be assembled properly in order for it to work. Assembling and disassembling them every time the filter needs to be used can be a bit of a hassle, especially when on the move. We kept the hoses attached to the main filtration unit, stored the entire thing in an easy-access pocket in the backpack, and pulled it out whenever needed.

When the filter wasn't being used, for example, it was completely disassembled at night so that the parts could dry. We've found it more convenient to use the filter as a way to store larger amounts of pre-filtered water in a canteen rather than using the filter as point-of-use, as you would with a straw filter.

Filtration and taste

While the setup did take some getting used to, it more than paid off with the quality of water it produces. Because of the carbon filter and the ultra-fine micron, it filters water much more efficiently than other filters we've used. The clean taste is clearly noticeable because of the carbon filter. And the 0.02-micron size eliminates the worry of any viruses.

Our recommendation

For those traveling in areas with very questionable water or backpacking remotely without the means to boil or disinfect the water in any way. The Survivor filter provides the best possible solution for portable water filters. It does have some components that need to be assembled, but if used as a way to store clean water away in a container, rather than using it every time you're thirsty, it isn't much of a bother. No other portable water filter on this list can address viruses as this filter does.












  • Straw Filter
  • o.1 Microns
  • Filter Capacity: 100,000 Gallons
  • Weighs 2 oz.
  • Removes: Sediment, Bacteria, and Parasites
  • Lifetime Warranty

sawyer filter

The Sawyer Mini is a very versatile personal filtration system in a compact design. Weighing at 2 oz., this portable water filter fits in the palm of your hand and can filter up to 100,000 gallons of water with a single cartridge. It is perfect for backpacking, hiking, international travel, and emergency preparedness due to its compact size and efficient filtration capabilities. With a micron size of 0.1, it can effectively remove bacteria and parasites including Giardia and Cryptosporidium from any fresh water source. It passed the highest level of testing standard with absolutely no pathogen breakthrough.

The Sawyer Mini can be attached to the squeeze pouch and drank directly through the straw or dispensed into a water bottle. It can also be used to drink directly form the water source or screwed onto a standard plastic water bottle – perfect for suspect water overseas.

It remains one of the most popular portable water filters due to its versatility, compact size, and large filtering capacity. With its lifetime warranty, the Sawyer Mini is a great choice for a portable water filter.












  • Straw Filter
  • 0.2 Microns
  • Filter Capacity: 1000 Gallons
  • Weighs 2 oz.
  • Removes: Sediment, Bacteria, and Parasites
  • 1 purchase supplies 1 child with drinking water for a school year

lifestraw

The Lifestraw is a slender, lightweight straw filter which has gained much popularity among hikers, backpackers, and international humanitarian causes. Its simple and compact, yet efficient design allows it to be transported easily and used among a variety of fresh water environments.

It has a micron size of 0.2 making it capable of filtering out bacteria and parasites. All testing has been done and verified in US laboratories. It has a filter capacity of 1000 Gallons which equates to roughly 4 years of regular use. The proceeds of each purchase will support one child with access to clean water for a whole school year.

The Lifestraw remains an icon symbol for portable water filtration world wide and for good reason. With a slightly smaller capacity than the other filters on this list, it is certainly durable, portable, and efficient in providing clean water immediately.










  • Pump Filter
  • 0.2 Microns
  • Weighs 20 oz.
  • Filter Capacity: 13,000 Gallons
  • Removes Sediment, Bacteria, and Parasites
  • Extremely Durable
  • 20 year warranty
  • Will tolerate a wider variety of water conditions than most portable filters can

Katadyn Pocket Filter

The Katadyn Pocket Water Filter is, by far, the most well-crafted portable water filter on the market. It has a very durable aluminum casing which protects the internal ceramic filter. It can endure a variety of harsh weather conditions and will remain functional is snow, sand, and mud. Its robust design allows it to pump even the murkiest of waters and produce clean, clear water on the other end.

It has a 0.2 micron size – capable of removing sediment, bacteria, and parasites. Being 20 oz. in weight and 10 inches in length, the Katadyn Pocket Filter is slightly larger than most portable water filters but is still a perfect for backpacking and hiking. The durability and efficiency of the Katadyn Pocket Filter justify the higher price tag, making it the only portable water filter you'll ever need to buy.

In comparison to the other filters on the list, the 13,000 gallon capacity might seem small. However, unlike most portable water filters, the Katadyn Pocket Microfilter uses a reusable filter as opposed to a disposable one which can be cleaned on the field. With a 20-warranty, the Katadyn Pockety Microfilter remains a top choice for outdoor enthusiasts.











  • Straw Filter
  • 0.1 Microns
  • Filter Capacity: 100,000 Gallons
  • Weighs: 2 oz.
  • Removes Sediment, Bacteria, and Parasites
  • Lifetime Warranty

hydroblu water filter

As the name alludes to, the HydroBlue Versa is a very versatile straw filter capable of removing bacteria and parasites with its 0.1 micron filter. It has a capacity of 100,000 gallons and a lifetime, money-back guarantee.

The HydroBlu is categorized as a straw filter but, in fact, can function in a variety of ways. It can be used to drink directly form the source through a straw, it can be set up as a gravity filtration system to accommodate multiple users, and can also be attached to a bucket for larger quantities. Its versatility certainly sets it apart among the other water filters on this list. The HydroBlue is popular among outdoors enthusiasts and emergency preppers.








Portable Water Filter Comparison Chart


FILTER MICRON CAPACITY REMOVES WEIGHT WARRANTY TYPE
Survivor 0.01 26,000 g Heavy Metals
Sediment
Bacteria
Parasites
Viruses
14 oz. Lifetime Pump
Sawyer 0.1 100,000 g Sediment
Bacteria
Parasites
2 oz. Lifetime Straw
Lifestraw 0.2 1,000 g Sediment
Bacteria
Parasites
2 oz. Straw
Katadyn 0.2 13,000 g Sediment
Bacteria
Parasites
20 oz. 20 years Pump
HydroBlu 0.1 100,000 g Sediment
Bacteria
Parasites
2 oz. Lifetime Straw





Things to Consider When Purchasing A Portable Water Filter



girl drinking from thermos

Weight / Size

Most portable water filters are compact enough to fit into a backpack or rucksack. Some, like the Mini Sawyer, are very small and can even fit into a side pocket. Others, like the Katadyn ceramic filter, are a bit larger and will need a larger carrying space.

Most of the smaller filters weigh around 2 oz and won't add much to your overall carrying pack. However, additional pieces such as replacement filters, straws, hoses, and other components can add weight. Another thing to consider is whether your filter uses a squeeze bag and whether you'll be carrying it when it's full of water, which will add considerable weight. This can be contrasted with a straw filter, which will only be used when in contact with a water source.


Filtering Bacteria and Parasites

Water filters also differ regarding their efficiency against bacteria, parasites, viruses, and other microorganisms. While most filters can guarantee the elimination of sediments, bacteria, and protozoan cysts, only a handful of filters eliminate viruses and parasites.

While bacteria and protozoa are ubiquitous in almost all surface water sources, viruses such as norovirus are typically regional. It is worth considering whether the places you're traveling to are known for waterborne viruses and would require a filter that can block them.


Micron Size

A micron, an abbreviated term for micrometer, amounts to 0.0004 inches (or a millionth of a meter) and is the unit of measurement used to rate water filters.

The smaller the micron size, the more effectively the filter blocks contaminants. Most portable water filters have a micron rating of 0.2 microns, which is more than capable of filtering bacteria, parasites, and sediment.

However, viruses can often be as small as 0.04 microns (about 100 times smaller than bacteria), which is why many water filters can capture bacteria but not viruses. Some portable filters, such as the Survivor Filter, have a micron rating of 0.01, capable of blocking viruses.

Knowing the micron size of a filter will help you determine whether some additional form of purification (chemical or UV light) is needed before ingestion.


Filtration Speed

Each portable water filter is unique when it comes to filtration speed. While some can produce about 20 ounces of water within a minute, others can produce just a few ounces within the same timeframe.

Smaller filters that are designed for individual use, such as straw filters, will have a slower filtration speed, providing just enough for a single person. Larger filters, such as gravity filters, will provide larger amounts of water at a faster pace.

If you need to use the filter while camping or traveling with a group of people, consider purchasing a filter that quickly produces clean water.

