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When spending a lot of time in the outdoors, it’s essential to stay hydrated. And if you happen to be hiking, backpacking, or climbing through dry mountain air or on hot summer days, it’s even more critical. But carrying all of your water for long trips isn’t always practical, and drinking straight from creeks and streams isn’t always safe. So what’s the solution?
Trekkers have carried water filters and purifiers for years. Recently, manufacturers have begun making mini water purifier filters, which function as a simple drinking straw. The best-known rivaling brands are LifeStraw vs. Sawyer. But how do these easy to us mini water filtration systems stack up? Do they clean the water as well as the bigger purifier pumps?
Why Do You Need a Water Filter When Outdoors?
There is no doubt that water from near the source is cleaner than you will find downstream. But mountain water sources still contain dangerous contaminants. The most problematic sources come from bacteria related to human and animal waste and animal carcasses.
But what if your adventures don’t take you all the way upstream? The farther you travel from the source waters, the more chances nasty stuff has to enter from the watershed. Chemicals and other hazardous contaminants exist nearly everywhere. In rural areas, agriculture releases harmful bacteria from animal waste and chemicals from pesticides and fertilizers. In urban areas, runoff contains similar problems thanks to yards, factories, and road runoff. And don’t forget about the possibility of sewage discharges, whether accidental or otherwise. Microplastics are another big issue in the water we drink, and one which we are just beginning to realize the prevalence of.
You’re probably beginning to see what a portable water filter is a good idea. Water purifiers and filters have been around for a long time, but several options have become available that are very attractive to hikers and campers in recent years. They are diminutive and ultra-lightweight. If you’re looking for a pocket-sized water filter, the primary choices are Sawyer vs. LifeStraw.
Sawyer Mini vs. LifeStraw: Battle of the Water Filters
Both companies, Sawyer and LifeStraw, make full lines of water filters and purifiers. Some of their products do a better job than others. The simplest and least expensive filters they make are the original LifeStraw and the Sawyer Mini. Both appear to be very similar, but you can see that the advantage goes to the Sawyer when compared side by side. It filters water to a higher standard, and it’s designed to be used by hikers and backpackers in the backcountry.
It’s important to realize that none of these super-portable filters are purifiers. They do not remove pesticides, chemicals, or even viruses from the water. They’re still handy, though, when those things aren’t a concern or for emergency use. Most waterborne illnesses result from bacteria, of which these filters remove more than 99 percent. At the headwaters in the mountains with little pollution, these filters do a great job of making water safe to drink. If you’re closer to cities, farms, or industrial areas, you’ll need a better, more advanced water purification system.
Mini Water Filter System Summary
Sawyer Mini Water Filter Overview
Sawyer is a well-known brand among outdoor enthusiasts. They make a selection of products ranging from water purifiers to first aid kits. Their products are simple and designed to meet the needs of backpackers and campers.
Their entry-level water filters are no exception. They make three different basic filter designs–the simple Micro Squeeze, the multi-function Mini, and a gravity-fed system. These are simple bacteria and sediment filters, but if you need a higher level of filtration for chemicals or viruses, they also make systems that can meet those needs.
The Mini is a palm-sized filter that can be used in a variety of ways. Indeed, its strength lies not only in its superior filtration technology but in the fact that it can be used in ways beneficial to the casual hiker. It can be fitted with a straw so you can drink directly from the water source. It can also be fitted in-line on your hydration pack. Or the source water can be put in a flexible pouch or disposable water bottle, and the Mini can be screwed on the top. Finally, you can even fashion a gravity-fed system by attaching the Mini to the bottom of a hanging bag of the source water.
The standard Mini kit comes with the filter, one drinking straw, a flexible drinking pouch, and a cleaning syringe for backflushing the filter. You can also purchase a dual-threaded Mini, which allows you to add more accessories for more options, like a push-pull drinking cap. Extra squeeze pouches and a fast fill adapter set, which allows you to fill your hydration bladder without removing it from your pack, are available.
Like LifeStraw, Sawyer International works with charities, churches, and NGOs worldwide to help bring clean drinking water to underprivileged communities.
LifeStraw and its parent company Vestergaard were founded to solve Africa’s problems related to drinking water. Their first product, which became the basis for the LifeStraw, was a simple mesh pipe filter explicitly designed to remove Guinea worms from drinking water. The original LifeStraw water filter was created to sell to the world, with the premise that one could be donated to communities in need for every unit they sold.
The LifeStraw itself is a great product, designed to be inexpensive and disposable. Their mission is still to help developing countries have access to clean water, and to that end, this particular filter is designed for survival or emergency use. Hikers and backpackers like it too, though, since it has an unlimited shelf life and is dead simple to use.
To use the LifeStraw, you dip the pickup end in the water and take a few sips to pressurize the filter. That’s it. But that means that there’s no way to fill a bottle, or even use it with a bottle or a hydration pack. It’s super simple, but also somewhat limited for outdoorsmen. How long will a LifeStraw last? One straw will filter approximately 1,000 gallons of water, which is considerable and should last years. The filter can be cleared by blowing air through it, but it should be replaced once the flow rate is reduced.
Since LifeStraw’s introduction, the company has expanded its offerings and now makes a variety of filters and purifiers. They have everything from water bottle style filters to home and community purifiers for virus removal too.
Do LifeStraws actually work, and can you drink any water with a LifeStraw? They do exactly what they were designed to do, which is dramatically reduces the likelihood of waterborne illnesses by filtering out nearly all bacteria and parasites. According to the LifeStraw instruction manual, they should not be used to filter seawater or chemically contaminated water, especially near mining or agricultural areas.
Giving back has always been a focus of LifeStraws company mission, and every purchase helps them provide clean drinking water to citizens of developing countries. According to their Giving Back webpage, as of 2019, they had provided 3,368,225 kids with safe water for a year and delivered more than 12,000 community filters.
LifeStraw vs Sawyer: Which is Better?
While both filters have their plusses and minuses, the best choice for trekkers is the Sawyer Mini filter system. The Sawyer’s ability to connect to hydration packs, water bottles, or a straw attachment makes it an easy winner in terms of versatility alone. When you add in its superior filter technology and the fact that it can filter 100 times more water than the LifeStraw, the choice is a no-brainer. Since both products are priced similarly, the Sawyer is our top pick.
Both the Sawyer Mini and the LifeStraw are quality products that will vastly improve the quality of the water you drink. The LifeStraw, given its easy use and lack of accessories, makes the perfect addition to bug-out bags and survival kits. They have no shelf life, so they can be stored forever and will be ready to use when the you-know-what hits the fan.
Do any water filters remove viruses? Unfortunately, all simple filters like these fail in this regard. And unlike charcoal drip filters, they don’t even really improve the taste of the water. To remove viruses, chemicals, or heavy metals like lead, you need a higher level of filtration–take a look at the purifiers available from either company.
It’s a good idea to have a good quality water filter in your pack all the time. You never know when a water bottle will leak or when you will wind up using more water than you brought along. These filters last for a long time, take up little space, and weigh practically nothing.
Their uses extend well beyond outdoor activities, too. They’re great tools for emergency kits and when traveling. On the road, you can purify questionable water to improve your health and for peace of mind.
These straw-style filters are also great for backpackers looking for the absolute lowest-weight option. Their filtration technologies aren’t as good as other purifiers on the market. Still, they function well enough to provide safe water for occasional use, as long as chemicals, metals, or viruses aren’t a concern.