During the process of lightening my backpack, I knew one of the heavier items I was carrying was my water filter, an MSR Miniworks purchased back around 1998. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a great filter and has served me well over the years. I’ve pumped hundreds of gallons through it on multiple continents, but there’s no denying the thing is just plain heavy and bulky.
As I did my research there were a few options, chemical always being one of them. After all, before I picked up the miniworks filter I had used the old school, Army issue, iodine tablets. Problem with that is when I’m getting water from a fresh mountain stream, I want it to taste like water from a fresh mountain stream. There were also a few smaller filters coming on the market as well, albeit with mixed reviews ranging from mechanical problems, cartridge longevity, to expense. So the search continued.
About a year ago I became aware of a new filter called the Sawyer Squeeze. It quickly became a favorite amongst ultralight backpackers. A simple device, it consisted of a “dirty water” bag and a cartridge that you would screw onto the bag. You could either drink directly from the clean water end of the cartridge or “squeeze” the bag and fill another container. Simple enough.
Being popular in the UL crowd I knew it had to be lightweight, but I was shocked to learn with the bag and filter it weighed in at about 3 ounces. Holy Crap! That’s more than 5 times lighter than my MSR.
My next thought was how many gallons can you process before needing to replace the filter? Surely something that light is only good for a few dozen uses. To my astonishment it was rated at a million gallons. Doing the math, that’s a literally a lifetime.
Ok, so next logical question, what does it filter out? I’m thinking it can’t be very effective if it’s processing a million gallons, . 1 Micron! My MSR only goes to .2.
Finally! Something light weight with an amazing capacity and filtering capability, there has to be a catch? This thing must cost a fortune, it probably uses clippings from a unicorn’s tail as a filtration medium. Again I was shocked, at the time it priced in at around $40-$50 about half what I paid for my old MSR. This was a no brainer.
So I ran out to my local REI, headed over to the water treatment section and of course SOLD OUT. However they did have another item sold by Sawyer called the All in One. I looked it over and it appeared to have the same filter, same “dirty water” bag but also came with a parts kit to be able to hook the filter up to a bucket or other water holding container as well as an adapter to connect it to a faucet. It was slightly more expensive at around $69 but being preparedness minded, the added capability seemed worth it to me.
Take a look at the manufacturers video on how it works and all of the different possible configurations:
So, moving ahead a year, I’ve had several opportunities to use it. I’ve probably processed about 15-20 gallons of water and I must say, I’ve been extremely pleased. No issues to speak of.
The filter is not maintenance free, it comes with a syringe to back flush the cartridge. Although to minimize this there are a couple good practices I would offer. These, of course, can be applied to practically all filters.
- Get your water from the cleanest sources available.
- If you have no choice but to gather from a turbid water source, I’d recommend you pre-filter the water through a handkerchief or similar.
Two other points worth mentioning:
- The filter does not remove viruses. This is generally not a problem in areas like North America, but if you think this may be an issue there are other solutions such as chemicals, boiling, UV light, etc… (one of which I will be reviewing shortly).
- If using this in cold weather be careful not to let your filter freeze. There is residual water left in the filter after use and while you can shake it out, it is next to impossible to get it completely dry. If the filter freezes, it will definitely stop water from going through and may damage the filter itself. One way to keep it from freezing is to keep it close you your body. Put it in a pocket while moving and in your sleeping bag when sleeping. Also important to note, there is only a cap for one end of the cartridge. You’ll want to keep the filter in a plastic bag so you don’t get wet.
Final thoughts: Well after all this ranting and raving, I have to be honest, I no longer use this filter for backpacking. I’ve retired it to my family’s household emergency kit. Why would I do this with what seems like the holy grail of water filters? Sawyer has come out with a lighter more compact model called the Sawyer Mini. Keep your eyes open for a review of this new filter in the coming months.
Want a chance to win one of your very own? Click the image to enter: