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Amber McDaniel | 09.23.2019

MSR TrailShot Products Specs

  • Certified Microbiological filter meets U.S. EPA drinking water standards 
  • Removes 99.9999% bacteria and 99.9% protozoa but not viruses as per NSF protocol P231
  • Approved for particles down to 0.2 microns in size
  • Not approved as a water purifier and not effective against waterborne viruses 
  • Hollow fiber technology filter cartridge
  • Replaceable filter cartridge good for estimated 2000 L
  • Filters 1L per minute
  • One-handed operation
  • Direct filter-to-mouth drinking nozzle
  • Weight: 142 g
  • Dimensions: 6 in. x 2.4 in.
  • 1 ft. flexible draw hose
  • Sediment and particulate pre-filter screen at end of draw hose
  • Easy, in-field backwashing maintenance 

Where to Buy

$49.95 • REI | Backcountry | Amazon

The Bottom Line: The ultimate in small size and simplicity, the MSR TrailShot brings safe water to outdoor enthusiasts across all landscapes and activities. Weighing in at a meager 5 ounces, the TrailShot is specially designed with trail runners, ultra runners, mountain bikers, thru-hikers, and other ultralight outdoor athletes in mind.

 

The TrailShot's slender profile. Amber McDaniel.

First things first: I live in a van full time, bouncing around the U.S. from climbing crag to crag. Any other van dwellers out there can attest to importance of water. So often we take clean drinking water for granted in everyday life. Vanlife makes you appreciate what a limited resource water really is.

Whenever I’m in cities or town, I typically take the easy road and refill my water supplies from drinking fountains or potable water hoses at RV dump stations. However, I spend a good deal more than half my time off-grid, where that just isn’t an option. All sources combined, my van holds about 10 gallons of potable water dispersed through different containers. This water is not only for drinking and cooking, but doing dishes and cleaning for two people. All in all, 10 gallons doesn’t go very far when stretched across all those things, and it runs out in less than a week. For extended periods off-grid living, it’s absolutely necessary to have some sort of ability to filter and replenish my own water. After all, a water filter is often the difference between being able to stay camped next to a beautiful river for another week and having to drive 30 miles to the nearest town.

That brings me to the MSR TrailShot, a core item in my camper van survival kit. With storage space as precious a commodity as potable water, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate such a small yet versatile piece of gear, one simple filter that I can take out backpacking and climbing or just use right at the van. The water draw tube is incredibly soft and flexible, so it can cram even into small hip pouches on many backpacks. I love being able to quick draw it when I stumble upon a stream; nothing is worse that having to root around in your pack for a filter.

For filtering large quantities of water at the van, I equip the TrailShot another MSR product: the Trail Base filter kit, which integrates the TrailShot into a gravity fed filtration system. I just hang the setup in the outside of the van and let it work. Super fast and excellent for hands-off bulk filtration.

As for maintenance, the MSR TrailShot makes it easy and painless. Once I notice flow rate starting to decrease, I simply back-flush it, a process that can be done at the van or out in the field. Just fill the bulb reservoir half full, shake for 20 seconds, remove the hose, and squeeze the water out. That’s all there is to it. MSR recommends back-flushing every 8 liters, but I tend to push it upward of that with no noticeable decrease in performance. When the filter does finally need replacing (which I have yet to have to do, despite using it very frequently), the $30 replacement cartridge is much more inexpensive than ceramic filter cartridges, so you’re still getting a lot of bang for your buck. 

The squeezing mechanism can be a little tough on the grip. By the end of a big water bottle, you’ll definitely be feeling the slight pump in your forearms, depending on how vigorous you’ve been squeezing. I personally don’t actually mind this feature too much because, more often than not, I’m using the filter when out approaching a climb, so it actually functions as a pretty decent finger warmup! However, I can see how this might be a turnoff for those with weaker hands.

The output nozzle cap is almost always annoyingly in the way. This is a pretty mild complaint, because it’s not terribly difficult to hold it back with one finger while squeezing water into a bottle. However, it never fails that when I go to drink straight from the filter, it flicks me in the nose.

I would not and do not use this filter in very silty, cloudy water or anywhere very fine particles are visibly suspended. The hose screen isn’t really that small, and unlike other MSR pump filters no silt-guard attachment is available for the TrailShot. Avoiding really murky water, if at all possible, is just good for preserving filter health.

While it may not be the most ergonomic filter on the market as far as its pump mechanism goes, my opinion holds that it’s one of the best all-around filters in terms of size, simplicity, and speed. I’ve filtered all kinds of water, and it’s never let me down. In fact, it’s saved my bacon on more than one occasion where I thought I had packed enough water, but didn’t. There’s no harm with packing a “just in case” filter that only weights 5 ounces. It’s just so darn efficient in so many ways. For that, whether recommending a filter to road dogs or thru-hikers, I give the MSR TrailShot a resounding recommendation for any and all outdoor adventurers.

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