The trade-off is that higher flow rates will have a larger micron size and, thus, a higher risk of contaminants passing through.


Capacity / Filter Replacement

Filter life is not indefinite and will eventually come to an end. Capacity refers to the amount of water a filter can successfully filter before it needs replacement. Most portable filtration units have a cartridge that can easily be replaced when its capacity has been reached. Some straw filters, such as the Lifestraw, are single-use filters that can be discarded when the capacity has been reached.

Filter capacity is measured in gallons and has varying lifespans, ranging from 1,000 to 100,000 gallons. The best indicator for when a filter is close to the end of its life is that the taste of the water will start to change as it reaches its capacity. The best rule of thumb is to begin to replace the filter as soon as you notice a change in taste.


Ease of Use

Most portable water filters are small and compact, but not all necessarily operate the same way. Straw filters are pretty straightforward; simply sucking water through the straw will produce clean water. Pump filters, however, have several components that need to be properly assembled to work properly.

Be sure to become familiar with the operation of the filter before taking it out on a hiking trip. It's best not to try to learn how to use it when you're thirsty.


Cost

Portable water filters vary in price depending on filtration capacity, micron size, and all the factors mentioned above. While single-use filters can be less than $50, other, more durable filters can be several hundred dollars. Be sure the filter you're considering meets all of your needs.


Maintenance/Cleaning

Aside from replacing the filter, continuous use of the device without regular cleaning leads to clogging of dirt and other contaminants, which can negatively impact the efficiency of the product. It is important to know how the filter is cleaned, how frequently it should be cleaned, and how frequently cartridges are expected to be replaced before purchasing a particular filter model.












How Do Water Filters Work?



Water_filter_contents

A water filter is a device that makes water potable and safe for drinking by removing contaminants and impurities found in water via a fine physical barrier. Passing water through a barrier removes or reduces heavy impurities such as copper, nickel, lead, chromium, chlorine, iron, mercury, and some species of bacteria and protozoa.

The barrier that most water filters use usually comes in the form of a replaceable cartridge and contains several layers of permeable material. The materials can include a porous cloth for trapping large sediment and activated carbon, which impurities bind to. Because activated carbon has such a high surface area, it is extremely effective at trapping contaminants.


What is a Micron?

The efficiency of each water filter is measured in microns. A micron is a unit of measurement that filters used to measure the smallest access point at which contaminants can pass through. "Micron" is actually an abbreviation for "micrometer" and is equivalent to 1/1,000,000 meters, or 0.0004 inches.

A human red blood cell is about 5 microns in diameter. Bacteria average around 0.3 microns in size. Most portable water filters have a 0.2-micron filter size and are capable of blocking most bacteria. However, viruses are often small enough to pass through a 0.1-micron filter. Consider purchasing a filter with a smaller micron size or include additional purification measures such as chlorine when traveling to areas known for waterborne viruses.











The Difference Between Water Filters and Purifiers



water droplet

The words "filter" and "purifier" are often used interchangeably. And while there is a definite relationship between the two, it is worth identifying the difference. Water purification is the general process of removing contaminants from a water source and consists of many methods: distillation, reverse osmosis, and filtration, chemical disinfection, to name a few.

Filtration is a specific type of purification method that uses a barrier to block certain contaminants from going through. Contaminants refer to anything in the water other than the H20 molecule and can include lead, copper, fluoride, pesticides, bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Because filtration is limited by the size of the barrier by which contaminants are being blocked, smaller contaminants, such as viruses and certain chemicals, can slip through and must be purified by other means.


  • Water Filtration - Water filters purify water by allowing water to pass through a barrier that blocks contaminants. This barrier – usually made of activated carbon and other natural minerals – can capture sediments, bacteria, and protozoan cysts. Specialized filters with a micron size of less than 0.1 can block viruses.


  • Chemical Disinfection - Chemical disinfection is the process of killing live microorganisms in the water, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites. These chemical means include iodine, chlorine or bleach, chlorine dioxide, or colloidal silver. Because these chemicals destroy live organisms but do not remove heavy metals and other larger particles, it is often used in combination with the filtration process.


