Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System


The folks over at Sawyer were kind enough to let me test drive their new Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System ($18-$25/2oz).  The “mini” was a bit of a surprise to me because Sawyer seemed to already be leading the industry with the Sawyer Squeeze Filter which received quite a bit of press in the last year.  The beauty of both systems is that they are reliable, effective, and flexible enough to offer a variety of configuration preferences (i.e. squeeze, inline, straw).  Both also come with a straw as well as squeeze bottles.  The squeeze bottles have been improved from the first release of the Sawyer Squeeze and both filters continue to fit Evernew bottles and likely other options.

 

While I was already a user of the Sawyer Squeeze Filter, the beauty of the Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System is that it is physically smaller, lighter and less expensive – but the effectiveness remains the same.  At 2oz and roughly $20 for a .01 micron absolute filter capable of removing 99.99% of bacteria, protozoa and cysts for up to 100,000 gallons – this is a product that comes with its own cheering section.

 

The filter is essentially a cluster of micro-fibrous tubes.  Water is drawn through the side walls of the tubes into their hollow center and out of the end of the tubes.  Harmful bacteria and protozoa is trapped on the outer walls of the tubes delivering fresh and clean drinking water.

 

Lightweight backpackers, almost by necessity, are fairly meticulous about the gear they carry.  Making decisions based singularly on grams and ounces can quickly yield to a declining fun-factor.  As a result, there is a middle ground between weight and overall comfort.  In my quest for lightweight water treatment, my personal backing history has run the gamut from pumps to chemical treatments.  Looking back, using a pump nowadays is like continuing to carry an Army cot and gas lantern.  They are bulky, expensive, and prone to failure.  Anyone who has had their hand slip off the pumping feature will quickly look for an alternative solution once their hand recovers from being pinched (or worse) and dealing with a clog is an unfriendly nightmare.  UV options are pricey, prone to easy damage and depending on the model, batteries may be hard to locate.  UV options are also only effective in water that is already clear and only for a set volume.  A pre-filter is a good idea, but adds another step and element.  Lastly, UV options may kill water nasties, but it doesn't remove them.  Personally, the knowledge of chugging "dead" nasties doesn't make me overly thrilled.  More often than not I've relied on chemical tablets.  Tablets are effective and lightweight, but gram for gram they are fairly expensive and do nothing to filter out floaties and other nasties.  Usually I use a biodiesel bag or tulle as a prefilter.  Personally, I’m not thrilled about putting chemicals into my body or their cumulative effect.

 

Fortunately with the Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System, weight, cost, nor effectiveness are reasons to leave it at home.  It is lightweight, affordable and effective.  I’ve used it repeatedly for the last three weeks in several different environments, temperatures and in conditions of varied turbidity.  Out of the box, my first use was dipping the bottle into a stream.  I turned the bottle over and expected it to take quite a while to prime the filter.  To my surprise, clean water flowed out almost immediately.  A second misconception was put to rest when I noted that I didn’t need to squeeze or suck on the nozzle to get a sufficient water flow.  Basically, it worked like a charm without additional effort.

 

Aside from the fact that is an inexpensive, effective and less bulky option than other physical filters, I like the fact that the drinking nozzle has an effective cap cover.  While this comes into play to keep grit out of the drinking end, I quickly learned that it avoided cross contamination when the bottle and filter fell off a rock into a stream while I was photographing it for this article.  Verifying that the filter wasn’t compromised because of my own carelessness was a nice unexpected benefit.  Having reviewed other water filters on this blog, the protective cap on the Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System is a rarity on other filter options as either they are missing entirely or are manufactured without expectation for them to last more than a few uses.

 

The Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System comes with a large syringe to back-flush the system, but it is a little bulky.  Others have found a compatible cap to work with a spare bottle and detailed its use at BackpackingLight

Mini Bull Designs also offers a unique adapter for $10 as well as a screw top for the Sawyer Squeeze for $15 which I prefer and own.

 
I enjoyed the flexibility of using it as a gravity filter or with a straw, but most commonly I simply drank straight from the bottle.

 

Aside from a smaller, lighter and equally functional back-flush option as described above, I would personally like to see see-through bags and bags with a means to hang them upside down (i.e. hung from a tree) or stand-up on their own.

 

When all things are considered, the Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System is simply the best overall lightweight filter on the market whether for lightweight backpackers or anyone looking for an inexpensive, lightweight and effective water filter in a very reasonably-sized package.  While there are other more effective filters, they are also more costly, bulky and inconvenient.

 

For general information about water nasties, below is part of an article I previously authored which helps illustrate why a .01 micron absolute filter is critical.

 

PROTOZOAN CYSTS – These are hard shelled, single-cell parasites which include Giardia and Lamblia and range in size from 5 to 15 microns. This also includes Cryptosporidium Parvum which is 2 to 5 microns in size. Giardia occurs in the small intestine where cysts hatch and give you diarrhea, gas, nausea, and/or cramps and symptoms appear within 1 to 2 weeks and can last 4-6 weeks or longer. Those with weakened immune systems could be more heavily impacted. Cryptosporidium can give you similar symptoms and can also include loose stool, cramps, slight fever, and an upset stomach. These systems generally appear in 2 to 10 days and typically last 2 weeks. Animals and humans carry Protozoa.

BACTERIA – Bacteria are smaller organisms which can include E. Coli, Salmonella, Cholera, and Campylobacter Jejuni. They range from .2 to 10 microns and symptoms include diarrhea with appears within 6 hours or 3 to 5 days and last 4 days or longer. Animals and humans carry Bacteria.

VIRUSES – Viruses represent the tiniest of organisms ranging from .004 to .1 microns. They include Hepatitis A, Rotavirus, Norwalk Virus, and even Polio. Although these are the least commonly found pathogens in the wilderness water sources, they represent often the most harmful. If you were wondering, most waterborne viruses which affect humans in the backcountry come from human fecal matter.

CHEMICALS AND RUNOFF – As the name implies, another water-nasty includes agricultural runoff (herbicides, pesticides, etc.) and industrial runoff (metals, mine tailings, etc.).

 


(Disclosure: This product was provided to me free-of-charge for the purposes of this review and is owned by me.  However, any information contained herein is my personal opinion without bias.)

2 comments:

Mike Hooper said...

Very helpful. Thanks.

I was trying to decide between a Sawyer mini and a 'Water To Go' type of thing.

Decision made.

Vincent said...

This portable water filter is enough for outdoor activities. I had one and it worked great for me.It provided me with enough clean water to drink during my hiking.