© IWA Publishing 2020 Journal of Hydroinformatics A wavelet-based local mesh refinement (wLMR) strategy is designed to generate multiresolution and unstructured triangular meshes from real digital elevation model (DEM) data for efficient hydrological simulations at the catchment scale. The wLMR strategy is studied considering slope- and curvature-based refinement criteria to analyze DEM inputs: the slope-based criterion uses bed elevation data as input to the wLMR strategy, whereas the curvature-based criterion feeds the bed slope data into it. The performance of the wLMR meshes generated by these two criteria is compared for hydrological simulations; first, using three analytical tests with the systematic variation in topography types and then by reproducing laboratory- and real-scale case studies. The bed elevation on the wLMR meshes and their simulation results are compared relative to those achieved on the finest uniform mesh. Analytical tests show that the slope- and curvature-based criteria are equally effective with the wLMR strategy, and that it is easier to decide which criterion to take in relation to the (regular) shape of the topography. For the realistic case studies: (i) slope analysis provides a better metric to assess the correlation of a wLMR mesh to the fine uniform mesh and (ii) both criteria predict outlet hydrographs with a close predictive accuracy to that on the uniform mesh, but the curvature-based criterion is found to slightly better capture the channeling patterns of real DEM data.