    • Hybrid Water Filters - Some manufacturers have created devices that both filter the water of large particles and purify it of smaller microorganisms. Most of these have a pre-filter that captures all sediments found in water to make the purification process easier and more efficient. Once these sediments have been removed, the water is then purified using chemicals or UV light to eliminate other microorganisms.


    The best approach would be to use both a filter and a chemical means of purifying the water of microorganisms. It is also important to note that because water filters are used to capture contaminants, continuous use will cause contaminants to clog in the filter. It is important, therefore, to clean your filter regularly to maximize efficiency.








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    Types of Contaminants to Watch Out For



    waterborne diseases

    There are a number of contaminants that may be found in water. While some are easy to remove, others are extremely difficult and require a combination of techniques to successfully eradicate them. The contaminants that are of particular concern are the following:


    Bacteria

    Typically found in human and animal fecal waste, these contaminants are known to be the easiest pathogens to filter out and treat because of their large sizes. Bacteria live in water and can cause diseases in humans if ingested. Examples include E. coli, Campylobacter, Cholera, Shigella, Salmonella, and Coliform. Bacteria can be eliminated by all types of filters, UV purifiers, and chemical treatments.


    Protozoa

    These single-celled microorganisms cause severe intestinal problems, typically starting anywhere from 2 – 12 days after ingestion. They are able to survive in extreme conditions and are often difficult to kill with chemical disinfection. Examples include Giardia, Cyclospora, and Cryptosporidium. Cryptosporidium is especially resistant to a number of water treatment techniques because of its hard-protective outer layer. Protozoa are best eliminated by filtration.


    Viruses

    Viruses are easy to kill with chemical disinfection but are extremely small and often pass through most filters. The best way to address viruses with a filter is to use one with a micron size of 0.002 or less. The other way to address viruses is to use filters in combination with a chemical disinfectant.


    Sediment/debris

    This includes solid stuff like sand, silt, dirt, plant and animal matter, and debris. These types of contaminants are the easiest to filter because they are large enough to be captured by any filter cartridge.


    Chemicals/toxins

    Chemicals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury can either naturally occur in water sources or may be present due to industrial waste. They can be harmful to humans if consumed in large amounts. Because these chemicals are dissolved into the water, high-affinity mediums such as activated carbon can absorb the chemicals. Most filters use activated carbon in their filtration cartridge.


    The best approach to address all the possible types of contaminants is to use multiple means of purification. A portable water filter should always be carried when traveling outdoors, but having the means to chemically purify the water also is very helpful.

    Read our article on water purification tablets to learn more.





    Know the Different Types of Portable Water Filters



    Katadyn_BeFree_Water


    Bottle Filters

    Bottle filters combine the convenience of a water bottle with a water filter. Some models work like the straw filter, relying on suction to draw the contaminated water through the filter. Others, like the activated-carbon block filter, work through a process of compressing water through the filter.

    While bottle filters can be very convenient, it is important to observe micron size and filtration capacity to determine whether it's a good fit for your needs.



    Pros
    • Very convenient
    • Reduces the need to carry water bottle and water filter separately
    Cons
    • Tends to have a lower filtration capacity





    Straw Filters

    Straw filters are compact, lightweight, and average 25-30cm in length and 29-35mm in diameter. They are also the easiest to use among portable water filters.

    Most straw filters use 0.2-micron-sized filters capable of removing sediment, bacteria, and protozoa. Because of their convenience, they are often used by NGOs and militaries to give to large groups of people in areas with poor water.

    Because of their single-use design, they often have lower capacities than other filters.



    Pros
    • Convenient
    • Lightweight
    • Easy to use
    Cons
    • Low filtration capacity





    military water filter

    Pump Filters

    While they are not as compact as straw and bottle filters, pump filters are still small enough to take up just a small amount of space in your backpack. Pump filters connect a small lead line from the filter to the water source and another from the filter to the recipient. The water is drawn using a small hand pump.

    Pump filters are designed for more questionable water sources and often have smaller micron sizes to address viruses.



    Pros
    • Smaller micron size can filter viruses
    Cons
    • Many components requiring regular cleaning





    Gravity Filters

    This type of filter is ideal for trekkers, campers, and emergency preppers because it doesn’t require a constant water supply to function and doesn’t require electricity. It is also perfect for travelers journeying to remote areas where clean water is difficult to come by.

    With this type of filter, two containers are placed above each other. Water is then poured into the container placed on top of the other. Gravitational pull causes the water to seep through a filter into the container below. At the bottom of the container below is a tap which can be opened to access filtered water. The gravity filter uses a combination of ceramic and activated carbon filters to decontaminate water, and because of this combination, the filtered water is free and safe for drinking.



    Pros
    • Great at providing large amounts of water
    • High flow rate
    Cons
    • More difficult to set up
    • Often has larger micron size





    UV Filters

    These filters are not common and are less frequently used than the other four filters mentioned above. Running on batteries, this filter type is also efficient at removing bacteria, viruses, protozoan cysts. In addition, it also improves the taste and smell of the water being decontaminated. However, because they use batteries, they are costlier to run than the others.



    Pros
    • Effective against viruses, bacteria, parasites and protozoan cysts.
    Cons
    • Costlier than other portable water filters since it runs on batteries
    • The dirtier the water, the less effective the filter as sediment and debris can negatively affect the efficiency of the filter.
    • Ineffective against chemicals like chlorine, or heavy metals.





    How to Make a DIY Water Filter



    Knowing how to construct one can save your life if you find yourself in the wild without a water filter. Constructing one with some simple materials and a little skill is possible. It should be noted that a DIY water filter will filter out large sediment, but the water should still be purified for viruses and bacteria.

    Materials Needed:
    • Large cylindrical container
    • A pan for collecting water
    • A clean porous cloth
    • Fine sand
    • Coarse gravel
    • Charcoal (if available)
    • Sturdy twigs and sticks


    1. Place twigs above the pan in a criss-cross pattern to support the container. Ensure that the twigs are strong enough as the container will be heavy.

    2. Poke holes in the bottom of the container with a knife as to ensure proper drainage.

    3. Place the container on top of the twigs and fill it about 1.5 inches high with coarse gravel. Place a cloth on top of the gravel layer.

    4. If charcoal is available, grid it up to a coarse powder with rocks and fill the next layer with it to about 2 inches high. Cover it with a cloth.

    5. Fill the top layer with fine sand to about 6 inches high (leave some space for the water to be poured in). Cover the layer with cloth and secure it by placing a few pebbles around the perimeter.

    6. Fill the container with water and allow it to drain.

    7. Repeat the filtration process several times until the water is free of sediment.

    8. Purify the water by boiling it to eliminate pathogens.








    Conclusion


    Having a portable water filter on hand will certainly reduce your chances of contracting any waterborne pathogens when drinking from freshwater sources. While most portable water filters will remove sediment, bacteria, and protozoa, viruses are often too small to catch. Even though viruses in North American freshwater sources are rare, combining a portable water filter with water purification tablets is the safest approach.




    Editor's Choice for Best Portable Water Filter

    • Pump Filter
    • 0.01 Microns
    • Filter Capacity: 26,000 Gallons
    • Weighs 14 oz.
    • Removes Bacteria, Parasites, Viruses, Heavy Metals
    • 3-stage Filtration System
    • Lifetime Warranty
    Click for Best Price!
    Survivor Filter PRO


    Thank you for taking the time to read our article on the best portable water filters. We'd love to hear your feedback in the comments section below. If you've found this article to be useful and are interested in learning more, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.


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    References

    Bacteria World. (n.d.). How Big is a Micron? Retrieved from http://www.bacteria-world.com/how-big-micron.htm

    How Stuff Works. (2009, February 17). How Water Filters Work. Retrieved from https://adventure.howstuffworks.com/outdoor-activities/hiking/water-filter.htm

    Kortman, P. (2017, October 12). Selecting A Portable Water Filter: Backcountry vs. International Travel - Business Connect World. Retrieved from https://businessconnectworld.com/2016/10/20/selecting-portable-water-filter-backcountry-vs-international-travel/

    I'm Jeremiah, the owner of World Water Reserve. I'm a writer and researcher with a particular interest in sustainability and rural living, water scarcity, and innovative water purification methods. I utilize my multimedia and communication experience in the NGO and humanitarian fields to bring light to important topics. My passion is to educate others on the reality of the global water crisis and on ways to sustain themselves and their families in the midst of it.
    Jeremiah Zac